Monday 9 July 2018
When did you start to carve?
I had been working at Windsor Safari Park as a dolphin trainer for several years, and decided to carve a dolphin for the dolphinarium staff as a leaving present in 1986.
What made you continue carving?
During this period of my life, I would intersperse my animal work with travelling and expeditions. Whilst in Australia, I carved a great white shark and sold it to a gallery in Atherton, which bought me a ticket and some time in Borneo. I thought, “Great, this is a way I could travel and work.”
What inspires you when you carve?
In terms of subject it is usually the natural world, but I really enjoy a challenge.
What are you currently working on?
A large, stylised, laminated otter and diving gannet.
Which tool would you not be without and why?
A power sharpening system, because it has saved so much time and gives tools a razor edge in just a few seconds.
Which is your preferred style of carving and why?
I enjoy the challenge of detailed and in the round carving: pushing the properties of the wood to see how far it can go safely. Lately I have been experimenting with the laminated stylised sculptures which pose a different challenge.
What do you think has been your biggest carving achievement?
Usually it is my latest one, but in terms of scale, literally my biggest one was a 2.74m (9ft) long laminated plywood bull, which weighed well over a tonne.
Whose work do you most admire?
I enjoy the work of M C Escher, particularly his spherical, interlocking designs carved in wood. But there are many other artists whose work I have seen and appreciated.
Describe the view from your workbench and the area where you live.
I live in a small village in Kent, surrounded by orchards and countryside. My workshop is based on a farm which produces amongst other things cherries, asparagus and hops, so it is lovely in the spring. The field outside my window has horses in it. I often see kestrels, buzzards and recently a kite, from the workshop.
If you were not a carver what would you be?
Maybe a dolphin researcher. They fascinated me as a child and they still do. It was an education working with them, particularly after I became involved with Cambridge University, helping them with their research into dolphin sonar.
Do you listen to music while you carve?
Yes, sometimes. I often listen to Radio 2 for background noise; jazz piano (especially Oscar Peterson and Dudley Moore) and I also listen to Radio 4 (particularly The News Quiz) but listening to informative or funny programs has the potential to stop my mallet arm working so that I can listen to what is being said.
Who would you most like to carve for?
David Attenborough. I had some early correspondence with him before I started the dolphin work. He was very encouraging and answered my letters in person. To carve something for him would be a real honour.
Are you a self-critic of your work?
Yes, I think most people are, but if you don't like something you have to put it behind you and move on to the next thing. Finishing a sculpture and realising there is a problem is better than being frightened of making a mistake (this can be a particular issue with carving, where you cannot go back) and getting little, or perhaps nothing, completed. The more things you carve, the better you get. A carver has to be brave.