I usually make my jewellery using wax, my pieces are small and not at all frog-like, and very rarely attached to a motorbike sidecar. Usually, I carve and melt the wax until it forms the shape of the ring that want, then cast it into metal. Usually working in silver, I only use certified recycled silver as it is better for the planet. Also, like so many other jewellers and metal smiths I collect the scraps and the dust that comes off the pieces as I polish - eventually taking that to be purified and cleaned up. Waste is kept to an absolute minimum, scraps are recycled and everything is made to order to avoid excess.
Carving The Speedshop Frog
I tried to carve Toby's frog in wax. The material is stiff and after I started carving it quickly became clear that the frog I was creating was more of a classic British frog or a toad, sitting squat and ball like.. not playful enough at all and not the impact I was trying to create.
Leaving the wax frog on the shelf, I switched over to monster clay, I hadn't used it before but had (I thought) done all of my research and it sounded like it would work. Wax is important because you can either cast using the original wax, making a casing then meting the wax out to pour the metal in to the cavity. Or you can use silicone to make a mould of the item, then using the mould to create many little waxes, which are then used for casting.
The monster clay was, in theory, perfect. It was easy to work with - warming in the hands before shaping it to create a frog. As the clay cools it becomes harder but can be warmed up to make adjustments and additions. I was able to create a much more dynamic tree frog, spreading across the side car, feet splayed and exaggerated and a face full of character.
If you have ever looked closely at a frog you will have noticed that they have about 50,000 elbows. No, obviously I'm kidding, but they do seem to have four on each leg, each able to move in a different direction. I am no herpetologist (new word for frog expert I learnt today) but getting all of those angles right in the wax would have been near impossible.
Once the frog shape had been created I focussed on his skin, adding little dapples to create textures and give him a little life. I also tried to shape him around a fibre glass mould of the edge of the sidecar, hoping that during casting he would come out the perfect shape and slot nicely into place.
Casting the frog in Bronze
Casting was tricky, I used some expert casters in London to help with this part. After all the work involved I was not going to risk messing this up. After sending the frog the first news I had back was "no, this is the wrong material, I won't work, we will put him in the post for you today". Definitely not the call I was hoping for, but it couldn't be the wrong material, just a new one. I had done the research and the clay works with silicone moulds, I just had to convince them to give this new material a try. I sent over some wonky blobs of monster clay for them to test and waited for a couple of weeks with bated breath.
Eventually I heard back, all good with the test runs and they would be casting the frog in the coming weeks. When he arrived with me he was perfectly cast but a little bundled up. It was a hot summer, the monster clay may have reformed in the post or been better to cast in a small bundle, when he arrived he wasn't going to slot straight onto the side car as his limbs were all curved the wrong way.
Bending the Frogs Legs
Working in Bronze was new to me, silver would have been a doddle, I think. If something had happened I could have soldiered him back together and I knew how to heat and adjust silver. Bronze on the other hand...
A load of research showed that we were likely to snap a leg off if we tried to bend him into place. I asked John Nelson first, of the guys on The Speedshop John really seems to know his stuff - but he wouldn't touch my little frog. Billy laughed, no chance. Luckily, Titch was up for giving it a go, and had the steady had and strength to pull the legs into position. You saw a snapshot on the show but it was about 30 mins of anxiously teasing the frogs legs into place.
The Final Bronze Polish
I polished him up, did a little oxidising and off he went to be attached to the sidecar. The rest you would have seen on the first Episode of The Speedshop on BBC2.
I considered making him darker and more grungy. Bronze can be a stunning bright metal but it can also be given a dark patina, or even a little greeny tinge. Judging by my research this oxidising process can be accelerated with acids - as much as I would have loved a greeny frog, it was too late in the day and too successful so far to start messing about with acids. The sparkly frog adorns the sidecar, I expect he will patina over time and maybe bring out a little of the green!
The Sidecar at Sbomb
Toby's sidecar is currently down at Sbomb Vintage Workshop - where The Speedshop was filmed. Pop down for a coffee and some cake with cafe manager Katie - you can see all of my jewellery down there too, in the hot dog stand of course!
The Speedshop is on BBC2, Sunday night, 8pm.
Toby's book - "Never Will I Die" is available to order though Amazon - but try your local bookshop first!