Commissioning a sculpture – “La Bise”

  • What will it cost?
  • If I don’t like it, will I have to accept the piece once it has been made?
  • Will it fit in with the space I have in mind?
  • Is it suitable for placing outdoors and if so how will I maintain it?

Commissioning a piece of sculpture can be a daunting prospect. All sorts of concerns are likely to cloud your thoughts?

In 2021 John Linnard and Karen Bateman decided they would like to commission a piece of sculpture from me to complete the garden of their new home. Their experience is a good guide to how I work with a client to produce something that has enhanced their garden landscape with something they love looking at every day. It also illustrates how, by close collaboration between sculptor and client these concerns can be minimised.

When I asked them what they had in mind they suggested that they might like something highly figurative, perhaps of an owl. Owls are a very popular motif in gardens and you will see plastic resin castings in the ornament sections of most garden centres. I’m not so keen on these things. Owls in Roman times were believed to be harbingers of death and an evil omen. Moreover, the kind of figure they had in mind would not have enhanced the view of the little nature reserve situated at the end of their garden. Whereas if they considered something a little more abstract they could achieve a framing effect while the form of the piece could reflect the gentle curves they had achieved with their paths and lawn.

I took them to an outdoor sculpture exhibition and showed them how a more abstract piece could work in their space. We also looked at different stones and the variations in colour, grain and durability. Looking at other pieces for sale helped them to set a budget and we agreed on a price for the commission. Normally I would ask for a 30% deposit, but as I knew them very well I decided to waive this. I asked them if there was a particular time or place they would like to evoke and they agreed that being passionate Francophiles they missed life in the cafés (we were in the middle of a Covid lockdown).

I came up with the idea of creating something around La Bise – the double air kiss that French people give when greeting each other. I also told them about Caen – a rather beautiful French limestone that would lend itself to their garden very well. It’s very hard to get hold of in the UK, but I had managed to secure a block from a stonemason a few months earlier.

Caen stone from northern France.

I drew a rough sketch of my idea to which they responded very positively. To make sure that they would be entirely happy with the three dimensional rendering of my drawing I set about making a plaster maquette. Plaster, as you might guess, is very easy to carve and produces lovely clean edges and straight lines.

Plaster maquette for “La Bise”

John and Karen could immediately see that the space formed between the two figures would offer a rather special glimpse of the nature reserve. Pleased with the result, we agreed that I would go ahead and start carving the block.

The first thing to do, was to mark out the piece to ensure that the carving was symmetrical and then create the space between the figures. This was done using a point – a traditional sculptor’s chisel.

The next thing was to start to carve the two overlapping figures. Once this was done I could start to create the smooth curves that establish the piece’s “form” – the quality which the human eye automatically responds.

Creating the overlapping figures
Creating the “form”

Then came the slow business of the final carving, finishing and polishing.

After finishing

At this point I realised that there was something missing in the piece. There was a lack of expression on the part of the two figures that worked against the idea that here were two people greeting each other. I decided to add the suggestion of a brow and a nose to both of the heads. The result was that I was able to add a few more curves that worked to augment the larger sweeps of stone on the necks.

Adding a face

I invited John and Karen over to view the final piece and they were delighted. The stone has a beautiful golden grain that catches the setting sun beautifully. Personally, I would probably have opted for a smaller plinth, but Karen had a particular piece of oak that she wanted to use.

If you are interested in discussing a commission, do get in touch.