Loch Arkaig Animal Sculptures – The finishing touches

The four commissioned animal sculptures for the Loch Arkaig Public Art trail are almost completed. The final stage will be to check that they are secure and inspect them closely for any areas that need extra treatment.

The Roe Deer – on the alert for predators

The Roe deer seemed to develop quite quickly, perhaps because it is a subject that I have tackled before. We have lots of roe deer in this part of Dumfries & Galloway and I see them regularly when making the short trip over to the Frugaldom project.

The Wild Boar – Foraging

The Wild boar presented a slightly different challenge, mainly because of its rugged appearance. I managed to achieve this look by working some glue and shavings into the head and then toning them in with the rest of the sculpture.

The Lynx – stalking its prey

The Lynx did not need too much alteration once I had created the body using some suitably marked driftwood. The head required some special attention, blending in some intricate pieces of wood sent down from Loch Arkaig.

The Capercaillie – in full display

The Capercaillie was always likely to be the most challenging of the four pieces but I’m pleased with how well it has gone. Having started out with a gnarled and twisted root, the strips of pine transformed the sculpture in making the tail feathers. The iridescent paint has worked well in providing the finishing touches to the sculpture.

I will be going over each sculpture in painstaking detail this week to make sure they are in tip-top shape when they arrive at their final destination. It has been a real privilege to be included in this exciting project and I can’t wait to see what the other artists have produced!

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Loch Arkaig Animal Sculptures part 8: Final phase begins

The Loch Arkaig sculptures are now approaching the final phase. As the subjects chosen for this commission are so varied, each has set its own challenges.

The lynx has not posed too many problems, although it is the first time I have created a member of the cat family in driftwood. My most recent session on this sculpture involved more detailed work on the head and enlarging the feet. I am happy what the driftwood pattern suits this animal very well so I do not intend to treat it with any colour, other than to highlight the white areas. There is not too much more to do on the lynx.The Roe deer has also progressed quite nicely and was transformed as soon as I added detail to the head. I still have more work to do on the legs and body and, as with the lynx, this sculpture will be given a clear wood treatment with no colouring necessary.The Capercaillie has been back on the painting bench for a second and third coat on the tail feathers. I was pleased to be able to use pine strips from Loch Arkaig to create this shape and I will adding white flecks of paint. I have also removed some excess wood from underneath the bird and still have to add the feet.The wild boar sculpture has proved to be the most difficult as I would really like to capture the look of their rugged coat. Driftwood is not the ideal material for this but I have been using wood shavings and wood glue on the head and may apply this to other areas. One of the great things about this form of sculpture is that there are really no rules to follow! You can try other finishes and re-work them if necessary until (hopefully) you get the desired result.

 I hope that you have enjoyed seeing the creative process from the “stick animals” through to the final phase of the project. I will of course be “unveiling” the completed sculptures as soon as they are ready to be transported to their permanent home in the Highlands next month!

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Loch Arkaig Animal Sculptures part 7: Capercaillie colour

With detailed work already well under way last week on the capercaillie, it was time to start thinking about colouring the sculpture. I often choose to leave my driftwood sculptures as bare wood but if any creature merits colour then it has to be the capercaillie!

I ordered some iridescent paint for the chest and head of the capercaillie. I think this will give the best results in trying to imitate the vivid display of colours.

Pine from Loch Arkaig has already been used to form the tail feathers which, for now, are being stained black. After three or four coats, I will paint some of the white markings to finish them off.

There is still more detailed work to be done but this sculpture is now the most advanced of the four commissioned pieces.

After setting the capercaillie sculpture aside to dry, I did some more work on the wild boar. They are such ungainly creatures but I think the sculpture is now going in the right direction.

I have a family of doves in the Ecoarts garden who regularly appear for food and one decided the wild boar made an ideal perch! The wild birds often use my driftwood sculptures in this way while some have even been used as nest sites! Of course it is hoped that the sculptures can be maintained with a few running repairs when needed but it is art in nature after all.

Work on all four sculptures moved quite rapidly over the past fortnight. The pace will probably slow a little now (visually at least!) as more time is spent on less obvious details like the feet, sanding off any flaking bark and treating the wood.

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Loch Arkaig Animal Sculptures part 6: Roe Deer & Wild Boar detail

With some of the more detailed work already started on the lynx  and capercaillie, it was time to devote a couple of days to the roe deer and wild boar sculptures. Much of the wood salvaged from Loch Arkaig has already been incorporated into the process of building up both sculptures on their original framework.

The roe deer has a very distinctive face and I began with some modelling around the eyes and nose. I find that the eyes and feet of the animal sculptures benefit most from adding some detail with the rest of the animal left as natural wood.

I continued to add suitable pieces to the body, constantly delving into the supplied driftwood and salvaged wood from the site. The new modelling is then lightly treated or painted to highlight the outstanding features.

I think that the long session on the roe deer went well and it is now starting to reflect the characteristics of this shy and alert creature of the forest.

The wild boar has such a coarse and rugged coat that I think the body will need some extra work to reflect this. For the moment I decided to work on the head with its long snout, tusks, small eyes and large ears.

The head also has an unusual shape which I am gradually creating with a combination of smaller pieces of driftwood and some modelling.

As with the roe deer, the detail is then treated to blend in with the existing sculpture.


It also helps to bond the smaller pieces of driftwood together and is barely discernible from the wood once it has been allowed to set.

After spending a full day on each piece, they are all now starting to develop their own character. The next stage will be further detailed work, particularly on the feet for each sculpture, whilst continue to improve the bodywork.

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Loch Arkaig Animal Sculptures part 5: Capercaillie detail

Work on the four commissioned sculptures is now progressing at a rapid rate. After a full day on the lynx sculpture yesterday, today is was the turn of the capercaillie to receive some special attention.

The delivery of the wood salvaged from Loch Arkaig suited this piece perfectly as the pine strips proved ideal for the tail feathers. The capercaillie is of course famous for its colourful display so it seems only logical to apply colour to this piece.

First I began building up around the head and neck where the capercaillie tends to fluff out its feathers. The eyes are particularly striking on this bird and just a touch of bright red immediately brought the sculpture to life.

I also continued to darken down the tail feathers after filing off some of the loose pieces. This can all be tidied up at a later stage. You can get a much better idea of how the sculptures are progressing by placing them in an open setting.

There is still plenty of work to be done, in particular the feet and more detail on the wings and feathers. The capercaillie has a real sheen to its chest, almost a pearlescent petrol blue. If I can replicate that finish to the sculpture it should be quite eye-catching.

My next blog will focus on adding detail to the remaining two sculptures, the roe deer and wild boar.

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Loch Arkaig Animal Sculptures part 4: Lynx detail

The next stage of the creation of the four Loch Arkaig sculptures is the most exciting. Having created a solid framework and built it up with the wood salvaged from the site, now is the time when the sculptures really start to develop.

The lynx is the first to be given special attention. I’m happy enough with the general shape but need to work on the head and the feet in particular. I have several pieces of driftwood with an ideal surface pattern for this piece.

Some sculptures benefit from the addition of colour, whether it is a light wash or perhaps something bold. Others look better if left as natural wood and I think the lynx is most likely to fall into the second category.

The eyes are very important for my driftwood sculptures. Sometimes I find a natural knot in a piece of wood that suggests the eye of a creature and others are left hollow. The lynx has very distinctive eyes and skin markings and after today’s session the head is starting to appear more “cat-like”.

After adding further pieces to the body and neck I started working on the feet. The lynx has very powerful feet to bring down its prey. Unfortunately my session was cut short by another downpour but the lynx is progressing nicely.

My next blog will focus on another of the sculptures as I want them all to be at the same or similar stage throughout the process.

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Loch Arkaig Animal Sculptures part 3: Wild Boar and Capercaillie

Sculptures 3 and 4 for the Loch Arkaig project are a wild boar and a capercaillie. The Wild Boar can be quite a sizeable beast and a solid frame was created from locally sourced driftwood. As soon as the delivery of driftwood and assorted pieces from Loch Arkaig arrived, I started adding these to the structure.

The wild boar has a very rugged look to it and I’m hoping to reflect this in the work as it develops. There were some excellent pieces among those sent down for me to work from, one of which I immediately used for part of the face and eye.

As the layers build up, I can begin on the more detailed work on the limbs and head of the animal. The head of the wild boar is quite distinctive and I intend to give this special attention later in the project but the animal is already starting to take shape.

The capercaillie was always going to be the most difficult of the four sculptures and needed some careful planning. I found this large gnarled root on the shore and could see enough it to use as a starting point. Roots obviously tend to go out in all directions so (with a bit of imagination!) I began cutting and shaping it to suggest the unusual shape of the capercaillie in full display.

The photographs illustrate how the bare root was used to support the frame for the tail features. Part of the Loch Arkaig delivery was several large lengths of splintered pine. I decided that I could cut these into suitable lengths and create the tail feathers display.

I’m still debating whether the finished capercaillie will need to be painted rather than just stained or darkened. For the time being I decided that it would benefit from a darkening of the tail feathers. This will also serve to remove any flaking pieces and begin the wood treatment.

For my next blog post I will be showing the development of one of the sculptures as I start on the more detailed work.

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Loch Arkaig project part 2: Roe Deer and Lynx

Work is moving forward at a good pace now on the Loch Arkaig sculptures. Having sorted through the delivery of driftwood and assorted pieces salvaged from Loch Arkaig, the next phase of the project is to start building up the sculptures. It is great that the pieces will have a tangible connection with their ultimate destination and I was delighted with the assortment of collected wood.

I decided that the best way to approach the commission is to work on all four pieces simultaneously rather than tackle them one at a time. I’m hoping that this approach will result in them complementing one another as a group. There will inevitably be times when one sculpture demands more attention but the aim is to have them all completed in early May.

The roe deer framework was fairly quickly created as I have made one previously and the basic approach is not that different from my horse sculptures. Once I had decided on the pose it was a matter of finding four suitable lengths of wood for the legs and then connecting to the body, neck and head.

The sculpture really started to take shape once I began adding the Loch Arkaig pieces. There are some pieces that suggest an eye or a joint, perhaps the arch of the neck. This is still very early in the process so I don’t make the fixes permanent until I am absolutely certain. As each piece of wood crosses over or between others it helps to secure the structure.

The roe deer is to be stalked by a lynx which is certainly a new subject for me. I try to learn more about the animal by watching videos of its movements as well as photographs from different angles. Sometimes you can get too engrossed in your work and not notice things until you take a step back. I make mental notes as I’m working, perhaps to alter a leg or to keep a look out for suitable pieces of driftwood for the feet.

I love some of the gnarled pieces of driftwood that came down from Loch Arkaig, several of which have already been used in the head of the deer and lynx. I can even smell the pine when fixing some of the pieces!

If I can get the head of the lynx as I want it, I think it will really bring the sculpture alive. The eyes of the sculptures are very important and I will often chop and change features until I have captured something of the spirit of the animal.

In my next blog post I will update you on progress on the wild boar and the very challenging task of creating a capercaillie in full display!

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Loch Arkaig Animal Sculptures part 1: The Commission

I am delighted to have been selected as one of ten artists to contribute to the Public Art project at Loch Arkaig Pine Forest in the Highlands. The ancient Caledonian pine forest was acquired by a partnership between Arkaig Community Forest and The Woodland Trust Scotland in 2016. The aim is to restore native woodland habitats and re-connect people with the site for the benefit of local communities.

As part of this exciting project, a public art trail is being created along the forest track towards Glen Mallie Woodland. The trail will serve to educate visitors and school children on the history of the forest and its people, mythology, ecology and missing wildlife. My brief is to create four animal sculptures in a mixture of driftwood and salvaged wood, including materials gathered from the forest site; A lynx stalking a roe deer, a wild boar and a capercaillie in full display.

With the aim of having four pieces of work completed for early May it was agreed that I should use locally sourced driftwood to create the original framework. This could then be built up using the Loch Arkaig material so that the finished artwork has a tangible connection with the site itself.

The material was kindly foraged, donated and delivered for the last week in March by which time I had already been hard at work on all four sculptures. My subjects are a roe deer being stalked by a lynx, a wild boar and a capercaillie in full display.

Having researched each animal, I set about the task of forming a secure framework. I am fortunate to live less than a mile from the beach at Elrig near Port William in South West Scotland and make frequent visits to gather driftwood. I stocked up for this project, seeking out sturdy pieces to form the frames.

At this stage, it is mostly about scale and I don’t make permanent fixes until later. Often I come across more suitable pieces that can be substituted or a tweak is needed here and there. I’ve selected a pose for the roe deer so that is alert and perhaps aware of danger, head held high.

The lynx will be a new challenge as I have not previously sculpted a member of the cat family. The lynx is sleek, yet strong and a powerful predator. I think that this sculpture won’t truly “come alive” until I have done some detailed work on the head.

The wild boar is another strong beast. I think the challenge here will be to reflect its rugged nature, particularly the coat and its very distinctive head. Finally the capercaillie is likely to prove the most challenging. It is a surprisingly large bird and capturing such a dramatic display of feathers using an assortment of wood will take some careful planning. I have an idea in my mind but am always prepared to adapt as the project develops.

With the framework now in place for all four sculptures and the Loch Arkaig materials safely delivered, the sculptures should start to evolve quite rapidly. Because it is quite a tight schedule I am trying to keep all four developing simultaneously. In my next blog I will feature a progress report and photographs of the next phase of work and take you through the process as each sculpture develops.

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Tips for gathering wood for sculptures

This gallery contains 9 photos.

Most of my sculptures are made using driftwood collected from nearby beaches. There are certain rules regarding the removal of items from beaches in the UK, many of which are explained here. The key points are not to stray above … Continue reading

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