Our wood sculpture competition winners recently got to visit the workshop of Andrew Frost, the wood carving artist who will be bringing their designs to life. Based at Crich Tramway Village we caught up with Andrew to get the inside track on his career, his working process and his thoughts on being involved with the Greater Creative project.
Like a lot of working artists, knowing that you want to have a career in a creative field is a relatively straight forward thought process, the path that you arrive at your chosen discipline is not always as clear cut. Andrew is no exception;
“I did a foundation course at Chesterfield College and a Fine Art degree in painting at Bath Art College. As is usual for an artist you never get a job in your chosen field straight away, so in the holidays during my degree I’d been working as a litter picker at Carsington water part time and then in the end I became a seasonal ranger. I put the art side of things to one side and moved into wanting to be a ranger. Then, as that was summer job, I trained up to become a forester to continue working with the environment in the winter.
I started playing around on my days off carving with chainsaws, my employer allowed me the tools to do that and my first sculptures are now on the trails there. It just kind of built from there and after working up in Scotland I made the decision to go self-employed as a carver. I then moved back to Derbyshire to do more forestry work and in 1998 started putting the word out about carving eventually being able to make the step to becoming a full-time carver from 2000.”
Making it to this point was only part of the journey, working outdoors with huge pieces of wood to create sculptures required space, and a fair bit of it. Help from a friend and fortuitous encounter would see Andrew secure a site that would become a perfect fit.
“At first because I didn’t have a site to work in, a farmer friend said I could use a portion of his field, which I made use of for a while. Then Crich Tramway Village secured an environmental grant to develop the woodland walk into something the public could enjoy rather than its current use as a storage space. I was approached along with two other carvers to help make work to display at the revamped site. I got chatting to the guy who commissioned us, and he came to see my current work site and he offered me a piece of land at Crich…that was sixteen years ago! So, my rent is basically to carve a major piece for them each year to add to the woodland walk, it has certainly changed a lot over the years!”
Andrew doesn’t just sculpt for the tramway village however, he’s completed many commissions over the years for a variety of clients, but the Greater Creative project feels a little different at this moment in time, especially due to the co-production approach with the local community.
“I was contacted by Jodie (Co-Director Platform thirty1, who are Greater Creatives Locally Trusted Organisation) to create some pieces for the Greater Creative launch event to give people a taster of the kind of work I do. At that time Jodie told me that there were plans for a bigger project that the community could get involved in. They’ve really got a great concept in this sculpture competition project, it’s refreshing to have an organisation having a bit of vision, Greater Creative is really trying to get things moving within the local community.
Platform Thirty 1 (LTO) have an understanding of the art world and they understand artists, our concerns, and they understand that it’s a job. Some commissions set you up then leave you to it, so you’re chasing feedback and invoices later…this feels like the artist is considered throughout the project.
I’ve really enjoyed the process of working on this commission, the design process has somewhat disappeared over the years so letting the kids see me carve at the schools and getting to talk with groups and the entrants has been great. It’s also great for them to see my process, it’s about planting seeds with people that this could be a career. I also love community involvement in projects, it gives it meaning and it gives the community ownership over the project and the pieces. It’s been a breath of fresh air; I haven’t had community jobs like this for about five years. Sometimes you need these kinds of leaders, with this kind of vision to say, “we’re going to try for this, get funding but what do you as the community want to see?”. This project has been great, it really feels like the community involvement has been just as important as the sculptures.”
And Andrew was certainly impressed with the quality of the designs that were entered for the competition.
“I like that we’ve not really changed the entrants designs much, usually I’m commissioned and given an idea of what’s required and I go away and carve something that visually represents that idea, I love that for this project I’m just designing what they’ve drawn, there’s a real truth to it. There aren’t any major issues with the designs, the tree will be a little tricky as usually you’d just find a tree that’s a similar shape and carve and add the extra elements like the nest, but it’ll just be a case of creating all of the different elements from the ground up to get it to a similar shape as the design.
I really like that this commission has a lot of objects as the designs, it’s not my usual type of commission. I like that they’ll be scaled up as well, like the bell for example, you get to really focus on the details of the object when they’re scaled up.
The miner will be fun, I really think we can try to make him part of the landscape by altering the earth around him to make it really look like he’s digging into the ground. Due to the time limits (the process was stalled due to the national lockdown in March) I’m working on all of the sculptures together, so I spread my time equally between them all ready for the install. That way I can work on one carving whilst having the others in my eye line so I’m thinking about them all of the time, it helps keep a consistent style between the pieces.”
So what about future plans for Andrew? Is he happy to see out his days as a sculptor? Andrew seems to be realistic when weighing up the demands of his practice.
“It’s a physical job, and if it all dried up, I’d probably go back to Forestry. I’d have liked to have taught art at some stage in my life, but it might be a bit late in the day for that. I would love to get back into painting though, especially when my wrists finally give in! That said you have to be very lucky to make art full time, I am very lucky now to do what I do, I’ve shaped my life to be where I want to be and I’m very fortunate to be paid to create.”
To see more of Andrews work and to get in touch with him to discuss commissions visit his website at: www.treeart.co.uk