Artist Interview: Hanna Varga of Ashleaf

I'm a curious type; I like to know what informs an artist. Who or what do they look to for inspiration? How do they work? Each month I will be asking an artist I admire a few questions, this month is Hanna Varga of Ashleaf.

 An Oak Leaf cast in Bronze by Ashleaf

An Oak Leaf cast in Bronze by Ashleaf

Hanna, this is the first time that I've featured sculpture in my interview series, tell me how Ashleaf started and what drew you to sculpture in particular?

Ashleaf was founded in 2015 by myself and another sculptor, Sam Dalton. This art practice branched out of the Crucible Foundry in South West London that Sam’s been running for over 20 years with Damon Rawnsley specialising in small high definition fine art bronze casting. At the foundry on occassion leaves were cast in bronze and silver for many years. Sam is a trained sculptor and also has a degree in Biological Science that informs his sculptural practice.

I studied fine art in Hungary and graduated in sculpture. I also completed a bronze casting training there at a small foundry to be qualified in the lost wax bronze casting technique. I started working at the Crucible Foundry 5 years ago as a sculptor/metalworker and soon afterwards working closely with Sam, we dedicated some time to pursue the casting of leaves in bronze and perfect this technique as best we could. Meanwhile, our interest in botanical art deepened and the potential of making botanical leaf sculptures that preserve the ephemeral by transforming leaves into a solid material was intriguing. Two years later we founded Ashleaf that exclusively focuses on leaves and translating their unique characteristics in bronze.

Where does the name Ashleaf come from?

Ashleaf does not refer to the species of leaves that grow on ash trees. Instead, it is a poetic interpretation of how leaves are cast in bronze. Leaves burn and turn to ash in the process. The impression of the leaf is preserved in a heat resistant investing material that surrounds the leaf. When the leaf burns, a cavity remains, where the molten bronze flows in and takes the leaf’s place, preserving its features in bronze. It is an adaptation of the ancient lost wax casting process in order to life cast leaves. Each casting is unique.

 Leaves by Ashleaf

Leaves by Ashleaf

 Leaves by Ashleaf

Leaves by Ashleaf

 Leaves by Ashleaf

Leaves by Ashleaf

What is the process from start to finish of creating a new sculpture?

The first phase of the work is collecting/gathering the organic material, the leaves. This involves visits to botanic gardens, ancient trees, plants growing in specific location, walks amongst trees in our local parks/commons as well as being onservant of our immediate local environment: the trees and plants that grow on our doorstep in the streets of London.

Once we have the raw material ready, we start the process of preservation by doing the waxwork. With our technique we can preserve the surface texture on one side of the leaf, the contour line as well as its shape and form. These are the three main features of a leaf we can preserve in physical material.

A thin layer of hot wax is applied to one side of the leaf in order to thicken up the leaf to 3-4 mm. This is followed by the ‘treeing up’ process that involves attaching wax tubes to the leaf (like branches) that will allow the molten bronze to reach the leaf. We process leaves in batches that is the most efficient and cost effective way. Several leaves then are attached to a wax funnel. This completes the waxwork.

The investment is the next phase of the work. We use a heat resistant investing material that is applied in a liquid form, like plaster sets to solidify and surrounds the leaves.

Once the investment is set, it goes into a kiln to be heated up to a high temperature. It usually takes up to 3 days to reach the desired temperature. Meanwhile the leaves burn and turn to ash, and the wax melts out, leaving a cavity that will be ready to receive the bronze. This is called the ‘firing’ in foundry terms.

On the third day the caster at the foundry starts to melt bronze in the crucible and when the molten bronze reaches the desired temperature, the investment moulds are taken out of the kiln. There is a careful control over temperatures of the metal that is going to be poured and the container into which it is poured into. These two need to correspond to one another flawlessly. This part determines the results of the casting.

Our bronze leaves are cast with a centrifugal casting technique that also jewellers use, that allows high definition details in small objects.

After casting, the bronze cools down quickly and the investment mould is ready to be broken up to reveal the freshly cast leaves.

At this stage, the metalwork begins. All that was leaf and wax is now solid bronze. We use various grinders, saws and chisels to remove the excess material that facilitated the bronze casting, but does not belong to the leaf. This is a labour-intensive process and often takes weeks to finish metalwork on a collection of bronze leaves.

Once the metalwork is completed. The bronze leaf is ready for the last stage of the work: the patination. Patination is the surface colouring that happens as apply various chemical substances to react on the heated or cold surface of the metal. Patination develops over time depending on the temperature and humidity in the air.

We sometimes choose natural greens, yellows and brown for the leaves. However, we also found various shades of blue striking and really enhancing the hypperrealistic qualities of bronze leaves.

 Leaf Sculptures by Ashleaf

Leaf Sculptures by Ashleaf

Your studio is in London and yet leaves and nature are your main subjects, where do you go to source new inspiration?

Despite living in London, the opportunities for coming in contact with nature are many. The street trees and plants of London are varied and provide a great source of leaves for us to use. Besides, there are numerous parks, commons and heaths, as well as Kew Gardens. We’ve never felt deprived of raw material for the fact that we are based in London that is a densely populared urban environment. It is a green city and one can find about 50 different species of leaves growing alongside the pavement on an ordinary walk from home to work. Also, we sometimes go on special trips out of London to find leaves from specific locations.

I love learning random facts about people, tell me three things about yourself. 

1. I bake sourdough bread daily at home that I really love doing.

2. I love reading, especially poetry and independent publications. I’ve just received a book that was published with the help of crowdfunding. It’s called Waymaking - an anthology of women’s nature writings. I’m really looking forward to reading this now. It’s such a wonderful feeling to hold a copy of a book I contributed to making it happen.

3. My favourite colour is blue.

Finally, where can people follow your work online?

Please follow us on twitter and instagram for daily work shots, musing, news and updates. We also have an Open Studio coming up on the 10th of November.

Thank you to Hanna for agreeing to be part of my interview series, I love hearing about the process of bronze casting as it is so different to my own art practice. It fascinates me to see how delicate leaves can be transformed into solid metal pieces of art to be treasured. Please follow Ashleaf on Twitter and Instagram using the links above to get a regular dose of nature and art in your feeds.

If you'd like to take part in my artist interviews series then please do get in touch at claireleanneleach@gmail.com. 

If you enjoyed reading then please click the heart at the bottom, share or better still leave me a comment, I love reading them. ❤️

An Exhibition Realised

While travelling back in 2016/17 I kept a small sketchbook where I recorded little drawings and doodles inspired by the varying landscapes that I was seeing. By the end of the trip I had amassed a small collection of handmade postcards which I could see being developed into a whole new series of travel inspired drawings. On return from my eleven month trip in July 2017 I approached a gallery and submitted a proposal for an exhibition of drawings which was accepted and pencilled in to the diary for July 2018. I had a year to turn eleven months worth of experiences into a collection of work that would fill a space all on its own.

I got to work using the postcards that I had made as a starting point. I had a sketch from a walkway at Iguazu Falls in Argentina, a muddy road in Paraty, Brazil, a forest landscape in Argentina’s Lake District as well as many more. As the months trickled away I found that my drawings were developing, they were getting more detailed and my focus became rugged landscapes; forests and woodland scenes were featuring heavily which matched up with the drawings I was doing on another project which focused on British woodland. I managed to utilise some handmade paper which I had picked up in Pokhara, Nepal just before returning home. I created loose inky sketches using Indian ink, watercolour and charcoal and based the drawings on the stunning Santa Cruz area of Peru.

 Three Drawings In Situ at The Sheep Shed Gallery

Three Drawings In Situ at The Sheep Shed Gallery

 The Exhibition Poster

The Exhibition Poster

Over a year I’d made 22 drawings for the exhibition which by this time I’d titled ‘From The Road’ a nod to Jack Kerouac’s novel ‘On The Road’. The exhibition deadline had given me focus which I sorely needed as I’d been out of practice with drawing. I framed the drawings myself and fixed the frames with hanging materials. The drawings were then taken to The Sheep Shed Gallery in Weyhill, Hampshire where they were displayed for two weeks. The main objectives for organising the exhibition were to provide a way to take all the ideas and memories from the trip and put them down on paper, to provide a project that would motivate me to draw after a long absence, to gain more exhibition experience and to build a rapport with a gallery. I succeeded in all these objectives which left me feeling fulfilled and grateful that after a year of work I could say that the exhibition was a success.

The feedback I received was positive, apparently upon seeing the drawings close up many couldn’t believe it was done in pen by hand. Aside from achieving my goals I was pleased to have sold one of the drawings and have interest in others. Exhibiting at The Sheep Shed Gallery was such a pleasant experience, at the end of the exhibition I was offered a last minute spot on the gallery’s ‘red wall’ as an artist had withdrawn. If I hadn’t built a relationship with the gallery then this opportunity wouldn’t have been available to me and so I was very grateful for that. With one exhibition finished I was already back in the studio creating a small collection of brand new works for the ‘red wall’ which was displayed for two weeks in early September. I’d gone from having no real exhibition experience for a couple of years due to work and travel commitments to two exhibitions in a matter of months!

I look forward to exhibiting at The Sheep Shed Gallery again in the future and to also finding experience exhibiting elsewhere across Hampshire and beyond.

If you’d like to see all the drawings that were created for the exhibition then please click here. Many of the works are available to purchase in my online shop; to see what’s available click here.

If you enjoyed reading then please click the heart at the bottom, share or better still leave me a comment, I love reading them. ❤️

Artist Interview: Tom Gowen

I'm a curious type; I like to know what informs an artist. Who or what do they look to for inspiration? How do they work? Each month I will be asking an artist I admire a few questions, this month is Tom Gowen.

 Bike Near A Tatty Door by Tom Gowen

Bike Near A Tatty Door by Tom Gowen

Tom, we studied Fine Art together at the University of Gloucestershire. I can't believe that we are approaching 8 years since our graduation! What type of work were you doing at university and how has your practice developed in the 8 years since?  

Most of my student life was mostly spent glued to a sketchbook, travelling to different locations, research and utilising large areas of the studio in order to create and experiment with ideas on a broader scale. I developed a strong interest in landscape and architecture which has since carried through to much of my later work and it was a great opportunity for me to explore and develop my practise further using various mediums in order to establish a technique that suited my artistic ability.

Your oil paintings are made using predominantly palette knife, what is it about painting with palette knife that you enjoy so much?  

Using a palette knife gives me quick results with good colour saturation and allows me to create a more expressive, immediate effect in my work. I love using texture which is why palette knife painting became a bit of an obsession, it is such a versatile tool that is not only useful for mixing colours but can be used to apply thick layers of paint directly onto the canvas.

 Cliffs Near Moylgrove by Tom Gowen

Cliffs Near Moylgrove by Tom Gowen

 Trevose Head Lighthouse by Tom Gowen

Trevose Head Lighthouse by Tom Gowen

Your subjects include harbour villages in Cornwall, rolling countryside hills, lighthouses and rugged coastal scenes as well as picturesque towns in Europe. How do you decide on a subject?  

I just paint what appeals to me I suppose. I would usually begin with a preliminary sketch often on site in order to help me decide on a suitable composition. Lighthouses have always been a favourite subject area, as have seaside towns, rugged coastline most notably Italy, Cornwall and Pembrokeshire and rural areas such as the Cotswolds!

 Rosina’s by Tom Gowen  

Rosina’s by Tom Gowen  

What is the process of a painting from start to finish?  

I normally plan my work in stages so firstly would begin with a basic background wash and with oil paint to roughly map out the composition using relatively thick brushstrokes. I would then start to mix together thicker colours for covering large areas of the canvas in order to suggest background detail such as the sky and land. Once I’m happy with that I would then apply it directly over the top and spread evenly until it is completely flat and just keep adding more detail with a smaller palette knife.

What advice would you give to an artist graduating from university?

I remember wondering what style to adopt as a painter and I realised quite quickly that style needed to find me through practice and developing my painting technique on a personal level! Although it was an overwhelming experience I knew that graduating meant deciding what I wanted more than anything was to continue painting so setting up a website and promoting my work on social media is an essential starting point.

 

 Scooter in a Street by Tom Gowen

Scooter in a Street by Tom Gowen

 Portofino by Tom Gowen

Portofino by Tom Gowen

Tell me about your studio or creative space.

I currently occupy a room in my house as a studio space but would ideally like to have a proper purpose built studio with heating and more space to store my artwork. The fact that I’m based in the countryside means I don’t have far to go to look for inspiration and I like to work outdoors when it’s sunny!

What artists (living or dead) inspire you?

I‘m strongly influenced by the work Turner for his use of light and colour and gestured brushwork particularly in ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ (1839) and his more dramatic subjects such as the ‘Snow Storm – Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth’ (1842) as well as other pieces some of which featured in an exhibition held at the Greenwich Maritime Museum in 2014 where I went to see lots of his work including sketches. Cezanne is a particular favourite of mine for his use of strong colour as well as some of the more contemporary painters such as Robin Mason, Alice Hole and Kurt Jackson.

 Craggy Rock at Trefin by Tom Gowen

Craggy Rock at Trefin by Tom Gowen

I love learning random facts about people, tell me three things about yourself.

I have beautiful flat coated retriever called Benbow who I walk every day and I’m a bit of a coffee lover. I love to cycle, draw and I often go for morning runs before I start each day.

Finally, where can people follow your work online?

I have a page on Facebook, an instagram and twitter account and a shop on Etsy where I sell many of my paintings large and small and a website.

Thank you to Tom for agreeing to be part of my interview series, it's been lovely featuring someone who I studied with. Tom is heavily involved with Handmade Hour and Just A Card Hour on Twitter, you can follow him there for a chat. Please do take a look at his Etsy shop as well as his oil paintings really are stunning.

If you'd like to take part in my artist interviews series then please do get in touch at claireleanneleach@gmail.com. 

If you enjoyed reading then please click the heart at the bottom, share or better still leave me a comment, I love reading them. ❤️