How is it done?

My objective is to create recognizable 3-D images of people doing things in which you,

the viewer, will find a story—your story.  Technically, I’m a narrative figural sculptor in

the realism style.   Here’s how I do what I do:

• First, an idea finds me.  I’m a very visual person, so most of my ideas for pieces

come from people I see.  I’m particularly susceptible to photographs of people,

especially photographs in newspapers.  I write the idea in a notebook, with some

notes on the particulars, and let it gestate.

• When I’m ready, I start by researching the internet for images of people doing

the thing I want to portray.  I learn about the body posture and mechanics, and

the clothing they wear.

• For me, each sculpture begins with a detailed model in oil-based clay

(also called modeling clay).  Clay is a good starting point for realism, whether

the final result is wood, bronze, ceramic, or stone.  In the clay model, I

seek the ideal posture to express the energy of the subject.  I also try out various

tricks to express movement; I’ll be making a non-moving figure and asking you

to believe that it’s moving.  Sculpting truly realistic and interesting human

figures in clay requires a grasp of anatomy and an understanding of how to

lead the eye; these come with training.  I’ve been trained in classical figure sculpture by Ben Hammond, Hal Stewart, Lincoln Fox, Vala Ola and Rick Casali. 

• When I’m satisfied with the clay model, I photograph it from four positions

at right angles.  These photographs are traced and the tracings are used to

make cutting templates.  The cutting templates are copied onto a block of

wood—not just any block of wood, but a block with color and grain that

will enhance the mood and movement of the piece.  Then I cut out the

outlines of the sculpture with a band saw.

• Now comes the long, challenging part—the carving.  I spend many hours

carving each sculpture in the round using gouges and rifflers (curved coarse files). 

Since the wood is hardwood (like maple, walnut, or oak), not softwood (like pine,

bass, or redwood), the carving is slow, and I typically spend 100 to 200 hours on

this step.  I constantly refer back to the clay model.  At some point the piece is

moved onto my breakfast bar so I can study it from different angles and at odd moments.  There’s nothing like living with a sculpture to help you spot things about it that need to be fixed.

• When the carving is done, the sanding starts.  60 grit for starters, then through

80, 120, 180, 220 to 400 grit, until the grain of the wood is bright and clear.  If I want

certain areas to remain rough to express a certain feeling, I may not sand them

at all, or only lightly.  Other areas, after complete sanding, are lightly re-carved

with narrow gouges so that the gouge marks reflect lines of light and make it look

like the piece is moving.

• Sometimes I enhance the story-telling character by adding color.  This is done

with wood dyes and wood bleach, and sometimes with gold leaf.  Then, everything

receives several coats of varnish, and a finish of wax.  Looks very finished and feels


• Finally, I add a base which is specifically designed to harmonized with the character

of the sculpture.

Sculpting realistic figures in hardwood is difficult and time-consuming, and takes

a specific set of skills, which is probably why there are so very few sculptors of

realistic figures in hardwood.  However, I find hardwoods preferable to the

softwoods traditionally used by American woodcarvers because of their range

of colors, strong grain patterns, and durability. All of us know, and enjoy, the warmth, beauty, and longevity of fine hardwood furniture.

I find that hardwoods yield sculptures in which the character and being of the wood engage your eye and enhance your involvement with the form.  The wood’s color, grain, rays, curls and burling give vitality and warmth that cannot be equaled in bronze, clay, or stone.  To me, these sculptures appear as snapshots of the human experience—what it’s like to be human in all its different dimensions.  Since the subjects are taken from the human experience, the vitality and warmth of wood are essential to their believability.