With both traditional and modern tools and techniques available, I still find the tactile processes more liberating than those of technology. I have however utilized some technology in places where I can benefit from either the speed or accuracy of a certain task. I tend to approach my work with a very rough drawing and then tweak the pose and other elements until they better match what is going on in my mind. This initial process is the same for both sculpture and for painting.
It starts with drawing . . . either physical, digital and on some occasions both.
I do take a short cut for paintings by splicing them with photoshop.
I like this for paintings because it gives me the chance to see
the colors and adjust them. I'm essentially painting it within
the photo by means of cut-n-paste, blending, resizing etc. I
find it works best when I take photos of a model using similar lighting as the background I wish to place them in. Some
of my backgrounds are natural, but others are manufactured "set"
pieces. I sometimes work from life too, but this can be
difficult in that it costs more in finances, time and conflicts in scheduling.
Once I have the final sketch or photo composition, I start my original piece. This is where the two media diverge.
With my finished photo edit, I scale it in relationship to my canvas (so maybe one square inch of photo equals 5 square inches of canvas). I can either grid the canvas for ease or just drop a few points for landmarks. I then sketch out the whole picture onto my canvas starting somewhere in the middle (usually a focal point like a person's eye or corner of the mouth) so that if I do get slightly off, it doesn't cut out any of the main subject. The more precision that I use in drawing, or drafting as it is called, the easier it is to paint.
Next it's time to lay out the underpainting. The underpainting is a collection of color blocks that represent the overall shadow and form shapes. At this stage, I tend to think of the final color pallet and how all the colors will relate to one another. I focus less on detail and more on composition, value and color. All of this work is just a foundation for the final painting which will be fulfilled in the overpainting.
The overpainting is what the final piece will look like to the viewer, so this is where the fine tuning and attention to detail and color are crucial. I use oils for my overpainting for a number of reasons: longer work time, easier to blend, richer color, and they have a long standing traditional value. I find working with them is not only fun, but also therapeutic, especially with music playing in the background. Unlike using acrylics in the underpainting, the application of the oil overpainting is much more meticulous in that each color tile has to be exact in its hue and placement (I say "tile" because that is the mindset of painting at this level). Each brush stroke is laid down next to each other similar to tiling a backsplash or floor, one color next to the other. This form of painting is more in line with "alla prima" or "all at once" where the true and final color is found and placed rather than using the underpainting to decipher the form and then using thin glazes to render color over it. The only difference is that I probably do more mapping in my underpainting compared to other "alla prima" painters . . .
Drawing is still the first step when I create a sculpture, however, I usually draw quick sketches from several view points to sense the 3-Dimensional form in all directions. Once I feel out the basic pose I move on to sketching in clay or wax. The principal is the same as sketching with a pencil except I am pulling form in three dimensions with clay rather than just drawing in two. Sometimes I will do two or three to test different variations of pose.
After I finish several sketches I decide what elements I like or dislike about each one and then I have to make a decision: to start the piece or to make a maquette (model) first. Many times on smaller pieces I just cut straight to making the piece and forgo the maquette.
The actual sculpting starts with making a proper armature to hang the clay on. It is a process that I've gotten better with over time and find that the better I do here, the less problems I will run into further down the line. I learned my proportion base from the New York Academy of Art, and I apply it directly to my armature, which I twist out of aluminum wire. This 'skeleton' will help hold the clay from falling out of place or sagging. On larger pieces the armature is secured to a pole for additional support.
Then the fun part . . . adding the clay! The initial build up of clay on the piece is a combination of composition and proportion. I really can't build a piece without some construction marks laying out the important points on the body. This follows the traditional method of additive sculpture (sculpture made by adding volumes rather than carving them away). Many hours later I have a basis to start filling in the details. Just as in painting, it is vital to work from the larger forms down to the smaller more detailed areas. I use many tools to accomplish these tasks from loop tools, rake tools, dental picks and even brushes. Working through all of this, I still have to remember that the piece is just as much about the detail as its overall presence of form, composition, and texture. (remember, texture is to sculptures as color is to paintings)
There are many times I wish a piece was finished at this point, but the fact is it still has to be cast into a permanent medium; and to do that a mold has to be made. Mold making is one of the more laborious aspects of the sculpture process. I'm not going to get into too many technicalities here about the process, just know that there is a lot to it. The mold has two parts, the inner "flexible" rubber mold, and the outer "rigid" shell. Each of these has to be made in such a way that they can separate (or part) to allow me to remove both the clay original and later the final cast. They also have to be able to fit together perfectly which is why all molds have keys to align the pieces together. In other words, it's very technical and time consuming to make a mold.
Last there is the casting and finishing of the piece. I currently cast in a variety of materials, but my favorite is Forton MG (a fiberglass reinforced plaster resin). Small pieces I cast solid in other resins, but larger ones I cast hollow with Plaster and threaded rod for support. I mix and brush out several layers of plaster into the mold, then back it with fiberglass. Once I have all the mold pieces coated on the inside, I reassemble them into one and add more plaster to the inside to seal the parting lines. In essence the piece is now one and the mold can be peeled away revealing the cast. A little filling and finishing . . . done . . . well, not exactly. The piece has to be patinated (colored). Once that is finished, the piece is ready.