Tips for gathering wood for sculptures

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 the shoreline onto private land, be very careful not to disturb any wildlife and always wear protective gloves.

I usually combine my trips for driftwood with some beach-cleaning and carry used feed bags or similar. There is an admirable group of volunteers in this region, providing pick-up points for beach rubbish, so it is very convenient to combine the two tasks.

If you are collecting other types of wood, similar rules apply, although you will obviously need permission before removing anything from the land. Our own project at Frugaldom was former forestry land so I have continued to salvage what I can and create sculptures for the site from it.

I usually set out with a rough idea of the scale and shape of my next sculpture so that I can gather suitable pieces of wood for the project. Obviously not all found wood is suitable for creating sculptures because it is rotten or far too wet.

I usually start off with simple “tap test” which will tell me whether the wood is dry, brittle or will simply shatter. All of the bark has to be removed as it retains the moisture. The sea does a lot of the work for me in the case of driftwood but, as a general rule, the less bark the better.

For larger animals such as a horse or deer, I know that I need a collection of sturdy pieces of around 4 feet in length to begin the framework for the legs and body. Nature rarely provides perfectly straight pieces or right angles and my ideal lengths have a gentle curve which is ideal for suggesting the form of the animal.

Smaller curved pieces, between 2 and 3 feet long tend to make up the bulk of the sculpture, enabling me to build up shape and muscle. Occasionally I will find a really unusual piece which might suggest a knee joint, a hoof or an eye. Sometimes this could be part of a root or just a gnarled and twisted piece of wood. If not used on my current project, these can be stored for future use.

Once back at the studio, the wood is spread out and left to dry. Some pieces can be worked almost immediately whereas others go into storage and any saturated or rotten wood is discarded. A second or even a third trip is sometimes required to complete a large sculpture. The wood is treated to preserve the sculpture once it is completed and this should be repeated periodically to protect it against the elements.


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