The Adventures of Trout Walker – A mixed-media case study

Trout Walker, completed work

I very rarely sculpt humans, but on this occasion, it seemed appropriate to include a somewhat androgynous figure with this rainbow trout. I was keen to avoid any suggestion that harm may have come to an actual fish, so I rendered it in the form a man-made artefact.

Early design thoughts
Initially, I had imagined a single beast – half man/half fish, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed a weird idea (and not in a good way).

By sculpting it as a humanoid wearing what seems to be a variation of the “Hobby horse”, it takes on a more quaint, old English Morris-Dance sort of vibe – still surreal, but not weird (well, maybe a bit?)!

A firm foundation
Because the final piece would weigh-in at anything up to 15-20kgs, it was important to give some careful consideration to the stability of the base.

To enhance the marine theme, I thought a nice, puffy/fleshy starfish could provide the kind of integrity that one comes to expect from a well-made office chair.

Knowing that I could well want to design further nautical niceties, I decided to commit to making a re-usable starfish hump mould.

As for suitable material, I recalled that I had a half a shed-full of thick wall insulation rescued from a neighbour’s skip. It is very lightweight and easily cut and shaped with a kitchen knife and cheese grater.

The foam I used is 100mm thick, but if you need more volume, the material can be built up with PVA, foaming Gorilla Glue or similar adhesive.

Reclaimed foam material
Carving the foam to shape

I formed a square hole in the centre of the base, just large enough to allow the square steel tube to slot in, but not able to twist in the hole in the way that a simple round rod might.

Once secured with building-grade anchor resin, it became clear that this was going to become a very robust arrangement.

Structural support components

Employing custom-made jigs, I formed the complete sculpture as one single piece. I then removed the legs at the leather-hard stage to simplify subsequent operations.

The legs were removed prior to bisque firing

Next, the various components were assembled in a “dry-run”, in order to establish that the main steel support member was correctly sized and shaped to form the required pose.

Once satisfied with the rehearsal, the base was carefully masked with polythene and tape to prevent resin oozing out of subsequent joints and spoiling the already finished areas below.

The building-grade anchor resin that I use was injected directly into each component’s central void via the very long, fine nozzle provided. Then the prepared steel reinforcement tube was inserted through the structure where it became completely embedded in the squishy, sticky goo.

Masking used to protect the previously fixed components

Sometimes I will make up temporary jigs and supports to hold everything secure until the resin is set. But with this piece, thankfully, I managed to find a natural balancing point for each stage of the assembly.

Whilst then entering a kind of “zen-like state”, I listened to some gently lapping ocean sounds whilst holding the structure in position by hand.

The 12 minutes or so drying time for each joint passed by fairly swiftly, and when I woke up, each joint had become rock solid and was positioned surprisingly accurately.

Belt & Braces
Whilst the “man-flesh” and “fish-flesh underpainting” were with coloured porcelain slips at the greenware stage, the majority of the decorative finish was achieved with Contem Brush-on Underglazes from CTM Pottery Supplies applied to the bisqueware.

To give the feel of a mid-century tin toy, I picked out the “rolled seams” around each of the fish main panels with copper-leaf which was subsequently antiqued with stained lacquers.

The riding “tack” and shoulder braces are made and hand stitched with bought-in leather strip from GG footcare from Etsy. They also stock a good range of useful leather crafting materials. Mini-size metal buckles (plenty on Ebay) have also proved very useful mixed-media embellishments.

The Adventures of Trout Walker is currently on display at The Really Very Nice Gallery in Bury St Edmunds.