I have a faint but satisfactory memory from primary school involving plasticine. It seems that I had made some major work, horses in a field, cows maybe. The field was contrived by building a wall of plasticine around the edge of the plasticine board. I now realise that the board had started out as a slate for writing on with a slate pencil. These things were going out of use when I started school. I was instructed to carry my chef d’oeuvre into the other classrooms for the other children to admire. It must have been a very affirmative thing for me.
When I was at secondary school I made pieces from plaster and scrap wood in our back yard though I have no memory of ever taking them into school. My father was a bricklayer, who sometimes did small scale building work on his own account, so there was no shortage of stuff in his tool-shed, nails, screws, wire, half bags of plaster and cement. There was often a pile of sand in the yard from which I would build superior fortifications for toy soldiers, using a bricklayer’s trowel. There was also a large rusting oil drum, which he used as a water barrel when he was out on a job. One spring I raised tadpoles in this drum.
He had made the shed by extending the air raid shelter which stood a few yards from the house. I remember clearly, at the age of nine, in the yard of the house we had just moved to, watching my father push over the blast wall which protected the shelter entrance. It must have been six feet high, this wall, a free standing affair built of red brick like the shelter itself, and very thick. My uncertain recollection is that my dad simply pushed it over on his own. Did he have help? What I do recall clearly though, is the profound thud as it hit the yard. He built the shed as an extension to the shelter, using the bricks from the fallen wall to build the lower half, with old window frames above that, and a roof of corrugated asbestos sheet.
I made stuff from plaster and scrap materials into my twenties. I remember a horse and rider and some winged figures. I had seen pictures of Michael Ayrton’s pieces based on the Daedalos/Icaros story. He produced a book too, with drawings, poems and text based on the same narrative. There is also the novel , The Maze Maker, though I'm not sure I ever read it.
Clay is a material I have used a lot over the years though I have no strong sense of when it began. There was a ceramics department in the college where I did teacher training, and I did know people who were involved in making pottery, but not me.
What I was introduced to, by Frank Slater, the genial moustachioed head of the Art Department at the college, was etching, which quite quickly became a serious preoccupation for me. It’s difficult to remember exactly what drew me to intaglio printmaking. Something about the big spider wheel press, about the technical esoterica. And something else, to do with the fact that you could rework the small zinc plates repeatedly, taking trial profs as you went. The images seemed to acquire an authority which I didn't seem able to achieve through drawing. I bought E. S. Lumsden’s The Art of Etching and it became a sort of bible for me for several years. After I left college I no longer had access to its equipment so I suppose there must have been a hiatus until we moved to Scotland.
My second job after I qualified as a teacher was in Banffshire, where I worked as an itinerant Art teacher, spending half day sessions each week at the village schools along the coast of the Moray Firth: Findochtie, Portessie, Cullen. There was a shipyard in Banff town and I spoke to a guy who worked a lathe there. I can’t remember his name but he was very helpful and when I explained that I wanted to make an etching press, he understood immediately. He machined the rollers from steel pipe and we contrived a way to spring the upper roller, using valve springs from a Mini. I used this press for maybe ten years, until I started to work at the print studio in Glasgow, where I began making multi plate colour prints and producing images using an old offset litho machine. The hand made press and the other bits of equipment I had contrived must have become redundant because finally I gave the press away to another printmaker who was setting up a workshop at Barden tower in the Yorkshire Dales.