Face to face

I love very old family photographs and I'm always on the lookout for individual characteristics that I might see in my own family; the particular tilt of my grandfather's head that I see in my son or the way my great grandmother's hands rest in her lap like mine do. These personal attributes link all of us together across the generations. But old photographic portraits can only tell part of a story, they cannot convey the shape or size of a person or the sense of them as they stood on the earth. Last year I signed up for a course to learn how to make portraits out of clay. It was run by the brilliant Portrait Sculptor, Luke Shepherd, and I was amazed at the process. Luke is immensely skilled and we all learned incredibly quickly that it is a huge undertaking to create a head that is even remotely accurate. The key is to measure, measure and measure again and not to be too precious about building up the clay - the fine tuning can come later. When we arrived for the course on the Friday evening there was nothing in the room except six stands - one for each of us - and, piled dauntingly on a table in the corner, 10 large plastic bags full of white stoneware clay. When we left on the Sunday afternoon the bags of clay were empty and in their place were six heads; all slightly different interpretations of our young male model, but all beautiful, and all capturing the essence of him far more interestingly than a photograph ever could.  The whole process felt ancient and important to me and I felt very moved and honoured to have had this experience; to have had the opportunity to create a portrait of a person in clay! How wonderful is that?