A secret commission – in the form of three posthumous Labrador sculptures – proved to be the hardest and most time consuming of any commission undertaken in my 20 year career as an animal sculptor.
My clients sadly lost their three cherished Labradors and I was asked to capture Boris, Charity and Murphy to be given as a special birthday present. Boris (the sitting Labrador sculpture) died nine years ago. This meant there were no digital photos of him and I found it difficult to extract the necessary detail from the clients’ old film-based photographs. However, through daily email exchanges, the clients were able to advise me how to make the Labrador sculpture more Boris-like. Clients know their dogs and feedback is always welcomed.
Charity and Murphy’s photos were more recent, which gave me more information to work from. Charity, the chocolate Labrador, had been rescued from life as a breeding bitch in a puppy farm. She had clearly had many litters and had developed arthritis in her hip joint. This made her sit in a very specific way. All this needed to be captured in the dog sculpture, along with her large, expressive ears.
Murphy was their Mum’s favourite and what a happy boy he was! In nearly all his photos he’s doing a happy pant, so it was very important to capture this. He also had a habit of curling his ears back in appeasement, a behaviour which gave him cute ‘puppy-ears’.
After a solid week working on Murphy (his mouth alone took an entire day) the client didn’t feel it was quite there. I had got to the can’t see the wood for the trees point so I wrapped him up and worked on one of the other dogs. Coming back to Murphy with fresh eyes, I could see what needed to be done. I had to completely remodel the head, including the mouth, taking a further three days, but the result was quite definitely Murphy. You can almost hear the thump of his tail.
I advised the client to keep the chocolate Labrador sculpture matt in finish, but the yellows would work in both shiny and matt. It was decided they would all be matt. After two applications of glaze over three days and two firings later, we got the desired result. They were safely delivered to my clients in time for the big reveal. All those weeks of work were worth it when my client wrote to tell me that Charity, Murphy and Boris were back home.
I absolutely love them and get big lump in my throat when I look at them! Now I need to find a location in the house to show them off to the full. Thank you, the talented sculptress Nick Mackman!!!