When we take on topics that are entirely new to us the first few lessons are the most difficult. This is especially true if we are stumbling in the dark without a teacher. So when I began to learn sculpting I thought my readers might enjoy sharing the experience with me. Maybe you will be inspired to try a skill that is entirely new to you, or pick up some clay yourself. Surely through understanding sculpting our appreciation for painting can only grow.

My goal for this journal is to document my experiences as a student and an artist.  So I will be sharing what I learn here with you, but I am still a student just like you and may make mistakes.

Winter Quarter: Back to school

First off you’re probably wondering where I’m taking classes. Since my personal goal is not to earn a degree I’ve elected to go to Gauge Academy. Here I will be able to have a flexible schedule so I can work and learn at the same time.

This Quarter I took two classes and managed to stack them on the same day for a full day of sculpting each week. In retrospect I think this was a great plan for me because it really allowed me to dive deep into sculpting and forget about the rest of my life. By the end of the quarter I was looking forward to the class each week.

My teacher for both classes was Mardie Rees. Throughout the season she did a great job teaching and pushing me to sculpt quickly and accurately. Through lectures and critique she has been a superb mentor.

My first class is Gestural Sculpting. In this class we are sculpting from a live nude  with a goal of capturing the gesture and pose being modeled. Each 3-hour session we will has a different model and pose. We have to work quickly to capture the feeling of the gesture before time is up!

A 1/4 scale armatureThis is the armature that I used during the class. Look at it all shiny and new! By the end of the class this armature would be crooked, broken, and repaired multiple times. Never the less she served me well.

The armature has 5 wire arms and serves as the bones of the sculpture. When I say bones I mean that quite literally! Each arm corresponds to a different set of bones and the closer you can bend your armature to match the bone structure of the model the better your sculpture will be.

The first few minutes of any sculpture are spent determining the length, height, and relative position of each of these bones and then bending our armature to match them. Using pliers instead of bare hands is not only easier it is also more accurate which can be important especially for knees and elbows.

Gestural Sculpt #1

My goal for this first sculpt was to get the position and proportion of the bones correct before adding some muscle to bulk out the model.

The most important groups of bones for any human sculpture are the ribcage, hips, and the spinal column that connects them. All other bone and muscle groups attach to these structures so it is important to build and pose them correctly before working on the limbs and head. By setting a modest and achievable goal I was able to see this first sculpture as a success, because the bone positions are correct the gesture still shows through the unfinished sculpture.

Gestural Sculpt #2

For my second sculpture I wanted to get the general shape and bulk of the muscles defined. To achieve this task I would have to do everything that I had done last week much faster so that I’d have more time to sculpt.

When building muscles it is important to try to build them slightly smaller than they will be in the end. This is because if you build them at 100% size you will not be able to add any material to smooth and blend the muscles together without losing their shape. Additionally you run the risk of building the muscles larger than they should be which means you will have to remove clay which should be avoided if possible. The reason removing clay should be avoided is that you may lose information about where your bone structure lies.

Gestural Sculpt #3

For my third sculpt I wanted to challenge myself to have all areas of the sculpture worked to the same degree. In the previous sculptures I had neglected the hands, feet, and head so this week I wanted to make time for them.

Our model was a breast cancer survivor and sculpting her was a very powerful experience for me. Here is a woman baring herself for us, with all of her scars and faults, and her expression was one of defiance. I found it very moving.

Gestural Sculpt #4

I felt last week was a real success and I decided I would be happy with just repeating with the goal being to get a bit further.

In the end I think that I sculpted him a bit too wide on the right side of his ribcage. The ribs should always be symmetrical. This is true from the front and even the cross section. The same is true for the hip bones. Since the hips and the ribcage are the two largest masses, and all other parts connect to them, knowing their structure is vital.

Gestural Sculpt #5

This would be the final sculpt for the class which meant that I would be able to keep it. With that in mind I wanted to work fast and get all areas of the body far enough along that I could work on them without the model present.

With the exception of the hands, feet, and face I think I have achieved this goal and I’m excited to practice the next step where the masses are joined and smoothed. I think this pose was a great way to end the class because there is a lot of complexity in the twists of the hips and ribs. It was also important to observe that her weight was distributed onto her right hip and how this effected the gesture. It was complex and very instructive.

Well I hope you’ve enjoyed following my first steps. Next week look for more sculpting goodness with my second winter class: Portrait sculpting.