Two exhausting weeks

Forfar South WallRecovering from a broken leg is not the ideal physical condition to be in at anytime, continuing with it whilst constructing a series of drystone walls some may say is just downright foolhardy! Nevertheless this is the position I find myself in as work continues on the Forfar Botanists Garden.

I am now two weeks into the project, two weeks that have proved to be tougher  on my body than normal. Limping about on site has been exhausting, having rested up for the last 6 weeks it is almost as if my feet have forgotten how heavy I am! However I have found as long as I don’t push too hard and keep topping myself up with my happy pills I still appear to be making steady progress.

Working closely with the clients some exciting additions to the scheme have been agreed and further details of this project as it develops can be found on the Forfar Botanists Garden Blog page.

Breaking Ground at Forfar

Forfar Breaking Ground photo shoot

Though past the age where my complexion will benefit from the May Day morning dew, nevertheless the beginning of the month brought me my first early start for a long while!  My leg is now well on the mend and site work is back on the agenda. Ground was broken today on ‘The Forfar Botanists Garden.’ Situated on a rectangular plot where changing rooms for the nearby sports field used to stand, the site will be the focus for my efforts over the next few weeks.

First days on site are always the worst; is everything organised, what unforeseen problems will crop up, will deliveries turn up on time, logistically they can be a nightmare. Fortuitously today couldn’t really have went much better, the sun shone, the site was cleared and the foundation trenches were dug without a hitch. Concrete gets poured tomorrow and I’m eager to start working with the 50 tonnes of stone sitting there waiting to be built into the walls for the garden. Pictured above is some of the committee lending a hand for the local press.

Forfar Botanist’s Garden

The tale of the Forfar Botanists is an inspirational one.  Five local men, who were all born into poverty, with little formal education, all achieved lasting fame for their contributions to botany.  Their love of plants and their dedication took them to the far corners of the world and the heady heights of academia.

The Friends Of The Forfar Botanists, a local charity group have raised funding to create a garden at Myre Road in their honour. Designed by Inglis Thorburn, the garden will provide a physical memorial to their work and provide a lasting legacy that will tell their story to the locals and interested visitors through planting and interpretation.

I have been appointed to construct the walling for the garden which will provide the structure for the area and to design and make a sculptural centerpiece.

Forfar Inglis Thorburn Design

Perthshire Open Studios – A New Challenge

POSApplication form completed, fee submitted there is now no turning back!

After thinking about it for a long time I have finally decided to take the plunge and committed myself to taking part in this years Perthshire Open Studios.

Public Art by definition is not a studio based practice; my career has focused on designing, creating, & making work to commission, often these are constructed on site and I can be away from the studio for months at a time, very little to see back at base. Taking place between the 7th-15th September the event is little under 22 weeks away. Recent changes offer new possibilities, my aim over the next few months is to use the POS as a catalyst to exploring these in positive & productive ways.

Opening a studio, or in my case – ‘The Shed’ – necessitates making a to-do-list of things requiring attention to make the visitors experience safe, interesting, & hopefully fun, my worry at the moment is that my list contains so many items that have nothing to do with creating ‘art’ that I wonder if I’ll have anything to ultimately exhibit!

Please check back as the year progresses to see if I manage to reduce the to-do-list, fingers crossed I’ll be able to put on a display that will be worth coming to view.

Chips Off The Old Blocks



After many months of hard graft building the drystone walls at Tonguey Field House the project is nearing completion with only the final touch to be added, installing the eight feature carvings that will become focal points within the walls.

If I was given a choice stone carving would be my preferred medium, there is something special about the process, looking at the raw block imagining it’s possibilities and then knocking ‘seven bells out of’ it to reveal the form within.

To be set within the eight alcoves that I have already built into the walls I have always had a firm picture in my mind since the design stage of how I wanted these to look. Abstracted, organic forms each with a different character but relating to one another in size and feel. They needed to be simple forms that are not too fussy in detail as they will work as a group across the facade of the wall.

For seventeen years and one house move I have had four of the rough blocks kicking about my garden, awaiting the right project to come along. The granite carvings have been made from an old broken gate post that I picked up from a stone merchants. Not 100% sure of its type but I’m fairly confident that it would come under the definition of ‘Balmoral’ Granite probably originating from the Aberdeen area. Hard to work it takes on a brilliant polish that has opened up lots of potential to play around with contrasting texture and colour.

While working up at Beinn Eighe Natural Nature Reserve near Kinlochewe installing some gateway signs in 1995 a guy, can’t remember his name, stopped to have a chat, he was the quarrymaster at a marble quarry up the road and he invited me up to see the Quarry. If you have any interest in stone at all a visit to any quarry is like being allowed into the best sweetie shop!! The quarry was owned by an Italian Company and was in the process of working the face down to get the best quality marble which is many meters down. Ledmore is a special stone in that it has a fantastic mix of greens and browns through it which I believe is pretty special in terms of marble. Loading the trailer with the biggest blocks I could lift I returned home with them to see ‘what lay within.’ Seventeen years later I have finally been able answer that question.

The remaining four carvings are made from Forest Of Dean Sandstone. Once the set are completed I’ll do a page which details my process in more detail, from initial sketch design through to completed installed carving.

‘Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today’ – Old Cherokee proverb.

Twitter is a fascinating resource, an eclectic mix of the wondrous, informative, witty and bizarre, it provides a window into so many different peoples worlds and experiences. Sometimes things appear in my timeline that particularly strike a chord, the quote above posted by @NativAmProverbs early in the New Year seemed particularly apt when my mind has been so full of reflection and assessment of where I am as an artist.

Vincent Van Gogh’s, ‘Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear’ has become one of my favourite images, it reminds me that an artist’s lot is not always a happy one. Like many individuals, businesses and even countries it has been challenging times over the last few years since the recession first hit in 2008. Change has not always been easy, difficult times have forced onerous decisions with all the knock-on effects that has to self confidence and assurance in one’s abilities; mistakes have been made and consequences have to be lived with. Rather than making me feel down though, his painting strangely uplifts me, like the old Abba song ‘The Winner Takes It All’ – through the power of creativity and art, sad subject matter has been transformed into a life affirming joyous thing.

So as 2013 begins I have decided that the Cherokee proverb will be the resolution upon which to base the forthcoming year. In the past I was in the very lucky position that I never really had to actively look for work opportunities, it always seemed to have its’ own momentum, the flip side to that unfortunately has been that it proved to be a weakness within my practice. As work is nearly always commissioned it means I have always been reactive rather than proactive. This year my aim is to work upon that weakness so that control of what I can achieve is brought into a better balance where I can to a certain extent become a catalyst for my own business becoming more sustainable and not being so dependent upon external factors.

Remaining positive is the only possible course and I have a renewed determination that it is within me to fashion my own path forward. While reading a Biography on Picasso I came across a passage that may provide a key to that process. Discussing Picasso’s early development as an artist it is about a period of his life before being ‘discovered’ – about him working in solitude unsure of his direction, except when actually in the act of creating – it points out ‘but clearly a man who works alone is as a worker,  largely invisible.’

Self promotion, networking and creating a public profile are alien concepts to many artists, being naturally reticent this is an area that I have concluded could be very easily improved upon. Social media offers new avenues of connecting with like-minded people and clients. Last year I worked upon two main projects and set myself the additional task of getting a new web site up and running and getting to grips with this blogging malarkey, hopefully I’ll get quicker and better at it! This year my plan is to explore different avenues of working and actively seek ways to ensure that I am not ‘invisible’ I hope any readers will check back to see how the year progresses.

Nothing is pleasant that is not spiced with variety – Francis Bacon

Making work to commission each new project poses different challenges, one week you are a dry stone waller the next a metalworker. Responding to the required changes of approach and mind set I have always found rewarding, variety being the spice of life it means you never get bored, mundane chores are tempered by knowing that a more interesting and fun activity is just around the corner.

Tasked with providing an additional series of 10 lanterns for Dundee City Square, the week ahead will be filled with making nearly 100 ‘lily petals’ to be attached to the lantern brackets.

Situated around City Square the completed wall brackets are part of the street furniture of Dundee that I designed nearly 20 years ago. Dundee’s City crest includes three lilies and these were a major element included in the designs. Earlier wall lamp brackets  were made of mild steel, the Council really like the bracket but have proved in hindsight to be rather heavy to install, the updated ones are being made from aluminium a much lighter material which has eased their installation.

Main elements of the bracket have been laser cut and assembled by Mcgarries, metalworkers in Perth. The Lily detail of the originals were hand forged and now also have to be replicated in aluminium, which I am undertaking. Working from a basic ‘blank’ cut out shape made from 1 mm thick aluminium I am using a variety of forming techniques to create the 3D flowers.

Having made a couple of prototypes I have settled on using only three petals for each Lily as I think this gives the easiest ‘read’ flower given that the wall brackets are 8 meters above street level.