About david neat

Sculptor, model-maker, teacher and writer

An essential model-making tool

David Neat, essential model-making tools, solid metal guide blocks

I’ve always made a point of recommending these! I don’t know how I would get things done these days without solid, right-angled steel blocks .. to use as guides for construction, for gluing against or weighting down. I’ve noticed though that my enthusiasm has varied between ‘absolutely essential’ to ‘very useful’. The reason for my occasional reticence is that up to now I haven’t been able to recommend a reliable source .. but now I can! I’ve just received these .. seven in all .. which I ordered from  https://www.metalmaniauk.com/ because I’ve always wanted to use them on my courses.

In the past I had assumed that the custom cutting charge would be too high but these seven cost me all inclusive £33.10. I chose the ‘Bright Flat Mild Steel’ which has the essential square ‘sharp’ edges; and the bar type ‘1 x 3/4’ inches, which I felt was the smallest limit before the blocks lose the necessary weight; and I decided that a 15cm length would be fine for most tasks. Here is the specific link to the product

https://www.metalmaniauk.com/Steel/Bright-Flat-Bar/Bright-flat-mild-steel-bar-1-x-34.aspx

MetalMania do not have a minimum order so one could buy just one of course. This would cost £3.80 for 15cm, but postage within the UK seems to be fixed at £6.50 up to a few kilos so it would make more sense buying two or three.

A recap on why they’re so useful

I’ve written about them many times both here and in my book. The most useful application is when gluing two pieces on edge, applying glue to one and then positioning the two pieces together against the metal block so that one can be sure of getting a clean and straight edge.

David Neat, Using metal blocks to aid construction

It is especially important having this firm ‘stop’ when using superglue because it has to be right first time and .. more importantly .. it doesn’t matter if superglue squeezes out onto the metal because it won’t stick to it strongly. The piece just needs to be ‘popped’ off. You have to remember to scape the metal surface clean with a scalpel occasionally because it can build up. If you have two blocks, as below, you can construct perfect corners!

David Neat, Using metal blocks to aid construction

Blocks of any kind with enough length are also invaluable when trying to layer thin strips on top of each other i.e. for these decorative mouldings.

David Neat, Using metal blocks to aid construction

They can also be useful for holding elements in place while gluing, as below where I’ve taped a curving piece of styrene between them to hold it in that position while I brush plastic solvent into the join. The same can be done with thin superglue.

David Neat, Using metal blocks to aid construction

 

Finally, and by the way .. I feel it’s worth noting that dealing with MetalMania was a smooth experience with a couple of pleasant curiosities! In the first place their website is different from what I’m used to when trying to get hold of heavy-duty industrial materials .. bright, friendly and simple to understand. Delivery was trackable and came within 4 days using Parcel2Go .. not the usual kind of breathless courier at the door but three teenage girls! I didn’t find out why because they didn’t seem to want to be quizzed about it. On the MetalMania website they state under the heading ‘Animal Policy’ that ‘It is this companies policy NOT to supply any organisation or individual involved in animal experimentation of any kind’. Currently on the website is also a condolence message for those affected by the attacks in Spain which is accompanied by this photo. I don’t know what to make of it .. but it’s really got me thinking!

condolence message

 

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Guide to Thames Foreshore locations

I’ve started to hunt on the Thames Foreshore again, the first chance I’ve had since the beginning of the year. But before I get too wrapped up in the promising present, I wanted to put some of the work I did in January to rest. I say ‘work’ because I worked hard to justify the time I was spending and to put my obsession to good use. The only solution for self-indulgence is to share it! So I developed the idea that I could create my own artificed version of my Thames Foreshore experience .. a collection of small cast and painted forms which could pile together like a diverse, colourful and symbolic shingle, and which could be .. perhaps quite literally .. sold by the ounce! For the moment I’m calling this rather prosaically my Thames Foreshore Collection.

So in the folder Thames Foreshore above, which I added last year but has remained practically empty, I’ve added my project log. I had also got somewhat sidetracked into feeling that an organised account of each foreshore location I visited would be worthwhile. So I’ve also put the beginnings of those there. As always this was as much for myself as anyone else, because I needed first of all to decipher and pinpoint where the access points actually were from the outdated guidance; to remind myself of notable hazards; to remind myself of any aspects of local history which could be relevant to what might be found below, and lastly to record the things I’d not only found but experienced there.

I’ve started each location write-up by marking the precise access point on Google maps, together with photos of the steps and immediate foreshore terrain. After a short listing of any ‘Hazards’ there’s a summary of local history where I’ve included sections of a very detailed Ordnance Survey map from the 1860s as an indication of the past life of the area. For example, here is the Google map entry showing the location of Horn Stairs in Rotherhithe; followed by a section from the 1860s OS map detailing the Royal Victoria Victualling Yard as was, in the Deptford/Surrey Quays area, and a photo of the entry gate to the steps at Greenwich Power Station.

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, location of Horn Stairs (Google Maps), Thames Foreshore, Surrey Docks

Thames Forshore, Upper Watergate upstream 3, Thames Foreshore, Deptford

David Neat, Thames foreshore access at Greenwich Power Station

Where I’ve found interesting images to illustrate the history I’ve included them, such as this rendition of the royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, formerly on the site which became the Royal Naval College, now University of Greenwich.

Palace of Placentia Greenwich in 1560

Then for each location there are the ‘Opportunities’ afforded, and I’ve started to illustrate some of these with the things I’ve been able to find so far. I’ve put up what I can for the moment, but there’s a lot more waiting to be added.

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, early 18th century clay pipe

Such as .. a portion of 18th century clay pipe found at Enderby’s Wharf on the Greenwich Peninsula, and the shingle bank underneath Morden Wharf nearby.

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, shingle at Morden Wharf

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, frost on shingle Greenwich beach December 2016

Winter frost on the beach at Greenwich and an unusually large piece of pottery dug out of the mud there.

David Neat, large potsherd, Thames foreshore Greenwich, unidentified pottery sherd on-site record as found

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, large piece of coral (ship's ballast), Thames Foreshore, Rotherhithe

Coral, weathered bricks and flints, and buried ship timbers at Rotherhithe; lastly the remains of a present-day offering to the river at Surrey Quays.

brick and flint forms, Thames Foreshore, Rotherhithe

David Neat, buried ship's timber, Thames Foreshore, Rotherhithe

David Neat, river offering, Thames Foreshore, Deptford

 

nature studies

Earlier this month I spent a very inspiring long-weekend with friends by a secluded lake in Cambridgeshire. We rented a lodge which had been built on the side of a former gravel pit lake just outside the village of Maxey. Although I’m aware of how quickly nature can re-assert itself .. I wasn’t prepared for a landscape which it had so thoroughly and almost convincingly taken back!

I much prefer woodland which is long-established and undisciplined, where the trees over time have become almost as much horizontal as vertical, where the decay and regrowth of generations can be felt on the nose. So I was surprised that the thin woods which fringed the lake could give me so much of this impression, even though they can’t have existed there since much before the 1970s when gravel extraction finished. It rekindled my interest in an idea begun last year, NatureMake, an organic construction toy for those who always got more from whatever was at the bottom of the garden .. as far removed from Lego as one can go.

David Neat, studies for 'NatureMake', Cambridgeshire woodland July 2017

 

David Neat, studies for 'NatureMake', Cambridgeshire woodland July 2017

 

David Neat, studies for 'NatureMake', Cambridgeshire woodland July 2017

 

David Neat, studies for 'NatureMake', Cambridgeshire woodland July 2017

 

David Neat, studies for 'NatureMake', Cambridgeshire woodland July 2017

 

David Neat, studies for 'NatureMake', Cambridgeshire woodland July 2017

But there was also something not quite right about the woodland .. as if the race to reclaim the ground came at a cost, or to emphasize that the show could only be skin deep for now. Everywhere trees were either keeling over or splitting like balsa, either they couldn’t root deeply enough or the ground was still too loose to support them. The fir trees were leaving skeletons behind as nature ate back the softer parts first.

David Neat, studies for 'NatureMake', Cambridgeshire woodland July 2017

 

David Neat, studies for 'NatureMake', Cambridgeshire woodland July 2017

 

David Neat, studies for 'NatureMake', Cambridgeshire woodland July 2017

 

David Neat, studies for 'NatureMake', Cambridgeshire woodland July 2017

The young lake itself was film genre Placid .. unusually motionless for much of the time, but quick to ripple with goosebumps at the slightest touch of any wind. I was expecting veils of mist in the mornings, but these weren’t needed for enhancement .. the light remained soft enough throughout. The way it isolated plantlife at the water’s edge, caught between still water and reflected sky, made me think of Japanese ink painting.

David Neat, lakeland in Cambridgeshire July 2017

 

David Neat, lakeland in Cambridgeshire July 2017

 

David Neat, lakeland in Cambridgeshire July 2017

 

David Neat, lakeland in Cambridgeshire July 2017

 

David Neat, lakeland in Cambridgeshire July 2017

 

David Neat, lakeland in Cambridgeshire July 2017

 

‘Contemporary Living’ at Christie’s South Kensington – Part 2

Miniature exhibits from the interactive model for 'Contemporary Living' at Christie's, made by David Neat 2017

If you want to see Part 1 of this series just scroll down to the previous entry, which will also give fuller information on the context. This was a commission from the London gallery The New Craftsmen for an ‘interactive model/installation’ exhibited at Christie’s during ‘Contemporary Living: Art, Craft and Design’ April 1-4 2017. The exhibition brought together work from Christie’s, The New Craftsmen and the South African gallery Southern Guild. All in all I had to make more than forty model versions of the exhibits complete with decorated plinths, which anyone could then move around to ‘curate’ their own exhibition within the space.

Here I am presenting a selection of my model versions accompanied by the publicity photos I was working from and a little information about each artist/designer. I have also included some notes on the materials or the techniques I’ve used to simulate the objects.

Porky Hefer

Models of Porky Hefer 'Fallen Bird's Nest' and Charles Haupt 'Num Num Branch', Southern Guild, made by David Neat

South African artist Porky Hefer’s Fallen Bird’s Nest is in reality woven ‘kooboo’ cane with a leather cushion. If I’d been able to allocate more than just a couple of days to this interesting piece I would have attempted weaving very thin, soft wire or even tried a 3D printing ‘pen’. But I had to settle for making a basic wire armature, then modelling both canework and cushion in Super Sculpey, painted with acrylics.

Porky Hefer 'Fallen Bird's Nest', model by David Neat

 

Porky Hefer 'Fallen Bird's Nest', kooboo cane and leather, courtesy of Southern Guild

Above the original Fallen Bird’s Nest, kooboo cane and leather, courtesy of Southern Guild.

Charles Haupt

Charles Haupt 'Num Num tables', models by David Neat

Charles Haupt works in bronze, with his own art foundry called Bronze Age in Cape Town. His speciality is making cast bronze components which can be configured in various ways as table supports or stands. For these he takes his inspiration from the regular thorns of the native South African Num Num shrub. For me these pieces were the most challenging to represent, partly in keeping them as thin but smooth as possible and also because, in the case of the tables, the structures have to be very finely tuned to meet both the ‘floor’ and the level tabletop.

Featuring Charles Haupt 'Num Num' coffee table, courtesy Southern Guild

Luckily I could snip out the basic shapes in pre-welded wire mesh, then model a thin, smoothed layer of Milliput to achieve the distinctive appearance. This needed a lot of delicate sanding before basecoating in dark matte acrylic, then dry-brushing Treasure Gold wax-gilt finish. The thin acrylic table tops had to be secured to the supports with the merest dots of superglue.

Charles Haupt 'Num Num Branch', model by David Neat

Previously the original Num Num Coffee Table in cast bronze and glass, and below the Num Num Branch in polished bronze. Photos courtesy of Southern Guild

Charles Haupt 'Num Num Branch', polished bronze, courtesy of Southern Guild

 

Miniature exhibits from Christie's 'Contemporary Living', interactive model made by David Neat

The ensemble above features some of the smaller works presented by The New Craftsmen from Nic Webb, Edmond Byrne and Leah Jensen. In the model I represented smaller works such as these in a slightly larger scale to reinforce their presence alongside the larger pieces.

Edmond Byrne

Edmond Byrne 'Glass Bowl with kaolin patina in amber', model by David Neat

Edmond Byrne is an Irish glass-blower whose technique involves blowing into hand-made moulds. Byrne lines these moulds with various materials such as clay or fabric which impart rough, matte effects on the cooled glass surface, in contrast to the sleek and glossy interior.

The easiest way I could achieve this in the model was by doing a similar thing .. by modelling a shape then making a mould from it. I then coloured some clear, viscous epoxy resin (Poundland epoxy adhesive) with a smudge of oil paint and spread it into the mould. To enhance the dusty patina on the outside I removed the cast while still a little tacky and brushed talc into the surface.

bowl making process

Below the original Large textured glass bowl with kaolin patina in amber. Photo courtesy of The New Craftsmen.

Edmond Byrne 'Glass Bowl in amber', courtesy of The New Craftsmen

Nic Webb

Nic Webb 'Moon Jar', model by David Neat

There were two very beautiful pieces by Nic Webb .. the sycamore Moon Jar represented above and the boxwood Lost Vessel below. Webb had given the sycamore a rich, dark finish which, as it turned out, I could suggest fairly well in slow-baked Super Sculpey with a few coats of brown shoe polish. Apart from the scorched interior the boxwood Lost Vessel was much paler so I had to use paint .. and never really got it! I realise now that I might have done better if I’d used a mix of translucent, cream and light brown Sculpey without needing to paint.

Nic Webb 'Lost Vessel', model by David Neat

Below the original Lost Vessel and Moon Jar courtesy of The New Craftsmen. The colours in this quick reference photo are not accurate.

Nic Webb 'Lost Vessel' and 'Moon Jar', boxwood and sycamore, courtesy of The New Craftsmen

Stanislaw Trzebinski

Stanislaw Trzebinski 'Mesa Ya Mwamba' model by David Neat

The young South African designer Stanislaw Trzebinski takes inspiration from marine forms, especially the ‘sea changes’ effected by aquatic organisms. Apparently he envisioned his sturdy tables as if underwater .. floating and transforming. As wood he uses muninga (also known as kiaat in Afrikaans) which is warm with a distinct, lively appearance. I wanted to trial a different technique for simulating this and needed it highly polished.

I was pleased with the results obtained surfacing the plinths with patterned acetate so I tried the same with the table surfaces .. finding a suitable image; adjusting the scale and printing on inkjet compatible film, which was then spraymounted onto the Pvc table top, ink-side down (once it had dried on the film, which can take a while!).

Stanislaw Trzebinski 'Mesa Ya Mwamba' model by David Neat, detail showing surface

One of the virtues of this method is that the pattern feels ‘within’ the surface (rather than sitting on top, like paint). Inkjet ink is transparent, so layers can be superimposed for richer, darker effects. Lastly, the top surface of the acetate is a perfect ‘mirror’ gloss, if this is the aim, but it can also be subdued as I’ve done here by rubbing with scouring sponge or superfine sanding pad (available from specialist decorator’s shops such as Leyland). When cladding a surface in this way it’s always better to cut the image slightly larger; spraymount onto the image; press and rub onto the host surface; turn over, and trim the edges with a fine scalpel. I’ve used 3M Display Mount for a strong bond.

I used strong, thin glassfibre rod for the legs (because it bonds well to the Pvc top) then modelled the details in Milliput. Below is the actual table, entitled Meza ya mwamba, cast bronze and kiaat, courtesy of Southern Guild.

Stanislaw Trzebinski 'Meza ya mwamba' table, model by David Neat

David Krynauw

David Krynauw 'Jeppestown Waiting Bench', model by David Neat

The Johannesburg designer David Krynauw chose panga panga wood (related to wenge) for this version of his Jeppestown Waiting Bench. In it he’s paid homage to the traditional riempie furniture method (using worked leather thonging for seats or backs).

I cut the basic framework out of 2mm Palight, then there was a deal of edge smoothing. Of course I had to take a shortcut with the criss-cross thonging (which in reality is surprisingly thin), substituting pieces of plastic embroidery mesh. Below is the real Jeppestown Waiting Bench, panga panga and leather, courtesy of Southern Guild.

David Krynauw 'Jeppestown Waiting Bench', Southern Guild

Meyer von Wielligh

Meyer von Weilligh 'Leaf Sideboard', model by David Neat

‘Meyer von Wielligh’ is the duo Norman Meyer and Abrie von Wielligh. They have created a number of versions of their Leaf Sideboard .. this one using ash wood and steel, the leaf patterns inspired by leaves scattered on the floor of Knysna Forest, in the Garden Route area of South Africa.

For me, once again Palight foamed Pvc came to the rescue, because it can be easily embossed .. sparing me the chore of inlaying real wood veneer which wouldn’t have done the job at that scale anyway.

Meyer von Weilligh 'Leaf Sideboard' detail, model by David Neat

Below is the photo reference for Leaf Sideboard, solid ash and steel, courtesy of Southern Guild.

Meyer von Wielligh 'Leaf Sideboard, ash wood and steel, courtesy of Southern Guild

William Waterhouse and Louisa Loakes

William Waterhouse/Louisa Loakes 'Cherry Day bed', model by David Neat

For their Cherry Day bed collaboration William Waterhouse made the structure and textile designer Louisa Loakes hand-printed the mattress and head-roll. They both work in London, William specialising in furniture and installation pieces often employing movement and mechanisation. I found it easiest and ‘neatest’ to model mattress and roll in Sculpey, then paint with acrylics. The written dimensions suffered in transit, so my version ended up a little short!

William Waterhouse & Louisa Loakes 'Cherry Day bed', cherry wood and steel, hand-printed fabric. Courtesy of The New Craftsmen

One of William’s kinetic installation pieces was included in the exhibition; the Beaufort (Air Powered Machine) .. a mesmerising chandelier-like structure fed from an unseen air pump. Since I couldn’t hang anything in the model, mine had to rest as if ‘off duty’ on a plinth.

William Waterhouse 'Beaufort (Air Powered Machine)', model by David Neat

Photos of the original Cherry Day bed, cherry wood and steel with hand-printed textiles and Beaufort (Air Powered Machine) in brass and air, courtesy of The New Craftsmen.

William Waterhouse 'Beaufort (Air Powered Machine)', brass and pumped air, courtesy of The New Craftsmen

Heino Schmitt

Heino Schmitt 'Be Seated', model by David Neat

Heino Schmitt’s bench which he entitled Be Seated utilizes an unusually large piece of olive wood which he found on a river bed. Some of the original nature of the wood has been retained at the edges but combined with decidedly man-made elements in brass and steel. Once again I grained and painted Palight for the seat. Photo below courtesy of Southern Guild.

Heino Schmitt 'Be Seated', olive wood, brass and steel. Courtesy of Southern Guild

Trevor Potter

Trevor Potter 'Weaver Nest Lamp', model by David Neat

Trevor Potter’s Weaver Nest Lamp represents a fascination with a weaver bird colony near to his home. Like a number of the other South African designers he favours bronze, because of the freedom it gives to model in an amenable material such as wax before making inflexible in metal. A quote from him about the work is worth giving in full:

‘Nest-building exemplifies a drive to create and it is in this instinct, shared by all life, that consciousness shows its face and expression can be noticed’

My simple expression of it just involved Pvc, wire and Sculpey. Below is the original, bronze and glass, courtesy of Southern Guild.

Trevor Potter 'Weaver Nest Lamp', bronze and glass, courtesy of Southern Guild

‘Contemporary Living’ at Christie’s South Kensington – Part 1

 

Miniature exhibits and 'push tools' from the interactive model 'The Patron's House' exhibited at Christie's during 'First Open' April 2017

I have just finished work on a particularly interesting, rewarding .. and of course demanding! .. piece commissioned by the London gallery The New Craftsmen for a showing of their artists’ work in conjunction with pieces from the Johannesburg based Southern Guild and items from Christie’s contemporary collection. The ‘exhibition’ .. along with my miniature, interactive version of it .. will be briefly open to the public at Christie’s South Kensington under the title ‘Contemporary Living’  from April 1-4 before the auction process starts. So yes, it opened already yesterday .. but it’s public tomorrow from 9.00 – 17.00 and on Tuesday 9.00 – 17.00, continuing 18.00 – 20.30 .. admission free!

The idea was to include a playful, dollshouse-related, interactive model within a showing of applied craftsmanship and artist/designer furniture .. so that visitors can actually rearrange the exhibits according to their own preferences. ‘The Patron’s House’, as it’s titled in the show, is really a more simplified, ‘toyed with’ version of the exhibition space, but opened out to allow more access.

'The Patron's House' Contemporary Living at Christies, April 2017

'The Patron's House' David Neat, Contemporary Living at Christie's, April 2017

The work had to be done relatively quickly .. there were more than forty individual objects and, within the realm of the model, each piece had to have its own plinth. This was mainly for practical reasons, so that the pieces can be moved around without harming the delicate models. From the beginning we felt that the plinths should be somehow decorated .. stark white plinths may often be the safest option in real-space, but the model needed something more playful. In the end I opted for a mixture of patterned, plain white and veneer-clad plinths. Another thing that was clear to us from the beginning was that there needed to be some juggling with the scale of the objects themselves .. so that the smaller objects could retain enough presence in competition with the larger. This is a feature of traditional dollshouses .. whether intentional or not. I chanced upon the idea of making ‘positional rakes’ similar to those used by a croupier, because participants needed to be given more ‘reach’ .. we couldn’t do away with the three main walls because the ‘paintings’ would need them, so the model could only be comfortably accessed from one end.

'The Patron's House' David Neat, Contemporary Living at Christie's, April 2017

'The Patron's House' David Neat, Contemporary Living at Christie's, April 2017

I had the chance to take photos of the individual model pieces while they were still in my studio, so I’m presenting them here followed by the photos of the real-life pieces I’d been using as reference. I often only had one publicity photo to work from plus outline dimensions, though The New Craftsmen provided a thorough series including details and good ‘white balance’, which helped a lot when trying to assess true colours or identifying materials. Nevertheless with many of the objects I had to settle for a reasonable ‘overall suggestion’ or sometimes even a ‘playful variation’ on the essential look. This was just as well because it was perhaps inevitable that the galleries had to make some mid-term changes to the exhibits, meaning that what arrived was a different version of what I’d been working on. For each object I’ve also included some notes on the materials and the processes I used, some of which I developed specially for this work.

Conrad Hicks

Conrad Hicks 'Implement Table' and 'Copper Chaise', Southern Guild, models by David Neat

Conrad Hicks 'Implement Table', Southern Guild, model by David Neat

South African Conrad Hicks works principally with forged metals, in these cases copper and iron. I had to use real copper sheet to achieve the look but the verdigris is just an acrylic paint job. After experimenting with a few different scaled thicknesses of copper before it would behave, I finally spraymounted two of the thinnest together to combine the right strength with easy bending. I didn’t have to beat it! .. the texture was easily done with an embossing tool. Deciding what to use for the iron frameworks was difficult at first, but in the end cutting out shapes in 3mm black Palight ( foamed Pvc ) proved the best solution. Below are the photos I was referencing for Conrad Hicks Copper Chaise and Implement Table, both forged copper and iron, courtesy of Southern Guild.

Conrad Hicks 'Copper Chaise', Southern Guild

Conrad Hicks 'Implement Table', Southern Guild

I wanted the plinth decoration throughout the range of objects to be as noticeable but also as subtle as possible .. and I wanted it to last, and not get dirty from handling. I wanted colour and pattern to ’emerge’ from the surface .. so neither direct painting nor pasting paper prints would do! I also wanted the pattern to fade out smoothly at the top, otherwise it would clash too much with the objects. In the end I found that inkjet printing 100micron clear transparency film with found pattern images and gluing inked side down to the plinth Pvc with strong spraymount ( Photomount or Craftmount ) did a perfect job! To be safe I let the printed sheets dry for a day before using (the ink takes much longer to dry on acetate). I also needed to prepare special strip portions of the pattern images first, using the Graduated Filter in Paint Shop Pro to fade each strip at the top. Once applied and trimmed, I ‘silked’ the surface of the film to take away the gloss with fine abrasive cloth.

Sebastian Cox

Sebastian Cox 'Scorched Shake Sideboard', model by David Neat

Sebastian Cox 'Scorched Table', model by David Neat

The British furniture maker Sebastian Cox, represented by The New Craftsman, uses traditional woods .. specialising in coppiced timber and self-managed woodland .. but often subjects them to a very controlled surface scorching resulting in a deep black. For both his sideboard and large table I found again that black Palight worked best of all because I could vary the surface effects from a slight-sheen sanding for the sideboard to a deeper matte graining on the table. For the front doors of the sideboard, which in reality are composed of cleft ‘shakes’ .. a form of shingle traditional to Japan .. I had to texturise thin strips of 1mm white Palight, apply them, then paint them with matte black Humbrol enamel. I dry-brushed with a slightly lighter acrylic to further emphasize the texture. I felt that the table needed a simpler, veneered plinth .. in this case oak sealed with water-based ‘satin’ varnish. Below is the real-life Scorched Shake Sideboard, but since the table was a new work there is no proper photo as yet ( courtesy The New Craftsmen and Gareth Hacker Photography ).

Sebastian Cox 'Scorched Shake Sideboard', courtesy The New Craftsmen and Gareth Hacker Photography

Dokter and Misses

Dokter and Misses 'Kassena Isibheque', model by David Neat

Dokter and Misses are not a married couple in spite of what the name might imply, but a multi-disciplinary Johannesburg design company of more than two. One of their special ‘Editions’ .. as different from their ‘Products’ .. is their ‘Kassena’ collection, a unique looking range of robust wooden cabinets which are all hand-painted, inspired by the painted adobe structures of the Kassena people from the border region of Ghana. These cabinets contain drawers which are almost hidden apart from tell-tale hand slots .. because my time was limited I had to sacrifice this feature. For the same reason and also because of the minuteness of the scale I had to simplify the geometric patterning (which does actually represent texts in an indigenous writing system) and resort to Letraset to create an effect. Below is the original, hand-painted solid beech wood Kassena Isibheqe, courtesy of Southern Guild.

Dokter and Misses 'Kassena Isibheqe', Southern Guild

Bristol Weaving Mill

Bristol Weaving Mill, Rag Rugs ('Blue Ombre' and 'Yellow & grey'), models by David Neat

Also represented here by The New Craftsmen, BWM had two rag rugs in the show made by Juliet Bailey, one of the directors. In the model I mounted these either side of a freestanding plinthed wall piece. For the first time I felt I was using my usual recommendation to use painted sandpaper for carpets to good effect! I painted a very coarse sandpaper white first then detailed the colours in matte acrylic. Below is one of the two originals, the Yellow & grey courtesy of The New Craftsmen.

Bristol Weaving Mill, rag rug 'Yellow & grey', The New Craftsmen

Mock Mock

Mock Mock (Pieter Henning) 'Stone Tables', model by David Neat

Pieter Henning’s design label Mock Mock produces, amongst other things, simple combinations of copper and stone of which these ‘tables’ are an example. Henning comes from the Klein Karoo valley in South Africa. I didn’t stand a hope of bending and soldering flat metal strips at this scale so I cut the slender shapes from thin styrene sheet, combining with discs of thicker Pvc.

Detail of Pieter Henning's 'Stone Tables' for Mock Mock, models by David Neat

To suggest the coloured stone or marble patterns I started with a generalised base colour, then stippled spots of lighter acrylic using a piece of reticulated foam. Tissuing this before the paint was properly dry created a more natural and varied effect. The copper is simulated with Humbrol metallic enamel. Below are the items Southern Guild originally intended to send .. the ones which arrived were significantly different, not as colourful though of the same type. In a sense this didn’t matter .. it became part of the model’s separate and playful existence.

Pieter Henning 'Stone Tables' for Mock Mock, Southern Guild

Gareth Neal and Kevin Gauld

Gareth Neal & Kevin Gauld 'Brodgar Bench', model by David Neat

The ‘Brodgar Bench’ featured on the left above was designed by London-based designer Gareth Neal and made by Orkney chair maker Kevin Gauld. The model needed to be mainly wood, nothing else would have been right .. in the end I used a combination of obeche, limewood and bamboo for strength. For the woven straw back I resisted trying any woven fabric, fearing a fibrous mess .. so ended up engraving the weave pattern in 1mm Palight (to the right is a day-bed from Louisa Loakes & William Waterhouse which will feature separately in Part 2). Below, the original Brodgar Bench, oak with woven straw back. Courtesy of The New Craftsmen

Gareth Neal and Kevin Gauld 'The Brodgar Bench', The New Craftsmen

Jesse Ede

Jesse Ede 'Lunar Bench', model by David Neat

Lastly for this part, another very different form of bench from the South African Jesse Ede. Most of the original was cast in recycled aluminium, making use of the rough, pitted texture .. so Humbrol ‘silver’ enamel with a little sand mixed in simulated this perfectly. The distinctive slate shard was easiest to model in polymer clay then paint using my ‘open foam print’ technique. The photo of the Lunar Bench in recycled aluminium and Malmesbury slate is courtesy of Southern Guild. The photos illustrate how one needs to be wary of foreshortening when judging photos .. my proportions are fairly accurate!

Jesse Ede 'Lunar Bench', Southern Guild

 



 

 

 

Advice for anyone interested in beachcombing or mudlarking the Thames Foreshore

I’m working through my obsession partly by writing about it .. and probably making it far, far worse! But at least I’ve completed this very practical guide and deposited it as the first entry in a new folder Thames Foreshore in the main menu strip. The guide even includes an illustrated list of the different kinds of mud, which in its seriousness may be amusing to some! But I’ve chosen not to preview that particular part as an excerpt here, rather this other part.

What might you find?

As I said, different spots may offer up more than others if you’re just looking for historical human artefacts but if, like me, you’re just as keen to see interestingly shaped stones, driftwood or unexpected flotsam .. just about any point on the Thames Foreshore will do! Most locations have either patches or whole banks of shingle, some interspersed with areas of sand, others with areas of mud. Regarding those ‘stones’, I had, as it were, questioned their authenticity earlier. What I meant was that much of what first appear as nicely weathered, rounded pebbles are fragments of brick or roof tile, or natural chalk which was ‘shipped in’ and laid down as more comfortable beds for the barges. There are pebbles, mainly flint, which were naturally deposited by successive glacial actions up to the last Ice Age around 21,000 years ago .. but many of those, especially the larger and more weirdly shaped nodules, could have just as likely been shipped in along with the chalk.

Pipe bowls, Thames Foreshore, Wapping

For most visitors the fragments of clay tobacco pipe are the most memorable novelties, and a trademark of the Thames foreshore. Pieces of pipe-stem are easy to pick up in certain areas, complete bowls less so .. but spend enough time on the first type of mud featured earlier and you may even extract a perfectly preserved bowl with a few inches of stem! There are so many fragments, not just because for more than 300 years they were sold filled and routinely chucked when smoked, but also because the hundreds of pipe-makers working along the foreshore would likely ditch their kiln leftovers or rejects into the Thames. Even today most will be found close to where the numerous ferries used to transport workers either across or along the Thames, because although the Thames currents will move many things around over the course of time the mud will also tend to accept, envelope and preserve many things where they fell. Because of that it’s not unheard of to find complete ones, which could sometimes be more than a forearm in length!

Clay pipe bowls can be dated with some certainty according to their shape, size and decoration, and with even more accuracy if they feature a maker’s-mark on the ‘heel’, the protrusion under the bowl. The top pipe bowl above dates from 1640-60 while the one below is a fairly typical decorated one from 1780-1820.

Pieter Claesz 'Clay Pipes and a Brazier' 1636

Tobacco Pipes and a Brazier 1636  (Hermitage) by the Dutch still-life painter Pieter Claesz showing a very similar form to the older pipe bowl above.

Two other common items that can do with a little background are the oyster shells and the animal bones. Oysters have been native to the Thames Estuary since the beginnings of time apparently, and it was only relatively recently that they ceased to be a major food source especially for the poor. So the abundance of their discarded shells along the London Thames is more than accounted for by that fact, whether or not the river itself supports them or how much they’ve been specially farmed here in the past. The same applies to the animal bones .. the city’s unusable leftovers tipped into the Thames for hundreds of years. As far as I know the common ingredients are sheep, cow, goat, pig and poultry, perhaps with a portion of horse and even a smattering of boar, especially in the Greenwich area where the Tudor royal palace used to be.

Animal bones against the river wall, Thames Foreshore, Wapping

It’s tempting to think this .. that the concentration of bones in the Greenwich area relates either to 200 years of Tudor/Stuart feasting or to the 19th century Foreign Cattle Market at neighbouring Deptford .. but I’m not so sure. I suspect it has more to do with the river bends and the way these influence where the tidal currents deposit different things. Greenwich has a high concentration because it’s at the centre of a ‘concave’ and the same applies to Wapping where the above photo was taken. On a recent visit to part of Rotherhithe on the opposite side, i.e. on the ‘convex’, I noticed there were surprisingly few.

After the stones, the bones and the oyster shells, the next most noticeable without really trying are the fragments of pottery .. or ‘potsherds’ as they’re often referred to, mainly because it’s the kosher archaeological term. One doesn’t go down to the Thames foreshore seeking a complete pot .. you’ll have to go to either a museum or an antiquities dealer for those .. although apparently there have been rare occasions! But I don’t think it’s widely known how significantly old these fragments can be .. surprisingly many can date back to the Roman occupation or even earlier! The problem with most of them especially if water-worn .. is proving that .. if only to oneself. So it’s always more satisfying to find a fragment which has an unmistakable shape, a definitive pattern, an identifiable colour or glaze. There are a surprising number of 17th-18th century fragments, most commonly cream-coloured slipware or white/blue Delftware which are easily recognisable after one’s seen the first .. even more so the pieces of 16th-17th century Bartmann or ‘Bellarmine’ bottle/jugs.

Fragment of 'Bellarmine', Thames Foreshore, Rotherhithe

Above is part of the trademark bearded face from an 18th century German Bartmann jug and below a small piece of 18th century English slipware.

Small piece of 18thC English slipware, Thames Foreshore, Greenwich Peninsula

Then there is the limitless count of things which, on the one hand, anyone can come across by incredible chance or ‘fate’ at any time and in any place without trying, but which on the other hand one’s much more likely to come across by putting in some time and effort. I mean the coins dropped throughout the millennia back to even before there were pockets; the tokens, some just as old, which were used in place of money; the religious badges or emblems which pilgrims could buy; the many and various tools, including weapons, used on or around the Thames foreshore .. the list is, as I say, unlimited. Except perhaps in one respect .. purposefully buried treasure! .. because who in their right mind would choose to do so in a place where they could be so easily seen doing it and who, with any knowledge of the Thames, would choose such a fluid and changeable location?

How can you improve your chances?

As I’ve suggested, if you’re happy to remain fairly casual about whether you find anything or not then all you need to do is look downwards and let fate decide the rest. If you’re more ‘engaged’, to the point of feeling that you really ‘deserve’ to find something .. that state of mind will certainly help! But added to that, a little preparatory knowledge is bound to help even more.

In the first place you should go a little before low tide, to experience the location at its fullest. Most are varied beaches, as I’ve said, likely to include areas of dry shingle higher up; mixture patches of stones/sand/mud lower down; and lastly wetter, usually older mud nearest the waterline .. you should check out all of them! You may observe while doing so that certain materials or fragments have tended to rest together along the same ‘tide-mark’. Often, though not always, if you find interesting things along one of these, following the same level along the beach or the ‘mark’ if it’s visible will reveal more. Mudlarkers refer to these as find lines but they might be looking for different ones because they’ve learnt the value of scraping under the surface. Often a darker tone of debris, perhaps even including darker sand or silt, may indicate an earlier ‘historical’ seam. But don’t take the word ‘seam’ too literally because these aren’t arranged as clearly and logically as strata in a cliff face.

Another one of the mudlarkers’ favourite phrases is getting your eye in’ or as I think of it, being tuned to the tell-tale signs of ‘otherness’. Much simplified, if you’re after the usual things I’d recommend you tune your eye to pick up circles and parallel lines for a start. Proper circles, or parts of them and especially ‘rings’, are not native to this environment so they can denote pipe-bowls facing upwards, ends of bottles, bases or rims of pots .. and coins! Neither are regular parallel lines ‘natural’ here .. they’re one of the chief indications of the man-made .. and here they may denote most forms of decoration or simply ‘something straight’.

Of course, colour difference can often be the strongest indication generally and it’s a happy coincidence that the raw umber colour of Thames mud is perfectly balanced to contrast equally with pale pipe-clay and warm terracotta. But up against the shingle the competition of colours is fiercer so here especially one is much more dependant on form.

Scanning for 'circles', Thames Foreshore Deptford

As an illustration of this, the photo above is what I was lucky enough to notice on a recent visit to my local stretch of Deptford foreshore, and below is what it turned out to be. This was a popular form of pipe for a while in the mid 19th century but they’re not a common Thames find and they weren’t a great deal longer than what’s been left here. These male heads were often of dragoons or Turks, presumably because of the convenient headgear shapes.

Mid 19th Century male head pipe, Thames Foreshore Deptford

For me it always ‘marks the day’ when I find a particular type of item I haven’t found before, like when I found my first ‘wig curler’ which was only the smallest of fragments rather than a complete one, but that hardly mattered.

I’d estimate that even when one knows the beach and its ‘hot spots’; however experienced one might be at searching and however well-tuned the eye happens to be that day .. the chances of seeing even what’s lying in one’s path can’t be more than 50%. This is because unless you’re standing still you have to swing your gaze to-and-fro while moving, so there’s always an equal chance that something is on the ‘fro’ while you’re on the ‘to’! But I really think that’s as it should be .. it means that other people get a ‘look in’ after you, including yourself at another time.

The next illustrates the importance of having an eye for parallel lines, for which I’m using photos courtesy of Lara Maiklem (@london.mudlark). What she first spotted was this .. the hint of a stoneware colour, but otherwise the only marks distinguishing it from its surroundings were a few incised lines.

14th century Dutch toy whistle, Thames Foreshore, @london.mudlark

Only a small part of it was visible and it turned out to be part of a 14th century toy whistle from the Netherlands. She was able to identify it so precisely after posting it on her Facebook site because it received a response from someone who had seen a near- identical one in a Dutch collection, shown in the b/w photo.

lon-mudlark_whistle

Lastly, if you’re looking for success .. you just have to put the time in! Often, after checking first when at least some of the beach is even accessible, I’ll be down there 2 hours before low tide and stay around until 2 hours after. It may be annoying at times but I’m thankful for the limit the tide imposes .. otherwise I’d be spending far too much time down there for my own good!

Thames foreshore

I felt I needed to explain why I haven’t been posting for a while and to, hopefully, start recompensing. I’ve been unable to write partly because I’ve been trying to get to grips with a rather overwhelming obsession with the Thames foreshore. Before I moved to Deptford in 2008 and discovered that we were within a stone’s throw of the access stairs known as Upper Watergate I had always loved the Thames whenever I saw it .. as most Londoners do .. but had never considered getting that close to it. That started to change on realizing how very ‘interesting’ everything down there could be at low tide! We quickly became so accustomed to spending time there so when in 2009 the photographer Brittany App wanted to take some shots of us in our favourite environment there was little question about the choice.

David Neat and Astrid Baerndal photographed by Brittany App

St George's Stairs, Thames foreshore 2017

What made our local ‘beach’ so appealing was the wealth of options! We could go down there with a camera or a collector’s bag, most often both .. either way we knew we would almost always come back with something of value. We could go down there to think, mentholated by the unbelievable peacefulness of the place .. but equally we could benefit from the opposite when we didn’t want to think, when we needed to take our minds ‘off’. We could go to experience a semi-natural habitat shielded from the human bustle above, hearing only wind and water, sharing it for the moment with flocks of seagulls, families of swans, solitary herons, cormorants or the occasional fox .. or we could go for reminders of our own human past amongst the decaying jetties, fragmenting ironwork or even more ancient timbers. Often we would go there just to be amused .. it’s strange how regularly the foreshore offers up images or objects in seemingly deliberate opposition!

Heron at Deptford, Thames foreshore 2016

Plastic duck, Thames foreshore 2017

The foreshore collective constantly plays tricks! Objects often appear to be what they’re not .. little scraps of red-brown rubber will often sit amongst the pottery sherds; white cable stained with age will poke up amongst the pipe fragments; smoothly rounded ‘pebbles’ of brick most often outnumber the naturals they’re imitating. Even the knowledgeable can be fooled by the chalk i.e. knowing that this part of England lies on a massive chalk foundation .. but this chalk hasn’t risen from underneath the London Clay, it’s what remains of the chalk that was shipped in and laid down as more stable beds for the barges. The presence of most things to be found on the foreshore, and the reasons behind their abundance in certain places or their absence in others, can often be illuminated by a little historical detection. But there are unsolved mysteries too .. for example, why so many of the oyster shells have holes in their centres (apparently this is not jewellery) or where the strange green stones found around the Rotherhithe shoreline come from.

When I put it in these words .. no wonder I’ve become obsessed!

But this present obsession is much stronger than before because for the last few weeks I’ve started to think seriously about how I can use it, or in better words .. what I can make out of it! So I started by interrogating what the attraction was down there, what thoughts it was generating .. what was the sculptor in me thinking rather than purely the person? I wasn’t just scanning for historical fragments but seeking out aesthetic ‘favourites’ from the multitude of shapes on offer, regardless of what material they were or their social significance.

Pipe bowl, Thames foreshore 2016

Whiting Stairs, Thames foreshore 2017

So I’ve thought a bit more about that act of searching .. of scanning. The brain conditions the eye to pick out the ‘otherwise’, that which doesn’t belong .. but only in terms of visual distinction, of colour and form. In other ways that whole idea of ‘belonging’ or not is debatable .. because for me as the finder all these things are ‘meant’ to be there and according to the intricate gameplay of the foreshore one thing can be as ‘natural’ there as another. It would be similar saying that the snake in the grass doesn’t ‘belong’ there

photo courtesy of marleypeifer.com

Above courtesy of marleypiefer.com

But certainly one’s looking for visual ‘otherness’ .. a contained colour or tone difference; a noticeable pause in the surrounding visual activity; anything to do with repetition especially if it’s regular i.e. evenly spaced parallel lines or divisions; smoother geometry i.e. better circles or squares than nature usually needs. Often one gets only the last-departing hints of these differences because the Thames has already had many years of ‘taking them back’. Whatever they looked like when they were newly artificial, the river invests them in camouflage, almost as if once accepting them into its folds it takes part in their concealment.

old padlock, Thames foreshore Greenwich 2017

In other places, especially higher up the beaches, there’s so much ‘otherness’ in the melee that significant others can often hide in plain sight. The fragment of pot which one can just about make out within the scrap metal frame turned out to be Tudor!

Deptford junk, Thames foreshore 2009

So I’m sure that searching the Thames foreshore has greatly enhanced my appreciation of the full formal spectrum as I like to call it ( though I have to find a better term). I mean the range of likely form types, including their usual colours and surface patterns, from mineral through organic animal/vegetable to artificial man-made. As a boy hunting for fossils I became familiar with part of it .. the lower and oldest part of the spectrum from mineral shapes and pattern coincidences to true signs of life. Physical forces may have shaped stones or given them surface patterns that look uncannily ‘designed’ but usually one gets to be able to distinguish these from the more conclusively deliberate and organised trace-forms left behind by living creatures. These have a different formal style .. almost always involving some form of equal repetition and very often showing some form of symmetry. If the fossil is more than an impression, rather a cast of the original lifeform transmuted in mineral, then there is also local colour to differentiate it from stone.

After that this formal spectrum would continue through lifeforms themselves .. especially in this context their surviving parts i.e. bones, horns, teeth, shells, driftwood, seed pods etc. Then it’s onto the artificial .. starting with stones which have been shaped as tools; including animal bones which have been modified or decorated; through to early pottery and metalwork .. and onwards! What would be at the end of this spectrum then? One might immediately think of the number of smartphones that end up on the foreshore .. but no, they’re just tools, they don’t deserve such a significant place, and in any case the spectrum is not strictly chronological. Here, and I’m just suggesting for the moment, one should place the symbolic .. forms which have no practical, everyday function other than to represent something greater! This final portion would embrace both ancient and modern .. fertility figures, talismans, religious symbols, offerings to the Thames ( of which there are many present day ones ) .. pieces of fine art, if any.

So far I’ve just been describing, and at the same time organizing, the basis inspiration for what I now want to create out of the experience so far. I have plans and I could say more, but I’d prefer to let this evolve more naturally, less deliberately. What I am compelling myself to do is to create a separate Thames foreshore section in the above main menu strip. To start it off I’m writing a more practical guide based on various places I’ve visited so far, for anyone interested in doing the same.