Jacky Oliver Workshops: Cuttlefish Casting – March 8th & March 15th

“Can we use the blowtorch?” is an encouraging question to hear from a student at the beginning of one of Jacky Oliver’s workshops. Jacky is an artist working mainly in metal, having trained originally as a jeweller before developing a career working as an artist. Bringing examples of her own work to show students, she led workshops at two Pupil Referral Centres (PRUs) in Taunton  – Northfields and Taunton Centre.

It’s been a great privilege to start off a brilliant project, working with such enthusiastic students and staff. Everyone worked enthusiastically to create individual artefacts. It will be great to see how they develop their skills in the other materials as the project develops.” –Jacky Oliver

Working with groups of five or six 14-17 year olds Jacky Oliver ran cuttlefish casting sessions with plenty of hands-on opportunities to make, think and do. From the beginning, students curiously investigate a box of cuttlefish bones and touch the metalwork examples Jacky has brought with her. This was an intriguing start!

Comments of, “I’ve never done this before,” reaffirmed a genuine sense of interest from students at the opportunity to try something new. The activities of casting, fabrication in wire and sheet metal, forging, etching and enamelling feature in Jacky’s metal workshops; they are skills and techniques that she both demonstrates and enables students to try themselves.

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Students drew designs to carve into the flat surface of the cuttlefish bone, creating either open or two-part moulds. The sound of chatter soon became replaced by the sound of scratching and digging tools as both staff and students intently explored the resistance of the soft, calcium based material they were carving and drawing into.

“It’s like meringue,” one student exclaimed, surprised it seemed at the softness and malleability of the material.There was an interest from some students to create objects with a commercial-function in mind as potential gifts of, a ring, heart, initial or the word mum in text were all explored. Staff at both centres got involved in the activity, picking up some new skills themselves and encouraging less confident students.

Under the supervision of Jacky the students proceeded to melt sheets of pewter with a blowtorch to pour into the moulds. The potential sense of ‘danger’ and being allowed to work with the blowtorch and later in the session a heavy hammer, piercing saw and tin snips was a source of delight to students, a chance to try something new.

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“What other metals could we use?”

“How hot does the pewter have to be?”

Fishy smells filled the air as the molten pewter filled the cuttlefish moulds and the sense of impatience and suspense as students waited for their designs to cool and be revealed. “That’s beautiful,” one student commented upon holding her heart-shaped casting for the first time. The accidental colour formations and patina from the texture of the cuttlefish bone creating a source of enthusiasm at both workshops.

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Whilst it cools Jacky shows students one of the castings that has just been poured.

In the second half of Jacky’s workshops students refined their castings with a piercing saw or tin snips and used a hammer to press letter stamps into their metal-work pieces. At Northfields one student commented, “that felt good” when working with the heavy hammer pressing letters into metal.

Students were exploring ideas to incorporate new skills into their other art projects and their Bronze Arts Award. Staff were keen to reuse the casting moulds and to try other materials such as wax in them and students at both sessions were introduced to the idea that they could continue working with these processes after the workshop and show their responses at Taunton Flower Show later this year.

The workshop concluded with a box of glistening objects that had been produced and a sense of accomplishment felt by those present. It is telling, that both sessions overran due to interest from the students and when one says, “is that the time already?” it is safe to assume that it has been a good day.

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