Talent, Persistence and Equestrian Sculpture with Amy Goodman 

Today on, The Sculpture Vulture Podcast, I talk to Amy Goodman,  who is probably known best for her Equestrian sculptures such as the much loved, Romsey War Horse and Pegasus and Bellerophon,  but to only mention them would do her a huge dis-service as she’s also the creator of some incredible military monuments, portraits, figurative works as well as breath-taking  abstract sculpture.

Her focus is always to capture the movement and character of her subjects whether that’s bronze portraiture or a few lines of steel.

I began our discussion today by asking her, if she’d always been creative?

Amy Goodman: Yes, I’ve always loved art. I love drawing, painting and making things. Also, from a really young age I was resolving ideas in 3D, making sculptural objects like animals and horses. I’ve always loved to challenge myself by making really complicated things, and nature has always fascinated me. So really, even though I was academic, I always gravitated towards the arts. When I got to the GCSE and A-level phase later on in school, arts, pottery and sculpture were the subjects that I naturally went into.

Lucy Branch: Fantastic. So was there somebody, like a role model at home, that kindled that interest?

Amy Goodman: I think it was always in me. My mum could draw and get a likeness of things and I believe my grandfather, who I didn’t know very well, was quite a talented painter in his spare time. But really, it was something that I’d always just gravitated to and had an affinity with. I used to get accused of watching, I think I was a natural observer. I loved to watch what was going on around me and record it. For instance, in my pottery classes when I was 15, I loved to stay after school late into the evening. I just was fascinated by it.

I had to make the most complicated things possible. I once made a “George and the dragon” with outstretched wings, and I gave George a lance for the poor dragon. I loved the challenge, how you have to be an engineer. You’ve got to think about balance and center of gravity, although I didn’t have words for them back then. You’ve really got to know about balance of form and volume, and how they relate to each other, to have a successful freestanding sculpture.

Lucy Branch: As a huge horse lover myself, I spent my youth doodling horses when I should have been listening to my teachers. Although I must have done tens of thousands of them, they’re such difficult creatures. Dragons as well, but to get that balance right with horses is no mean feat. Especially at a young age, when our cognitive skills and hands’ dexterity are not quite so good. Sounds like it came quite naturally to you.

Amy Goodman: I think so. Also, you’ve reminded me that I obsessively drew horses too. I was very lucky to ride when I was younger and to have horses and ponies in my life as I was growing up. When you’re around them, grooming and riding, you get a good idea about their form and how they’re put together. For me, drawing them was always an obsession and yes, they are an incredibly challenging animal to portray. They have been there since the beginning of time. Horses, dogs and man in many ways evolved together, so they have been instrumental in our histories. It’s incredible that these majestic animals will do what they do for us. It’s absolutely amazing and they are incredible.

Lucy Branch: Was it then that you went on to train more formally, or was it something that came to you later?

Amy Goodman: So after completing my A-levels, I did a fine art degree in Southampton. When you do a foundation course, you’re experimenting and trying out different media. I specialized in sculpture in my final year, and it’s just something I’ve naturally gravitated to. I was always problem solving. I would work out ideas in my head and wouldn’t need to have reams and reams of sketchbooks full of drawings. Although drawing is an incremental part, for me, a lot of it is in my head. I will have already been thinking about a subject,  researching it and will have already done a lot of problem solving in my head.

For example, when I weld my steel pieces, which I guess you could describe as 3D drawing, I can naturally put the shapes together. Even when I’ve got two pieces of metal which represent front legs and hind legs in an equestrian sculpture, and then a single piece which is the neck, down the spine to the tail,

I can already see the whole animal just in those three pieces.

I surround myself with resource material, like anatomical books, to see what’s going on under the surface. It’s an exciting process. I think every time I make something, I’m learning and I want to take that on into the next project.

Lucy Branch: With the commissions, tell me where you find your inspiration to bring something fresh to the project.

Amy Goodman: As soon as I know the brief and the subject, I’ll do a lot of research. To really try and get a rounded overview, I also check out how it’s been approached before by other creatives. Then I try to give it a new angle. Also, thinking about composition with sculpture, you really want it to be working in the rounds. So thinking about that as well.

Trooper and War Horse by Amy Goodman ©

Lucy Branch: Yeah, I really do see your personality come through with your sculpture. It’s almost like your own handwriting or something, it’s got such a distinctive style.

Amy Goodman: I mean, with Pegasus and Bellerophon, there’s already been some very striking equestrian sculptures created of them. I wanted to hark back to ancient Greek sculpture and that’s why I wanted to get the verdigris in. I wanted to create this timeless feel. So, going back to the grandmasters in ancient sculpture is a great reference point.

Lucy Branch:  Now I really want that one. So do you ever hit a rock with a project, and have you had to work yourself out of it?

Amy Goodman: I sometimes find that after a project finishes it’s difficult to really throw myself into the next project. And sometimes in the middle of a project, I’ll go through a stage where I’m really hating what I’m doing. At that point I will quite often make extreme changes, so possibly even cutting into the armature of an equestrian sculpture. I think it’s important to be really critical sometimes, and to have space from a project. If you work on something else and come back to it, then you see it with fresh eyes. Also, getting a colleague to have a look, another fresh pair of eyes, is always helpful. Then you think, “Oh, my gosh, that’s not right.” Or, “Actually, it might be better if I try this.” Particularly with something like clay, it is always possible to change it. I love its tactile nature. I also love to have lots of texture on the surface to give it life. I think it’s important to never be afraid to change something. If you’re thinking, “That’s not quite right,” do change it, because otherwise it’s going to be there forever.

Lucy Branch: Yeah. If you’re cutting into the actual armature of an equestrian sculpture, you’re really doing massive change at that stage. It’s not just a surface rework.

Amy Goodman: No. Sometimes something can be moved around on the surface, but occasionally, it’s worth doing. With my steel pieces, it’s easier, but still it’s quite physical and you go two steps back before you go forwards again. But it can be part of the process and I think it’s important. I like the way that a piece evolves as you’re working on it.  Often I find that the final piece evolves and changes, and I think that’s a good thing.

Lucy Branch: Particularly with your steel sculptures, there’s nowhere to hide, is there? Because the line is everything. Could there have been a different life for you, other than the one that you’ve chosen?

Amy Goodman: Well, I very much loved zoology and biology, so working with animals in some form. I would have loved to have been a scientist or zoologist traveling around the world. Travel is great. When I think about the year after I graduated, instead of getting my backpack on, I had an opportunity to work at a photographic safari lodge in Zimbabwe. It was so inspirational, but I think my art encapsulates that and I think it’s always something in me. So maybe I would have worked with animals in some way, but it comes into my work. Also figuration, the human figure, the life, what’s under the surface, we’re living and breathing things, we’re pumping hearts and muscles and maybe that comes through. So in a way, I think art can be whatever subject you want it to be. And I think always learning and trying to push yourself.

Lucy Branch: Yes, so the animal aspect in particular would have appealed to you whatever you did.

Amy Goodman: Yes, it would have done. You know, I was working in the Gwaai Valley just next to Hwange National Park for about six months.

Lucy Branch: Wow, that’s quite a long time, six months.

Amy Goodman: It was. So that was back in ’99, 2000 before… Zimbabwe has been having so many problems. But for me, to be there immersed in that wildlife, it was just such a magical experience and I learnt so much about the flora, fauna and the animals. I learnt their Latin names. I was able to do local game drives, when I got to know the nature well. It was such a brilliant experience and I did a lot of art there, I sketched from life and did my photography. It led to a two-woman show in St. Helier, Jersey when I came back and my subject matter was all African wildlife. I’d love to revisit and make a majestic kudu again. At the moment my work is mainly equestrian sculpture and the military comes in, but I would also like to go back to my original passion. I think that always is part of me, trying to capture the majesty of wildlife.

Lucy Branch: So would you encourage other creatives who are thinking about becoming a sculptor, to not necessarily limit themselves to perfecting their sculptural craft, but to go outside of that, go a bit bigger?

Amy Goodman: I think it’s up to the individual. Some of my colleagues at Project Workshops have honed one particular technique, and have become masters at it, which works well for them. I just love to diversify and work in different media, but everyone has their own path. I think experimentation is part of finding out who you are as an artist. It’s a cliche, but you’re finding yourself through the experience and challenge of trying to make a living out of your passion. I’ve gone through debt, major debt and recession. Sometimes for the glean of making work you love, when you’re desperate to pay the bills or pay off some debt, you have to dig deep. As for anyone in any business, you have to stretch yourself.

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Lucy Branch: There’s real bravery in that, because that’s the thing that makes so many people falter, isn’t it? From the creative life. It’s incredibly difficult. I think you have to be incredibly creative to be able to make a living out of it, because it’s such a difficult thing to find clients. To bring your voice across in such a way that people are prepared to pay an awful lot of money for, particularly for large scale works.

Amy Goodman: I think it’s a whole combinations of things falling into place at the right time: luck, hard work, tenacity, believing in yourself.

Even though all creatives have times of self-doubt, when you think “Oh gosh”, but you have to be driven, believe in what you do and find your niche, because there are so many other contemporaries out there. But you find your niche, establish yourself, and gain confidence. Sometimes you hit some rocky roads and it’s difficult, but you just have to keep yourself going. For me, I think diversifying and making steel work helped.

I must mention Winchester University, because I arrived at Project Workshops at the beginning of the recession, 2008 through to 2011. Things were hard, my car’s engine blew up, I got into very serious debt and I thought, “How am I gonna carry on?” But I just knew this is what I wanted to do. So, I diversified. I taught a bit, I started running drawing classes, I did steel work and also got myself out to art fairs and shows. You have the overheads, but it also gets people to know your work. So there’s a lot of hard work that goes into getting yourself established.

Lucy Branch: I think Jen Sincero, the author, says, “When you really want something, that’s when the universe is going to test you. You can get run over by a bus, you’re going to get all your money taken away. Within a couple of days, you’re completely broke. But that’s the test if you really want it.” You’re going to go from that and then the universe is on your side, maybe, a bit more.

Amy Goodman: Yes. It’s funny how that happens.

I knew when I was at rock bottom that, “I am going to do this. I’ll find a way.”

I also felt lucky that I was surrounded at Project Workshops, a special place, by other creatives and that we were all on the same journey, with similar struggles. So at least I didn’t feel like I was completely on my own. For a lot of creatives, it can be quite a solitary existence. So I found it helpful to have people I could talk to, then you didn’t feel so alone.

As for Winchester University, I was approached about creating an angel and among three finalists, and I actually won. I created the bronze in 2012 and they then became almost a patron, buying my other work as well. I am still there as an artists in residence, and I’ve made a second angel for them. I felt that they supported me and came along at a good time. It’s very important to mention that they’re a lovely team.

So like you said, If you really want something and you’re focused and visualize where you want to be, then events transpire. You grab those opportunities when they present themselves, you go for it, and you’re unswerving. Sometimes things fall in the right place, sometimes they don’t. But I feel lucky I’m still here doing this. It’s great and difficult.

Lucy Branch: Tell me about whether you have a process with your work. Do you get up every morning and do the same routine before going into the studio, do you meditate?

Amy Goodman: Recently, we have been living through these surreal times, so my routine is quite different. I’ve got a lovely greyhound with my husband and normally, before COVID, I would get up and take him for a walk, do my admin at home on the computer and I would get into the studio, probably for around 10. Then I would do my 10-hour day, sometimes I might be making design work for a piece, or I might be making a scale model. Perhaps if I’m lucky enough to be working on a life sized piece, or a memorial for clients, I’ll work out my ideas on a small scale before I enlarge.

I’m lucky to have a foundry on site where I rent my studio. So if I’ve perhaps got additions of pieces going through there, I might spend the day working on a wax, which is dipped in ceramic and invested before the casting stage – the exciting bronze casting stage. So I quite often have several projects on the go, if I’m lucky, at different stages. For example, on the larger scale work front, from the point of first inquiry to the actual delivery and installation, unveiling of a piece, it can often be a number of years, or at least one or two years. So, I’m often mixing my time between the boring admin side of the business, the mulling over of ideas for a new inquiry that’s come in, and working through current projects. I’m quite good at multitasking, but then when I’m up to deadline… well, I think all of us work well under deadline, I certainly do. If I’ve, perhaps, got a week left to work on a monumental piece. For example, a life-sized equestrian sculpture will normally take me a couple of months.

I’m about to start a life-sized Gurkha from World War 1, carrying an injured soldier off the battlefield. I’m going to be starting in about 10 days time, so I will probably spend 10 days welding very secure armature, because it’s probably going to have 300 or 400 kilos of clay on it. So, I need to really take my time measuring a scale model. I work out the ratio of measurements, to scale up from my small piece. For the clay, I would imagine it’s going to be quite a complex piece, so I think it will take me about two to two and a half months. When I am at the final stages of making this kind of piece, I can then push myself to work 12-hour days quite happily.

Lucy Branch: Gosh, there’s two parts to that. I totally cannot believe that you’re working creatively for 10 hours or maybe 12.

Amy Goodman: It’s not every day. I have momentum most of the time and work normal hours, be it perhaps hours that I’m lucky enough to arrange for myself. So, I don’t always do the 9:00 to 5:00. Sometimes, I’ll go in the studio later, but then I’ll work later. Also, like a lot of people who work for themselves, I quite often do a lot of admin and stuff on the computer in the evenings. So, you’re never really switching off from your work, even when you leave the workshop. But when a deadline is coming up, then I can push myself to work very long hours if I have to. That’s when I can lose myself, because you’re pushing yourself and you have that pressure, that I thrive under sometimes, but I couldn’t do those 12-hour days every day. I can bide my time working steadily and then I need that final impetus to really push myself.

I also find that when I’m between big projects, I can go through a stage of berating myself because I can’t immediately throw myself into the next one. But it’s necessary for me to recharge and even when I’m charging, I’m absolutely thinking about the new project. I’ve been doing this a long time, I graduated 23 years ago and even now I’m just getting used to my creative nature and what works for me. But I feel really grateful to do what I do and I love it so much.

Amy Goodman showing HRH Prince Charlies Pegasus and Bellerophon at Merville Barracks, Colchester ©

Lucy Branch: Well, you can see it in your work. I think that’s probably why you’re empty at the end of your creative projects, because you’ve put so much into them. No wonder you have to recharge again, because no one could sustain that.

When I was looking at your pieces, I wondered if you had a special connection to the armed forces somehow? Because you have a lot of sculptures with that link.

Amy Goodman: It happens organically, because I always was an anamalia artist and sculptor, particularly equestrian sculpture. The dream of making a life-size equestrian sculpture came back in 2014 when I had the honor of creating the “Romsey War Horse and Trooper”, that just so happened to be about a World War 1 horse and trooper. It wasn’t the military that commissioned me, it was a group of local people in Romsey, from all walks of life, who very passionately felt their should be a memorial to the fallen from World War 1. I did a lot of work on that project before I won the commission, but I had tunnel vision when I heard there was a possibility of a war horse being commissioned. It was my dream. I’d always loved Michael Morpurgo, Warhol and also [inaudible 00:22:05] warrior and their story. That commission was not only my first life-sized equestrian sculpture, but also a pretty major memorial, so I was under a lot of pressure to do it justice. The pressure was scary, but I also enjoyed the challenge and wanted to do the best job I could. In terms of a project that means a lot to me, I think that was it, my first really major commission. I also got to know a lot of the local community to Romsey, got involved with fundraisers, and it was very close to my heart.

In answer to your question, I think that particular equestrian sculpture caught the attention of some military clientele. So a short time after, I was approached by Steven Ashton to do a life-size memorial to Treo, who was a military dog that sniffed out IEDs in Afghanistan. Because I share the making of these works on social media, he had been following that project and approached me saying, “We’d love you to make Treo.”

Lucy Branch: Oh, brilliant.

Amy Goodman: From that, I was shortlisted to make another equestrian sculpture, Pegasus and Bellerophon for Merville Barracks in Colchester. So it just happens organically, you build your portfolio and meet people. I love sharing my work with people and it has just happened organically.

Lucy Branch: Although I’m an enormous bronze lover, as you know, you also do a lot of sculpture in steel. What do you get from steel that you don’t get from bronze?

Amy Goodman: I still make steel pieces, but recently I’ve been casting more bronzes. I’ve been loving the quality, patinas and finishes you can get with bronze, but I like to sketch with steel. There’s this dead material on the floor and I like to give whatever medium I work with life. In a way they are 3D sketches, but they are made out of cold-bent 10 millimeter steel bars. So it’s incredibly physical, it’s actually quite a workout making them. It’s something that I started at art college and I’ve had a number of commissions since. When you hot dip galvanize in silver, they are a blank canvas for lighting at night, so they’re quite magical when they’re lit up. I would love to have a show one day where I have quite a few of these pieces lit up with incredible lighting and a Spartan gallery. Because the shadows that can be cast are quite something, they become another piece of work in themselves.

I’d also like to do more work with mixed media, like translucent, reflective stainless steel mesh. You can create something completely different to this drawn 3D media. As an artist, you want a mix between having the ability to make your own work and explore and experiment with commissioned work, because we all have to pay the bills. More recently, I’ve felt very fortunate that I’ve been able to work on public memorial sculpture. Which was always my dream, I can’t believe it’s happening. But alongside that, I have ideas for what I’d like to do in terms of experimentation and taking myself out of my comfort zone. As we touched on earlier, perhaps working with architects, to do some more interior-based work with steel.

I think sometimes in life you have a fixed idea of where you might go and then you go in a totally different direction. But that’s absolutely brilliant, because having an idea of the sort of pieces you want to make helps you get there. But sometimes, there will be a catalyst that pushes you into a new direction and that’s exciting.

Lucy Branch: If you could name your spot, where would you most like to see one of your pieces? Would it be an institution or outdoors?

Amy Goodman: Of all my equestrian sculptures, the Romsey War Horse project was very dear to me and I would love to have a 3D scan of that piece. I had this idea of the horse and soldier as a 3D hologram in the Tate, like ghosts from the past, temporarily in an exhibition. I would have loved to see that happen. We have some incredible galleries, like the Royal Academy, it would be amazing to be in there one day. I’d love to have a piece in London, but there’s lot’s of places in the world which would be incredible.

Lucy Branch: Would you like to tell everyone where they can find out more about you?

Amy Goodman: Okay, my website is amygoodman.co.uk, I’m amysculptor1 on Instagram and I’m @AmySculptor on twitter. I quite often share time lapses of what I’m doing, and I love to share the creative process with people.

Lucy Branch: Fantastic. Is Instagram be your preferred social media, or is there another?

Amy Goodman: Facebook (facebook.com/amysculptress) and Instagram are good places to find me, as well as my website. I forgot to say I’ve got three life-size equestrian sculptures that, hopefully, once lockdown is properly lifted, will be unveiled, later this year near Reading.

Lucy Branch: Fabulous, so are they in a public space in Reading?

Amy Goodman: They will be, they’re on the site of the old Arborfield Garrison. Crest Nicholson, the client, wanted to commission a piece relating to the history of the site and there was once a horse hospital and remount depo there in World War 1. So one of my horses is a raring gunner, free of his tack. One is a war horse, free of his tack after being in war. The other is a sports horse, mare and yearling ahead. It’s kind of like past, present, future in equestrian sculpture. So that’s later on this year.

Lucy Branch: Fantastic. Amy, thank you for talking to us today.

Amy Goodman: Thank you.

Arborfield Horses with creator, Amy Goodman ©

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