Henry Moore or bust

The qualifications for a course on sculpting are a willingness to have fun and to experiment. There's no such thing as right or wrong, as Sally Staples found out from a group of chiselling, chipping students.

Maggie Ward, dressed up in apron, goggles and mask, is hacking furiously at a concrete block. So far it bears little resemblance to the delicate clay model of a classical girl's head that she made last week. But these are early days in the sculpture course, and Maggie's enthusiasm with her hammer and chisel is promising.

"Aphrodite, here I come," she giggles as she tackles her block with gusto. "I must say that if you've had a row at home, this is good therapy." Maggie decided to sign up for the sculpture course now that the two youngest of her three children have started university. "My husband has just retired and so I thought I would do something for me. I had absolutely no experience of sculpture at all. I'd done dressmaking and pattern-cutting at college but this is a completely new experience. And it's wonderful.

"Look at my homework. We had to carve something out of fruit or vegetables and I did this female figure out of a potato. I kept her in the fridge but she seems to have lost her bust ..."

Fellow student Neil Peters, 39, works as a literary agent and director of a publishing company, and after years spent promoting the talents of playwrights he decided to look at his own potential.

"I had done a bit of sculpture in art at school and knew I liked it. I wanted to do something tactile, and something that was more than just a hobby class. What I found here was a tutor who is very encouraging, and I have met a whole cross-section of people I would never normally meet in my work."

There are about 15 men and women on this particular further education course, at Kensington and Chelsea College in London. It is called Sculpture Materials and Techniques, runs from 10pm until 4pm every Tuesday for 30 weeks, and can take students up to A-level standard. But there is no particular pressure to achieve. The tutor allows most of his pupils to go at their own pace to build up a portfolio, and they are taught basic techniques in a variety of materials.

Both Neil and Maggie are anxious to point out that everyone is made to feel comfortable. No one is going to denigrate those first, self-conscious and sometimes embarrassing attempts to fashion something resembling a head out of a handful of clay.

On the day of my visit, while some students chatted constantly others worked quietly in a corner away from the group, either intent on a piece of work or, perhaps, finding the experience of sculpture a therapeutic one. At the introductory session students are asked to draw sketches of heads and then begin to mould them with the clay. Next they are taught to carve and reproduce the clay model out of a concrete breeze-block.

The tutor, Tim Beswick, said that sculpture courses now attract more women than men - a reversal of the situation 20 years ago. "Women approach it in a different way. I think they don't have the same expectations as men and are prepared to experiment more," he added.

"During the course we will be working with steel, plaster, wire, wood and 'mixed media', which can mean anything from string and brown paper to plastic bottles and teddy bears. I try to cover conventional approaches to sculpting, and to introduce contemporary issues.

"The first term is really about banging, sawing, sticking, cutting, and getting to grips with the sculptor's tools. Next term they will do a piece of sculpture on a theme they have chosen. It may be something like the beauty of snow or the sadness of Christmas. By the end of the year they will work independently.

"We start off having fun and trying to break down any fears. A common comment is 'I can't draw. I won't be any good.' People gradually gain confidence, because this is a safe, non-critical environment to develop and take risks. No one's going to say: 'You're not good enough for this class.'"

Jo Innes, a copper-haired 27-year-old with a model-like figure, is quick to confirm this approach. "People are so afraid of rejection, but whatever you produce Tim will always find the germ of an idea. I do a jewellery- making course, where you have to learn techniques and there is a right and a wrong. Here you can be creative and do what you really enjoy.

"I have travelled a great deal - I spent a lot of time in Africa - and have all sorts of ideas in my head. Trying to realise them in sculpture is like going on a journey. It's exciting, and it's what life should be like."

Where to learn

The 'Sculpture, Materials and Techniques' course is one of several offered by Kensington and Chelsea College in London (0171-573 3600). It costs pounds 145 plus materials, and there are reductions for the unemployed.

For advice on other sculpture classes, contact the Adult and Further Education department of your local authority.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee Teacher - Maths

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organization is the larges...

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Reach Volunteering: Would you like to volunteer your expertise as Chair of Governors for Livability?

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor