Sculptor John Rowlands describes the magical process by which he and fellow Woodford Arts Group members turn their ideas into visual creations

A few years ago, word got around asking whether people making art in Woodford could get together and promote visual arts in the area. We now have a group of about a dozen people, producing sufficient art to put on an exhibition (Covid permitting) twice a year.

Looking around the group, you see mainly people who have lived a life but are still full of ideas they want to convey visually. For example, Amanda Whittle uses broken shards of pottery to produce objects full of colour and rhythm but which hit you with an underlying provocative idea. Terry Rumak makes geometric patterns of colour that bounce off the eye. Darren Evans uses his architectural background to celebrate buildings and townscapes with a precision that pays tribute to the craftsmen who made the original built landscape. Julia Brett explores how the various techniques of image-making – whether paintings or print making – convey different expressions. And Emma Liebeskind explores, in a contemplative way, the relationship between simplicity and complexity to be found in natural forms.

Why do we do it? Some of the group sell their work regularly. There is, of course, huge satisfaction in knowing you have produced something out of your head that people want to purchase. But there is nonetheless an underlying drive to make art that is unlikely to sell. For example, I make sculptures in steel or plaster that take weeks to complete and need spaces to be displayed that are unlikely to be found in ordinary homes. But the ideas keep coming and the work goes on.

It would be wrong to suggest group members have the same underlying motivation. But in our group discussions there is a sense that each of us has an ‘inner life’ that is constantly bothering us: why don’t you explore this idea, or maybe there is art to be found in this direction? Is this the way imagination works? An ill-formed idea bothers you inside your head and you find yourself compelled to do something about it.

The next stage is hard. That vague, unformed idea has to be given some visual existence in a physical medium, whether it be a pencil sketch, paint on canvas, a mark on a copper plate or an arrangement of pieces of ceramic or metal. This is where you experience the tension of creativity. Your first marks are unlikely to be right. You have to adjust, scrub out, redraw, play around. Sometimes, the tension gets to you and you throw away what you have done in order to clear your mind for another go.

Sometimes, you stay on the path of an idea for a while longer, seeing where it will take you. Again, you may find yourself at a dead end and all there is to be done is to start again. But something else may happen that rewards your persistence. The incomplete work in front of you signals that you are on the right track. Indeed, this inanimate configuration of shape and colour somehow tells you what to do next, where to make the next stroke or put the next dab of clay. There is a sort of resonance between the maker and the emerging work. The piece shown here shifted in its making from a representation of a game of rugby to a much more elemental expression of a tackle somewhat removed from a rugby match.

We disagree in the group about how we describe this moment. Some of us are happy with the word ‘magical’, others less so. But we all seem to recognise the phenomenon. We all seem to experience these moments. And that is probably why we go on making art.

For more information on Woodford Arts Group, visit woodfordartsgroup.org