by Matt Caines

Occassionally I will meet people who say “I wish I was creative…”, or “I wish I could draw”.

Let’s get one thing straight here. Everyone, and I mean everyone , is programmed the same way and that way is to be creative on a daily basis.

How do I know ? Because we all use imagination, whether that’s painting a masterpiece or envisioning what to put on a shopping list. Without imagination, you can’t decide or see which ingredients you need to get on that list to make your cake. You have to be able to imagine yourself mixing the butter and flour and then write it on the list.

And if we all have imagination, we’ve got everything. We’ve got ideas of an afterlife & religion and we’ve got art.

Now, we’re going to take a short trip to a dark, dark cave. It’s got that drippy noise you always hear in cave and it’s a bit musty. As we go further in we can hear talking and see some light up ahead, and , yes, you guessed it, a group of cavemen and women are in there working away.

One of them is on a kind of make shift scaffolding and is working away on something on the wall. It’s an image of a woolly mammoth that they are drawing around an outcrop of rock that does indeed suggest the profile of one.

But don’t they remind you of someone…that’s right, it’s you ! And it is you metaphorically, because you’re genetically programmed just the same as they are, but unlike you, they don’t have all the hangups that we get, and get very badly, to do with making art, be it teachers, peer pressure, a jealous sibling, whatever.

And one more thing, if you write, you’re making marks, and if you’re doing that confidently then it’s all in your head that you can’t draw . Remember, drawing came a long time before writing in human evolution.

I also believe that a suppression of one’s creative drive, in whatever form it takes, can be harmful to one’s physical and mental health. So think on.

Glad we sorted that out.


When I start a carving, or draw an image in my sketchbook, I often start with one or two simple shapes which I then work on to see if I can suggest something figurative . I don’t often get someone to pose because I’m deliberately not trying to make something naturalistic but something that, for me, is my imaginary version of a mermaid, say, or a bear.

There’s nothing wrong with naturalism, but I want to express a totemic image of this thing, that for me captures the essence of it. Often this is done by working with a piece of stone or antler and letting it suggest what it will be, sometimes I carry a sketchbook image in my head for years until I see the right bit of stone or wood and then I know this is the piece for that idea.

I was drawn to stone carving because of the timelessness of stone and when I work it, or use antler that has fallen naturally , I want to give the viewer something primal, an antidote to modern technology

I make animal carvings a lot, owls & birds, bears & whales. I remember the power in linking yourself to the particular properties of an animal when you are a child and see this in many cultures. Modern farming techniques, modern city life put people out of touch with animal life. If someone puts a small animal sculpture I have made in their home, my intention is that, in a small way , it will lead to some kind of consideration of these things .

When I look at art I am often draw to these ideas in other people and other cultures sculptures and imagery, in particular Inuit carvings and Sami engravings but you also get this boiling down of an image in sculptors like Giacometti and Brancusi.

In Inuit art, a bear can be carved with three legs if that is all the stone allows, but it can still be powerful & beautiful.

I also am interested in scrimshaw and maritime imagery as this is part of our common past and a cultural linking devise between western ideas and indigenous peoples, be it early explorers , whalers or traders.

Because of this I sometimes use early nautical tattoo imagery as a way of suggesting the passing of time or a long journey which I hope the viewer will relate to as their life’s journey.

‘Whale on marble base_ - 2018, antler, silver, steel. 18 x 14cm

‘Whale on marble base_ – 2018, antler, silver, steel. 18 x 14cm

Some of man’s oldest imagery is scratched on pieces of bone or antler and I use antler as a resonance of our common ancestry, to remind viewers we are all united by time. We were all hunter gatherers long before we had mobile phones and laptops and I hope my work will help connect my audience with the natural world in some way.