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The Comedy of Errors

Art Works: Laura Mathews' Turquoise Flying Horse

1 November 16 words: Art Works

This local artist lets us in on the creative process for her MDF creatures...

This horse has twenty articulated joints and posable wings. It’s an ‘art toy’. I hand draw my designs and then convert them to vectors on my laptop. I go through lots of test versions, tweaking a line here or there, until I think it's perfect. I then laser-cut and hand-assemble it. This particular design has 82 separate parts but others have over a hundred.

I’m based at Fishergate Point Studios near the Ice Arena, and we had an exhibition to showcase the variety of work that the studio’s artists produce, for which I made a trio of horses that included this piece. When I was little I was always annoyed by my toy ponies because I wanted the legs to move realistically.

I started out by making terrible, clunky versions out of paper and cardboard and MDF – I still have my early sketches – but I discovered the accuracy of laser cutting at Nottingham Trent University. I realised I could make them, and many other animals, in a more refined way and be able to produce them in multiples. I don’t actually give my pieces names, but I do feel like they have different characters when I’m making them.

The design process takes a long time, often over a month for each animal. Laser cutting the individual pieces only takes about half an hour, but the assembly, painting, fabric detail and finishing will take me another week or so. Despite being quite stylised, they’re strangely alive and people always want to play with them. I made articulated rats for my degree show, which had little teeth that were hidden until you opened their mouths. They were made from recycling scrap sheets found in abandoned buildings, and I think they scared a few people.

From there, I developed more designs for different animals, slowly turning it into a small business. I work part time at Lakeside to make sure the bills are paid, but interest in what I’m doing is growing so my dream would be to sell my work full-time. I no longer scavenge the wood to make them, but I still use recycled fabric. I enjoy the challenges of working out all the little technical and aesthetic details. Fitting all the pieces together is slow and meditative. I love knowing there are creatures I’ve made living all over the world.

I’d love to have a go at doing stop-motion animation with my animals, but there just never seems to be time to do it. Having a go at making huge sculptures would be great too – maybe a team of galloping horses along a beach – articulated with cranes.

Laura Mathews website

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