Natural Talent

Wildlife sculptor Bill Pricket captures fleeting moments in permanent works of art.

You Have Always Been Passionate About Animals. Can You Describe Your Work With Animals Before You Became A Sculptor?

My fondness for animals and the natural world led me to start working as a dolphin and killer whale trainer, during which time I developed an insight into these fascinating animals that few are fortunate enough to experience. Because of my work, I was regularly involved in scientific research to better understand dolphin echolocation with the goal of reducing the by-catch of dolphins in the fishing industry. As time progressed, I trained many other species of animal, including birds of prey, sea lions, foxes, lemur, and I also did some work for the movie industry.

My work and my interest in creatures from some the wilder parts of the world meant that at various times I could be found tracking gorilla in Congo, helping with a problem crocodile in Queensland, Australia, or volunteering with the Pacific Whale Foundation in Hawaii, along with other similar exploits.

What Inspired You To Leave This Work And Become A Sculptor?

The first sculpture I ever produced was a dolphin, carved with just a sheath knife from a fallen branch. It was a natural subject to choose as I was working with dolphins all day every day and I had unlimited access to them for reference. However, I discovered that although I knew the subject very well indeed, the act of sculpting a three-dimensional representation forced me to look at the dolphins in a different way, to properly “take in” not only the physical form of the subject but also to try and capture something of its behaviour and character. I always feel that I have a far better understanding of something after I’ve sculpted it than before. This is what I love about what I do now and why I changed tack in my career.

Did You Receive Any Formal Training, Or Are You Self-taught?

I am self-taught and have learned from thousands of hours of practice and developing my skills. From the start, I felt an affinity with wood and a genuine interest in my chosen subjects, which meant that I applied myself totally to the task.

After I produced my first carving I managed to gather together four or five of my father’s carpentry chisels, which I later discovered are very different from specialist carving tools, and with these I carved my first bird of prey sculpture of an osprey snatching a fish from water in cherry wood. I entered this into an international woodcarving competition and won £800 worth of carving tools, so I haven’t bought a gouge or chisel since. Part of my learning process early on was to take on all commissions which came my way. This involved a huge variety of subjects, many of which I would not normally have chosen, from bed headboards, to teapots, but I feel that this pushed my abilities early on and vastly widened my skill and knowledge base.

Can You Tell Us About Your Creative Process?

My work is a combination of two things: the concept and the material. The concept, or design, is based on not just the physical form of the subject, but some aspect of the behaviour and character. I particularly enjoy capturing a fleeting moment or action and transferring it into a permanent and beautiful sculptural representation of that precise point in time. All my sculptures start with a quite prolonged period of reference gathering and will usually involve trying to see the subject in the wild, taking photos and videos and talking to experts on the subject. After this I need to decide which material will best display the qualities I wish to emphasise from the subject. If it is to be carved from wood, I have to choose which of the many species has the qualities I require most. For a piece such as “Eagle Skull” chestnut burr worked best, for pieces like “Rhino bust” or “Octable”, birch plywood, which has a more contemporary feel, was my choice.

Each Piece Takes Several Months To Produce. What Are The Most Difficult And Time-consuming Aspects Of The Process?

It is always the detail that takes the most time, particularly if I’m working in wood, which is my material of choice. As far as possible, size permitting, I prefer to work from a single piece of wood without splicing in separate sections, because this keeps the integrity of the grain throughout the piece and adds to its beauty and uniqueness. However, it adds another level of difficulty to the work. Mistakes are irreversible, and each stroke of the blade has to be carefully considered before precise and controlled execution. This process, which borders on meditative in its final stages, means that each piece can indeed take several months to complete.

Because of the crisp detail achievable in wood, as opposed to softer materials like clay or wax, the sculptures produced lend themselves very well to being cast in bronze or precious metals as this detail transfers well during the casting process

Do You Have A Favourite Piece You Have Produced? Why Is It Your Favourite?

It is possibly the same for other artists, but I often feel that my most recent work is my best as it has benefited from the continuous acquisition of knowledge, skill and technique that accumulates with each piece I produce. A recent piece of functional sculpture that I am particularly pleased with is my “Octable”, an octopus coffee table carved from many layers of birch plywood. It is one of my favourite pieces partly because of the complexity of design which led to it being an enormous technical challenge.

Your Work Was Featured At The Recent Mara’ee 2018 Art Exhibition. What Was The Experience Like For You?

It was a real privilege to have been involved in this year’s Mara’ee art exhibition and it was a wonderful opportunity for my work to be seen by a wider audience. The event was very well organised and it was wonderful to discuss details of the carving process with the interested and knowledgeable visitors. I also made some wonderful new friends not only with the other artists involved, but also with the Bahraini falconers who made me feel very welcome and were so very generous with the useful information they shared with me about their birds.

One Of Your Falcon Sculptures Have Also Been Included Into His Majesty Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa’s Royal Collection. Can You Tell Us More About This Piece And What Makes It Special?

It was a great honour to meet His Majesty and to talk in some detail with him about the sculpture he chose for his collection. This piece, entitled “Taking Flight 2”, captures the moment a falcon is about to launch itself into the sky from a falconer’s gloved hand. It is carved from English lime wood and represents around three months of work from timber selection, design, roughing out the pose and carving in the key features, all the way to the painstaking process of carving each individual feather and applying the final details of feather barbs and carving every stitch in the glove. One feature which makes this piece extra special is that if one was to look carefully at the bird’s right foot, the centre talon has snagged the thread from a stitched seam in the glove and pulled out one stitch. It is in details like this that I derive great pleasure and therefore have developed a dedication to the process.

What Are You Currently Working On? What Can Your Fans Expect Next From You?

At the moment, I am working on a bust of an Arabian stallion. I started carving it just before this year’s Mara’ee event with the intent of showing it as a work in progress and to act as a catalyst to conversation with visitors. In its usual way, the sculpting process means that I am learning an incredible amount about this stunningly beautiful and historically interesting breed, and I feel I shall be carving more of this subject in the future.

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