Questions I am frequently asked

Where do you get your inspiration?
My main source since the late 1970s has been Eastern European folk costume and embroidery. I lived in Czechoslovakia and travelled Europe after winning a scholarship through my degree, so my work draws from the inspirations that I encountered during that time.

During my scholarship in 1988 I had a drawing of a Morris dancer that I wanted to make into 3-D. Through inspiration from others I bought milliner’s wire and bent it to echo the lines of my drawing. I found the medium instantly liberating after ten years of working with textiles. Some people see wire as a tool to construct barriers, but I think of it as a way of breaking them down. It’s an incredibly expressionist format. It’s become my main source and I’m sure that this will never change.

I also like the construction of objects. I collect wire bowls and lace that I picked up on my travels through Europe. With lace and in particular its use on garments, the linear construction interests me. It is what you can see through it that makes it so interesting – what you see in the spaces is just as important as the piece itself. My interest in garment construction also relates to this – I’m fascinated by the use of marks and grading lines to define areas within textile pieces.

A main inspiration to me in relation to other artists is Alexander Calder, a 20th century sculptor who worked with steel wire. Along with another artist, Joan Miro, he assisted in the creation of the mobile. Inspired by the movement of the heavens, but unable to capture the construction through conventional methods, he turned to three-dimensional wire techniques to create his work. I’m also fascinated with the work of artists who draw with line, such as David Jones. His particular work acts to create a narrative through line, in the same way as I weave stories through wire.

How long does your work take you?
It takes about 4-6 weeks per piece, depending on the complexity of the wirework. If any shapes have to be formed and welded it takes me longer. Of course I have to allow for mistakes too! Things don’t always turn out to look the same as they did in the original drawings.

Where do you get your wire?
I use mild steel wire, which I buy in 1-kilo coils from a company in London. I buy it in different gauges so I can create different thickness of lines. After I’ve welded it I treat it with anti-rust and then paint it to the colour I need it to be. I always paint both back and front of all metalwork, since my pieces are often three-dimensional.

Where do you do your work?
I have a studio within a converted garage looking out over the fields of West Wales. I live outside a small village, so it’s a very quiet environment. When I’m working in the studio my dog always sits in the corner, and I usually have Radio 4 on in the background. On a normal day I’ll usually work for around six hours.

How do you make it?
There’s a lot of structural preparation involved in my work. To begin with I always make a full-size paper drawing of the intended piece. Then, I’ll hold wire over the drawing and use pliers to bend it and form the lines. I use my drawing as a shadow; once all the wire is laid over the drawing I lift off the piece. I then spot-weld it (like a sewing tack) to hold the pattern in place and braze the joints to firmly secure it. If I’m working with aluminium cut-outs then I may drill them, as I have done in my recent work. I created a stitching effect by adding holes with a fine drill and sewing thread through to create patterns. It looks like bright coloured felt, and adds a softer element. I sometimes include embroidery and soft textiles that I’ve collected; I like to see them re-used in new ways.

Where do you get the titles for your work?
Music – mainly from UB40 songs! A lot of my titles are made up of words in music, although it’ll depend on what I’m listening to while I’m working. I find that the rhythm of the music often inspires the flow of the metal that I’m working with and has a genuinely positive effect.

One of your pieces is ‘Homage to Calder’ – why is this so?
Alex Calder is my favourite artist. It was after seeing one of his exhibitions in the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao that I began to envisage my work in a new way. I imagined my work side by side with his and this lead to the developments in my recent work. His work with wire has inspired me in many ways, as it’s so vibrant. Calder said, “Art need not be so lugubrious” – and he was right, it should be a joyful medium.

What would you call your work?
I think the most apt name I have for it is “Drawings in the air”. It’s not sculpture as it’s not 3-D enough – it is completely flat, yet it always has a back and front. Interestingly, lace is often referred to as ‘stitches in the air’. My work is not textile either though, even though it incorporates elements of it. The wire acts to make the impermanence of textiles hard, and yet it’s flexible enough to capture the fluidity of fabric, so it has a paradoxical nature.

What kind of price range does your work sell for?
My current exhibition pieces sell from between £500 – £2000 each. I used to make smaller pieces for £100 – £200, but I have gallery fees to cover now!

Do you make commission pieces?
In 2004 I made a piece for the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital in the form of an apron and a child’s dress titled ‘Thank You’ in reference to the nurses there. I used drawings the children had done as an influence, which was lovely to work with, but the distance made it a difficult project. It’s hard to get into the mind frame of someone so far away.

I also donated a piece entitled ‘Cook 1999’ to Prior’s Court school, a specialist school for autistic children, which was then featured in a book entitled “Art of Prior’s Court School”.

I made the prize for Business Person of the Year at the national Eisteddfod in 2000, and also created a quilt decorated with love spoons and steel to encompass the history of Llanelli. That was a little different for me, as it was presented in a frame, which my art usually isn’t.

What professional training do you have?
I studied Printed Textiles at Winchester School of Art, and then went on to the Royal College of Art for two years. My final exhibition contained printed objects, but also limited edition books, etching and ceramics.

What do you teach?
I mainly teach drawing and a bit of metalwork to textile students in Swansea. I really love helping people and watching them flower, it’s fascinating. It’s about giving everything I can to them, and I feel I need to do it. Some people criticise me for it, saying I’m not deeply involved in my work enough if I need to teach as well, but I disagree with them. Teaching keeps me in touch and updated with the world. Plus it keeps me on my toes!