Figuring out a solution

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If you’ve created a work of art, you want to make sure it stands the test of time. Wood Carver, Robert Lawrence uses WEST SYSTEM® Epoxy products to make sure his pieces will carry-on living.

“I’m mad keen on sailing my Drascombe Scaffie,” Robert Lawrence says from his home minutes from the North Sea.  “So when I needed something to protect my sculptures, I knew exactly what I needed. Although I’d never used WEST SYSTEM® epoxy products before I knew all about them from a subscription to Classic Boat magazine. My carving process is very similar to boat building so I knew I needed WEST SYSTEM epoxy products to protect them.” 

Robert designs and creates full-size figures to decorate gardens, offices, or in fact any spaces, from his home, the Crab House (an eco-property which he built in 2013 in Montrose, Angus). Similar to many boat builders, he uses larch, sourced from sustainable Scottish forests, and bought in 22mm sheets. But while boat builders are initially after pliable green, the boards Robert uses are already kiln dried, so much of the moisture has been removed.

“I mostly use larch because it carves well and has longevity,” he explains. “I plane the boards and then laminate with WEST SYSTEM epoxy – to add strength. I laminate them all together to get a piece which is big enough to carve. During the lamination process I orientate boards for the head in a different direction from the torso – which helps to get the carve right. 

“To start, I roughly carve the central torso and head without going any further – if the face isn’t right there’s no point in continuing. When you carve you have to be totally calm and relaxed as you’re taking away wood and you can’t put it back. You have to be brave and confident.”

To allow them to live outside, Robert’s finished pieces are encapsulated in WEST SYSTEM products, he uses three coats of WEST SYSTEM 105 Epoxy Resin with 207 Special Coating Hardener and then a two-part polyurethane high gloss varnish is added. “When the sun shines,” Robert explains, “my sculptures have a warmth and glimmers of life in them; they glow as the warmth of the wood accentuates the grain. People respond to them because as a race we’re herd animals –people react to something that they recognise. Children even embrace the figures.”

When Robert began making these pieces, he thought that they’d sell to architects, believing that – like him – people would be as passionate about resurrecting ornamentation.

“All National Trust owned businesses, the ones that have people coming to look at time and time again, are highly decorated and ornamental.  Modernist cubist boxes don’t have the same appeal,” he explains. “I started out to market my work to decorate outside meeting rooms, gardens etc. I thought they’d go like hot cakes – they didn’t. But I am getting success through the art world.”

His surprise at being recognised as an artist however is not a surprise to anyone else, given that one of his pieces, Unconditional Love, was shortlisted for a national prize.  He’s hoping for similar success with his current piece in creation. That has a current working title of: single figure on a bench.

“It’s a prototype for a private memorial,” Robert explains. “Something to remember someone. You can sit with one and share a quality moment, or cry with them, or tell them things. This could sit in a glade somewhere, it doesn’t have to be in your own garden. But it provides somewhere for people without religious affiliations to spend time at a memorial.” Although the cost for one of these comes in at around £4,500, as each life size figure takes around 550 hours to carve by hand with chisels and a draw knife, the investment feels more than cost-effective.

Working with his hands is something that Robert has always wanted to do. “Generation after generation of my family were cabinet makers and wood craftsmen,” he says. “I was of an age when chipboard was introduced and cabinet makers were closing every week, so I missed out on an apprenticeship.” But, luckily for those who love works such as these, he’s got “to the point in life where I am able to do something that I want to do and I use WEST SYSTEM epoxy to do it as it’s so very, very reliable.”

Find more about Robert’s work at http://www.ingrainedculture.co.uk

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