Artists and Cultural Context
An aspect of making art related to ravens is their deep cultural significance. There is raven mythology across a number of cultures – from Viking to native American. (Wikipedia, 2021) Fig. 1 shows an excellent work which is both contemporary and culturally embedded. The design and contraction of the work is described by Cross (1990). I find much to be inspired by with this work, from the mythological connection to the look and style of the finished piece. The work is visually engaging and has a deep embedded significance.
The subject of the raven is common in art. The works range significantly in level of realism and symbolism. Fig. 2, for example, is a raven image based within a Viking/Scandinavian style. This uses knotwork to provide a style, but the central silhouettes of ravens are more realistic in approach. Fig. 3 and Fig 4. show more explicitly representative work, each with quite a contemporary feel.
Given my Tutor from Part 4 (Thompson, 2021) I wanted to make sure that I documented the research I was undertaking explicitly. Much of the practical research consisted of initial drawing and working out the shape and form of a raven in a way that I could translate into a sculptural work.
As part of considering a raven sculpture I started by reviewing my previous sketches, and started some additional sketching:
I also experimented with some raven based maquettes:
As part of this, I realised that I was struggling with raven proportions, and so I tried to work out proportions from a series of photographs:
Even here, however, the wingspan didn’t work – so needed to be reworked:
I also spent some time watching videos about ravens to try to better understand their shapes and forms as they fly and move. The following is a good example:
Ceramic Raven Bust
I decided to start making by creating a Raven bust, larger than the oil clay maquette but not too large. I used a slab building approach, and provided a support for the form from both a tea towel below the work and a slab to support the bottom of the form:
I added texture, and the ruff around the throat using bamboo tools, and then enhanced the texture by applying pressure from the inside of the form. This causes the texture to stand proud of the surface. It then used a layer of black slip to add colour.
The process of drying and firing the work from this point was uneventful for this work, and resulted in the following final piece:
In many ways the piece has worked well, but the final finish is somewhat weaker than I would have liked. I tired to get some variation in the look of the feathers by blending in a little non-black slip, which has worked to a degree. I also put a think coating of high calcium matt glaze of the feather slip to try to bring out the tones. Again, this has worked but the result is less of a matt finish that I had expected. That is the problem with glazes in general, as they can produce very variable results. It is possible a better approach (for indoor works such as this) would be to fire the piece bare and then apply paints. This is approach used by Beth Cavener (Cavener, 2021).
The next idea was to make a flying raven in ceramic form. This flows directly from the raven drawings, and I had the drawings in the studio through out the making process. The idea was to have a piece that would be suspended, such as from a ceiling, and so I wanted a classic silhouette as the primary form.
The making process was a challenge, as it is a solid for which needed to look as if it had the lightness of a bird in flight. To make the form meant it would definitely need support as it was made, and so the making of the supports became an integral part of making the form. When making the wings I left the clay of the wing thin but solid, with only a few cuts to give some shape where the feathers would be. The whole was supported with clay struts which will continue though the firing. There was also added support from newspaper:
Once the form was somewhat dry it was necessary to add definition to the feathers at the edge of the wing. This needed a saw. The feathers were very gently cut to shape and feathering texture added before the clay was to wet to work. This required picking up the piece, which was too cumbersome to lift in one piece. The answer was to gently disconnect one of the wings at the joint, knowing that I could reconnect it later using slip. As part of this process, and whilst I had the wing disconnected anyway, I painted the whole with a layer of black slip. This first layer of colour can be extended and made more complex later, but it important to the overall design. Once everything was reconnected and when it had somewhat dried I also took the opportunity to drill very small holes for hanging through the form. These were in the body hear the tail, and in the two reinforced sections of the wing.
The final work once fired and suspended works fairly well:
As for the previous piece (which was finished and fired at the same time) the finish of the work was slightly disappointing. The wings and tail as also more delicate than I might like. In many ways I am pleasantly surprised that I managed to get it fired at all. For future works of this style I will strongly consider making and firing it in parts and gluing them together on completion. This will, however, have its own challenges.
I chose the raven as one of my subjects because of my passion for the bird. There is a lot of scope for follow on work from these pieces, and this is literally just a start to what could be the subject of a long series of works in my future. The joy of ravens play flying at the top of a mountain is something that I find hard to encapsulate is a sculptural work. These pieces are a meagre start, but sufficient to show a firm beginning.
The pieces are both significantly stylised, and deliberately so. I had no intention of creating a realistic portrayal of a raven, as there are many artists who can do that more than capably. My intention was to express something of my feelings about the birds, and their place in the world. I feel that if I continue with this exploration and research through making then I would hope to start to express this over a series of works.
List of Illustrations
Fig. 1 McLennan, B. (2020) [Photograph] of Reid, B (1980) The Raven and the First Men. At: https://moa.ubc.ca/2020/01/the-raven-and-the-first-men-from-conception-to-completion/ (accessed 10/03/2021)
Fig. 2 Markswallartdecor (2021) [Photograph] Odin’s Ravens Huginn and Muninn. At: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/697495138/odins-ravens-huginn-and-muninn-viking (accessed 10/03/2021)
Fig. 3 Saatchi Art (2021) [Photograph] of Kolb, K. (2021) Raven. At: https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Sculpture-Raven/1301667/6471667/view (accessed 10/03/2021)
Fig. 4 KILBAHA GALLERY (2021) [Photograph] of POMEROY, A. (2021) BRONZE RAVEN – LIFESIZE. At: https://www.kilbahagallery.com/product/bronze-raven-lifesize/ (accessed 10/02/2021)
Fig. 5 Boufford, R. and D. (2009) [Video] Baby Ravens Play. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNjCwiaOiGU (accessed 10/03/2021)
Cavener, B. (2021) METHODS. At: https://followtheblackrabbit.com/gallery/methods-3/ (accessed 10/04/2021)
Cross, A. (1990) The Raven and the First Men: From Conception to Completion. At: https://moa.ubc.ca/2020/01/the-raven-and-the-first-men-from-conception-to-completion/ (accessed 10/03/2021)
Thompson, A. (2021) Formative feedback, dated 25/01/2021. [Attachment to Assignment 4 feedback email sent to Howard, D., dated 29/01/2021]
Wikipedia (2021) Cultural depictions of ravens. At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_depictions_of_ravens (accessed 10/03/2021)