The process of creating a sculpture starts with a story.
Working with vintage objects, is a grounding and physical relationship that provides a challenge for Dawn's imagination. Dawn approaches each art work in two different ways: 'in one way, you have to be a curator to work with the heritage of the found treasure, but at the same time, I need to introduce my style and tell my story.'
Her organic process is to think, dream, experiment and take risks without constraint. 'I am inspired by gesture, posture and expression; distortion, elongation and exaggeration. I am inspired by the sculpture of Giacometti and Moore, the paintings of Modigliani and Degas, photography of Tim Walker and of course imagination of Tim Burton!'
First is a technical understanding of the medium. This consists of knowledge of the materials that Dawn is working with and knowledge of how it may be manipulated to fit the concept. The design starts by recognising the properties and constraints & limitations of working with vintage treasures.
'I choose to use antique textiles as much as possible, intrigued with their stories, history and details; they never cease to inspire me.'
Finding these treasures can spark off new ideas and stories for Dawn. 'I can take weeks, months or years over design ideas, of which only a few every get turned into actual figurines.'
Ultimately, for Dawn, it is not about simply reproducing, the sculptures have to recreate the sensations it provokes. 'Each piece has their own story, own personality, conveying emotion and expression. It’s bringing it into life in my mind, heart & soul.'
After deciding what scale to use, Dawn starts building the armature, a structural framework made of welded steel or aluminium rods for reinforcement, stability & strength. It is then gradually built up with layers of aluminium, fibre glass mesh, wire and a waterproof plastic resin that is mixed in small batches and applied liberally. This dries to a hardened finish that can withstand the elements.
Each layer is manipulated and moulded and then bound by resin soaked textile for a tactile finish. The ultimate goal is to create a robust sculpture, which will retain the integrity of its elegance & beauty but also allow the viewer to engage with the tactile sensation of the figure. Dawn comments, 'I love using my hands to mould and build up each piece, feeling the curves and lines, as I go. I like to model in soft materials, which set hard, so that I can see the figures growing full of movement and expression before my eyes.'
The finishing features are created with an exterior grade e-poxy resin to get finer life-like details. This two part epoxy compound which chemically cures when combined. This can be manipulated during & after its curing time: textured, drilled, carved, sawed, sanded & painted. It is robust, freeze/thaw proof, water proof & heat/flame resistant. Sprayed with an undercoat and two top coats of plastic paint, the figurative sculpture comes alive ready for installation.
Dawn has spent the past 15 years working extensively in this medium, perfecting & developing her skills in itʼs manipulation. At every point in the process, she is constantly reviewing how it looks and perform in a 360° manner. At the same time it is critical to step away for a while to let the eyes and mind rest and see the sculpture with ‘fresh eyes’ and be able to fine-tune the creation.
The final stage is the painting of colour, taking many hours applying various tones, which reinforce the themes and humanly qualities. Finally it is fused it with the protective polyurethane, waterproof sealant or exterior varnish. This is a very rewarding part of the process, that allows the figure to come to life.
Each piece is individually hand sculpted & the work process varies depending on shape, form & complexity of the piece. It takes at least a month to 4 months to create from design story concept to finishing. Dawn comments, 'this intense detailed process only allows me to create about 15 original, special pieces a year.'
… 'each time I finish a sculpture it feels like it includes a piece of me and it is very special to me. They become one of the family that occupies my world.'