My education as a carver began with a chance meeting with Simon Keeley many years ago at an art fair somewhere in West Sussex.
A fifteen-minute taster session became a full day workshop a couple of weeks later. By the time the next monthly workshop came round I had already been bitten so badly by the bug that I had bought a full set of tools. Soon after I had built my own banker and was working in my own workshop at home.
Within 18 months of starting with Simon I was exhibiting my work at the Henley Arts Trail.
As my experience grew under Simon’s guidance I was invited to join him as a demonstrator at events at the National Trust property Clandon Park near Guildford in Surrey and as a teaching assistant at the Living Crafts events at Hatfield in Hertfordshire.
Meeting and working with Simon Keeley has been nothing short of a life-changing experience.
At one of the early workshops, Simon advised me that it would be an immense benefit to my carving if I got some serious practice at drawing. In a coincidence as serendipitous as my initial meeting with Simon there was an advert in a local magazine that week inviting new members in a life drawing group in my village. There was no tuition. Just quiet practice in a church hall with a model for three hours every week. Feedback and guidance only if you asked for it.
As good as this group was, it was clear they were struggling to keep going. Over a beer or two in the pub after one session the group leader expressed his concern that numbers weren’t high enough to justify the costs.
Although I was a newbie I volunteered to help. With a background in IT it was easy for me to put together a website and I suggested trying new-fangled social media too. It was time to dip my toe tentatively in the murky waters of Twitter.
In spite of some initial scepticism on the part of others in the group it worked. Within a few weeks we were turning people away we were so busy.
The Twitter account became insanely busy attracting followers on every continent. It gave us access to places that would never have been possible otherwise. One day I could be chatting to a curator at an internationally renowned gallery. The next day I could be advising another artist on the other side of the world how best to promote their work.
The attention opened up opportunities to curate and participate in exhibitions locally and in London and to develop private social networks for artists across southern England as well as to run global social networks on behalf of a number of artists.
Incredible. And all because of a chance meeting with a stone carver.
Simon is an inspirational teacher for carvers at any and every level of experience. His classes always have a mixture of abilities from complete beginners to more experienced carvers like myself. I have seen many carvers blossom under his guidance.