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From the master to the mould
A conversation with Tim about how the models are made and where the work comes from...

I have recently made a piece for a large public arena in America and here it was important that the piece could be seen by the press and by the audience, but was also of a manageable size to be given to a celebrity. On many occasions I have to produce items which are to be resold and these need to sell themselves. So the content and form of the model needs to be very carefully thought through. I have turned down many potential commissions as I feel I cannot work within the ideas which are given to me and I prefer to say so at the outset rather than waste people's time and money. On the other hand some projects are God-given and I delight on working with great architecture producing a model which is successful in drawing the observer in, maybe looking again at a familiar site.

Depending on what is asked, I sketch ideas, jot notes, and where possible always visit the building. Every project is different. I like meeting people who own the buildings as they always tell me things, either confirming my view as to how I should approach the work or giving me an alternative. The visit always helps set the priorities of the project. I send the sketches and a costing and we talk together about the materials and the way that the final piece will look. After this I ask for a deposit and I fit the piece into a timetable of work which is constantly moving. I work on several different models at once and nowadays I work with help as I cannot possibly keep up with demand. All of the work receives my closest attention and I have a major hand in the making of all the important pieces.

We start by making a master. The master is the first model from which all the others are taken. Once you have made a master, rubber is poured over the piece and once the master is taken out of this rubber mould the void can be filled with plaster. Hence we are able to reproduce new models over and over again. Making the master is the key to the whole process as if the detail is not in the master obviously it will not be replicated in the final castings.

We start off making the master with very simple materials. These include plastic sheet, MDF wood, plasticene, and other model-making materials. Nothing is bought in or adapted, it is all made from very raw beginnings. This is a constant surprise to people who visit the workshop because somehow or other they seem to think you can go into some magical high street shop and buy some element of these models off the shelves. Any object when broken down into its fundamentals is simple. It is just a matter of building it meticulously stage by stage, always having an eye on the larger plan, i.e. on the way that these individual pieces will fit into the overall model. Sometimes it is a case of building up different elements which are cast separately and assembled at a much later date.

To really understand this process you need to come to the workshop and see it. Popular misconceptions are that we carve the models from solid chunks of plaster, or other material, but as I have just explained they are assembled from many small pieces. My most common tools are that of the scalpel and rule. Another misconception is that we use computers to help us form these models. I have found from experience that computers cannot be taught the sensitivity needed to help with the model, they have no "soul". Making a master can take anything from 50 to 200 hours and this is where the cost element of any work undertaken comes in. Alongside the making of the master comes the making of additional moulds. Sometimes I need to make sections in lead which must dovetail with the plaster body. More commonly artwork needs to be produced from which brass etchings are made. As usual no work is straight forward. The initial mould of silicone rubber is termed a slave mould and from this I cast the first original or prototype which is assembled with all its brass and lead additions and sent to the commissioner for inspection! Since the commissioner has worked with me on the original brief then there is usually no reversal or alterations to be done, however, this has not always been the case!

If we assume that the piece has been accepted then we are now at a stage where a multiple mould may be made where 3 or 4 pieces may be cast at one time. This is different to the slave mould where only one piece is cast. At this point John and Joanna take over in the casting and finishing areas of the workshop and a run of models is made. The process of casting and finishing is described in the next section.

Casting and Finishing

The piece is cast from the multiple moulds and allowed to dry. The back is sanded on a pre-war cast iron linishing machine (a big sander). Looking at the sanding belt is rather like watching a road go past at 80mph! The piece goes through other stages before going into the finishing area where it is sealed with a clear sealant. The etched brass is added - any small air bubbles are filled and any fetling is carried out with a scalpel blade. This work is mainly done by Geoff, Teresa and Joanna. Joanna then felts the pieces and checks them before putting them on to the "finished" shelves.

The entire process from start to finish is hand worked and a great deal of care goes into the models whether they be limited editions or bookend pieces. Each piece carries the split temple trademark of Timothy Richards which Tim designed after working on the temple of the four winds."