Friday, July 22, 2011

To Hell and Back

On the subject of Hell...this 3.75 x 4" fellow, aptly titled Dante, dragged me on a more-months-than-I-ever-expected tour of artistic Hell. He's a newly finished piece and I'm really happy with how he turned out, despite the arduous journey I slogged through to create him. Really pushing myself with this piece, I applied the lessons learned from Elsie and tinkered with some new ones. You can see more pix of him here.

He's a Murgese stallion, an Italian breed, one that I've admired for some time. They're a very diverse breed, with lots of phenotypes, which is good - that leaves room to revisit the breed in the future. I always value a breed that has a high degree of variation, not just for artistic reasons, but also for the safe-keeping of a breed. My friend, Lesli Kathman wrote of a similar issue with the Kladruber in a recent Equine Tapestry post.

Anyway, beyond mirroring Dante's escapade, his name is apropos in more ways than one. I read Dante's Inferno in junior high on a whim and it left quite an impression, to say the least. The thought of our bad deeds having a scoring system in Hell was interesting enough, but I was tickled to find that my good deeds (as in how hard I applied myself in the studio) definitely paid off - I learned lots of cool stuff! So it goes both ways, I suppose! 

I also wanted to create a rather spirited, swarthy, flamboyant piece (hey, he shares heritage with Fabio) and I knew his mane and tail would really amplify his movement and "feel."

But manes and tails are really hard to sculpt. They're a tricky concoction of passive physics, from the physical universe and from the horse himself. The texture also is immensely difficult to capture, adding insult to injury. This is why those hairy bits are the single most varied component in realistic equine sculpture because every sculptor tackles these features in their own way. So yeah - I struggled big time with that mane and tail! All said and done, they took as long to sculpt as the rest of him! Adjustments, do-overs and tweaks...oh my! I lost count. But it had to be just right. 

To my delight, they ended up echoing the flickering, blazing flames in Hell. Or in another interpretation (one I personally prefer), the dancing, glittering flames of love, even with a heart-shaped image suggested from a certain angle. 

Which brings me to another apropos bit of serendipity with Dante. If you've been following the blog, you know about the Hammies, and the kind of patient agony my hubby lives through every day just being married to me. His life is a blustery, smoldering alchemy of love and torment because of the chaos and disorder I introduce into our household. Yet as I finished this piece, he suggested we renew our wedding vows. Out of the blue. It caught me quite by surprise. Deeply touched, we agreed that come our 20th, we'll do just that!

"I love him to hell and back and heaven and back, and have and do and will." ~ Sylvia Plath


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hell Sure is Gorgeous!

Being facetious, of course! And apparently flowers bloom a-plenty in Hell -- Hell's Canyon, that is! Unable to wake up at o-dark-hundred to meet for a group ride, we decided instead to blaze our own trail today, this time up to the Hell's Canyon Overlook, a spot we've been meaning to visit for some time. Why anyone would name such a heavenly place "Hell's Canyon" is beyond me, but I suspect it has to do with the ruggedness of the terrain and the early pioneers.

Here's a crude pieced-together-panorama shot. Someday I'll have a proper wide angle lens. Until then, we'll enjoy the wild flowers that carpeted the lush meadows, and the brilliant blue sky. Here are more pix of the views - stunning to say the least! 

 I really wanted to snatch this up and take it home, to reduce to bones and have it mounted properly. It would make a neat anatomical specimen for the studio. But not only did I suspect that hubby would be nonplussed with me cramming a decaying elk leg into his bike-bag, but the Park had a "no tread" and "no take" policy, so I left it to fertilize future flowers. I wondered what the story was behind this leg...the rest of the carcass was nowhere to be seen. 

Three of the interesting surprises on this trip were the cows we encountered on the road (apparently the Park is free-roaming). On a Harley, coming face to face with a large black steer that outweighs you and the bike combined is interesting to say the least! The second quirk of the trip was realizing that the road to the overlook ate up more gas than expected -- and on a bike, the contents of the gas tank are a big deal. Suffice to say we rolled into Baker City almost on fumes! The third hiccup was not knowing that much of the roads to Hell's Canyon and the Overlook were just repaired with tar and gravel, and for a bike that slows the trip to a crawl -- so we got home four hours later than expected! Rolling into our driveway just as the sun was going down, we were tired, but armed with great memories, lovely photos and some good stories for our fellow riders.

Anyway, when I tell folks I'm from Idaho, most people say, "Where?" Then their next question usually is, "Why Idaho?" Well, if these photos, and the others I've posted, are any indication (and they are), they provide a pretty good answer. I'm definitely a NorthWest girl, though I do admit that living in a lighthouse along the Maine coast is equally tempting. As the years go by, I also find myself being drawn ever more to hidden, reclusive places -- those little homesteads tucked away behind hillsides would sure seem more homey with a kiln in the back...

"I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright." ~ Henry David Thoreau


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

2011 Reference Listing

It's been two years since the last update, so 'tis time for another! A couple of new references have been added, as well as a new blog section. This listing is a work in progress, and I'm looking forward to adding new references over the years - especially The Equine Tapestry!

Many thanks go to Gail B. for hosting the list on the Model Horse Gallery! Someday I'll figure out how to do it on my web site, but until then you can download the 18-page 2011 Reference Listing PDF thanks to her.

"Art and science have their meeting point in method." ~ Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton


Friday, July 1, 2011

Up Close and Personal

An email suggested an interesting question about those references lists: how do we know if we're a beginner, intermediate or advanced sculptor?

Things get murky here because by what measure do we determine that? Is there some sort of test to identify our level? Are there prescribed steps involved in getting from one to another? Can an expert make an independent assessment? Does our work reveal our skill level? Do our reference materials reveal the extent of our knowledge base?

These questions do have a "yes" answer attached to them because there is an objective basis to equine realism. We aren't splattering paint on a canvas or carving abstract lumps of clay. And no matter how much we like how a piece turned out, in the end we're accountable to much more.

We already know this. We use anatomy charts, we do research, we seek critique, we pursue improvement to make our work "more realistic." We also are able to determine those works more convincing than others. Deeper still, we may see if our newer work is an improvement over our older work. We instinctively know an objective foundation exists; otherwise how do we determine our goals?

But there's also a "no" attached to those questions. This task-master art form is founded on science, art, interpretation and application, and learning it is tricky business. Most of all, our internal experiences are unique because we each perceive different things and things differently, and at different rates. We each grow into understanding in our own unique way. In the truest sense then, our journey is a solitary one and why self awareness is so critical. In short, only you can answer the question for yourself.

Nonetheless, it should be said that the provided levels of beginner, intermediate, and advanced are artificial distinctions - they don't really exist. There are no levels. They were organized that way only for simplicity and guidance, but not as a determiner. So don't assume you're a beginner if you're using a "beginner" reference, or you're advanced if you're using an "advanced" reference. I use all those references for different reasons myself. Your mind knows what it knows independent of a level, as some of what we know may be remedial, some may be highly skilled, with a whole mish-mash in between. Learning also occurs in variable ways, and so we may be ready for some advanced ideas early on, or perhaps need to revisit beginner concepts, for example.

That said, at times we may find ourselves asking, "Now what?" If I had a nickle for every time I was there myself, I'd be able to buy you a great big brightly-colored cake...with ice cream! But we do best discovering the answers in our own way, so let's ponder some guiding ideas to answer the question for ourselves...

Beginners often think about logistics and tend to:
  • Find sculpting a new piece intimidating.
  • Need instruction on the "how's" of sculpting.
  • Be focused on learning the "horse-shaped object" basics.
  • Still be exploring media and technique, having not yet found the clay or method that suits them.
  • Find that proportion and planes are the biggest challenge, and for good reason - they're two of the toughest, but most basic, aspects of sculpture.
  • Get confused by anatomical references, especially when it comes to application.
  • Find information regarding horses confusing and conflicting (because it is).
  • Have shallow perceptive abilities - they're new at this after all.
  • Sweat the small stuff before considering The Big Picture when sculpting. 
  • Work on a sculpture for a very long time, trying to get it just right.
  • Be a "damp sponge," and eager to learn without conceit, prejudgment or prejudice. In that, beginners have much to teach us. 
Classic beginner question: "How do I do this?" 

Intermediates often think about technicalities and tend to:
  • Find sculpting a new piece challenging.
  • Sculpt "tighter," concerning themselves more with the correctness and precision of sculpted anatomy.
  • Rely heavily on the anatomical formula; "sculpt by numbers." 
  • Be focused on sculpting "ideal" specimens. 
  • Increase the degree and amount of detail on sculptures.
  • Weight conformation and breed type heavily, usually adhering to conventional wisdom on such things.
  • Start attending workshops and seeking critiques.
  • React to the confusing and conflicting information regarding horses with resistance.
  • To compare their work against other artists, and can be competitive.
  • Start developing distinctive habits.
  • Form strong opinions about what is correct in life and in art, perhaps becoming dogmatic about it. [Note: This is why this stage is a crossroads. We either stay on this rigid path to remain a perpetual intermediate (albeit sophisticated), or we become beginners again to jump to the advanced stage.] 
Classic intermediate question: "How can I make this better?"

Advanced sculptors often think about sensibilities and tend to:
  • Find sculpting a new piece meaningful.
  • Sculpt "looser" within the bubble of reality, on purpose; know how the rules can be tweaked. 
  • Sculpt a piece according to a narrative, deep idea, or message.
  • Be focused on sculpting what's regarded as interesting.
  • Look for idiosyncrasies rather than the "perfect specimen."
  • Be competitive with themselves; seek colleagues for comradeship.
  • Be aware of habits; more self-aware.
  • React to the confusing and conflicting information regarding horses with informed responses, typically beyond convention.
  • Understand the deep aspects of horses, and the art form.
  • Make independent evaluations and choices, having a self-earned, independent knowledge base.
  • Take on instructive or teaching roles. 
Classic advanced question: "What does this mean for my work?" 

If we find ourselves identifying with questions from more than one category - that's normal. Where we identify most could be where our overall understanding is thereabouts, or perhaps not. It all depends on what our gut tells us.

All in all, we should be patient with ourselves, and give ourselves permission to make mistakes. Lots of them. And it's interesting how we come full circle in this. Novices tend to be fearless of mistakes because they expect to make them, but intermediates tend to become fearful of mistakes because they want to avoid them. The advanced sculptor is faced then with hidden mistakes, and so must learn how to be fearless again. Something to think about as we ponder these questions.

"Progress in art does not consist in reducing limitations, but in knowing them better." ~ Georges Braque

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