Dog Clay Afternoon

Last night I had a new experience. Potting! Not the planting things in the garden kind but the making things out of clay kind. My friend Carrie had invited me along to participate in ‘Art to the Rescue’ a couple of weeks ago. ‘Art to the Rescue’ is a clay sculpting competition that has been organised by Totem Ceramics to raise money for various local animal charities.

When I initially received Carrie’s text a couple of weeks ago asking me if I wanted to join in I knew it would be fun but I was a little unsure because I had never sculpted anything out of clay before. Yes, I’ve made plates and bowls and other less complicated objects but never a thing that had to actually resemble something if you know what I mean. I reassured myself with the thought that I had two weeks to prepare. I had time on my side! I could watch online tutorials for beginners that would reveal the secret to sculpting a prize winning dog out of clay while my friends would look on in awe. Furthermore I could study my own dog in close detail so that I could model a faithful homage to our beloved family pet, perhaps even creating a future family heirloom that would be passed fondly from generation to generation. Oh yes! This was going to be great! It wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that I would discover a hidden talent. I might even win the competition! My sculpture could grace the front pages of the local papers. I would become well known among the arty types. I would be known as the one who sculpted a prize winning dog on her first go. I would be the darling of the sculpting world. I might even one day, not too far in the future, be able to turn my back on teaching and make a fortune from my passion, my gift! I was going to become a temperamental, creative type! I would have smudges of clay on my face and a wooden modelling tool artfully holding up my fashionably unkempt hair which was styled into a carefree, just thrown together bun. I would spend my waking hours sitting at a potter’s wheel forming wondrous, lovingly created and widely acclaimed marvels out of mere lumps of clay, all the while tucking tendrils of hair behind my ears that had tumbled rather alluringly from my bohemian tresses.
(I had given this just a bit of thought)

“Yes!” I texted back enthusiastically’ “count me in!”

Fast forward two weeks. It’s Tuesday morning. It’s the morning of the competition. I haven’t prepared at all. While getting ready for school, in between drying my hair, slapping on a bit of mascara and brushing my teeth single handedly while my other hand is scrolling through image after image, I hastily Google ‘clay dogs’ to study my options and gain a bit of inspiration. I find a couple of pictures that look vaguely achievable and print them out. Ok, so I’m a bit off track with my sculpting strategy. My dream of achieving sculpting fame and fortune while creating a heartfelt tribute to our family dog that will bring a tear to the eye of anyone fortunate enough to behold it has meandered considerably off the path, but all is not lost.

After school I head off excitedly to Totem Ceramics with the printed picture folded up in my bag. Outside the gallery I meet up with the four others who are on our little ‘team’ and we go inside. There in front of us are shelves displaying the other competition entries. Shelves full of disconcertingly lifelike, detailed clay dogs that are sitting there taunting us, challenging us to even consider trying to make anything quite so artistic.

My rivals.
The competition.
And they are good.

We walk through the gallery and into the studio at the back where we sit at our places around a table. We are greeted by the very lovely lady who has organised the competition and who runs the gallery and gives pottery classes in the studio. We have to fill in a form with our contact details and the number of our competition entry. I’m number 25. There is a box to tick if you want to keep your model and have it fired rather after judging than it being recycled for somebody else to use after the competition. Rather adventurously and feeling that perhaps I’m tempting fate I tick the box. My dog and I are destined to be joined together forever. Then we have to nominate the charity that we want our 10€ entry fee to go to. We all choose Adana. After that we are each given a 1.5kg cube of clay, a very quick lesson by the lovely lady on how to join clay along with a sobering warning that we MUST hollow out any overly thick pieces that we use for our models because anything that is too thick will explode in the kiln with such force that it will annihilate itself as well as wiping out every other clay sculpture that’s in there too. Yikes! Then we are told we have just 2 hours to complete our sculpture. Yikes! And no extra time will be given! Yikes!

Feeling rather like I’m on a cross between ‘Countdown’ and ‘The Great British Bake Off’ I nervously begin.

I fish my printed picture out of my bag, study it momentarily and then start to make my dog’s face. I surprise myself somewhat by making something that doesn’t look completely unlike a dog’s face and so feeling a bit buoyed up I continue on to make his ears. Soon after, while I’m making the dog’s body, one of the pottery experts from the studio walks around the table, watching what we are doing. This makes me feel even more like I’m on ‘The Great British Bake Off’ and Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry have just wandered up to my table to inspect what I’m doing! Nodding sagely as he observes us in turn he then returns to the back of the studio. I carry on.

After about an hour I find that I’ve done as much as I can to my sculpture. While I am now sure that my dream of being a world acclaimed sculptor has slipped away, I do see that my dog actually does resemble a dog! Feeling a bit more confident now and seeing as I still have another hour I decide to make another one! This time I will make a puppy, a miniature version of the one I have already made, to play alongside its dad! This one is a bit trickier to make for some reason and for a long time I just can’t make my puppy’s face look right, especially the eyes. It resembles what I would imagine the love child of Stephen Merchant and Marty Feldman to look like. Oh, wait a minute, the laws of biology would suggest that these two couldn’t make a love child, but anyway, you get the idea. With time ticking away I’m tinkering away with my clay tools desperately trying to get the face right and I’m getting perilously close to running out of time!

Eventually I put down my tools and resign myself to having made a puppy that doesn’t really resemble it’s father at all. In the real world the daddy dog would be on ‘Jeremy Kyle’ demanding a paternity test and questioning where on earth this strange looking puppy had got its bulging eyes from. But I’ve done my best. I can do no more. I’m out of time and I’m in need of a nice cup of tea to soothe my nerves.

I emerged from the studio feeling as though I had really accomplished something. I had turned a lump of clay into two dogs! It was great fun too and I’m definitely going to go back to Totem Ceramics to make something else. Maybe even another sculpture!

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Estepona Art Trail – Part 1

Since moving to Spain 11 years ago I have lived mostly in the Selwo area, right in the middle between San Pedro and Estepona on the Costa del Sol. I feel an affinity to both places as I visit both regularly and I like them because they have a friendly, small town feel about them; they aren’t big, sprawling towns like Benalmadena or Torremolinos for example, and both San Pedro and Estepona remain very ‘Spanish’ too. While there is a wide variety of nationalities residing here, including many British people, neither San Pedro or Estepona have been blighted by an outbreak of those English pubs and greasy spoon cafés which are in such an unattractive abundance along the paseos of those bigger towns.

And if you scratch beneath the picturesque surfaces of San Pedro and Estepona, there are many more treasures to discover.

Estepona has recently become a talking point because of its ‘Ruta de Murales Artísticos de Estepona’. This series of wall murals was implemented by the local council and was started in September 2012. The murals are painted on the sides of buildings, transforming them into massive pieces of art. It was hoped that they would not only rejuvenate some of Estepona’s neglected neighbourhoods but also become a tourist attraction, putting  Estepona on the map as a cultural destination. From what I can work out I think there are 18 to find (although some people have said there are as many as 22!) but I don’t know exactly where they are. My plan is to explore the back streets and see if I can find them all! I love cycling and most evenings I go out for a bike ride and so I thought I could combine this with my mural mission and embark on some mini cycle tours in an attempt to locate them all.

And so, on Friday after work I set out on my bike to see what I could find. The nights are starting to get dark earlier now and I had to cycle as fast as I could to Estepona in order to get there before it got too dark to take photos. I got into the main part of town and turned off into the side streets thinking that would be a good place to start. I hadn’t gone far before I found my first mural! It was ‘Una flor de futuro’, painted by A.F Rios. I’m not very good at knowing street names or areas but when I got home I looked it up on the internet. It is on Calle Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios and the artist has said that his artwork is supposed to work as a mirror because there is (as I found out too late when I was back home) a sculpture of a flower, also by him, nearby and the mural supposedly reflects this. Clearly I didn’t get the full mural experience as I had failed to notice this sculpture as I was keen to move on to find another before it got too dark! Maybe I will stumble across it again one day.

Anyway, I hurried on, not too sure where I was going but wanting to get at least one more photo before I had to go home. Eventually I came across ‘Pasen y Vean’ (‘come and see’) which is spread over a couple of walls and is by E. Aguilera, whom (I later found out) is a local artist who wanted to give a sense of flight and movement through her depiction of circus performers and trapeze artists which can be found in the Barriada del Cid.

At this point it was getting quite dark, it was cold and I wasn’t too sure where I was! I decided to call it a day and try and find my way back to somewhere I recognised amongst the numerous, winding back streets. I still had to cycle home which would take me about 20 minutes. I had managed to tick off two of the murals though. It was a good start to my mission which will continue next time!
Una Flor de Futuro

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Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Pedals

This evening I decided to try a new cycling route. Well, to be more accurate I decided to go further along a route that I had been along only once before. This route involves cycling uphill into the countryside out behind the Selwo area of Estepona. After a while the road turns to an uneven, rocky track that winds alternately uphill and down. If you go far enough along you find that the track continues on through a tunnel. The one other time that I cycled this route I had turned back immediately after going through the tunnel because it spooked me a bit. It’s not a long tunnel but it’s gloomy, it has graffiti sprayed all along the walls and it’s a tunnel! In the kind of movies I watch nothing good ever happens in tunnels! I’ve seen more than enough horror films to know this! Today though I decided to keep going.
I went through the tunnel and carried on along the track. The scenery was lovely, there was nobody else around and I was surrounded by trees and birdsong and greenness and nothing else. At times the track split into two and each time I chose one of the forks randomly and cycled on along it. After a while I thought perhaps I should think about turning back. I had come some way, it was getting late and the sun was starting to sink lower in the sky. But then I noticed that the track just ahead was a nice, long downhill slope and I thought I might cycle down this bit and see where it ended up. So I did.
I freewheeled down, bumping over the numerous ruts and potholes, enjoying building up some speed. When I reached the bottom of the hill I looked around. I was still surrounded by only trees and countryside, nothing else. I hadn’t seen another person for the whole time I had been travelling along the track. Then up ahead I noticed a sign indicating that the track was about to reach a dead end and so I thought I would cycle to the end just to have a look. Maybe it was a dead end for cars but not for bikes and it just might lead somewhere interesting. I started off again and hadn’t gone far when in a clearing just in front of me I saw a car parked. The boot of the car was open and there were two men standing at the boot with their backs to me, oblivious to my presence. In that instant I got the impression that they had just dropped something big and heavy into the boot. My over active imagination immediately conjured up images of gangsters, guns and a dead body.
Bringing my bike to a sudden stop I turned around as silently as I could, cursing the loud crunching of the stones under my tyres. Without pausing to turn around to see if the men had turned around and noticed me I quickly set off back the way I had come. I didn’t want the men to know that I had seen them or that I had observed whatever it was they may have been doing. My heart was racing as I imagined all sorts of possible ominous scenarios that might result from them realising that I had witnessed their actions. I cycled speedily away, pedalling like the wind in an attempt to put some distance between me and the men. I covered ground quickly but then there it was in front of me, the steep, rocky track that I had flown down mere minutes earlier and which now ascended before me threatening to slow down my escape.
Swiftly changing gears I pedalled uphill as fast as I could. Looking ahead it seemed like the hill stretched on forever but I carried on. The muscles in my legs were burning from the effort of speeding up the rocky slope and I was breathing heavily from my compulsion to keep going. Occasionally I would hear the sound of a car behind me and instinctively turned around in a panic but each time I realised that it was just a car travelling over the toll road bridge that towered up high behind me. I continued along on constant alert for the sound of people or a car coming up behind me until I finally reached the tunnel.
Contrary to my sinister tunnel stereotype I passed through the tunnel without incident and emerged back into the reassuring daylight. I carried on going uphill and down until at last in the distance I could see the point at which the track turned back into the road, that oh so welcome road that went past houses and urbanisations and that promised a return to normality and safety. My legs were so tired but I pedalled as fast as I could until I reached that beautiful Tarmac. From there it was all downhill to the roundabout at the top of the hill close to where I live.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I was almost home!
There was no ‘just when you think you’re safe….’ last minute terror. I had made it home safe and sound, without incident or drama. Except perhaps for that of my very over active imagination and my troublesome tunnel-induced paranoia.