I have mixed emotions when I look at stone. The excitement of imagining how my vision will look once released is dampened by the doubt in my ability to avoid making any lasting mistakes while carving. As I start any new project, or new section on an existing work, there is always the lurking fear of failure. I have to constantly encourage myself to just keep at it. Step by step. Take my time. I work alone at my studio, and I often wonder what a passer-by would say on seeing me crawl around my marble, musing to myself.
These contradictions quickly vanish once I’m in the groove and the confidence returns. Stone is unforgiving, in that there is no doubt. However, your eye is very precise, and we instinctively know what looks right, and what needs to go.
From the blank featureless space, I pencil in where Mary’s eyes nose and mouth should go. Then I slowly push the stone back, millimeters at a time, working the entire face. As I only have modest amount of natural talent, I don’t attempt to carve the face to its natural depth straightaway. A little fear is a good thing. And as stone is unforgiving, if I go ahead and carve too deep or slightly off center, there is no going back.
Viewing the statue from all angles and continuing to hatch out stone that needs to go, I continue to carve down until I’m about 90 percent complete. As Mary’s face is nestled within the Statue, it’s important not to finish her completely. First I will need to complete Jesus’ heel and her shoulder to ensure a good fit.
Everything is interconnected. Hands are supported by feet, that position the thigh, that align the back, that angle the shoulder, which anchors the face, and cradles the thigh while centering the face that nestles the soul…. that’s why I work in the round.
The hands and feet are next, and once again there is the excess stone that needs to be slowly worked back. Using kids plastecine as quick models to keep the angles right, I continue to chip, chisel and grind my way around the statue.
The modeling clay really can be helpful when dealing with a limited area of stone. I was doing my best to maximize the overall size of my Pieta while working within a confined amount of stone. In both Mary’s forearm and Jesus’ elbow I really could have used an additional centimeter or two. Hopefully no one will notice.
One problem I have to always keep an open eye on is my tendency to distort perspective. When I carve, my face is typically no more than a foot or two away from the chisel or grinder. I’m really too close to appreciate the varying proportions of hands vs. faces vs. feet. Again, this is why I only carve to 90 percent complete. It’s always nice to have a little wiggle room… Once the work is done, I can always go back and try for a 95.
Pieta Spero is nearly complete. Now all that is left is final details and lots of polishing. I’m satisfied, though I would like the ability to go back in time and redo areas that I know are less than perfect. The act of sculpting stone is a very humbling experience. The artist is forced to confront two very different states of being. The courage to deliver our finest results with the serenity to accept the limits of our human abilities. For me, my best is good enough, I’ll leave perfection to God.
There is nothing more interesting to look at than the human face. Believe it or not, you can study faces for hours and not grow tired. This may sound strange but in fact, we do this every day. Whether you’re walking down a busy street, dealing with co-workers, or sitting in front of the TV taking in your favorite show, we spend a great deal of our day scanning our surrounding looking for faces. This is ingrained in us, coded in our DNA. We need to know if we can trust a stranger… Are we being lied to? Is this someone I can trust, would I like this person’s company , find attractive?
So natural is this that our subconscious mind is constantly scanning while our conscious thoughts are focused on other matters. For me, I was chatting with a friend when I had this uncanny suspicion that I was being watched. Wondering who may be on the street, I stared out the window, and then within a few moments noticed the face of a child looking back. There really is nothing more interesting than the human face.
We intuitively know the emotions of a persons simply by looking. And this is why faces are so difficult to sculpt well. Sure, a manikin’s head may appear human, but would you want to be left alone in a room full of manikins? Though the proportions may be correct, there is absolutely no life in those eyes.
This is the miracle gifted into Michelangelo’s work. Carving life into the stone. You can stare into the eyes of realism all day… This is one of the raison d’être, the primary purpose of sculpture; to allow us the space and time to stare into the eyes of creation.
And, this is the impossible standard I would like to follow. to advance my rounded sculpture and add realism and emotion. To try my best to have this cold stone warm with life.
As I mentioned in a previous entry, the face poses the greatest challenge. This is why I saved the hardest for last, hoping that my skills have improved.
This is the importance of following the original design directly from my maquette. Sure the instinct may be to start chiseling with wayward abandon, but then you risk running out of stone, or sending the nose off on the wrong angle. Once the stone is gone, its gone. This is why Michelangelo started with drawing, crafting maquettes and stayed on plan.
Carve a small section at a time, examining the features in the round. From all angles and sides. Trust your eyes ability to spot mistakes. Remember we naturally are aware of the human face. We intuitively know how this face should look. So while looking and carving, it is important to ‘feel’ the emotions your trying to emote… If your in an ugly mood, that what you’ll carve. Using hatch marks, you can highlight the areas that are two high… by moving around the statue, getting close, and stepping back, you can ensure all your angles are on their proper tangents. The angle of the nose runs perpendicular to the set of the brow. With continued work finishing and sanding, I’m 90 percent completed with the face. And this is close enough for now. The work is both mentally and physically exhausting.. At least for me, so don’t rush, and take as many breaks as you need… one mistake can change everything. Infact, as I’m happy with my progress as of this day, I’m going to stop and move on to Mary’s face… change is as good as a rest. More on that next time.
There is much effort and planning between the conceptional start of any project and its finish. When all is said and done, a completed statue looks so natural, and fluid that the degree of difficulty is lost and forgotten.. With Eve of Dream, the mixing of Adam and Eve’s bodies had to appear as smooth and natural as sleep comes to a babe. The early morning ease that we all have felt when waking.
But the creation of art is never as easy as it looks. And so soft plasticine is the best medium to mould when trying to tease out the form. This step usually only takes an hour or so, and can quickly confirm if what you have imagined is pleasing to the eye. Much better to start with a simple shape before investing months ahead on a design that doesn’t fit. Click on the images below to view
Using the plasticine model (red) as a template, a second stronger and larger maquette can be fashioned. First the main positioning of limbs is perfected, with head and muscle definitions applied last. By rotating the statue, you can insure individual expressions flow into the whole. You’ll know your finished when the statue looks natural from all angles.
Similar to my other works, this is going to be a complicated plaster mould. Using kids clay, cellophane and wood forms, the plaster is slowly build up and around section by section. Simply trust your eye, as you look into the statue from the angle of each cast piece. Ensure there will be no undercuts. Each section will need to pull away cleanly.
For more on the Plaster Casting Process, from mixing plaster to planning each piece to building unique forms, just click to read my detailed Pieta Spero blog. If you look closely, Eve of a Dream required 11 sections to complete. Drying the plaster will take at a month.
Once the sections have been assembled, siliconed, and taped it is ready for clay slip to be poured. I left the liquid clay to set in the mould for eight hours to ensure the walls were nice and thick. Then the excess is drained out with the final whole assembly being left to harden a bit, overnight.
One section is remove at a time, with cleaning and repairing being done with each removal. Finally, once dry, sanding and water brushing smooths the finish and completes the piece. Eve of a Dream is now ready for the Kiln. Once the statue is bisqued in the fire I will continue with the final touches that were too delicate to refine when the clay was still green. Truly, a labour of love.
Imagine living alone on an island with only the coconuts and iguanas to keep you company. It wouldn’t take very long before you conjured up an imaginary friend… should we call him Wilson? People need company, and more importantly, we can only be human in the company of others. Like a tree falling in the forest, we need ears to hear, or there is no sound. Love is funny that way… if you don’t work it, you don’t have it. We need each other.
We all need someone to walk side by side or life becomes pretty bleak. In Genesis Adam first pines for and then dreams of a partner to share life with. Eve is pulled from his side (traditionally translated as rib) The two of them now can face life together.
Carlo Francesco and Michlangelo’s Creation of Eve is the standard interpretation of this story. However I prefer Carpioni’s synthesis of Adam and Eve in their being created with less of a focus on timing. Bouguereau First Mourning really drives home the importants of partnership in living through the hardships of life. Eve and Adam are devastated by the death of Abel and cling to each other for support.
And so it is with Eve of a Dream. Drawing inspiration from these masters, I’ve folding all their messages into one statue. Eve is the answer to Adam’s dreams and she will face along with her partner all of life future highs and lows. Side by side.
Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel. My Pieta is starting to resemble something closer to what I’ve been imagining. After blocking, then rounding; now sculpting begins to bring out the creative flow. Still there is much more work ahead. Sculpting marble requires patients and time.
To get to this stage of smoothing and rounding requires constant review of my various maquettes. Comparing how the stone varies from these smaller clay representations. The artistic approach for me is a methodical process of looking for what does not belong, and then removing it.
A constant series of hatch lines marking areas that need to be addressed, as I work around the entire piece. From hip to hand, shoulder to arm. All the while ensuring each is smoothly carved into its adjacent piece. All this takes time…. And if your not careful, you can lose track of where your actually going; you can lose your perspective.
From the front, the Pieta looks fine, however, when viewed from another angle, the mistake reveals itself. The arm is disproportionately longer than the forearm. Using Michelangelo’s Adam, we can see that the distance from the underarm to the front of elbow, to the front of wrist are approximately the same. For me, a big mistake. However, there is still room to repair
This is were patients really is needed, and why I always leave a little wiggle room within the layout plan. I have space within the stone to adjust the length of the arm by lowering the elbow. With any luck, this may work to my advantage by forcing a more creative line.
Mistakes like this really bring to light Michelangelo’s genius. All I can hope for is to continue to working diligently around the statue, this time paying closer attention to perspective and proportions. More to follow.