To Construct a Sculpture
Where and how does a sculpture begin? How is it formulated in the
mind and realized in matter?
Images that motivate the desire for making sculpture may arise from
non-visual as well as three dimensional forms. I believe that these
images are developing in the mind even if they remain on the sub-
conscious level and only begin to emerge after the shaping of the
material has started. I may approach materials free of associations, or
at least make an attempt to do so, but as soon as the shaping starts,
past images will enter into the form.
As stated above, these images may have their source in origins other
than visual. The may arise from the sound and silence in music, as in
Coltrane's complex variations in "Saturn." It may be the smoke rising
from the battlefield in Stephen Crane's novel "Red Badge of Courage" or in the sensation of the
two sides of an avocado leaf--one side smooth, the other rough. Although one is dealing with
sculpture, a visual art, we must develop fully and integrate all our sensibilities. You may couple
this with the visual arts not directly related to sculpture. It can be the party as seen reflected and
enlarged through glass in the film "Citizen Kane," the Open Theatre's "Terminal," Merce
Cunningham's dance or Mark Rothko's colors loaded with mystery.
It's important to base a visual memory on all thing recorded by the mind. An interesting
experiment is to fill a paper with images based on memory to see how combinations are arrived
at and what will be rejected. It can be thought of as learning the English language. As a child, one
says "See Spot run." As we use the language our vocabulary grows in order to express all
shades of meaning.
Sculpture begins with the self, and all its likes, dislikes, and limitations. A vast interior is within
each of us, a universe in completion with some of the stars shining bright, while others are
obsured in darkness. If one wants to get to the source, get into your soul, turn on the lights and
So far, this is still the preparation and not the acutal making of sculpture. Ultimately, the sculpture
must have its own reason for existing so that references outside of its own formulation ceases.
The subject will then become the sculpture itself.
What is required in both perceiving and creating sculpture is a balance. To experience sculpture ,
discovering a little about the artist and a great deal on expanding your vision through the
perception of three dimensional qualities, is the synthesis you will want to achieve. The freer the
form is from associations, the more it will gain in universality. When the treatment of form is too
intellectual, meaning is given to its literary value, and a form is made to mean a specific thing
rather than allowing the unconscious to ruse up and take form. The beginning of art is not in
mental association but rather in the unconscious that has implications for all of us. Most people
are only able to project emotion into a figurative statement. However, that is not to imply that non-
figurative sculpture is without emotional content.
I have discussed the image. Now I'll proceed to its realization. The idea may be first tested out on
a small scale called a maquette, or model, a warming up exercise to discover if the idea is useful
to pursue further. It is best done in any material that is inexpensive and in which you can work
quickly such as paper, clay, plaster, or cardboard.
If the maquette has the feeling of looking right, which also implies that it may look clumsy or awkward, you can
move on to realizing that image on a larger, physical scale. The first decision you have to make, is deciding what
material you will use for the enlargement, and the second decsion concerns the scale you will do the larger piece
on. What is the right material for the image, and how large or small should the sculpture be? Dimension is the inner
measuring of the forms, and scale is the measuring of the sculpture to the world surrounding it.
We usually tend to give sculpture a scale based on our own physical scale in the world. This personal scale may
be both physical and psychologica. At what level do our eyes look out upon the world and perceive it? We may live
in the city surrounded by tall building, working in a dark roo,, lit by unnatural light, or we may be in the county
measuring ourselves against mountains, seen through swift moving clouds that are illuminated by the sharp rays
of the sun. OUr environment questions us constantly on how we fee about ourselves. Are we large enough to give
battle to the elements on equal footing, or are we growing smaller in the darkness of closets? It takes conscious
effort to make the sculpture relative to itself. By this I mean seeing the sculpture as an entity, seeking its own
How man perceives himself has changed drastically in the last seventy years. For centuries man has looked out
upon the world astride a horse, giving him an elevation of eleven feet. How different the world looked to him than it
does to us. He was closer to the animal world as together they devoured space. Now we ride through space, sitting
capsulized within a machine. Perceiving the world through glass, we are separated from space. From five feet we
view the world, which has grown smaller as the horizon becomes closer.
Our eyes are narrowed to the grey line of concrete that now acts as our
guide. We move through space unaware of it, without ceremony.
If we can establish the material and scale, the relationship between
gravity and sculpture must next be worked upon. Gravity is a force we
contend with every day of our lives. We either succumb to gravity, lying
down, or we stand upon the earth. The sculpture must do the same in a
dialogue with gravity, as manifestd in the ground plan. Will the piece roll
with gravity, or defy it? This dialogue is the core of the sculpture, the
unseen internal goings-on behind the surface, and is called the axis.
Should the axis move horizontally, hugging the ground in a close
relationship, or pull away in a vertical position? New England church
spires are a good example of the vertical axis, a needle, point jabbing into space, as if it were fighting to stay clear
of the earth.
A sculpture may have more than one axis, combining vertical and horizontal. If it does, then a balance should be
maintained so that an internal conflict isn't set up. A relationship can have contrast, but the sculpture shouldn't
have to fight itself. It has enough fighting to do just to maintain a place in the world. It is also possible to push the
axis off the piece, or to the outer limits.
Once the internal ordering is established, the process of external ordering of form is begun. Will the forms be
simple or complex? As the viewers eyes perceive the forms they should be drawn into the piece. If the eye is
faced with chaos, it won't be able to differentiate the sculpture from the every day jumble of surrounding images. If
the eye moves too easily through a sculpture, one will not be challenged, and loss of interest will occur. A balance
must be maintained so that the eye moves into a piece through a rhythm of forms punctuated by a disruption of
unresolved form while maintaining a unity.
Once the forms are ordered, the surfaces must be prepared. How will the forms meet the surrounding space? Will
they slide together smoothly, or clash? It is at this stage of development that our tactile, or touch sense, is brought
into the sculpture. Should the sculpture encourage people to touch it. or try to maintain a distance? Touching
reinforces the visual memory of a sculpture. How well I remember seeing and toughing Michelangelo's "Night," a
reclining figure of a man representing night, which is in the Medici Chapel in Florence, Italy. The toe of this
sculpture glows from centuries of having been touched.
Finally, the color of the form must be established. Color is now applied to both natural or manufactured material.
The artificial coloring of form was questioned until recently. For example, Rodin could never accept the fact that
the Greeks painted their marble statues. Today, color on any material is accepted as an integral part of the
There are three categories of color: the natural coloring of the material itself/ the addition of color; and light falling
on the sculpture. The first two categories can be controlled by the sculptor, but the last is usually outside his area
of control. Materials usually look better in their natural state, but they can be strengthened at times through the
application of color. The color must be integrated with the form and not give a two-dimensional surface to the
sculpture, as if it were a skin on the form. Smooth surfaces tend to fuse color into the form more easily than
textured surfaces in whch the color can act as a concealment to the form.
Color can also help to clarify a combination of forms and to sharpen the imagery. Light, natural or artificial, falling
on a piece, can give weight to certain forms, brightening one form and allowing others to recede into shadow. The
dangers are that the light can become a theatrical device, allowing a two dimensional silhouette to dominate the
forms rather than their three dimensional qualities.
The sculpture is now completed, ready to leave the studio and meet the world. Is this sculpture an indoor or an
outdoor piece? Will it exist on the ground level, eye level, or above? Our eye level states the scale, and we move
up or down off of it. If the sculpture is based and artificially placed at eye level with a pedestal, it acts as a barrier
to the environment, isolating the piece the same way a frame isolates a painting. The base-pedestal may be
integrated into the sculpture, still maintaining it function as
support, but may become the focal point of the sculpture.
Tradition has passed down to us this process for the making of
sculpture. To take as fact the traditional process is to defeat
sculpture. Each sculpture must create its own rules while in the
process of being made, and its own theories for existing, not
packaged into a set of pre-existing limitations.
Theories, rules, laws, and ideals do not make art. Art comes out
of one's inner fire that may drive a person into making mistakes,
but we may learn more about ourselves from our mistakes than
from our successes.
Sculpture should be a process of crystalization. First there is an
idea, the basis of an internal ordering of a structure, expanded or split into different shapes, constantly changing in
direction, attracted and repulsed by various forces. The form of the work is the consequence of this inter-action.
Thus, every new work should be a new crystal, a new being, not reproducing each other, but rather a new set of
crystals. Like stars in the night skies, each defined by its own space, but interacting together, making up the fabric
of a universe.