Tobias designs and creates a wide range of decorative, metal-based works. His specialties include the creation of topiary frames in any size, sculpture and shape.
How long have you lived in Armidale?
I have lived in Armidale for just over two years; previously I had spent most of my time in the Southern Highlands, NSW. While in Armidale, my wife and I have met some wonderful friends, who have been very welcoming and generous – making settling here a pleasure.
How did you learn your skills in metal sculpture?
I became interested in metal work six years ago, and in the last four years I have been working towards making it my primary business. I learned most of what I know in the nationally recognised school of my shed … a lot of reading and research and practising in the shed, which has lead to many sculptures, large and small. I take any opportunity to learn from anyone willing to share.
I have done a basic welding course and am currently studying Cert III in Engineering and Metal Fabrication, to take my welding skills to the next level. As well as modern metal working techniques, I am also interested in more traditional blacksmithing. In recent years I have been working a lot with hand forged scrolls, used to create three dimensional sculptures.
As I say to my students: don’t limit yourself to thinking about what you can create with the skills you have, but what you want to create, then find the skills to do it.
So, you are teaching other people?
Yes, I have been running night and afternoon classes in beginners’ decorative metal work at the TAS trade training centre. Students are introduced to basic welding and metal working tools and techniques and are then able to design and construct their own projects. So far we have had all sorts of projects, from in and outdoor sculpture and wall hangings, to light fixtures and many more.
It has been great fun, and I have been amazed by the imagination of participants – even those who claim to have no creative ability at all. It is also a great opportunity for the community to use this fantastic facility built by TAS.
I am planning to run more courses later this year. Anyone interested in participating in these courses can contact me directly on 0405 841 775, or firstname.lastname@example.org There are also photos of previous students’ works on my website: www.tobiasbennett.com.au
Your proudest works to date?
I think I am proud of all of my work. From a small fabrication job, like a hand rail or garden gate, to creating a life sized topiary frame or sculpture, there is satisfaction in doing a job well and being happy with the end result – as well as having a happy customer. However, some works do stand out. The rocking horse (pictured) for my son is forged with love, and I can hardly wait to see him use it soon.
‘Bambi’ (pictured) is my favourite; I still get a kick out of his quirky character and the look in his eyes.The greatest challenge, though, would have to have been the Christmas topiary display for Ballarat Council.
Tell us about your Christmas display in Ballarat.
In 2009 I was commissioned to make a Christmas topiary display for the city of Ballarat. This consisted of nine life-sized reindeer and a sleigh planted with compact red and white petunias. I was responsible for the design and construction of the steel frames, as well as planting.
One of my neighbours actually thought I was opening a nursery when I took delivery of two and a half thousand potted petunias! All of this had to be done in little over six weeks and delivered to Ballarat in full bloom. I wish I had bought shares in midnight oil that year. It was a great opportunity and very satisfying to see the display in the main street of Ballarat, complete with Christmas lights.
Do you specialise in animal sculpture and topiary?
Yes, to an extent – but not exclusively. I have created a range of animals, which clients have commissioned; however, I also make items like brass, copper and stainless steel roses, which are great gifts for Valentine’s Day, as well as custom trophies. I am happy to undertake the creation of any metal work that the client could imagine. Actually, as a sideline, due to my wife’s horse interests, I have also been repairing horse floats recently, as well as making dressage arena letters, stable numbers and name plates.
We hear that you are also a horticulturist?
Yes, I am a horticulturist by trade – that is, in fact, how it all started. I was interested in topiary and began making small wire topiary frames. People then started requesting larger pieces, so my skills had to evolve to suit. Since then my interests have moved toward more large scale topiary, sculpture and blacksmithing. However, I do still do garden design and maintenance work. Conveniently, Armidale’s climate is very similar to that which I grew up and trained in, making it very easy to transfer these skills.
What other projects/plans do you have for the future?
I am going to exhibit at Equitana Sydney later this year, so I have a few more equine sculptures that I am currently working on for that. I am still hoping that in the near future someone is going to commission a life sized elephant topiary or sculpture; I think that would be fun. I would also like to find the time soon to create a piece to enter in something like sculpture by the sea.
Long term, apart from continuing to work and learn, I am looking forward to spending more time with my son and my beautiful wife, who has always been very supportive of my creative aspirations.