Today I made a visit to the studio of Neil Lawson Baker who kindly agreed to my request.
Neil's journey resonated with me, as like me he spent his professional life engaged in a full time career outside of sculpture. In his case he had been a highly skilled and successful dentist. I was intrigued as to how he had made the transition to making sculpture and successfully winning major corporate commissions. I hoped he would fill in the gaps related to what he describes as a 'series of amazing happy coincidences which led to him being hired to sculpt truly exceptional works for the UK Parliament, the Channel Tunnel, the London Stock Exchange and the Malaysian National Stadium among many others, all of which he managed to find time to do while continuing to practice dentistry.'
I made the journey from Kent to Neil's home and studio near Chichester, arriving around 11.45 a.m.
When visiting Neil one is first struck by the beautiful buildings that make up his home, studio, gallery and on site buildings. The ancient, thatched house and main studio, with the internal beams, and exposed timber are delightful, not at all like the chaotic, cluttered and untidy studio space I work in. The small domestic sized garden near the house, with its man-made stream and pond made for a lovely setting for the cup of tea Neil made for me in the kitchen as we chatted. This area, however, belied the extent of the grounds which opened up as Neil showed me around the different areas. Neil is a charming host and has lived an extraordinarily full life. He is quite a raconteur and at every turn he provides an interesting story related to each aspect of the property, from his time as a three day event rider, when one is shown the horses in their paddock, his around-the-world drive and the car he did it in, his direction of the National Art Open competition and his time as a dentist. His passion for making sculpture is self evident and his work can be found throughout the house and extensive gardens.
Neil is a very busy man. He has worked tirelessly in support of the National Art Open for many years (to a large extent at the expense of the promotion of his own work) and as well as his sculpture he has been recently raising money for a young artist who is terminally ill with cancer, writing children's books and liaising with publishing houses and illustrators. Over a cup of tea in the studio Neil read me one of these delightful stories. I am sure that young children will love them and parents will love reading them. A whole series already exists and I am sure they will be a great success.
Neil was extremely open and humble about his good fortune at receiving commissions for sculpture in the early days of his practice. "People like to be nice to their dentist", he said, explaining that early commissions and sales were often to clients/patients visiting his dental surgery. He was just as open and matter of fact when telling me of the disappointments when commissions and orders had fallen through. It was enlightening to hear Neil talk about the problems he still encounters in marketing and selling his work, despite his proven track record in delivering very substantial commissions and public sculpture.
In his newly refurbished gallery space Neil discussed his use of live link video conferencing to reach clients in China.This had led to an extraordinary list of orders for his sculpture which I think it fair to say has surprised and delighted Neil in equal measure. Neil is certainly not afraid of new technologies and we discussed some of the materials and processes I use in my work, which were new to Neil. Having said this, Neil invests time and money in ensuring that his work is created in the very best materials and used only the very best mould-maker and founders in the creation of his work. Beautifully cast and patinated sculpture adorn his studio, gallery and home, which I have to say made me enormously jealous. If only I had the funds to have works cast into bronze!
Seeing Neil's gallery space has made me determined to refurbish part of the barn I work in, in order to have a similar space to show my work as well as in the garden. His gallery shows the work within it to great advantage and if I could have a space to do the same I think it would be a great asset. Neil was equally sure that I would benefit from it. Perhaps I will make a start once I have completed the large, over life-size figure group I am currently working on.
Prior to my visit Neil discussed with me whether I would like to visit Richard Clarke who undertakes much of his mould-making and enlargement work. As he was also keen to see Richard about the possibility of fulfilling the new orders from China, Neil took me to the studios and workshop of the Clarke Partnership to introduce me to Richard. who has 25 years of experience in mould-making for sculptors. His clients include some very distinguished and well know sculptors making enlargements and moulds suitable for casting in resin, plaster or wax in preparation for lost wax bronze casting. This was an excellent opportunity to be introduced to a company within easy distance from home, that has undertaken work for many leading sculptors and who have the skills and workforce capable of producing moulds that would allow me to make editions of my work. I was able to discuss the possibility of having Richard prepare quotations for Silicon rubber and resin moulds of my work that would allow me to prepare quotations for orders for my sculpture. Such moulds would allow me to make editions of my works, which to date have been unique, one-off carved pieces.Richard was also very kind in discussing with me some of the techniques he uses when making silicon moulds,knowledge gained over many years that I can use in the making of my own moulds. He also provided information on preparation of sculptures for mould-making that might make the process easier, and cheaper, if I wanted moulds made for me.
I would like to thank both Neil and Richard for their time .Neil very generously gave up the whole afternoon to me and promised to keep in touch and to introduce me to the bronze foundries he uses should I ever want to have work cast into bronze. I will certainly take Richard up on preparing quotes for making moulds of any sculptures I get orders for and would not hesitate to use him to do the work.