Dorienne's studio

Artist in Residence

20th July 2018

Inspired by the world of folklore, ceramic artist Dorienne Carmel creates whimsical, abstract sculptures and jewellery designs. Natalie Flaum met her at her home and studio in Elstree

Down a sleepy country lane, close to Elstree village, lies a Victorian gatekeeper’s lodge, formally part of the Penniwells Estate, where a quirky giraffe sculpture peeps over tall hedges, and oak trees vie for space behind a secluded garden gate. The lodge is home to artist Dorienne Carmel and her husband Alan, along with their puppy Mia, and is full of character, with quirky art pieces dotted throughout the house. The garden has also been lovingly nurtured by Dorienne who has transformed it into a setting to display her work, complete with a studio and showroom.

“When we first came here, there were only two rose trees in the garden, one of which is still here… I planted everything else from scratch,” says Dorienne. “I wanted a whimsical garden full of hidden bronze sculptures and ceramic water features I’ve made myself.”

Although Dorienne had been creative from an early age, she tells me that she didn’t fully embrace her artistic talent until she was in her mid-40s, during her recovery from a cancer scare which kept her in hospital for several weeks.

“I began experimenting and making three-dimensional paper pictures called Vue d’optique that I glazed and framed. I made a few for the nurses as a thank you and sold others at Covent Garden market and local craft shows,” she says. “Two years later, I took myself off to art school to do a foundation course, followed by a degree, where I tried oil painting, enamelling and jewellery design, ceramics, throwing pots and experimenting with materials.”

Then she enrolled in a part time course under sculptor artist Paul Bainbridge, who taught her how to make an armature (the framework built to support clay when creating a sculpture for a bronze), after which goblins became her starting point. Having found an agent, she began experimenting having her work cast in bronze. Before long, she had embraced her new career fully.
“I decided to get a kiln installed in my garage at home, so I could produce high quality ceramics, home and garden sculptures and water features… a superb and magical way to add a bit of art, adventure and fun to any outdoor space,” she says.

Dorienne often gets her inspiration for a subject from a book, and describes her work as whimsical and humorous. “My ideas are fabricated in my mind’s eye,” she explains. “Goblins were great to experiment with in terms of building a facial expression, as faces are my favourite subject. I asked our builder to fix one of my fibreglass goblins to the top of the chimney on our cottage, as bronze would have been too heavy.”

In the corner of her garden by the pond (a reclamation yard find that nestles into its spot as if it were original), the aforementioned Geraldine the Giraffe can be seen looking over the hedge. Geraldine was made from polystyrene by a sculptor friend of Dorienne’s – and, as a challenge, Dorienne decided to make her own version just over a year ago, using the coil method (sausages of clay built up in layers) in stoneware clay: Jessie the Giraffe’s head is frost proof and is a perfect outdoor ornamental display.

Dorienne has recently worked on abstract sculptures and expanded into a jewellery range featuring necklaces and brooches. There are designs from hand-painted satin and cine film, and the newest use hand-dyed leather. Each design is unique with sterling silver findings, beads and wires.

She also enjoys creating fun ceramic figurines, and welcomes commissions, which she works up from photographs of family, friends or pets. “I enjoy creating quirky portraits, sculptured in clay to create a definite likeness in hand-painted ceramic,’ she says. “Every single sculpture has been well received and that gives me great satisfaction. I love working on commissions as they broaden my abilities and push me to experiment on any subject.”

Remarkably Dorienne uses no visual references or influences in the development of her original sculptures; her ideas are derived purely from her imagination and aesthetic instincts. Her work evolves through tactile sensations inherent in clay as a modelling material. Each stage of the process is dictated by her inner feelings and senses until a satisfactory form is achieved. Her clay figures are sometimes fired and glazed as pure ceramic pieces or taken to a foundry to be moulded and cast in bronze.

Although bronze is very significant in relation to Dorienne’s work, colour also plays a strong part in the wide range of pieces she produces. Her glazed ceramic figures shimmer with vibrant colour, and this is also reflected in her jewellery that attains real character and distinction through the interplay of various media.  

The abstract nature of her jewellery provides her with new aesthetic challenges and contrasts interestingly to the purely figurative nature of her bronzes. Surprisingly, also in her figures the fine interplay of light and shadow through modelled form is achieved without the use of preliminary sketches and drawing. 

Dorienne’s work projects a delightful quirkiness; to take a walk through her cottage and the winding paths of her garden is to embark on a journey of visual surprises. Animals and figures, half concealed by plants and foliage ,suddenly appear to conjure a virtual dream world of myth and fantasy. Her home pulses with figurative intrigue, all the result of her constant flow of ideas and the quality of her craft.

Despite the charm of her house and garden, Dorienne spends three months of the year abroad in Spain to escape the cold British winter. “I take all my clay and tools with me and work on the terrace for a few hours each day,” she says. “For me art is like breathing and I can’t imagine a day when I’m not creating something or thinking about my next project. I’ve experienced many genres from oil painting, bronze sculpture, driftwood and ceramics but I find clay a wonderful medium for expressing my imaginative mind.” Her enthusiasm is palpable. “It’s so exciting to be able to manipulate a ball of clay into a work of art, experimenting with glazes, never being sure what the outcome might be with texture and movement creating exciting unexpected colours,” she continues. “My work revolves around using my imagination and learning new techniques to allow me to transform my thoughts into artistic creations. My wish is to give the viewer the ability to experience the same happiness and well-being I receive from the act of creating – and if I can achieve a smile as well, it makes the whole process so worthwhile.”

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