Category Archives: Sculpture

On Practice and Warmups

I have recently begun studying piano again in earnest. I have played off and on since I was a kid, but I never really developed any particular aptitude because I never liked to practice. Drawing on the other hand was never a chore. I could draw for hours and never feel like it was any effort at all. It is because of this that I haven chosen the mediums I have. I followed the path of least resistance.

On the plus side, I have invested my energy in mediums that I truly enjoy the process of. On the con side though, it means that in many ways I never learned how to actually practice.

I am very fortunate to have a very skilled piano instructor. Initially, I chose her to teach my son. But after several months of sitting in on his lessons, I realized that she was not just an excellent piano teacher, she was an excellent teacher. I thought that I had resolved myself to never play piano again, deciding that I was just not meant to be a musician. But I realize now that was just laziness and ineffective learning. What I had not learned yet was how to actually practice. Age is my ally now, giving me more patience for structure and routine.

My piano lessons started with me learning scales by Hanon. I continue to start every practice and lesson with them. This is not dissimilar from the kata that I loathed practicing as a martial artist. The same moves, memorized, over and over. However, with these piano exercises, I have re-learned not just finger dexterity, but also rhythm, accents, dynamics, fingering, wrist and shoulder movement, tempo and a dozen other attributes. And it is all based on practicing the same scales hundreds and then thousands of times.

My piano teacher has also provided structure to my practices themselves. A certain amount of time on warmups and skills, some time to review previous work, and the rest of the time on the pieces that I am currently focused on.

I have felt for a long time that one of the many disservices Art Schools do to students is that they don’t teach student the craft of art making. There is too much emphasis on novelty and exploration of the spectrum of mediums. There is a myth that artists are just inspired people and that all they need to do is be presented with the material and they will create great works. The common approach in my academic experience was a that an exposure to a broad survey of arts would allow the student self-select for personal mastery. Of course, the result was broad mediocrity. In art school, we never learned how to Practice.

For me, Practice is figure drawing and anatomy studies. Every day. Every week. I start every drawing session with quick gesture drawings, then longer poses. Then reviewing anatomy or copying master works. And then finally working on whatever my current project is. For me figure studies are both the practice and the final product. But I recognize that initially, I am practicing. And when I don’t practice for a few days, I can tell during the next session. The lines are sloppy or overly rigid. I get derailed in details. Or I draw a curve counter to observation, following a preconceived notion of form instead of what is really in front of me. I can see when my drawing is out of practice as acutely as I can hear when my piano is out of practice. As acutely as my body being sore from not exercising.

What this has me begun to think about is how do we Practice sculpture? What is the warmup? How do you review?

I would love to hear from other sculptors how they approach warmups and practice.


It probably wasn’t until the last ten minutes of this fourth session that this sculpture started to ‘click’.  Up to that point it was pretty mechanical: set up armature, pose, mass, refine.  But something about the gesture just wasn’t satisfying me.  It just felt too angular and stiff.  So, I took a break, walked around the block, and came back.  I looked at it again from across the room and found a couple of things to add.  A little more curve on the forearm, more mass on the thigh.  And then it was starting to look human–And then the session ended.  This is definitely one I’m going to work on some more without the model this week, so I can evaluate the sculpture on its own merits.  In the end, it’s not what the sculpture represents about the model but what is internally consistent within itself.


Second session with this pose.  It’s been a long hiatus dealing with non-art life. Always feels good to be back to the important stuff.

I’ve missed so many seasons with this pose, I’m not sure yet whether I will keep it.  We’ll see how much progress I make by the end of next week.


Here is a portrait that I just completed modeling.  I’m pretty happy with how the texture and anatomy finished.  This is probably a piece that I will continue to casting with.  Which means of course, that I’m sure I will spend a few more hours modeling it in the cast wax before final.

And a picture with the model

And some of the preliminary sketches

The Art of Salvage

Sometimes despite your time invested, you just have to walk away and start something else.  Sometimes there is some part of a project that still has some intrigue.  Sometimes those parts keep you working on a piece far beyond its merits.  And occasionally those parts become happy accidents.

It is dangerous to recycle work and my teachers strongly discouraged it.  And it is something that I would discourage beginners from doing as well.  Very quickly you have to decide what was correct in the original pose may no longer be relevant with a new model.  Proportions change, anatomy changes.  Age and body type change.  So, sometimes you leave something that you really like from the first model, only to realize that it is forcing you to make incorrect observations with the new one.  That said, I have found that if you are willing to look at your new piece with a bit of ruthlessness, you save a lot of time in the basic construction.  Most beginners lack the confidence to make fundamental changes and tend to be too precious about things that need to be changed or thrown out.

But like so many things, much of what I do now is breaking the rules of my teachers and not how I would teach others.  At this point, I am finding what works for me whether or not it is a ‘good idea’. Sometimes these experiments turn out to be train wrecks.  So far, for this sculpture, that has not been the case.
I am two sessions into working on this sculpture of Belle.  It feels like it is going in the right direction.  This is not the pose that she is actually modeling in.  In reality, her left arm is laying across her leg on her lap, and her right arm is more forward.  And her head is more upright.

For reference, below is a picture of the sculpture of Hannah that I repurposed into the sculpture of Belle.  The part that I liked was how her shoulders pulled back, which defined the back muscles and shoulder blades.  It created an interesting tension.  However, the rest of the pose just felt boring.  I experimented with changing the gesture of the arms, hands, and the angle of the head.  I often will make minor tweaks to the sculpture from what the model actually did to exaggerate the pose or make it more expressive.  Holding a pose for hours, days, and weeks is hard work and it forces the model to sometimes take more neutral positions.  Tweaking things allow me to sculpt things that the model would not be able to hold for any duration.

Sometimes when you salvage previous works, you make minor changes that fundamentally change the pose.  Other times you make major changes that obliterate what you started from.  The trick is to not spend more time fixing than creating.  In software development, there is an adage, “build a prototype, then throw it away’.  You solve a lot of problems in trying to define something by making something and then recognizing how it is not working.  At some point you have to decide whether to build on what you have started, start from scratch, or reuse pieces.  That is the art, whether it is sculpture or software.


I believe this is week 5 for me on this pose.  I have been neglecting to post in progress pictures on this one.   Two more weeks with the model to finish it up.

It has really just been in the last couple of weeks that this one has started to come together.  This is a return to oil-based clay after a lengthy foray working with hard wax.  I’m still using hard wax, but I wanted to use something I could work faster on and in a looser style.

I started this pose with my usual drawings to better understand the pose and figure out proportions.



This was a portrait that I never really seemed to get into the groove with.  I missed some sessions because I was traveling for work.  And the there were holidays.  I usually start with drawings, but since my schedule was I erratic, I did some drawings, a few quick water colors and a sketch portrait sculpture. 

Some of the sketches turned out well though.  When I starting a sculpture, I will draw the model from multiple angles.  Not only I do I get more practice at ‘seeing’ the model, but I can also get a better sense of form.  Once I create a sculpture, I will often go back to these original drawings for reference.  In the drawing below I also did an anatomy drawing to better interpret what ‘all those bumps and shadows’ were. 

All of these sketches are intended to help me understand what I am looking at.  As such they are focused on planes and form, rather than line or tone.

In these drawing and painting sketches you can see what the entire pose was.  As I mentioned previously, I didn’t have time to put together the whole figure, so a portrait sketch is where I wrapped it up.

A quick portrait

Day 2 of this pose.  Really, I only managed to spend a couple of hours on it.  Having done the prelim art sketches last week helped a lot.  However, it was really only in the last 20 minutes or so that I started to get into the groove… And then it was time to be done.

I’m starting to get a little more familiar with this wax.  It really is about keeping it as cool as possible–and yet still workable.  Everything just goes to mush once you have overheated the model, the tool or both.

Pictured you can see some of the tools I am using.  Alcohol lamp, steel tools (not unlike dentist picks), a lighter for the lamp, and a very porous sanding sponge. Still haven’t gotten the hang of hot sanding.  As mentioned above, it is very easy to overheat and then you just smear the surface rather than finish it.

I will probably work on this one a little further to smooth the forms and just practice the finer finishing.

An Afternoon with the Greeks

Last Sunday, I got the rare privilege of going to an art museum by myself.  I spent a couple of hours checking out the closing day of the Portland Art Museum’s show, ‘The Body Beautiful‘.


It is always a bit of a quandary when ‘headliner’ art exhibits such as this come to town.  They are usually packed with people elbow-to-elbow, the exhibition space is usually quite small, the information and guidebooks provided about the art is usually superficial and biased towards the perspective of art historians (rather than the cultural or artistic significance of work).

But it is also an amazing opportunity to see how people from a cross-section of life interact with art.  Most of the visitors are there because they heard, ‘this is real art–it’s important’.  Some visitors walk by, read the plaque, and walk on, noting that they can scratch ‘see Greek sculpture’ off their bucket list.  However, a few are struck by one piece or another.  And you realize that the appreciation for a particular work or artist has just extended another generation.  And that a string of those moments for over two thousand years is why these sculptures remain relevant today.  There is something visceral about this art that resonates with people regardless of their age, generation, or culture.

greek_sculpture_1 greek_sculpture_2

And then, of course, there is my own personal reaction to these works.  It is this art that inspired me to create art in the first place, and it is that moment of connection that we feel when ancient works that keeps be focused on figurative work to this day.  Below are some sketches that I drew from some particularly inspiring sculptures.

Sketches of Greek Sculpture

I was immediately struck by the resemblance of these particular sculptures to Degas’ dancers and bathers, created over 2000 years later.

Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Woman Getting Out of the Bath, The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Comments welcome

Portrait Sculpture – Faire

This is my most recent clay portrait.  I did the modeling last fall during the DIVA Open Studios Tour over a period of two weekends.  People came to visit my studio and watch me work with the model. Faire was a great model, and very generous with her time.  I spent the rest of the winter finishing it, just firing it a few months ago.


One of my popular posts is how I hollow a clay model in preparation for firing.  I have updated that post with in-progress pictures from Faire. You can see more of my portrait work here. As always, comments welcome.