This week Luxury Showplace chats with a self-taught sculptor whose career accomplishments are a little short of astonishing considering his age.
With works ranging from miniatures to full size in a variety of mediums, a long client list including several members of royalty and top names from the equestrian world as well as exhibiting with sculptures in progress at Ascot – we caught up with sculptor Edward Waites.
You left school and went into sculpting from a young age, tell us what made you choose to become a sculptor as a career and how did it start?
I first started sculpting during my school time. I think I was 17 when I made my first piece and had it moulded and cast into bronze, I started selling them by word of mouth and to a few local galleries. Once I had started I couldn’t stop and began to take the dive not long after leaving school. With the help of a local foundry, I started producing work and selling new pieces.
You have a passion for animals and wildlife in your collections, are there any other subjects you would like to sculpt or have plans to do in the future?
Although most of my work is animal based I have done a few figurative pieces and in the future, in conjunction with my style and approach, I’d like to explore some more figurative work.
Tell us about the different materials/mediums and tools you use for your sculptures, do you use any unusual mediums and are there any you would like to use but have not had the opportunity to yet?
Initially, to make a bronze there has to be a model made and using a steel and aluminium framework you sculpt your positive impression on that. I like to use anything from wet clay to plasticine, there are some really good oil-based clays out there that I use for the majority of small/medium-sized work. The same material that’s used in building concept cars. The piece then will be cast into a material – I like the medium bronze and that’s what the majority of work is cast into. I do have some silver pieces but there are cost and size limitations with the precious metals.
Can you run us through the process of how you work on a sculpture from beginning to end and the time difference it can take between your life-size and miniature pieces?
Miniatures can take as little as a day to sculpt and something like a life-size horse can take 3/4 months. No matter how big or small the piece is I will start with an armature framework and sculpt onto that. The next stage is the moulding phase where a rubber silicone mould is made to create a negative impression of the original sculpture. A wax replica piece is then made from that mould and cut up into manageable pieces and cast separately. The pieces are then welded back together and metal finished and patina applied.
Does the sculpting require any special skills or techniques and are they different from techniques other career sculptors would work with?
I think it’s more about the sculptors perception of the piece and how they see their subject matter more than the actual hands-on techniques. I personally have quite a loose style so I like to be quite free with my hands and tools and not so caught up in perfecting detail, which may kill off the life of the sculpture for me.
You worked on commissions for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, how did these commissions come about and what did you sculpt for them?
Yes, I have been lucky enough to sell work to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. My work was initially taken to Windsor and viewed amongst other items where it was subsequently picked out and initially bought.
You have other high-profile clients such as The Ruling Family of Dubai, Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, entrepreneur Ivan Massow and the designer Ben De Lisi, is there anyone you would particularly like to sculpt for in the future?
I work for all my clients as if they were the same and I come across some amazing people in what I do. I don’t think there are any specific clients I want to particularly work for, If they appreciate my work that’s fine by me.
How does it feel once you have finished a sculpture and how do you know when it is finished before going too far?
When I sculpt it goes through a few phases so initially, I’m quite precise and mathematical with the armature and framework of my piece. It then goes through a stage, (which is a bit taxing) and this is where I am building up most of the piece and trying to work out all the different aspects of the piece. The final stage is really nice because most of the piece is there and you’re just adding the finishing touches with no real pressure. It’s partly to do with the subject matter and type of piece as to whether I’ve gone too far with a piece or not.
Can the changing costs of the materials you use affect your business at all?
Yes, it can. Over ten years ago when bronze was considerably cheaper it would have been easier. Although most of my costs come from foundry labour charges and sometimes the cost of the bronze and materials are irrelevant as most of the cost comes from the skilled labour used to cast these pieces.
Tell us what you find most enjoyable about working on a commission and the hardest part of your career so far.
The most enjoyable part is when you see the client with the finished piece and they’re happy with what you’ve done. That and the point in sculpting a piece when it all starts to take shape are the two most rewarding aspects of my business. I have had certain challenges with some pieces and some animals are harder to do due to the nature of the commission. I think the biggest challenge from day one is financially making this tick – I don’t think people really understand how much it takes to cast bronzes, hold stock and sell to reinvest at a decent rate so you don’t die off.
In the past, I have taken some big risks and some have paid off and some haven’t. When was 19 I took out a loan for a relatively considerable amount of money to do an exhibition in Monaco. This didn’t work out how I hoped but off the back of it, I created a contact I still work with to this day who taught me some lessons.
Have you had any unusual commission requests over the years for a sculpture?
I have had a few odd requests but am unsure if I can mention them.
What sort of prices do your commissions range from and to for a buyer?
To commission me my smaller work starts at £1,500 and can go up to over £100,000 for life-size work.
Apart from your beautiful sculptures, what is your favourite luxury item you take pride in and why?
I appreciate art and design and through time have collected a fair few paintings; I like my cars and watches. Over everything I guess I take the most pride in my studio, which is where I live and work. I have a picture in my head of how I eventually want my studio to look and I will be looking to achieve this at some point in the coming years.
You have exhibited at Royal Ascot and the Chelsea Flower Show with your sculptures, do you have any other high-profile events coming up?
I have decided to pinpoint these two events in the summer and the rest of my year largely comprises of me doing my commission-based work and selling work from my collection but there are only so many shows you can do in a year.
What is next for Edward Waites as a sculptor and the future of the brand?
I plan on taking each year as it comes and hope to do some more monumental work for clients whilst building up my collection, which is always developing and evolving. There will be some new unique work that I’m working on coming out soon!
For more information visit edwardwaites.com