After doing all the posts about How To Paint, I realized not everybody is going to be able to jump right into art with a paint brush. Oil painting can take quite some time to get the hang of, I know I'm still learning. But one method of self expression I can wholeheartedly suggest to any newbie artist is sculpting.
In reality our brains constantly gauge distance and depth subconsciously without an effort on our part. We know, through pattern assessments, what effort it will take to walk from point A to point B, that the apple will look similar to the point of view we see it on the other side of it, and that people are full of curves, contours, and depth just by looking at them. We spend our whole waking and non-waking lives in the 3rd dimension. That's why creating 3 dimensional art can be easier than on paper or canvas.
When we paint, we must give the illusion of depth and distance, thus making the artwork 3 dimensional in our minds. We worry about shadow and light, size and shape of objects, and how the viewer can perceive them to be real. When sculpting, nature takes care of all of this. Looking at a sculpture of a person, even an abstract representation of one, our minds make out what it is by just the basic shapes. All light and shadow exist naturally within the art object based on its curves, crevices, and formations. Instead of working to represent an object, you are actually making the object.
We all remember modeling clay when we were in kindergarten and how much fun it was to use. Unfortunately we moved on to sentences and basic math, and as we progress through school our left brain studies we neglected our creativity more and more. That's just life, I suppose, but it would be a truly liberating feeling to be able to create like in kindergarten.
Of course modeling clay is ideal for school children because it never hardens and can be used again and again, like silly putty or other substances. I guess the next step up would PlayDough, remember that? For the novice artist or professional, one would need a much more stable material. Nowadays I use something called Stonex, a self-hardening clay. This is ideal for me, as I don't need to heat it for it to dry, and it hardens nicely.
Of course there's pros and cons to everything. Stonex can be extremely brittle and you must be very careful with it. When it dries sometimes it seems to dry too much. I showed a sculpture of a laying down person with the leg broken off and someone asked if it was a happy accident. I wouldn't be happy if my leg suddenly broke off.
An alternative to Stonex could be Sculpey, a versatile artist's clay. This you'll need to heat in a regular oven at about 250 for about 10 minutes. Not too bad, just an extra step, but when it comes out it hardens nicely, and is nowhere near as brittle as Stonex. The only drawback for me with Sculpey is it's properties. While Stonex is hard to the touch when working with it, Sculpey can be very soft and rubbery almost, thus it drags a little when you sculpt. But you can get used to it.
Stonex and Sculpey can both be bought at your regular arts and crafts store relatively inexpensive. The more into you get you may consider trying actual red clay or ceramics. These are usually not for novices as you'll need access to a kiln to heat the clay at extremely high temperatures. With the high temperature comes risks as well, the higher the temperature the more chance of something going wrong. You'll need the temperature just right, the amount of moisture in the material, and several other factors could lead to cracking and just not coming out right.
Methods and Tools of the Trade
Michelangelo said, “The sculpture is already inside the rock, all you have to do is remove the excess stone. " This was Michelangelo's trade of choice. He didn't consider himself a painter (looking at the Sistene ceiling I'd say he was a hell of a painter). His method was “subtracting" from stone with chisels and other materials, sanding out and detailing the finished product. This is extremely advanced and difficult. If you finish the whole thing then chip off the nose, that's it. No nose for statue.
Carving into wood, or sculpting into terracotta are other subtracting methods. In my amateur methods I spoke of earlier, we kind of use a give and take, add and subtract method, which is why it's so easy to learn and do. I use sculpting tools you can find at your arts and crafts store. Sometimes it's best to try to use the bare minimum of tools, that way you just flow with the artwork and not have to worry about unnecessary too changes. One time I sculpted a whole piece with nothing but a steak knife. With a lack of materials, you can always find a way.
Another advanced method of adding would be to make molds and eventually fire the final product in bronze. This is a several step process and complicated and involves going from mold to sculpture back to mold again, and once again involves extremely high temperatures. Auguste Rodin used this method when making his bronze sculptures.
Pottery is another way you can sculpt and fairly easy. I went from Michelangelo to Rodin to clay pots, but I never said this article was linear. But hey, Picasso was also a potter. Pottery can be a very creative art. Once you have your pots and cups you can paint them how you like. It looks easy but I'm sure it's harder than it looks. I had the opportunity to see someone making little clay teacups with a pottery wheel. I didn't get to try it, but I almost asked if I could.
It being the first Friday of the month, I'm going to head up to Old City, Philadelphia where I saw this demonstration at the Clay Studio. They have a good exhibition each month and usually rotate artists and artwork monthly. My favorite was an exhibition of un-usable pottery. I know I probably butchered the title of the exhibit but basically it showed a whole bunch of bowls with holes in the bottom and half-cups and what-not. Pretty creative.
Well I hope didn't miss any methods of sculpting, if I did, let me know. Now I'm off to see the galleries of up and coming local artists. Maybe I'll be able to do a post on some of them tomorrow.
Until then, take care.
Dan Kretschmer keeps a daily blog at www.vincesear.com