Ancient art meets the modern world in Keynsham

November 07 2014
Ancient art meets the modern world in Keynsham

When a Keynsham artist unlocks the doors to his studio, you could say he steps back in time.

When a Keynsham artist unlocks the doors to his studio, you could say he steps back in time. Not just a few decades to the war years when his Nissen hut on the Brookleaze Trading Estate was built, but back centuries to when knights led their armies into battle.

Creating coats of arms – for businesses and public institutions as well as today’s knights and dames among others – has kept talented sculptor Bryan Rawlings busy for more than 30 years.

His reputation as a leading craftsman in the field has spread far and wide and earned commissions from around the world, which has seen pieces leaving his Keynsham hut for Japan, New Zealand and many other parts of the globe. Work by Bryan Rawlings

As well as adorning prominent sites like council buildings, schools and courts up and down the country, including Bristol Magistrates’ Court, Bryan's work can pop up in unexpected places.

“I was watching EastEnders a few months ago and they were filming in a fictional court building. I spotted a coat of arms on it and thought, ‘Oh, there's one of mine’. It must have ended up in their props department after I made it for another production somehow,”  laughs Bryan, who studied at Stoke on Trent College of Art, earning a first-class honours degree in sculpture.

Despite their ancient roots, the process Bryan uses to create his coats of arms employs modern materials. His sculptures first take shape in clay for larger pieces or Plasticine for smaller ones, before he creates a mould from fibreglass, forming the final piece from the same material.

“You can make virtually any shape from fibreglass and it’s suitable for inside or outside – I also use car paints to colour the coats of arms, as they are very durable.”

The clay is then disposed of, the Plasticine is reused, leaving nothing but the mould – and the perfectly formed coat of arms to adorn an imposing entrance, or perhaps hang over a fireplace.

Bryan works with a wide range of clients, from people awarded the CBE or companies bestowed with a royal warrant, to venerable institutions like public schools and embassies. He also creates emblems and logos for companies and other organisations alongside the heraldic work.

And while modern techniques have brought the art into the 21st-century somewhat, intriguing ancient traditions and practices still rule the world of heraldry.

It is overseen by the Officers of Arms at the College of Arms, which keeps records of all coats of arms granted and can bestow new ones, and still uses many terms based on ancient French.

So alongside the diagrams or photos Bryan receives to show him what his customer would like him to create, he will also receive an official description – called a blazon – that tells him the piece should feature “a Sun in Splendour between two Mullets Or”, for example.

“The laws of heraldry can be quite weird, so for example the colours aren’t called black, blue, gold, silver but sable, azure, or, argent and so on. Another odd thing is that right is ‘dexter’ and left ‘sinister’ – but it’s back to front as it refers to left and right as if you were looking at the coat of arms from behind – as you would have been when holding it on your shield.

“You pick up a lot of things, such as bits of Latin and what the symbols mean, and sometimes people tell me a bit of their family history, too, although I rarely meet them as my work comes from all over the place.”

Bryan, who himself can trace his roots in Keynsham back over the centuries as a descendant of the Ollis family and, more recently, as the son of Graham and Joy, who ran Rawlings toy and cycle shop in the High Street, has found that modern technology can help in his trade, too.

He has a Facebook page – design – where he regularly adds photos and news to show work in progress on his various projects, a move welcomed by clients and by followers interested in watching the pieces take shape.

“Facebook is something I want to expand as this is such a niche market and I hope to build up a following,” he says. “The internet is very useful to my business – it's an ancient art that lends itself well to modern technology!”

To find out more about Bryan Rawlings Design, visit, go to design or call 0117 986 7894.

Work by Bryan Rawlings