30 June 2012

adventures on a bike laden with lead

this week has been spent mostly in diy shops and metal scrap yards and thanks to the amazing people i've met along the way it's been lots of fun. i'm preparing for my exhibition in august (which i'll write more on later).

first stage was buying a couple of sheets of 8' x 4' mdf from julians in penryn. i cut them up there so i could carry them across the road to a friend's workshop on a barge. now, for the record, i can saw in a straight line but for these pieces i want a more organic hand cut feel. the guys working there were great, asked if i needed any help and then left me to it. when they came back to see how i was doing they couldn't help laughing at my wonky cutting. they were nice but when i said it was meant to be like that, they were having none of it, said they wouldn't employ me and no amount of protesting would convince them otherwise!

next job was to cut the boards down into small panels ready to be lead bound and gessoed. amidst long lengths of wood being planed for re-decking a boat i got sawing and sanding. i ended up with about 140 small pieces.

panels that were sized and soon drying on every available horizontal surface

i used up my entire stock of lead. it has travelled with me from a scrap yard in yorkshire via bristol (but i'm glad i kept it as the price has now rocketed) and set about finding some more locally. along with flea markets, car boot sales, auctions, skips and searching for driftwood there's nothing that i find more exciting than a non-ferrous metals scrap yard! yes- i'm easily pleased. a good friend once said 'it's great, you can get jo to go anywhere if you tell her there's a skip on the way'! my absolute favourite scrap yard was (and hopefully still is) in halifax. huge towering piles of copper, lead, brass and aluminium rose from oily concrete. there were metals crushed into huge cubes, vast crates of coiled wire as well as pots and coal skuttles and taps. but what was best was that once you were known to be an artist the man in the small raised box/office gave you a smile and a nod - silent licence to clamber over and rummage through it all whilst dodging the big grabber heaving great clawfuls of metal from one container to another. i'd gather together my hoard, put it on the vast weighing plate, it wouldn't even register on the scales and he'd say, 'oh, just give me three quid'. perfect. 

i wasn't feeling altogether optimistic as i started to ring round scrap yards locally. the one in hayle had just had all their lead collected the day before and a couple of others said they didn't have much in. so i thought the best plan of action was to get the train to perranwell and cycle to united downs where i knew they're were a few on one road.

the first yard i came across was small with just one pallet of lead. there were some nice old pieces and i was so over-joyed to find anything that i bought as much as i had money for and could fit into my bike basket. they were really friendly and said if they got any of the thin pieces with white oxidization i was looking for they'd put them to one side for me. i then went next door just to see what it was like. again not much lead but i caught sight of the end of what looked like an amazing piece poking out. there was no one around so i borrowed a pair of gigantic oily leather gloves and after much effort i wrestled it free. i know it's stating the obvious but lead really is so heavy. it was totally worth it though as the patina is beautiful with bands of flaky white speckled with a deep terracotta pink. i was beginning to  regret my hastiness at having spent all my money next door when i suddenly realised that maybe i could sell some of the lead i'd just bought to buy this piece instead. while i waited for someone to appear a man came along with some metal to sell and we got chatting. he told me he was a gardener and that his brother had studied fine art. i described what i was making and with a cursory glance over his shoulder he dug down into a bucket and handed me his roll of lead. i swapped some of my lead for the patinated piece and paid the woman in the office. she said i must be sure to bring in photos of my work so they could put them up on the wall. i looked at the wall- a kind of corrugated iron shed warehouse, and i promised i would.

the third yard at the end of the road was pretty exciting and more like the one in halifax. there is a big sign saying 'enter at your own risk' and vast heaps of every type of metal imaginable. it was loud, had an air of danger and the big grabber claw was busily at work. a huge lorry was reversing down the ramp, clouds of dust and fumes filled the air. in a big shed a short man was methodically snipping lengths of lead pipe into a wire crate. i inquired about lead and he showed me a giant steel cylinder as tall as a small cottage. he said there'd be plenty of what i was after but that it was all dropped into the depths of this tank. he was also really interested in what i was doing and offered to save me any white pieces in the future.

and so to cycling back. i had about 15kg of lead in my basket but fortunately most of the way was down hill. it was a little scary, corners had to be taken wide, stopping had me back in barge navigating mode but most of all, it looked like i'd robbed a church. i'd love to know where all this lead has come from. 

back safe and sound 

detail of my favourite piece (which is actually quite large now it's been hammered out)

beginning to hammer out the lead

No comments:

Post a Comment