I had enough of the major forms established today that I was able to get into some of the smallest details like the teeth and the eyelids which was fun: it’s details like this that are so satisfying to carve into the clay. The modeling process is coming along much faster than I thought,which is nice because I’m starting to see more concrete progress.
I want to work on making the forms on the face feel tighter, with a greater sense of tension. The stretching of the skin is so dramatic in this particular expression, and I I feel like at this stage some of the skin forms look too mushy and soft. Clay is inherently mushy and soft so I have to transcend the medium to create forms that have tension and compression in them.
In today’s session I started to get more detailed with the forms and began to work on a specific expression, as opposed to just working from the reference head like I did yesterday. I have photographs I shot of Marianna which will be my primary reference for making these sculptures. The photographs are shot with natural light, which is softer and more subtle than artificial light and thus shows form more clearly. Even so, it’s still challenging to work from photographs. When I was working on the 50 drawings I was at least going from 2D to 2D; going from 2D to 3D is a pretty big leap in terms of how you think about form. This is new territory for me in terms of sculpture; in the past I worked either from direct observation or entirely out of my head, so I’m a little nervous about using the photographs this time around. I’m feeling pretty good about the progress I made today, it seems like the expression is starting to emerge well from the clay. It’s bothering me a little that I’m not able to work on the hair or ears but I don’t have references for those right now so it will have to wait until my next photo session with Marianna.
I had a great conversation with Tony Janello today, who teaches in the Illustration Department at RISD, and who was also my former professor many years ago. Tony has been working on these extraordinary heads, using paper mache and wax. He gave me these two heads today so I could investigate his process further and get a better sense for how he constructs these heads. Although both of these pieces are still in progress, they still have a striking presence to them which is powerful and deeply emotional with their contorted forms and expressions. I’m constantly in complete awe of the work.
His technical process is remarkably inventive; the head seen below is constructed out of cardboard coffee cup holders, cardboard tubes from paper towels, and sonotubes. He’s been trouble shooting and experimenting with paper mache for many years now, and it’s amazing the kinds of results he’s able to get with such low end materials. The head above is a wax piece that was cast from an alginate mold. As a result of our conversation, my head is now spinning with all of the different possibilities, and it’s possible I might give paper mache (yet another) shot.
I give up. When I came into my office this morning I found the head on the floor, it must have fallen from the weight of the Claycrete that I placed on the forehead area yesterday. As much as I believe in trying new things and taking risks with what I’m doing, I also know when to admit defeat. From the experience I have working with the material, I don’t feel it’s worth the frustration that I’m feeling with the sculpting process. It occurred to me yesterday how unpleasant all of my working sessions have been since I started working with the paper mache. I haven’t been excited or looked forward to working on the head, a sure sign that it’s time to move on. The whole time I kept looking at the head I sculpted out of plastilene (on the right in the photo above) and remembering that I sculpted it in just 2 hours, with a degree of subtlety in the form that just wasn’t remotely possible with the paper mache. So that’s it, today I’ll start ordering clay and other materials to begin these clay heads next week.
Today I added Claycrete and Celluclay to the surface of the head, trying to get the form closer to where I want it to be. This time around I used less water in my Celluclay mixture to make the clay a little stiffer and stronger, which helped when I applied it to the surface of the head. I was able to construct much larger forms like the nose and chin more easily.
I have even more doubt settling into my mind today with this technique, but I’m determined to see this one head through as my final experiment. I’m also telling myself that even if this head doesn’t work out, that it can serve as good filler for my wire head armature if I move to clay and plaster. At least that way there’s a back up plan for the head and I know that my time isn’t being wasted.
The paper towel layer that I added yesterday had dried fully when I came in today, so I worked on creating a more specific structure on top of that layer. Using pieces of cut up sonotubes, I tried to come up with forms that would bring me closer to the facial structure.
Although I had fun working with the hot glue gun and the pieces of sonotubes today, there’s still a heavy doubt lingering in my head about these materials. I keep going over and weighing the pros and cons of paper mache vs. plaster. There are so many physical and practical attributes to the paper mache that are really attractive to me: the ability to create something that is very lightweight on a large scale, as well as it’s incredible strength and near indestructible quality. This technique is so strong that I could throw a head against the wall and it would come back unscathed.
On the other hand, sculpting with the paper mache is a new and uncharted territory, and it bothers me immensely that the technique isn’t conducive to working reductively, which is my primary method of sculpting. As much as I wanted to avoid casting, I have to also realize that sculpting in clay is undoubtedly faster, significantly easier, and would definitely produce the results I’m looking for. Then there’s the trade off: a large scale plaster head would be very heavy and fragile by comparison.
What do you think? Is it worth learning, pursuing, and troubleshooting this new technique when I know that returning to plaster would achieve guaranteed results?
RISD is on spring break this week, so I had all day today in the studio to get going on these paper mache tests. I decided that I wanted to go ahead and do 2 paper mache tests on the scale that I want to be working on. So I went at it with chipboard and a glue gun and constructed two large heads on which I added one layer of paper towels and elmer’s glue. There was really no rhyme or reason to how I constructed the heads, I simply took strips of the chipboard and threw everything together.
I’ve also been picking at this paper mache head for quite some time now, experimenting with what kinds of details I can get in the form. I think I made progress with the lips today; they looked too stiff and rigid before and I think I got them to feel softer and looser. I also have to say that this test head has come a long way from when I started, and I’m glad to see that working reductively, while not easy, is definitely possible with this material. I guess I’m still waiting for that moment when I can say that I’ve “transcended” my material: I like the idea of taking a material that is stiff and hard and giving it a gestural, organic quality through the human form. I want to have the ability to transform the rigidity of the material into something completely different.
I continued work on the head above, experimenting with carving away at the paper clay, and also modeling and adding the paper clay. So far I’ve been noticing that things have gone better if you work in layers so that you add/carve/add/carve, etc. in the process. It’s very slow though, and I’m not used to having to wait this long to be able to build a simple form. I’ve been talking about paper mache techniques and experimentation a lot with Tony Janello, and he’s definitely warned me of how slow this process of paper mache can be. I’ll keep experimenting on this head, but I think I’m ready to move onto an experiment that reflects the eventual over life size scale that I ultimately want to be working at. I actually think working on a small head like I am now is harder than on the scale I’ll be working at.
My experiments with Claycrete, CelluClay, and Fast Mache the other day didn’t go anywhere. My hope was to use these materials to build up form so that I could carve away at the form through a reductive process. Unfortunately, none of the three materials could be carved into, they were simply too rough and completely resisted the knife. The Claycrete in particular was just awful, not only did it retain the consistency of cottage cheese, but when it dried it had this weird bouncy texture when you touched it which was so unappealing.
I sculpted six more head maquettes today, making for a total of fifteen maquettes so far. The more I think about, the more I am certain that I need to have fifty maquettes before I get started on the actual pieces themselves. I’m going to have to come up with many new expressions for the sculptures: in many of the drawings its the same facial expression, but seen from a different point of view, so it’s not going to work to simply sculpt directly from each of the fifty drawings.
I’m a little worried today about what I’m getting myself into. It was one thing to conceive of and make fifty drawings, but it’s another to make fifty sculptures. Sculpture is much higher maintenance, storage is a major issue, and then there is the mold making and casting. If I go through with this project the way I’m envisioning it right now, that makes for fifty over life sized plaster heads. Just the thought is exhilarating and really scary, which is exactly what tells me it’s a good idea, regardless of the intimidating logistics of making the work.
I was feeling discouraged and frustrated the other day with the paper mache technique, and then the thought of having to build intricate armatures for these clay heads was making my head hurt, so I decided that I had to take a completely different approach. It then occurred to me that it was premature to even think about armatures, as I haven’t even planned out what I want to do yet with the clay heads. This was a huge relief, so I got out some plastilene and started sculpting some small maquettes of heads. Sketching in clay is one of my favorite things to do in sculpture, so it was wonderful to just experiment and play around, especially after feeling so handicapped by the limitations of the paper mache.
I’m thinking today that it might be a good idea to sketch out all fifty heads in advance, so that I get an overall sense of the entire scope of the project. In the drawings I went piece by piece, and in the end a number of pieces ending up sticking out like sore thumbs, and perhaps that can be avoided this time.
One aspect that I hope to play up a lot more in the sculptures than I did in the drawings is the neck. In the photo above, there’s one head on the lower right corner that is dramatically leaning back, exposing and stretching the neck. If I can maneuver the neck in all different ways, there will be endless possibilities in terms of how the neck can affect the head.