Are you nervous about breaking off a piece that you really needed? Yes. And no. But mostly yes.
What’s your favorite medium or material to work with? There is just something special about marble that resonates with me. It is a favorable hardness in that it still takes hard work to break it, but yet it moves about as quickly as I would want it to. As a material, marble has a richness to it that other materials don’t have. Maybe it’s the crystalline structure, maybe it’s the subtle translucency. It fits my temperament more closely than some of the others do. And yet each material has a unique quality that may make it particularly suitable for specific projects. Granite has a strength and durability that makes it the most suitable stone for enduring outdoor work. Alabaster has a delicacy and vibrant beauty to the stone itself (just polish it and you’ve got a nice sculpture). Limestone is fast and non-precious, and it shows off the formal elements in light and shadow that are so fascinating to a sculptor. Wood has a warmth to it that stone can’t provide, as well as the strength of the fibers that allow me to make intricate pieces that might be too risky in stone. Bronze offers me the ability to be much more dynamic with poses and support structures, since I don’t have to worry about breaking off those pieces I really needed!
Do you do work on commission? Yes. About half of my work is done on commission, the other half is done on speculation for galleries.
What is the process for commissioning a sculpture? It begins with a conversation. A phone call or an email with a brief inquiry will be more than sufficient to get me thinking about the best process for your project. More often than not, a person falls in love with my work and has a space where they imagine that one of my pieces would be a perfect fit. Then they ask me, “Can you think of something that might work well here?” I often consider the uniqueness of the space and think about it the way a designer would think about it; assessing scale, color, textures, material, budget. Once those parameters have been determined, I often have fun conversations about whatever the particular client is interested in. We always find a mutually fascinating abstract subject, ranging from scientific discoveries to politics to philosophy or history and we spend some time feasting on the ideas. From these conversations a formal idea will begin to emerge as an illustration or a series of sketches. From these sketches we typically land on one or two that appear promising. I will further develop those sketches into a proposal that fits within the parameters determined at the beginning. By that point, working out the terms of the project is a smooth process and a simple contract can be drawn up and commenced.
Looking at some of your latest larger-than-life commissions… What was the design process like creating the granite lion sculpture? How did you approach the project? My process began with asking the client for their aesthetic preference of realistic versus stylized approach. They preferred the realistic approach, which I thoroughly enjoy, and so I took a pretty deep dive into studying the anatomy of a lion from the skeleton, through the muscles to the skin. I also did some extensive research through art history and the wide catalog of images of lion sculptures across the centuries, and then spent a lot of time looking at photos and videos of real lions on Pinterest and YouTube. We have so many tools at our disposal these days and I leveraged that as much as I possibly could to form a sense of what I liked and did not like about the work that I was seeing. I drew numerous sketches and studies, developed those into clay studies, and a limestone maquette and then presented the maquette to the client for approval. I think the approval process took all of about a minute, with the consensus being that the lion doesn’t need to be presented as mean, grimacing, aggressive. It just needs to look like a lion, and everyone knows it is the badass King!
What was it like working with the Bethel white granite you chose to use for the Lion? I like the Bethel white for carving. It is a trustworthy, hard granite, and I like the white color for the way it shows subtle form in the light and shadow. It has the gray flecks, so it’s not a pure white stone, and I ran into a few small pockets of black glass-bead-like inclusions that I had to work around.
Do you have any interesting facts about the Lion project? From beginning to end, the project spanned about two years. The actual stone carving of the granite lion lasted 7 months. The original block weighed 30,000 pounds. The final piece weighs around 10,000. It is 7’ tall at the peak of his crown.
What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on the Lion sculpture project? The most interesting thing I learned is the extent to which my eye/brain would deceive me into seeing something that I wanted to believe although it wasn’t actually true. With all of the preparation that I put into scale models and proportions, trying to solve all the math on a small scale so that I could be as quick as possible on the full-size piece, that didn’t prove enough to stop me from trying to scale up on free-style when I was working on the final piece. In the design process, there is an effort to keep the block as small as possible for budget considerations. Once the block is cut and ready to carve, the inverse pressure is to cram the largest sculpture possible into the existing block in order to maximize the impact of scale. A smarter person than me would stick to a “pointing” system to follow the model/maquette and avoid expensive time wasted. I’ve never had the patience or interest in using that system, so I always freestyle once I am in to the block and can see what it can yield. Working at this large scale though makes it difficult to see everything at once, and it took me carving the lion’s face 4-5 times, scaling down each time to finally arrive at the correct proportion for the remaining stone for the body. Each time my heart/brain/eye was telling me it was correct, but my friends who were seeing it with fresh eyes could see that the head was obviously still too large. When I stepped away to see it in photographs, and sketch over photos digitally on my iPad, I knew that I had to make some dramatic cuts and undo days worth of work that was simply in the wrong place. Even so, I was too tentative with my corrections, and instead of getting quickly to the right spot, I took conservative half-measures, and repeated the process multiple times. It was a safer approach, but a costly use of time.
I am interested in learning how to carve stone. Do you provide training or mentorship programs? Yes – programs can be custom-built to meet your needs and schedule. I offer individual training as well as the occasional public workshop. Check the LSH Learning Opportunity Page for new class announcements. Contact me here to get started on a personal program. Carving is a wonderful and rewarding skill to learn!
Where can I go see your work? For gallery work, you can go to:
Heartland Art Club in Kirkwood, MO. http://HeartlandArtClub.org/
For public work you can visit:
Mercy Hospital in Saint Louis, MO,
Via Christi Hospital in Wichita, KS
Missouri Botanical Gardens, Saint Louis, MO
Bellefontaine Cemetery in Saint Louis, MO
And every now and then I host a show at my studio in the Soulard neighborhood of Saint Louis. Please consider joining our mailing list to make sure you are up to date on happenings at the studio.