Tim Cotterill, also known as Frogman, was born in Leicester, England, in 1950. He left school at the age of fifteen to complete a six year engineering apprenticeship. Intrigued with metalworking, Tim Cotterill created radical wheeled vehicles and metal sculptures of animals and birds during the '70s and '80s. His original steel, bronze and gold bird and animal sculptures are in art collections thoughout the world. Tim Cotterill emigrated to California in 1990 where Tim Cotterill has since devoted himself solely to the creation of his unique bronze sculptures. Tim Cotterill's work is now represented in fine art galleries world-wide.
For artist Tim Cotterill, the shiny little frogs found in the secluded woods of his childhood in the English countryside were the beginning of a life-long fascination that has led him to be known as the ‘Frogman’. Tim’s bronze sculptures capture the whimsical character, jewel-like quality and pure joy of these beautiful little creatures.
Tim Cotterill's Biography: In His Own Words ...
Leicester, England, where I was born in 1950, is an industrial city surrounded by a picturesque countryside of thatched cottages and beautifully proportioned stone churches with elegant spires. When I was an infant, my mum put bird posters on the side of my cot for me to look at before falling asleep. Laying there on long, warm summer evenings, the colorful birds receded in the fading light, and took on a new life as they swirled into my dreams. These images and shapes are still with me today, mingled with loving memories of a thoughtful mother.
My dad, William, was a Prudential Insurance agent, "The Man from the Pru," and was well liked in our community. I thrived in the warm, safe world of Hester, my mother’s, careful constraints. My mates and I were inseparable; we rode our bicycles over the local golf course, “the gollies,” and deep into the beautiful English countryside. We lost ourselves in the woods all day, damming streams and collecting tadpoles, frogs, newts, toads and birds’ eggs. I knew the song of every bird, and found their nests easily. My parents allowed me to build an aviary in our small back garden and I became a backyard ornithologist and breeder. I bred and raised British finches, goldies, bullfinches, reed buntings as well as some small zebra finches. Angela, my sister, and I had a large menagerie of pets that were tolerated by our patient parents. These were some of many wonderful experiences from my childhood that instilled in me a true love of nature.
Not only were the '60s a time of great adolescent change for me, but Britain and my town of Leicester were transforming as well. It was a boom time for Britain, with increasing prosperity. I left school when I was 15 with no qualifications and no real idea of what I wanted to do. Following my dad’s advice, I applied for an engineering apprenticeship at Gent and Company, a renowned engineer and manufacturer of clock and alarm systems. Away from the factory, I had a great bunch of mates. Together, we bought an old school bus, pooling our skills and outfitting the bus like a rolling clubhouse for the overgrown kids that we were. We had fantastic, carefree times together traveling in that bus to the seaside for our holidays. My pride and joy at the time was an old “hotted up” Triumph 650cc motorbike I called "Ground Shaker.” I had crafted this beauty with clip-on handlebars, rear-set foot pegs, and swept-back straight-through megaphone exhausts. It really did shake the ground and my parents heard me coming from miles away.
After a few months, I had realized that this job was not my calling. I yearned to end my apprenticeship, but I felt obligated to somehow see through my six-year term to please my mum and dad and get my apprenticeship qualification papers. I stuck it through until the day of my 21st birthday. On that day, I received my Mechanical Engineering Degree papers, and I left.
I began the decade of the '70s hungry for life, but I had no idea what I wanted to do. My love of motorbikes led me to a job in the auto repair business. I learned to weld, and it was a very exciting time for me. It was a monumental day when I bought my first acetylene welding equipment, allowing me to join metal together without nuts, bolts or cost. I loved making things and put a lot of creative energy into everything I did. At this time, the American Hells Angels motorcycle club and the 1969 film, “Easy Rider” were influencing the British motorbike scene. I envied their custom chopped motorcycles and freewheeling lifestyles and became absorbed in American chopper magazines. The locale was as mesmerizing as the bikes: the sharp, bright light of the desert, ocean and palm trees. Few days in England are as vivid as most days in California.
It was essential that I own one of these magnificent bikes. Even if I had had the money, bikes like those, and custom motorcycle parts, were unavailable in Britain at that time. The answer was simple. I would make one. I bought any cheap motorcycle suitable for “chopping” to create the style of the day — the fat back and narrow front wheel inspired by drag racing. I would take my purchase apart and stretch the frame, extending the forks to dangerous lengths.
I soon took an opportunity to work for a landscaper and stonemason. After a few months, I felt confident to subcontract projects on my own. For three years, I enjoyed the work of building stone walls, terraces, steps, ponds and fencing, followed into a successful 15-year venture of my own. One morning on the job, the usual English drizzle turned to rain. With the day’s work called off, I took cover from the weather at a city art exhibition that looked intriguing. I was attracted immediately by a group of abstract metal sculptures, with striking forms and contours that had been created with the same techniques and materials that my motor bike projects required. I was deeply inspired, realizing that I could explore an entirely new realm of creative expression with my skills. Soon I was totally absorbed in the creation of my first metal sculpture. The random pieces of scrap metal that had fallen unnoticed to the floor of the garage became a source from which my imagination soared. A large owl took form in the metal and I was very pleased when it later sold for five pounds. Although a day’s work, it felt like easy money because, for the first time, someone placed value on something that I had made.
I continued to be engrossed in car and motorcycle magazines from America. As I opened a 1972 edition and read an advert that offered a trip to be immersed in the California drag racing scene. The mesmerizing images suddenly became more than a dream from a faraway place. It was my personal invitation to enter the world on those pages. I had to go. I scraped all my money together and booked the tour. Inspired by that trip, I immediately began saving for a return plane ticket. I understood that everything I needed to create a satisfying life was out there for me if I made the effort, and I believed things would start fitting together like a puzzle.
My work as a sculptor evolved as I refined my technique, and my personal artistic vision began to take shape. I felt a real sense of purpose unfolding, my imagination thriving in the creation of a succession of metal sculptures. My love of nature became the inspiration for the images I fabricated. Two distinctly contrasting concepts harmoniously coexisted in both my mind and my tiny workspace. On the one hand, I created sculptural forms from the natural world, and on the other, I pushed the latest trends of motorbike design. Using many of the same materials, I challenged myself in developing new production techniques for both endeavors. The birds from my earliest childhood memories took form out of metal scraps from my latest motorbike metal modification. I sculpted owls reminiscent of my childhood forest adventures and images my mother had surrounded me with, capturing their form, grace, personality and noble demeanor.
All the while, my fascination with California continued and I finally had the means to return for another visit. With only a small amount of money remaining from the price of my plane fare, I packed a few bird sculptures in my case, hoping that I would sell a few and be able to eat. I arrived in San Francisco with my spirits high. Without a permit, or thought to local artist protocol, I set my sculptures on a low brick wall along the sidewalk. Tourists from all over the world stopped to look at my work and were intrigued to discover that I was a foreign visitor as well. That day, I met the artist John Jagger, with his fantastic collection of huge, winged bronze horses on display. John was to become a great friend, mentor, and an important part of my future in California.
Though I had been drawn initially to the U.S. by my fascination with the American custom motorbike and drag racing scene, I was now inspired as I experienced it as an artist. The streets of San Francisco were lively, and I wandered with sketchbook in hand, dashing off ideas that would blossom back in Leicester. I filled pages with everything from the quaint Victorian homes on steep streets (which I would later recreate in metal) to the motorized bar stools raced by crazy people across a car park. I was proud to leave San Francisco with my sculptures on display at a gallery in The Cannery, near the waterfront.
Back in Leicester, I quickly got to work building motorized bar stools — the odd toys I had seen in San Francisco. As I had imagined, my mates were quite amused. I shared the design and soon there were 20 built in Leicester. We met at the local pub and raced around the car park at the breakneck speed of 40 mph. Once again, I caused a stir in my quiet town. The barstools were considered noteworthy on both the local news and national television.
A few months later, I was elated by an opportunity to return to the U.S and my idea of paradise. John Jagger had received a commission to make an eighteen-foot abstract sculpture of a ship’s mast and sails in Mission Viejo. He asked me to return to California to assist him. We worked in John's studio in Van Nuys, building the largest puddled bronze sculpture in the world. “Puddling” is a technique of melting bronze rods and building up shapes with the melted material.
Once again, I returned home to England with new creative energy. There were not enough hours in the day to pursue all the ideas I had in mind. My life seemed very full with these passions, until I met and fell in love with Jo. The attraction between us was electric and my life took on an even fuller dimension with her. Jo and I were alike, both very spirited, practical, and motivated. She was very special, and I enjoyed having her and Martha, her lovely two-year-old daughter, in my life.
We bought an old Victorian house in the Knighton area, a quirky part of Leicester. Doing all the work ourselves, we renovated the house and doubled its size. I built a lovely pond in the back garden, and it soon attracted many frogs from the nearby woods. I'd return home from a hard day at work, crack open a can of Special Brew beer and sit on the edge of the pond with a bucket of worms that I had collected that day. A few taps on a rock, and the frogs understood it was feeding time. It was wonderful to watch these beautiful little creatures and observe their unique color markings, character, and distinctive personalities. Their contented nature mirrored my happiness. I named them Big Bill, Little Bill, Fast Eddy, Slippery Pete, Dave, Albert, Harold. I absorbed their movements and individual characteristics, observations that would prove invaluable to me later.
After years in the cramped garage space graciously provided by my father, my own large studio was marvelous and expansive. On rainy days, I lit the wood-burning stove and fulfilled commissions of bird sculptures ordered by clients and collectors of my work. Owls and hawks continued to be my favorite sculptural subjects. It was a very productive time, as my welding skills and techniques continued to develop. By the late '80s, I had created hundreds of bird sculptures — many sold through Sotheby's auction house in London. I experimented with powder-coating my parrot sculptures in bright colors, gold plating the beaks and feet. They looked stunning mounted on old antique fire extinguishers, cast iron fire grates and large steel tubes. The work was quite unique, and to this day, I have not seen anything similar to its style and techniques.
In 1988, John Jagger had begun building his dream home and studio on a 25-acre mountaintop in central California, called Frog Pond Mountain. I agreed to do the stonemasonry work for him, and was pleased to return to California again and to renew my friendship with John. The isolated Falcon’s Nest was as different from Leicester as my other visits to California had been but in new ways. At an elevation of 2,300 feet, some days we were on an island above the clouds.
I completed the stone work on The Falcon’s Nest in five months and returned home to England. I was pleased to be back working in my own studio, and found my creative juices really flowing. My bird sculptures flourished from ideas I had cultivated in my mind over the past five months, and I created a great amount of work. I also built a fantastic, radical three-wheeled six-cylinder trike that I called “Rocket.” It looked fast standing still and I once again disrupted the quiet streets as I screamed around town showing off. Unfortunately, after traveling abroad, my hometown now seemed too sedate. I was restless and unstimulated in England. Still, I told myself to plow forward, suppressing negative thoughts with creative ideas. In 1988, cancer took my dad’s life and my mum was diagnosed with glaucoma. It was a very sad, weary time for me. At 39, I felt I was starting to lose my direction. I shaved off the long ZZ Top beard that I’d had for 20 years and realized I was having a mid-life crisis.
At this time, John was successfully selling his sculptures at street art shows throughout America. He had eight shows booked in Florida and agreed to have me join him. It was a great emotional reprieve for me to have a new goal in mind. I built a large crate, filled it with my art and shipped it to Florida. Together, John’s high polished bronzes and my brightly colored birds made a striking display and our work was well received at the shows.
The Falcon’s Nest became a healing refuge as I struggled to overcome my depression. I had always had the ingenuity and drive to overcome any challenge in my life, believing things always worked out if I put my mind to it. Now, for the first time, I could not work out the complex dynamics of my relationship with Jo. I loved the warm air and the sound of whooshing wind that brought the smell of sage and lavender into the studio. But the most comforting element in that isolated environment was the symphony of croaking frogs that echoed though the canyon from the large ponds at the base of our Frog Pond Mountain. The frog chorus brought back pleasant memories from my childhood and other happier times in my life. It motivated me to reach back into my life and remember the positive influence of my parents, back to a time when the thought of failure never entered my mind. For many years, I had lived and believed in the concept that happiness is a choice. The connection I had always felt to frogs brought this concept back within my reach.
Both John and I were busy creating sculptures for our next show tour. We bought a big box truck and equipped it with bunks, a shower, kitchen, and racks to hold our art. We traveled to shows all across America and along the California coast. My sculptures sold quickly and I found it challenging to keep up with the demand because of the time-consuming methods of fabricating my one-of-a-kind pieces. Although my art was successful, I felt it no longer reflected my creative voice. I had the desire to explore a new form for meaningful creative expression. Soon, strong memories of the form and movements of frogs grew into a desire to create them in sculpture. I was intrigued by the challenge of capturing their personalities. Some of the elements of a frog’s shape melded in my mind, inspired by the delightful chubbiness of a baby or the grace and beauty of a well-shaped human leg. This perspective, combined with what I imagine as an almost cartoon-like quality of a frog’s expression, engaged my imagination. The frogs I sculpted seemed to offer something intrinsically appealing to many people. I had a few cast in bronze and began to display them at shows. They held a fascination and charm that captured the interest of others.
After 18 months at The Falcon’s Nest, John reminded me, that “nothing grows under the shade of a big tree.” The time had come to find my own studio. Although I loved San Francisco, I wanted to live where the sun was warm all year. Venice Beach was very appealing and I began looking in earnest to find a place to start my independent life in California. Mapping out the industrial areas, I rode my bicycle around to see what was available. After many trips I felt disillusioned, but finally, Bingo! Fantastic! I had my own 1,800-square-foot studio in Venice Beach. I set to work making a small office, bedroom, and gallery show room. I painted it all white and fitted it with large skylights to let in the southern California sun which made the place warm and welcoming.
Many years previously, I had the distinct impression that my life always came together like the pieces of a puzzle. With my new creative focus on frogs, I began to feel that way once again. I began to understand that my fascination with frogs was not unique. Throughout the centuries, frogs have symbolized many things to people around the world: Energy, good luck, royalty, fertility, magic potions, charm are some of them. In capturing the essence of frogs in my sculptures, I had begun the process of healing my troubled mind and capturing my love of life once again.
I put all my energy into my frog sculptures and found that the response at art shows was enthusiastic. The response of the American people was uplifting and euphoric. I was encouraged by my new, high-energy surroundings, which brought out the fun in me and in my work. At the first show where I displayed my frogs, a couple approached me and explained that, although they hated frogs, they had to own one. I knew then that I was creating something that had a great appeal. I believe the spirited nature that frogs represent brings fun and joy to people’s lives. And in turn, my life felt enriched by sharing this with others.
I focused my energy on street shows and decided to create frogs that could be accessible to everyone, not just for those who could afford one of my sculptures. The next year, I had a great time designing everything frog-related I could think of: tee shirts, jewelry, mugs, and rubber stamps. I registered my business name, “FROGMAN,” and traveled to the best art street shows throughout the West. Going anywhere within a 500-mile radius from Venice, almost every weekend, took me to 45 shows a year. My handmade green frog-leg tights gave everyone a good laugh. My reputation usually preceded me, and I would hear, "Here comes the Frogman!" as I wandered the show. My passion was contagious, and my customers left the show with a frog that reminded them to choose happiness.
I was busy all week in my studio, packing and shipping the orders I received from brochures I had mailed and from gallery owners who had seen my work at the street shows. As the frogs were sold in more galleries, I became too busy to do the street shows that I loved. I missed meeting all the wonderful people at shows and talking about the frogs. Soon, even production and shipping became too large a task for me to do alone.
Frogman Inc. now publishes my work, which enables me to concentrate on the things I love best: sculpting, seeing old friends and meeting new people who've become intrigued by Frogman. With my time less occupied with routine chores, I've been able to attend more shows throughout the States and Europe, which I truly love. I will never grow tired of seeing the look of delight on the faces of young and old alike the first time they spy the frogs, koi or geckos. The stories people tell me about how the frogs have had such a positive effect on their lives makes me feel like the luckiest man alive.
I've even had time to rekindle my interest in custom motorbikes – a new machine is in the works, and it will be like no other! My little garden oasis in Venice, California, is now six years old, and the place has taken on a real jungle feeling. The koi pond is teeming with colorful koi and is surrounded by flourishing tropical plants, the shady playground for the many frogs who've made their home here with me. It's always a simple pleasure to spend some moments each day watching and listening to them and feeling thankful for the blessings they've brought to my life."