Working on Bird likenesses


Maquette for a bird sculpture in stone

Watching birds gives me such pleasure and getting to recognise their calls and markings is an ongoing joy, as is getting to know their nature, typical behaviour and characteristics after identifying them.

When coming to work on a sculpture of a particular bird, knowing its nature and ‘spirit’ – or rather being able to invest my carving with it – is important.  Depending on the stone I’m working, the colours are likely not as the bird’s markings and so it becomes acutely important to render a likeness, even an extra likeness.  Perhaps knowing what this is comes from watching birds a lot, perhaps it is intuitive, but to me it is about feeling, emotion, and character – is that ‘soul’?

I’m talking about temperament, disposition – the essence of the bird.

A clay maquette in preparation for a bird stone sculpture

Just now I’m working on maquettes for a bird sculpture, hopefully these models will be helpful to the customer, who can get an idea of what the final sculpture will look like.  Certainly they are vital to me in working out ideas and in getting that likeness that I’ve been talking about.

It feels funny to be squidging clay, so different from working stone – I’ve left a lump on the radiator to dry out a bit, so I can carve into it rather than push, pull and squeeze (though that in itself is very enjoyable, my efforts are frustratingly inept).

Working on a clay model for a bird sculpture





  1. Comment by Keith:

    That looks like a really useful technique, Jennifer. What kind of clay is it and is it available online or from Art shops?

    • Reply by Jennifer:

      Hello Keith – Not being a clay expert, I just know it as red clay! I got a bag of grey and a bag of red 25 kilos each, from Tiranti (I see it is called Terracotta). I found the red a bit nicer to work with. I’m trying to get used to Chevant (Oil based clay) but it needs to be warm for working and so hopeless at this time of year in my workshop. Plaster is lovely to carve into too, just pour into a cardboard box (lined with polythene) for an instant soft carvable block.

  2. Comment by Ellen Abbott:

    doesn’t look inept to me.

    • Reply by Jennifer:

      When I look at your models in wax, they’re so detailed and ‘finished’ in comparison – wonder if I could try using wax?

  3. Comment by Caroline:

    Another fascinating and insightful post, Jennifer. What wonderful maquettes – full of the jizz that is so apparent to the bird watcher’s eye, but in my experience as a wordsmith, so elusive.

    • Reply by Jennifer:

      Thankyou Caroline – but what extraordinary,rich and beautiful tools you have in English Language words – in chiselling to perfection, well, we’re on the same quest! It brings deep inside joy trying doesn’t it?

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