Ten Minutes with Aaron Brown - Jade Carver and Sculptor

interviews - 05,Apr,2017

Ten Minutes with Jade Artist Aaron Brown

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Aaron Brown is our newest artist at Mountain Jade. He has his own studio, ‘A Carved Piece’ where he works on sculptures and carved pieces of jade Jewellery influenced by nature. We sat down with Aaron Brown to have a chat about his creative process and unique background in the sculpting industry.

Where did you grow up?

The Shore in Auckland, though I’m now based in Cambridge. I’ve also lived in England.

Has your hometown inspired your carving?

I guess, it’s more so nature in general that has inspired me. I carve a lot of leaf forms and animals, all of which are inspired by nature.

Where did you learn to carve?

I’m self taught, I started doing a little bit in my spare time outside of sculpting and picked up techniques along the way.

I did come across John Edgar and he invited me to his studio to bounce some ideas off of him and source stone.

I still drop in every now and then and to show him what I’m working on, maybe once or twice a year. So although I never had a teacher, if I was to name someone who helped me get started and offered initial encouragement, it would be him.

I still don’t actually know many carvers, since my background was in sculpting commercially that’s sort of where I got started within the space, I'm used to working on my own. 

When did you start carving?

I started about 10 years ago though it was only part time, mainly over the weekends as I continued sculpting for businesses overseas. It was hard to get into the groove of carving at that point though, as there wasn’t enough time to learn the techniques and really work at it.

I started carving full time however about 2 to 3 years ago and it was quite a change to go from commercial sculpting to an artist type business model, selling your pieces in galleries and having to market yourself.

What is your favourite variety of jade to carve?

I don’t really have a favorite although I prefer jade with a fine grain. For carving fine detail it’s much easier if the grain is fine as you can get more precision and detail into your designs without worrying about pieces breaking off or chipping. I've found it easier to source jades for this overseas. I started off carving a lot of jade from Wyoming, mainly due to having connections over there to source the stone from. I suppose the best stones I have used in the past is honey olive jade from Wyoming and black Australian jade.

What has inspired you to start creating the objects you do?

I like animals and natural objects and elements. I’ve started carving native New Zealand birds recently and enjoy making them to scale with a lot of intricate detail. I guess most of my designs for pendants are a little abstract too, In my sculptures I like mixing the silver and wood to create the finer detailing or bases.

Metal is a familiar medium for me, it’s easier to sculpt finer details like legs with. When you’re using jade for details like that it wouldn’t be possible as they would have to be a lot thicker to bare the weight of the bird or insect or they would end up super fragile. That’s why I generally use silver or bronze for things like the legs, it would feel wrong to me to not have those elements to scale.

What is your creative process? Do you start with the design or the stone? And how does it progress?

I typically start with the design, and then choose the stone to fit. However if I don’t have a stone that would work with the original drawing or idea, then I adjust it accordingly. Sometimes I just don’t have a stone that works at all, in which case I would come up with another design that will work and save the original design for when I do find a stone for it.

For the sculptures I often then work on a 3D sculpture after the initial design and create it in another medium, then I can work it to see how it fits the stone, cutting the stone to fit the piece I have envisioned, changing elements as needed to make sure it all measures up and works to scale.

You do a lot of commission work? Do you enjoy creating pieces for other people? And how much creative influence do you usually have on those projects?

Commissions are different and I really enjoy them. It helps give some good direction and opens up your thinking too. When you’re just carving and creating what you want, you get in the zone doing your own thing. It’s nice to have someone else’s ideas and create something meaningful for them. Generally they tell me what they want and then I develop the idea further for them. I really enjoy it as its prompts different ideas and concept than what you would come up with yourself, and it also means I get to meet and get to know the people who will have a piece I have carved in their lives. That’s one thing you don’t get when you sell through galleries.

Where have you traveled to with your carving and sculpting? 
The only place outside NZ I've traveled to specifically for showing my work was the 2015 Suzhou International Jade carving exhibition in China.  I took an articulated Atlas beetle called “Inner Light” and was thrilled to win such a prestigious award for the piece.

What got you started on sculpting commercially?
My wife and I were backpacking up in Northern Thailand and in a sort of mall/market I came across an artist sculpting these amazing figures out of wax.  I couldn't speak any Thai and he didn't speak any english so I just sat there and watched him and we communicated with gestures.   When we came back to NZ I decided this is what I wanted to do.  My (very understanding) wife supported us for a year and I taught myself to sculpt figurines.  After a year of training I placed an ad looking for freelance work and quickly got a 4mth contract.  This was the start of 10 yrs of commercial sculpting work

What type of sculpting did you do in this capacity? 
I made a lot of figurines and animals for the toy and hobby industries.  This included board games figures up to small-scale busts for military museums through to bronzes.