Above is my oldest horse book -- the one from my childhood as early as I can remember. As you can see, it's been well worn and loved. I'd spend hours curled up on my bed, pouring over the photos and studying each one carefully. To this day, I still haven't read the text. This is my favorite horse book, even today. Its musty book aroma projects me back to my childhood bedroom, and I'm a kid again, dreaming the dreams I once had.
This book also was the start of my mania in earnest. It was from this book that inspired countless sketches trying to get things "just right" and to understand equine structure, even at a tender elementary school age. I couldn't care less about my cursive homework -- I wanted to draw and learn about horses! It was my quest. To this day, I still keenly remember being so young, yet analyzing the images to find structure, pattern and logic to all the lumps n' bumps so I could begin to decipher what I was wanting to recreate. I remember looking at anatomy charts and trying to match them up. I remember running my hands over the horses at horse camp, trying to program all that into my head for drawing later that evening.
And boy -- do I remember how completely confused I was. It was a confounding mystery that made absolutely no sense. And because I didn't understand it, I labored to the point of obsession to copy exactly what I was seeing, in the belief that in doing so, I was automatically creating realistic work. Because it had to be real -- it had to look like it could breath and whinny at me. I had to capture a real horse of my own. But when I didn't achieve my goal -- which was all the time, being a perfectionist -- my frustration often drove me nuts. But I kept at it.
I look back now at 42, and I see I did the same thing with sculpting. Now one would think that switching from drawing to sculpting is an easy jump, but it really is trickier than even I expected. Drawing is recreating the illusion of a 3D object on a flat piece of paper, using color to create the illusion. With sculpture -- you create the whole 3D object. There's no cheating. So your brain has to work like a computer scanning laser to memorize all the way around the object, at all angles, in order to have a prayer at duplicating it in clay. And that takes a tremendous amount of time, practice, mistakes, study and working to see the subject constantly from new perspectives, figuratively and literally.
So in my early sculpting career, I obsessed over anatomy charts, painstakingly recreating my sculptures like anatomical illustrations, again in the belief that if I simply duplicated what I saw, I automatically was creating something realistic. And that's true -- to a point. The problem is that anatomy illustrations are made from dead horses, which is why sculptures too married to them often lack the impression of moment and life so important to a convincing realistic sculpture. They look static and flat, as lifeless as the illustration. And that really frustrated me with my early work. While I had grasped the anatomy, I still was falling short of capturing a living, breathing soul.
In recent years, I began to realize that this living quality could only be achieved by loosening up my interpretations -- by using the charts as a guide rather than a corral. I was able to see the mercurial nature of flesh and the momentary distortions and eccentricities it revealed that not only were fun to sculpt, but instilled a sense of individuality, life and moment to my work. So oddly enough -- I've come full circle. I now know the rules, but I know how to break them, to the point where I can create lumps n' bumps in perfect clarity that would have perplexed my childhood self into madness. It's taken about 36 years, but here I am. Odd.
This dovetails into my new work coming out of my studio soon. In particular, a piece named "Alfred," a miniature scale drum horse I've been focused on for the last two weeks. Some pieces just sculpt themselves. Literally. He spontaneously popped into my head and demanded my immediate attention -- and then he just took it from there. I've only been along for the ride.
And Elsie taught me so very much and because of her, I've been so surprised at how Alfred has simply materialized before my eyes. He's revealed to me that the child has finally come to understand. But, joyfully, there's still so much more to know!
"There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect." ~ G.K. Chesterton