Thursday, September 27, 2012

Date Change and a Sculpting Rant

Date Change:  Real life has gotten in the way and messed up my schedule, so my sculpting workshop is going to be in late April 2013, still at Dancing Horse Farm, Lebanon OH.  I'll post the exact dates soon, but it will be the 3rd or 4th week in April.

Now the rant!  Someone posted in the Sculpture forum on Wetcanvas that when he bought some Super Sculpey in a local art supply store so he could start learning to sculpt, the clerks there told him he was going about learning sculpting the wrong way - that he had to learn to draw and he needed to learn anatomy first.  Here's my reply:

Sculpting does not require drawing skills - I'm a prime example of that.  For those of us whose minds work in the 3-D realm, sculpting is far easier than 2-D work. People who don't think 3-D (which is the majority of artists) don't understand the way 3-D thinkers think, the way we see things, the way we relate to things - seriously.  And they believe you have to draw before you can do anything else in art.  They'll point to famous artists who were/are both painters and sculptors (Michelangelo, for instance).  Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor and claimed he couldn't paint (despite the evidence of the Sistine Chapel ceiling).  I'm the same way - I learned to draw *after* becoming a proficient sculptor and it is HARD HARD HARD for me to do 2-D work, but I can if I have to.  Don't let a 2-D artist's lack of understanding make you the least bit hesitant about sculpting.  Sculpting is in your hands and your heart and your mind and you'll be amazed at what you can create once you understand the materials you're working with. 

Now that I'm done ranting (for now, LOL!), I will say it's always good to learn anatomy any way you can.  However, learning it by DRAWING isn't necessarily going to help you with learning how to sculpt it.  You'll need to run your hand over the muscles of a horse or a smooth-coated dog (you don't want the muscles hidden by fur as they would be in a cat or long-haired dog) while its leg is being held in a flexed position, then study photographs done in excellent light of a leg in a similar position to see how muscles move under skin (for instance).  Studying anatomical drawings and even copying them if you can draw decently can be quite useful.  I use anatomy books with drawings all the time, but I mostly study anatomy in real life to do my art. 

You need to pay attention to how the body moves - for instance, have you noticed that when someone is walking, the leg bearing weight makes that hip actually higher than the other one?  (That's what makes women's rumps sashay prettily.)  If a group of muscles bulge, the same ones on the other side will be shaped differently.  I'm a horse artist, so I'll use horses as an illustration.  Muscles bulge the most when they're contracted, so when a horse is LIFTING (not standing on) his left hind leg, for instance, his rump muscles (and abdominals, etc.) will be bulging while the muscles on his right hind leg, the one he's standing on, will look flatter because they're engaged in supporting the body, not contracting to shorten or move that leg.  The more effort being expended, the more bulge you'll see in the muscles.  Muscles at rest are flatter and more relaxed looking than those being used to lift a limb.  If you haven't studied anatomy, you may not have consciously noticed such things, but they're also true in humans.  Most people don't have the muscular development or else they have too much body fat for the muscles to be defined the way I'm used to seeing them in horses, so I use upper level dressage riders (who are strong athletes and always have highly developed thigh muscles and lightly developed calves - which is a sign they're dressage riders rather than jumper riders or western riders - just a detail to be observed if you want to portray the sport properly) or dancers as reference, with the occasional body-builder thrown in for fun at times.  :)

There are 3-D anatomical models you can touch, move, light different ways to help you see anatomy.  I'm not talking about those wooden doll things you can pose to get proportions.  You can buy resin castings that are copies of Michelangelo's "David'"s ear, eye, nose, mouth, etc.  There are full-body anatomical models in resin.  There are some models that have half the man's body with skin over his muscles, and half showing the muscles with no skin.  You can get horse models like that too.  That's the way a 3-D mind learns anatomy, that and studying the real subject you're going to sculpt, whether people, horses, wildlife, etc.  (Suggestion - if you're going to sculpt wildlife, run your hands over taxidermied animals - good ones - rather than getting THAT friendly with a real cougar or whatever!  That's what I did to sculpt a cougar - it worked just fine.)

I "see" with my hands a lot. When I did my first portrait of a horse (rather than doing "imaginary" ones or ones based on reference photos), I asked the horse's owner to allow me to sculpt him from life once I had the piece fairly well along (I wanted to be sure I had the details and proportions right).  The horse was tied up and I put the 3/4 finished bust on a tall tack box near him.  I closed my eyes and ran my hands over that lovely stallion's head, then did the same to the 1/4 life-sized bust of him I was working on.  The resulting bust is easily recognizable as him by those who know him even without his huge blaze (a white marking on his face) that covers most of his face.  For people to recognize his bust that way rather than just thinking it's "just" a Quarter Horse is amazing to me since it was only my second attempt at a realistic horse and my first real portrait.  (Copies of that piece are still for sale on my website: Fascination)

Don't let shop assistants deter you from sculpting.  Get your hands in the clay (when using Super Sculpey, condition it first or your hands will get sore - it needs to be run through a pasta machine - rollers only, not cutters - several times to mix the oils in and soften the clay before you try to use it.  Pasta machines are about $25 and available at Hobby Lobby, Michael's, Dick Blick's, etc.).  Once you start working with the clay, your hands and innate knowledge will get you started on your first pieces.  Then you'll see where you need to improve your knowledge and skill and the rest of it will be a joyful path of discovery.  Let the 2-D people have fun with their paints.  We're creating art you can touch, feel and appreciate from all sides.  Good luck with it!