Behind the Scenes with John Downham; The Process of an Artist's Bronze

Behind the Scenes with John Downham; The Process of an Artist's Bronze

“In art, the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can imagine “

(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Have you ever gazed at a bronze piece and wondered how it was created…Pondered how a thought or idea came to evolve into something three-dimensional and permanent?  Sculpture has been cast in bronze as far back as 1200 BC and is one of the most beautiful, enduring mediums known to man for immortalizing artistic vision.

We have the rare opportunity to share with you the firsthand experience of John Downham, an artist who has been creating original and commissioned sculpture and previously worked in the famous Laran Bronze Foundry in nearby Chester creating beautiful bronze pieces.  John, a featured artist here at Garden Accents, takes us with him on the journey of a very special commission, the Compass Rose, from concept to finished bronze.

John’s client had asked him to create this very attractive and traditional motif to add interest and history to a handsome garden path.  The compass rose has appeared on charts and maps since the 1300’s and represents the directions of the eight major winds, the eight half-winds and sixteen quarter-winds, and the corresponding points of these winds resemble the flower for which it was named.  The client felt it would be the perfect signature piece for their home and chose John to bring their vision to life.  We loved this piece so much, he created another version for our Garden Accents’ Exclusive Line of products.

Here is a glimpse into John’s notes:

  1. Design – This is the heart of the custom art commissioning process, where the client’s vision becomes a working project. Through consultation and collaboration, the client and I zero in on the exact form that the work will take.  Details are worked out to a certainty and the client’s approval of the final design assures that their vision will be fully realized in the finished piece.

  1. Working the clay – The client’s vision comes to life as I transform the design into three-dimensional reality. “Nothing is so personally satisfying to me as using my mind and heart and hands to create a tangible and solid thing of beauty from a piece of clay.”
  2. Sand mold – A mold is a vessel containing a negative space of the sculpture’s form, into which the bronze is poured. This is a sand mold being prepared. We make them exactly as craftsmen made sand molds thousands of years ago, with only a very few modern improvements.

  1. Pouring the bronze – The sculpture becomes the artwork as molten bronze flows into the mold. We heat the metal to over 2000 degrees in an induction furnace, an industrial strength micro-wave oven. There’s a very primal excitement when that glowing lava-like metal starts splashing down!

  1. Metal finishing – The metal shop is where the piece takes its final form. I remedy any imperfections that occurred during the casting with a variety of metal working tools such as welder, grinder, rotary file and chisel. Details are refined and polished. The finished piece is then given a patina (colored by chemically-controlled oxidation of the metal – no paint!).

  1. The piece – The final realization of the client’s vision and desire for an artwork that has never before existed.

  1. ” in situ” – An original artwork at home, where it belongs. – brick walkway on Martha’s Vineyard.

If your heart has imagined an idea for an original piece that you’d like brought to fruition in bronze or any other medium, please contact us.  We can help you!

Additional pieces sculpted and cast by John Downham available exclusively here at Garden Accents include,

The Compass Rose
The Rivulet
Sunny Boy
Green Man 2
Fox Fountain Spout
Enlighten Up
Lizard Fountain Spout
Scupper Fountain
Green Man
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