The sketches for the sailor came relatively easy. I nailed down my design in only five or six drawings. I assumed, therefore, that the sculpture would come just as easily. Simplicity, however, is deceptive. I don’t know if this is due to overestimation of ability, or underestimation of form, but either way, I am realizing that what seems most effortless is often the most difficult.
I recently took a trip to Denver, CO to visit my friend, Lindy. While there, we visited the Denver Art Museum and saw the exhibit Degas: A Passion for Perfection. I didn’t expect to gain insight into my claytooning dilemma at the feet of this master, but surprisingly, I did.
I was struck by several things at this exhibit. First of all, the curators very deliberately showcased Degas’ process pieces. Sketches and studies filled a majority of the gallery walls. It was fascinating to see how Degas solved his design problems, just like any other amateur artist must. It is easy to assume that a master is a master by nature, but like everything, perfection is a pursuit. Degas did not get to mastery by simply sitting down with his materials and conjuring the muse. He got there by trial and error, making piece after piece to perfect his designs. I am still an adherent to the “finished, not perfect” philosophy, but something about this realization inspired me to be more deliberate in working out my own creative problems.
Another more specific insight I took from the exhibit was to think more critically about form and movement in my sculptures. When you look at the sketch of the sailor, you’ll see that he is, essentially, at attention. It’s not a dynamic pose. However, when you look at the original sculpting pass, you’ll find that he is not simply at rest, but stagnant and lifeless. There is character in stillness, but my sculpture was not communicating that. I studied Degas’ works and found that even in his quieter, subdued scenes, there was still blood running through the veins of his subjects.
I returned from my trip with these concepts in mind and began my sculpture again. I am pleased with the result, and intend to continue to incorporate the lessons I learned from Degas in all my creative endeavors.