Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Studio Is Mostly My Own Again!

This past weekend saw a lot of stuff leave my studio.  I'm not carving again just yet - too many distractions and issues still - but it is an improvement.

I hope to be carving in February, weather permitting, but only time will tell.  I think I have a garden stone that needs to get finished and put out into the yard.

In the meantime a couple of people have contacted me about possible sculpture repair work, and I am still teaching, so it isn't like I've abandoned stone entirely.  It's just that recovery from the past 24 months takes more than a few weeks.

So, despite the lack of posts here, I will come back and make use of this blog as soon as I can.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Creativity and How I Work

I know it has been much too long since I posted here, but recently Ducky (in her blog) and Meteorplum (in a comment on a book review I wrote) asked interesting questions about how artists work.  In light of both my personal situation lately and my general interest on that subject I thought I would comment.

Ducky, in particular, asks how artists "do" art.  That is a complicated thing, at least in my case, and the answer has layers.

The first layer - uninteresting to many - is the mechanics of doing it: what tools I use, what my studio is like, and so on.  That isn't what Ducky was asking about though, and is generally only interesting to fellow artists working in the same medium, and possibly to those interested in buying art.  Some buyers want to know that sort of thing; perhaps it helps them become more attached to the work.  As I say, Ducky was interested in something else, the more inspired side of the process, the creative side.

As philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists have known for a very long time, creativity is very difficult to pin down.  Speaking for myself, I see very different aspects of it at different times.

Occasionally a piece leaps out at me all at once, without any real thought or effort.  These events generally happen when I look at a stone and something snaps into focus.  It's hard to explain, but I can see the resulting piece in my mind's eye in fairly good detail without conscious effort.  The final piece may vary slightly, but the overall plan is there in an instant, coming from "nowhere", which (to me) means I made some subconscious connections between the stone and some memories or thoughts.  Other artists may ascribe such instantly available compositions to different sources, but I am a strict materialist.

Much more commonly, composition isn't instant.  I may look at a stone and think something like "this is an abstract, and I see a flowing line here."  The whole result isn't known yet, and even my initial ideas are subject to change.  Pieces conceived of this way vary in the amount of effort to bring them to completion.  Some flow naturally, probably because my initial idea stays relatively unchanged and was good enough to let me see the rest over time without a struggle.  Some go the other way, with the initial idea being changed (sometimes radically) or even being discarded entirely before the work is done.  My preference is to have a reasonably good mental image of the final work before I get too far into it, but since I often don't have a complete vision I work with what I have.

As an instructor I see all kinds of students and their different approaches to creation.  Some simply cannot begin until they have a model or detailed drawing of their goal.  Others never know what their final work will look like until they are done.  In truth there is a continuum along this line.  Some of us vary - from piece to piece - in where we fall, working with more planning on some pieces and less on others.   On the other hand, some artists work only in one way, doing about the same level of preparation for each piece they create.

Some of us are more logical about our work, looking for rational reasons for the composition, often in advance.  Others are more directed by movement in the piece and their response to it.  Once again my own preference varies, sometimes with the specifics of the piece or where I am in the process.

Some examples:

A student recently finished a composition and was working on selecting a base.  He had a few choices mocked up in cardboard and asked for advice.  In that case my answer was quick and rational.  Some of his choices lead the viewer's eye to slide right off the piece and onto something else, while other choices kept the viewer looking at the work for a much longer time.  In my opinion the latter bases were much more desirable, and the reasons were rational and simple to explain, but that is far from the way it always works.  Sometimes you just have to say "I like it that way."

In my case inspiration mostly comes from non-specific sources, but every once in a while it arrives in a specific and identifiable way.  I was once carving at an art show when a young girl walked up to my table, pointed at a raw stone, and said "What will that be?"  I replied that I didn't know yet and asked what she thought.  I remember her furrowing her brow and concentrating on it closely for a moment, then she pronounced "It's a bear."  And so it was.  That piece came to life in my head at that moment - fully formed - thanks to that one comment.

Other pieces have been a struggle, and nearly abandoned before something changed.  Interestingly it is often these pieces that I learn the most from, about what makes for good composition, interesting style, and so on.

Another layer in the question of how artists work is when or how creativity happens at all.  Some artists are driven to create all the time.  I am not one of those.  Stress in the rest of my life can completely stop the creative impulse, and our lives these days are full of stress from many sources.  At times I can be working on two or three sculptures at once, enjoying every minute of it.  Other times, though, the drive just isn't there, and I feel uninspired no matter how much time I spend with a stone.  My muse, it seems, takes the occasional extended holiday, much to my dismay.

Nothing would thrill me more than finding a cure for this particular block.  As I write this now I am in the throws of one such spell that has gone on for far too long.  Perhaps things will improve soon.  I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Art on hold for practical things

Like house projects.

I am not dead.  I will return.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

How To Carve Stone Document

One of the projects I work on from time to time is starting to bear fruit.  It's still very early, but a document I on stone carving is beginning to take shape.  Anyone curious can find the introductory lectures we (Sue Toorans and I) teach with, along with some additional information, in this page on my web site.

Many thanks to Sue and all the students who have helped us develop and refine this information over the years! Special thanks to Doug Howatt for being a contributor to the document itself too!

We welcome feedback on this.  Please send comments my way and Ill do the right thing with them!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sculpture Repair

Finally, something sculpture related to post here.

This past week saw the completion of a sculpture repair for a client. Here's a picture of the completed work in my shop:

The piece itself is a replica, of course.  It's rather famous too, sold now by quite a few places on the Internet.  It goes under the name Mademoiselle Modele, but in truth I am unable to find the original anywhere, nor the name of the artist who did the work.  I am told that Design Toscano - one of the vendors that sells the piece - researched that same question and was also unable to figure it out.

Anyway, this particular replica is cast in some sort of resin, essentially a plastic.  The client tells me it was purchased back in the 1960's in San Francisco.

In the intervening years it had seen some wear and damage.  At least at one point it was clearly knocked over.  The nose was chipped, the left cheek damaged, and all the fingers of the right hand were cracked clean through.  In addition it was dirty, possibly as a result of accumulated dust & grime, but also possibly because the resin was emitting some sort of oil.

My first job was to clean it as much as possible.  I used soapy water and a toothbrush everywhere I could, but that wasn't always successful.  Some additional grunge came off with solvents, but that's risky with plastic, and I didn't like doing it.  In the end I discovered I could sand it and remove most of the problem areas.  600 grit wet/dry sandpaper did a nice job and left a smooth, matte finish.

Repairing the cheek and nose turned out to be a surprisingly simple matter of sanding as well.  I'd expected to have to do a lot more work - or be unable to do anything at all - but gently rounding the nose hid the damage well, and the cheek damage vanished almost entirely, leaving behind only a slightly brighter white spot.

The right hand was glued back together with cyanoacrylate glue.  It required gently spreading the gap between the figure and the wave, dripping a bit of glue between each break, and letting things come back together.  One finger was broken in two places but I had the piece so gluing it back into place was simple.

The original base was a tiny, cheap metal thing on 4 feet, which only encouraged it to fall over.  The client wanted a new base, and on seeing the old one I knew why.  I purchased an 8" by 10" by 1.25" oval in black granite and drilled it for the piece.  I also had to add pins to the bottom of the piece too.  The result is much more stable and quite striking.

I'm no master restorer, but I am quite happy with the way this turned out.  The client is too.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

MIA Until January...

I know this blog is so new it has few - if any - followers yet.

Still, I just wanted to tell those who might find it that I am busy traveling and that is what's keeping things from being updated here. My overall plans for what happens here are still evolving, but until January nothing will happen at all. Sorry!

I wish you the very best in 2010. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Winter 2010 Stone Carving Class Dates

I finally have dates for the Winter (and Spring!) 2010 Stone Carving Classes:
  • As always, class is on Tuesday nights from 7:30pm - 10pm. The location is the Alma Street Studio. (See the course catalog. Enter on the alley side, not from Alma street itself.)
  • The Winter 2010 catalog should be online on Friday, 12/4/09.  See: http://www.pacificartleague.org/
  • Course registration begins on Saturday, 12/5/09.  Yes, one day after the catalog comes out.  At least it's a full month before the next session actually starts this time, though.  Call the league office for details or use their online registration system.
  • As with the last quarter, we're in 6 week sessions.  The dates I have now are:
    • Winter 2010, session A, 1/5/10 - 2/9/10, $140
    • Winter 2010, session B, 2/16/10 - 3/23/10, $140
    • Spring 2010, session A, 4/6/10 - 5/11/10, Cost TBD
    • Spring 2010, session B, 5/18/09 - 6/22/10, Cost TBD
  • At one point they were giving a discount for purchasing two 6-week sessions at once.  I don't know if they are still doing that or not, but it should be an option this time around.  Ask the office if you register for all 12 weeks this Winter and they don't mention it.
Remember: we strongly suggest new students plan on 12 weeks (minimum) to complete their first (simple!) piece. It just takes that much time to get things done with hand tools.