I’ve been quite productive over the past week, despite the mental setback I had with my manuscript rejection. Actually, I’m surprised that I recovered quite quickly from the rejection. Instead, I’m trying to focus intensively on getting the last faces in this series finished. This is one of the reasons why I’m so glad that I always have multiple projects going on at the same time. If something isn’t going well with one project, I can always easily divert my attention and energy to another.
Lately I’ve been feeling a sense of urgency with my book. Perhaps it’s impatience, perhaps it’s ambition, (most likely it’s a little bit of both) but I keep having this feeling that if I don’t self-publish now, it will never happen. I guess part of me worries that my enthusiasm for the book might die down at some point, so I want to strike while the iron is hot. The boxes that my silicone rubber comes in have the words “What are you waiting for? Make it now!” written on them. I see these boxes everyday, and every time I see them I feel that urgency.
I had a productive session in the studio this morning. I finished the final layer of rubber in my most recent round of casting, and moved these two new clay faces along. I’ve been trying to be looser and sketchier in the details, especially in the wrinkles in the eye areas. I have a new strategy for dealing with these wrinkles: rather than trying to perfectly define each individual wrinkle, I’ve been sketching in the wrinkles very quickly. Essentially, I just make a big mess of the wrinkles and then clean them up later. Making a mess is much more effective and efficient than trying to carefully define one wrinkle at a time.
Yesterday I was able to get almost all of the finishing touches done on these two clay faces. Lately I’ve been enjoying the beginning stages of sculpting so much that the finishing stages have seemed less exciting for me. For a little while it was the other way around; I used to dread the importance of the beginning stages and looked forward to the security of the finishing stages.
In the initial stages I have to be very quick, sharp, and alert in order to capture the gesture of the facial expression. Essentially, I see the first stage as a three-dimensional gesture drawing. Lately in the later stages I feel like what I’m sculpting is solely cosmetic, that I’m just polishing the surface.
I decided to hold off on pouring the rubber this morning, and to give these three faces another final pass in terms of solidifying the details. Every time I come back to a piece, there’s almost always something I see that I didn’t see the day before, so it’s nice to be able to look at a work with new eyes.
I’ve been revisiting a lot of my old works lately. I always have one of two reactions: 1) wishing I could just do it all over again, but way better or 2) thinking that the work actually wasn’t so bad after all. Lately I’ve been thinking the latter, and that there are subjects that I think I may want to return to eventually. Initially when I started working on Falling, I had thought about the project in terms of the figure, but that quickly disappeared once I started the 50 portrait drawings and 50 portrait sculptures. Knowing that I only have 13 sculptures left to go in this current series, I’m already starting to brainstorm what I may want to do next. I know that I’m not done with this subject matter, and I’m thinking that I may want to give these figure drawings another chance. After working exclusively with the face for so long, the idea of figurative pieces seems really refreshing and attractive to me.
This morning in the studio I was able to finish the majority of the modeling on this face above. I think this expression is an especially odd one, as the mouth appears to be a smile, but the eyes and brow clearly represent emotional strain. It’s one of the more unusual expressions I’ve done recently as it’s not as straightforward as some of the other expressions I’ve done in the past.
Recently I’ve been thinking about what I like to call the “big, black pit” problem that many artists face. I know that I fluctuate between having days when I think everything I’m doing seems meaningful and then days when I feel like everything I make or write is just going into the “big, black pit.” It’s the “no one sees it, and if they do, nobody cares” worry that haunts many of us. It’s the feeling that you put your work out there and all you experience are the tumbleweeds rolling by. And as I’ve probably mentioned before, getting no response is worse than a negative response.
Do you experience this? Do we each have our own “big, black pit?”
I’ve been thinking lately about what exactly it is that I’m trying to do with my book, my series of videos, “Ask the Art Professor”, and my blog in general. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what has been driving me to do all of this writing and documentation on top of my studio practice. I’ll admit that part of me feels a little embarrassed from time to time that I’m so obsessive about documenting every moment, every thought of my process. From what I’ve experienced, it’s highly unusual for a fine artist to share so much about the highs and lows of their creative process publicly. Most professional fine artists I know tend to be secretive about how they work and don’t publicly display the ugly side of being an artist. When I go to artist lectures, they’re always about the successes, highlighting only what worked and the awards that were won. The majority of artists never publicly address the struggles, the blood, sweat and tears that it took to get there.
Essentially I came up with a mission statement for myself. In addition to my studio practice, I’m trying to demystify and explain the actual process of being a fine artist to a broader audience. There are so many annoying myths about what it means to be an artist that are just not true: that you have to get lucky and be talented, that you have to wait for inspiration to strike, that artists are irresponsible, weird, and lazy. The reality is that being an artist is none of those things, and it’s that reality that I’m interested in portraying through my writing and various forms of media.
In other news, this morning in the studio I tried an experiment: video taping myself working on sculptures in the studio. I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to having the camera on as I was working, and surprisingly, I actually rather enjoyed it. Knowing that every movement was being recorded, I felt much more alert and on my toes. I think I worked at a faster pace than usual, didn’t pause as often, and kept my movements more fluid and continuous. I like to think about the initial stage of the sculpture as essentially being a three-dimensional gesture drawing, so my quicker movements today helped me to keep the form loose and gestural.
What do you think? Would you like to see more videos like this?
I managed to finish this third face this morning. I squeezed in just enough time in this morning’s studio session to pour the first layer of rubber, which will enable me to start making the mother molds tomorrow morning.
In other news, I’ve sent off the final draft of my book to my editor, so now I’m just waiting to hear back from her to see her edits. I’m also in the process of writing a query letter to send off to literary agents and publishers, so that’s been occupying my time as well. I’ll admit that I absolutely hate writing stuff like that. I wrote the entire book in a heightened frenzy that felt so fluid and easy, and here I am, not even able to put together one paragraph to sell the book. The marketing of work is so time consuming and tedious, there are times when I feel like I spend more time on the promotional aspects of my work than on creating the work itself!
I was getting ready to scrap this face above yesterday. I’m glad I didn’t because I think I ended up resurrecting the piece during today’s studio session. One of my pet peeves in figurative sculpture is when the form looks too mushy and soft, and lacks tension and structure. I was starting to feel like this piece was all mush yesterday, and lacked a tightness in some muscles that I was looking for. Today I did some subtle subdivision of certain muscles, especially around the brow and tightened up the muscles in the lip area. I think I saved it!
These three new faces that I started modeling the other day are interesting to me because in all three the mouth is doing something awkward and asymmetrical. In many ways I think the mouth has the greatest range of expression out of all the facial features. In terms of scale, it’s the largest, and and be stretched and manipulated in numerous ways. Then there’s the contrast of the softness of the lips against the stiffness of the teeth, and the incredible depth of the interior of the mouth. I think in a lot of ways the mouth is able to compensate for the fact that the nose is essentially a dead zone on the face in that it’s completely immobile.
Today in the studio was an improvement over yesterday. I think I had a tough time yesterday because I was starting a new round of faces from scratch. Getting started is always such a big mental hurdle. I always think about my colleague Bill Flynn who teaches at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts who used to always say “Just start.” I always think of that phrase any time I’m having trouble starting something. I definitely do much better when I’m in the middle of something and can pick up from where I left off the next day. Once things are in motion, I can jump into the process with ease.