Severed heads and Alpacas

My Get A Life journey is planned to give me the opportunity to build on the artwork I have been creating over the past few years. To give me time and space to soak up as much ‘new’ as I can.
To go places I can gain knowledge, experience, and skills. And to have the opportunity to really study and develop these skills.

And in that vein, I was back on the road again last week.
Only Devon this time. But there is no ‘only’ in my activity.

I was attending The Sculpture School.

As part of my plan, I wanted to spend time learning to sculpt.
Louise Bourgeois is most famous for her sculpture. She used wood, bronze, resin, latex, lead, marble, fabric… you name it, she used it. But it is this last that I am (or possibly was, after this week) most interested in. Fabric Sculpture.

Before you can make a 3D shape in fabric you need a solid shape to work with. You can then work out what shapes and sizes you will need in fabric and how they will attach to  make the desired solid object.

I had started modeling at home using papier-mache, with pleasing results, but decided going to learn to do it properly in clay (and then potentially in bronze), would be a brilliant skill to help me on my way.

Many years ago I went on a month-long residential cookery course (I consequently ran a catering business for a few years before our son was born).
On that occasion I had done all my research, been down to Somerset to check it out, seen the syllabus, I was really very excited about it.
I won’t go into details, and I did have an amazing experience, but it was so far from what I had expected, it is with huge relief that last week was really quite special.

LifeSize Portraiture.

The time flew by so fast.
I wrote daily updates at the end of each day, but they mainly say ‘I’m so unbelievably tired’.
So I’ve tried to put them together into something a little more coherent. You can assume I was continually exhausted!

We spent day one learning to photograph our model.
How to measure her. Thirty-three very precise measurements of her face and head (after which she left).
We spent the rest of the day building onto a biscuit foam and metal armature.
Measuring and building and measuring again (and again).
This is called a rapid sketch. Oh, the irony!
Apparently, this can be done in a couple of hours, once you know how. Don’t be fooled though, it has little to do with sketching as you might imagine. No pencils involved. And as for rapid? It took a long two days.
My tutors, Andrew Sinclair and Diane Coates, safe to say, are immensely talented.
Andrew has spent many years building a teaching system that makes figurative sculpture accessible to all. His book – The Art of Earth and Fire – claims to be the first book written in 100 years to explain sculpture in an innovative and comprehensive format, and his teaching is certainly that!

There were only 4 of us.
A retired doctor, a props and special effects maker, a LARP (live action role play) specialist, and me.
This was an amazing ratio of teaching, and I felt ridiculously privileged to be there.

Day three, and the sculpting started.
With a full array of photos (each A4) on a board directly behind the figure, you start to look at the wealth of information you can glean from each one. The profile, the details of the eyes, the nose, the lips, the septum, the mentolabial sulcus, the nodes, the zygomatic arch, the mastoid process… The list goes on.
Understanding anatomy is crucial to getting a real likeness of your subject.
Ideally, every photo would be gone over many times. Each time you mark the place you have altered, so as not to move on and undo that which you have just done.
It’s slow, laborious, but brilliant.
Slowly but surely a human head appears.

Day four arrives before you know it.

Jacinta (fellow student) and I tried, between us, to capture every step of the process.
I took about 150 photos on the way through and she was master of note-taking.
I tried to take notes but kept blunting my pencil. I did get another at one stage, but there was so much to do it seemed the least of my worries, until the next time I needed to take notes.
Trying to scribble it all down while watching every move Andy made wasn’t a simple task either.

On top of that, he makes it look so easy.
I know, he’s an expert, 10,000 hours and all that, but watching someone manipulate the clay so deftly and with such ease, every single time I thought ‘oh that looks ok, I can do that’ and every single time ‘oh shit, that’s so not as easy as it looks’.
You’d think I’d learn…

But suddenly, and unexpectedly, I found I could touch her face.
She had skin.
I gave her eyes.
She was beginning to come alive. Gouging those eyes out I admit made me slightly squeamish, but it was beautiful too. There she was looking back at me.
At the same time, I felt I could see flashes of her soul. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous, just a lump of clay, but somehow that lump of clay and I had come such a long way together by that point.
It’s hard to describe, but to put my feelings into some context, I spent most of that last day somewhere between panic that I wouldn’t get her ‘finished’ – every time Andy said ‘it can take me an hour (or was it 3, I just can’t remember) to do an eye’, I wondered why the fuck we were trying to achieve the whole lot in four days – and ecstasy, on the verge of tears, a feeling akin to those relatively rare moments in a concert when you get tingles right down your spine and really remember why making music is such an incredible way to earn a living.

IMG_0575 copy

I can honestly say it was the most magical four days.
Hard to believe that, as casting her costs an absolute fortune, and she can’t be fired due to the armature she is on, she is literally going to turn to dust before my eyes.

In the end, there was just one disappointment.
I found myself longing for her to smile at me. Just once. For her to let me know she too knew we’d ‘got this’.
She never did, but I’m pretty sure she was thinking it…

 


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