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 good!
• 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 soft-woods 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.