It is very fitting that a company which produces beautiful hand-crafted collectable giftware should also be located in the equally beautiful surroundings of the Scottish Borders. A leading manufacturer of artistic, intricate figurines Border Fine Arts has established itself at the top of the market, with much of the company’s success being down to the highly skilled sculptures that turn their visions into reality. It is also because of this company’s long running success that Master Sculptor and designer, Ray Ayres is able to celebrate his 30th anniversary with Border Fine Arts.
Founded by John Hammond in 1974 Border Fine Arts is a company that has grown from strength to strength. Their innovative, realistic sculptures have proved a huge success since the company started and the demand is high from collectors. Originally Border Fine Arts started by making cold cast bronze sculptures and some commissioned silver pieces but this only lasted for a short period of time as a customer pointed out that people “like ’em small and likes ’em painted‘.
Pictured left: Vantage Point from 1990
This made John and Ray experiment with ideas and they came up with a process called cold casting, which is a white body similar to bisquet fired ceramic and it allows the figurines to be hand painted, thus making them more decorative and eye catching for the customers. Today Border Fine Arts is renowned for its realistic wildlife and countryside scenes. Both the “Classic” range made in Langholm, Scotland and the “Studio” range are filled with licensed character collectable figures and are very popular and highly sought after.
Ray Ayres’ career started when he first joined Border Fine Arts in 1976 after he had graduated from Winchester School of Art with a BA Honours degree in sculpture and print. At this time there were only a few employees and Ray was taken onboard to do odd jobs. Ray explained to me that his duties included making the wooden plinths, helping with the mould making, casting and finishing of the cold cast bronzes but it wasn’t long before he thought “I can do that!” and began working full time as a sculptor.
The first two pieces that Ray sculpted were of a rabbit and a hare. Ray told me that he remembered that the hare had great success and was well received with collectors. So, he continued to sculpt pieces throughout the 1970s. By the early 1980s cold cast bronze had been almost completely replaced by hand decorated resin pieces and retailers were becoming interested in the delightful figurines that Border Fine Arts produced.
Pictured right: Field Study the 2006/07 Society Gift
The process to create each figurine starts with Ray coming up with an idea and then either working from digital photographs, or before technology progressed, sketching an idea on paper. The next step is to make it, “Maquettes” (3-D sketches) are created in order to see all the components that may be needed, then the components of the model are made in wax. This allows Ray to work out the shape and either scale it up or down in size. He then starts to sculpt either in clay, wax or plasticine. Once he is happy with the design, it is then moulded as a master pattern and the production cycle begins. A new sculpture master can take as long as 6 months to produce from scratch depending on the work involved and the intricacy of the piece, but it usually takes 8 to10 weeks of actual sculpting time, which would explain why each hand-crafted figurine is of the highest quality.
Ray has lost count of how many pieces he has made over the 30 years, but believes it to be in excess of 500 models. However, not all of Ray’s creations have reached production stage as some remain unfinished on a shelf. “Things don’t a lways go right, so, if I am not happy then I won’t finish them but you never know when these pieces will be resurrected. Many years ago I sculpted a red squirrel but I wasn’t pleased with the result so it was never launched. Recently however, I decided to re-do the piece with a re worked pewter base and it worked”.
I asked Ray which had been his most demanding piece….. “Gathering in the Strays”, as it was my first complicated figurine, with many component parts that all had to fit and work together to make the composition flow.
Pictured left: Gathering in the Strays
This piece was of a Border Collie shepherding four ewes and lambs back through a collapsed drystone wall. It was very difficult to work out all the components of the piece.” Ray had to decide how many pieces he needed to sculpt and through accuracy and skill bring the components all together to produce the final result. “Gathering in the Strays” was one of the first in the very successful James Herriot collection
Ray has also designed and sculpted many mechanical pieces and he remembers that when he came to design his “first tractor” he had no idea how to make it. “I had to tune in to how a tractor worked and what was involved with making all the components for a mechanical piece, but this is what I enjoy most about my job – it’s a challenge and I am constantly learning new skills.”
Being challenged is an important factor for Ray, he enjoys the variety that his work offers and likes to make each sculpture as interesting as possible. “My work allows me to embed my own mark on pieces, and so by imprinting my own style and personality I can ensure that each piece is unique”.
Ray gets a great deal of satisfaction when a piece is finally finished and finds it even more rewarding when collectors are clambering to buy his work. “Collectors are very important to me because they are the ones that love and display my creations, I however, do find it astonishing when my work sells for unbelievable prices on internet auctions but again this is due to the collectors wanting to own the pieces that they couldn’t buy when released.” Ray’s work really does make amazing prices on the secondary market, Just recently the JCB ‘Tea Break’ made £970 but this price is relatively low compared to some of his other works that have realised in excess of £1,000.
Ray is constantly coming up with new ideas but he cannot claim the new limited edition piece, “Rag, Bone, Any Old Iron” as one of his own. This piece was actually inspired by one of the Border Fine Arts salesman who had a childhood memory of the rag and bone man, and kept asking Ray to reproduce his memory. Eventually Ray gave in and the piece was born. “All good things come to those who wait, so I am pleased that the salesman kept asking me to make it. I am very happy with the end result and think it will be well received by collectors”
Another of Ray’s new creations “Morning Collection” was inspired by nostalgia. With a limited edition of 500, it features a lorry carrying milk churns.
Pictured right: Morning Collection
“I started this piece over a year ago, as I wanted to sculpt a lorry instead of the usual tractor. I had a memory from back in the 1960s/70s of the early morning lorry carrying milk churns so started to work on the piece and “Morning Collection” was the result. I just get these ideas whizzing around my head and at the moment I want to create a few different lorries, all inspired by nostalgic memories.”
The “Reversible Ploughing” is the newest agricultural piece that Ray has created. It is limited to 1500 and will retail at £395.
Pictured left: Reversible Plough ing
Border Fine Arts are renowned for their agricultural sculptures and once again Ray has delivered a piece that will excite collectors. He has included the finest detail, so you could easily be forgiven for thinking that this sculpture is a piece of working machinery. “I have to apply myself to everything that I am doing so for example with agricultural machinery I decide whether I want movement, what the composition of the piece will be and the shape and content of the sculpture. I also decide whether it should be of a high definition or softer.” Ray applies this practice to all his creations and this is probably the secret to his success as each piece is so realistic you can lose yourself within the sculpture.
The fine artistry that Ray has achieved through his sculptures has captured the essence of the British countryside and in turn the hearts of collectors throughout the world. He excels in all areas of sculpture and design and has over the past 30 years become a highly accomplished artist that commands a respect from collectors which is second to none!