The Sculpture Project

Managing the play of light

The first project of my course at Heatherley’s portraiture diploma was small head sculptures.  The idea is to gain a better appreciation of the 3 dimensional nature of the head and especially of the parts that are not the facial features.  These parts are more than 80% of the whole surface area and an important part in facial recognition.

Like painting, the abstract qualities of the piece are critical to the art, rather than simply a likeness.  In sculpture, the abstract qualities may be less obvious than in a painting, because the tone, look and lines at any point in time depend on where the viewer is and the lighting at the time.  The test is to manage the play of light across the surface, so that there is a continuous and interesting pattern from all angles.

The similarity to painting goes further; by drawing on experience of the subject over a period of time the final sculpture captures elements of many facial expressions, in one image.  Similarly, there are many different ‘languages’ that can be employed, and usually are consistent across the piece.  Classical sculpture is managed with a series of curves, each of which continue in one sweep, until the text curve is started.   Rodin changed all that by making sculpture so that from all angles the curves are continuous, creating a coherent and sophisticated curving pattern.  A more modernist approach, and closer to contemporary painting is to sculpt with a series of flat plains that give tonal patterns in an interesting pattern.  My attempts at the last one of these are the top two pictures in this entry and the second of them in the bottom picture.  John Dean’s experience is that the interlocking plain approach works in relatively smaller pieces, but becomes uninteresting in larger pieces, when the continuous curve approach takes over the baton.

An idea that is very interesting to me is to use the combination of painting and sculpture, ie to start making a portrait by making a sculpture and then using the sculpture as a basis for a painting, allowing a greater focus on the picture making and form.  Practically, it should also make it easier to work from photos, or rather a series of them.

HeatherlyPatrick Earle