Home » News » Former Pupil Sculpts Dream Career In Clay Modelling
Former pupil, Andre Wilson, is entering the final year of a clay modelling development scheme with the iconic luxury British sports car manufacturer, Aston Martin, having already completed his four year apprenticeship.
Andre joined the Senior School in First Year (Year 7) and continued through to Sixth Form where he studied Maths, Art, Design Technology and Physics at AS Level. Shortly after his final year at Yarm commenced in 2014, Andre was invited onto Aston Martin’s four year clay modelling apprenticeship which involved hands-on experience in the Aston Martin design studio and a product design course at Warwickshire College.
Andre has always had a passion for art and design technology and is now part way through a four year development scheme with the car manufacturer. We caught up with him to discuss why he decided to go down the apprenticeship route and how he has found his career in clay modelling so far…
I didn’t have any knowledge of automotive clay modelling until around the end of Lower Sixth, at which time I was actively looking to pursue a career in architecture and was planning to study it at university. As soon as I discovered clay modelling, I knew it was a much better fit for me and I could tell it would be something I would grow to be incredibly passionate about. I am pleased I studied DT and Art in Sixth Form as they gave me a number of important, transferable skills that I have been able to apply to my job.
I wasn’t looking for apprenticeships specifically but when the opportunity arose to apply for one in clay modelling with Aston Martin, I knew I had to go for it. Taking the apprenticeship meant I had to leave Yarm at the end of Lower Sixth, but I was completely open to it as it was a pathway to a job I really wanted for a brand I was particularly interested in – Aston Martin had long been my favourite automotive brand and one that I knew encouraged high levels of creativity within their design studio.
After completing and submitting a written application, I was invited to take two tests: mechanical reasoning and a sculpting test. My teachers, especially those in Art and DT, were very supportive throughout the process.
The first two years combined time in the Aston Martin studio, getting hands-on experience, with a two day a week product design course at Warwickshire College. I completed the course after two years which meant the remaining two years of my apprenticeship were spent getting stuck into the job, learning more and developing essential core skills.
The design team is smaller than you would expect which meant I had the chance to work on each project and each car Aston Martin released during my time there. And, as there is an engineering aspect to the job alongside the sculpting, every day brought about something new and exciting from making the frame for a model to working with a designer to consolidate an aspect of exterior or interior design.
The most exciting project I worked on during my apprenticeship was the Valkyrie hypercar as it’s the most ‘out there’ and sculptural car Aston Martin has created.
The opportunities I was given were so varied! However, I loved being able to work one-on-one with professionals that have been honing their skills for decades, knowing that I was receiving a level of training that was second to none in the industry.
The training required to become a professional clay modeller is extensive and the role demands a significant amount of training and experience compared to other industries. Therefore, following my apprenticeship, Aston Martin put me onto a four year development programme. The development phase has allowed me to work my way up and transition between apprenticeship level and fully fledged clay sculptor.
The whole design process is really a back and forth between designers, clay modellers and computer-aided design (CAD). The initial sketches are created by the designers who compete to have their design chosen by the Design Director. The winning designers then work with a clay modeller who will interpret the sketches into a 3D form in a 40% scale model. The scale models are then reviewed and the winning designer and modeller will create a full sized (1:1) model.
The process is a constant push and pull between the different departments as there will be aspects of the initial 2D design that don’t translate to 3D. It demands compromise on both ends to ensure both the designer and modeller are satisfied with the end result. This back and forth can go on for two weeks for a limited run car, but it can take years of refinement and tweaks to finalise a production car such as DB11.
We use laser scanners to digitise the changes along the way which means we always have a reference for the designer iterations we’ve tried, this allows the CAD modellers and engineers to keep us on track with the package of the car. Keeping to the engineering parameters makes it even more difficult to keep the feel of an original sketch.
I enjoy working closely with the designers. Every experience is different based on their understanding of how a 2D sketch becomes a 3D sculpture and the process involved in creating a model everyone is happy with.
During my third year I had the opportunity to go to California for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for two weeks with the Valkyrie hypercar model. It was one of the first presentations of the car and was an amazing experience.
Every day has its challenges but each problem is unique, whether it be disagreements with designers or a challenging form that needs to be sculpted. There’s also some late nights or requirements to work weekends to ensure we meet deadlines.
Right now, I am focused on completing the last year and half of my development programme. Then I can work to become a modelling specialist, with the goal of becoming a manager in the future.
My art teacher, Ms Stebbings, gave me some great advice during my time at Yarm: be loose and free. At the time I interpreted this as meaning being willing to go with my creative instincts and trying not to be too precious or worried about making mistakes. I would pass this same advice onto anyone looking to go into this field as taking the loose and free approach makes the job far less stressful and the cars even more beautiful.
Don’t think of your future path in such a black and white manner. Instead, focus on what you’re interested in and passionate about and then look at various paths you can take that will help you get a career related to it.
With jobs such as clay modelling, learning in industry is the best way to pick up the necessary skills you need to get your name out there. However, the opposite could be said for jobs that are more theory based.
Don’t feel pressured to choose a path, such as university or an apprenticeship or going straight into work, for any reason other than what fits you best.
I don’t think I would. I feel like I learned a broad range of skills and all of them are directly or indirectly useful for what I do now, regardless of how irrelevant some of them felt at the time of learning them.
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