What makes a Frogman bronze so special?

What makes a Frogman bronze so special?

Commonly depicting frogs (although also featuring owls, birds and geckos), these elegant yet whimsical sculptures have captured the hearts of many. From their delicate detailing to perfect patinas and colourful characters, there’s much to love. But what exactly is it that makes Frogman bronzes quite so special?

Today, we take a look at how Tim Cotterill’s sculptures are made. From the artist’s personal inspiration to the history and complexity of the “Lost Wax” method and bronze sculptures… they truly are special creations.

First things first… why frogs?

Tim Cotterill currently lives in California. His studio is located in Venice Beach (the epicentre of bohemian and artistic Los Angeles), with the “Frogman Foundry” nestled in coastal Ventura just outside of the city. Whilst the quality of light and Californian lifestyle has long appealed to British artists (David Hockney being one of the most famous) – it’s not so well known for its owls, fish and frogs.

The fascination with frogs came from Tim Cotterill’s youth and early adulthood in the UK, exploring through secluded woods and sheltered ponds. Finding frogs and hedgerow creatures contentedly living in these shady spots inspired the artist.

It was an interest that never left Tim Cotterill, who has spoken of his love for these characterful amphibians on many occasions. From their idiosyncratic faces, elastic legs, playful nature and webbed feet, there's certainly no shortage of inspiration.

 “Frogs are fun creatures! I have tried to capture their individual spirit, their fun and their joy. Life is fun!” – Tim Cotterill

How are Frogman bronzes made?

No two of Tim Cotterill’s bronze sculptures are the same. To create them, the artist employs an ancient and meticulous process known as the “Lost Wax” (or “cire-perdue”) method.

After working on conceptual drawings and ideas, a pose will be created on a simple wire frame. This is created with filler, painstakingly layered on and sanded back repeatedly – until the sculpture emerges.

These “master frogs” are made by Tim Cotterill in his Venice Beach studio. Once complete, the original will be sent to the Frogman Foundry to be cast in bronze and finally finished with a decorative patina. The lost wax method is crucial to the process, so it’s worth explaining this in a little more detail…

What is the lost wax method?

Also known as cire-perdue, this is a method of metal casting in which a molten metal is poured into a mould – initially created with a wax model. Once the mould has been created, the wax is melted and drained away. This leaves a hollow core, into which the bronze can be poured.

Whilst there are variations on this technique, it is a method almost universally favoured by bronziers for the fineness of detail achievable.

Tim Cotterill once gave a personal tour of his studio, explaining the method. Whilst we can’t go into detail on the entire meticulous process, it can include...

1. A silicon rubber mould is created of the original master frog (or other animal!).
2. The mould is then injected with hot liquid wax.
3. After the wax is cooled, it is removed from the mould, cleaned and polished.
4. The wax is then dipped into a ceramic slurry and coated with sand.
5. This process is repeated over the course of several days, building up a hard shell.
6. The shell is baked in an oven, during which the wax runs out.
7. Molten bronze is poured into the shell whilst it is still hot.
8. When the bronze has cooled, the shell is chipped off.

And like that, the bronze cast is born.

All of Tim Cotterill’s animals must then be cleaned and polished, ready for the patina process. On completion, they’ll be individually signed and numbered.

Who invented the lost wax method?

The origins of the lost wax or cire-perdue method are shrouded in mystery. It’s said to be one of the oldest forms of casting, dating from the 4th millennium BCE (and possibly earlier).

Reflecting the success of the method for creating beautiful, intricate designs – the technique has changed relatively little since its inception. Some of the earliest examples are from the Indus Valley, including the objects discovered in the Nahal Mishmar hoard (c.4500-3500 BCE) and the Indian “Dancing Girl” sculpture, dating from around 2500 BCE.

The lost wax method became widespread in almost every society around the globe, particularly adopted by Italian renaissance sculptors such as Giambologna, Ghiberti and Donatello.

The sensitive, naturalistic work of French sculptor Auguste Rodin is a particularly fine example of the expressive possibilities of the technique.

Why Bronze?

Tim Cotterill’s sculptures fall into a rich tradition of bronze sculpture, a material prized and revered for millennia. It’s been used for centuries in “foundries”, with “founders” (the person who makes the moulds) famed for their bronze casts – hence the Frogman Foundry!

Bronze has been favoured by artists (ancient and contemporary alike) for its versatility, toughness, rich colouring and ability to achieve the finest of detail. It was widely used by the ancient Egyptians from the 3rd millennium BCE onwards and adored by modern sculptors such as Henry Moore and Louise Bourgeois.

Bronze makes highly detailed sculptures possible. It expands slightly whilst solidifying, allowing for every detail of the mould to be captured. It then contracts slightly when cooled, meaning that the finished sculpture can be easily removed from the mould.

How are Tim Cotterill’s sculptures finished?

No introduction to Tim Cotterill’s bronze sculptures would be complete without discussing his unique, jewel-like patination. Now, for good reason – the exact process is kept a strictly guarded secret… but it does involve layers and layers meticulously applied to the sculptures.

Typically, bronze sculptures are “chased” to smooth down the surface and file away any bubbles. They are then patinated or varnished, which gives the sculptures their rich hues. Alternative methods include cold-painting (first developed by Vienna artists in the 1800s), gilding or silvering (especially popular in 17th and 18th century France) and even enamelling.

With Tim Cotterill’s unique patination technique, a unique sense of texture and depth is created – meaning that no two frogs will ever be exactly the same.

Whatever the animal, be it frogs, fish, owls or parrots – Tim Cotterill’s beautiful sculptures remain at the top of any art lover’s wish list. With their optimistic inspiration, meticulous creation and stunning decoration, it’s not hard to see why they are so special and so highly valued.

The Artmarket Gallery are proud to stock an unrivalled collection of Tim Cotterill’s bronzes. From rare frogs and owls to UK exclusives, special editions and commissions, our friendly and knowledgeable team can help you find artwork you love. So the only question remains, which Frogman bronze is right for your collection?
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