You know how you look at old school photos of yourself, and sometimes they make you cringe? Like you can't really imagine what this complete stranger must have been thinking, except you have to admit it's not a stranger. You chose to wear that hairstyle, my friend, and all the baggage that it carries.
This year I'm celebrating five years of creating little sculptures to send around the world, so I recently sat down to look through old photos of my work, from the early days of Small Company Artworks. And much like those old school photos, I definitely encountered moments of "What was I thinking?" Happily, I noticed several other details, too.
I think more about the collector's experience of my art
When I started sculpting, I just wanted to create vignettes in clay that captured a moment or thought that felt special somehow. Whether it was a curious dog undermining a yoga pose or a couple stealing a kiss, I focused on that inspiring thought more than the end result.
I still love sculpting those moments, but how people feel when they hold and examine my sculpture matters more than ever. Previously I used a lightweight, pliant polymer clay that took paint reasonably well. But the clay feels to me as insubstantial as it is fragile, and I never achieved a varnish that truly worked with the vision in my head.
While the polymer is still my favorite material for sculpting models, I only use it as a first step for molding and casting in stone. I love that my new cast-stone work offers a weightiness, solidity, and durability that feels wonderful hold, and I hope my collectors get as much pleasure from it as I do. From comments I've received, I think some people really do.
There's more expression in each piece
This point feels subjective and difficult to explain, but I really see a difference in the poses I create now. I feel like my older work stayed stiff and formal, even when I expressed whimsy or humor. Now I think more about movement and visual flow of the poses. I know I've succeeded when I feel like the figures could get up and move at any moment.
As an example of my former style, take this romantic couple (that came to grace a wedding cake in New Hampshire, as it happens). If I were to create this couple today, I'd adjust their shoulders, encourage them to lean together, and maybe tilt their heads to express more intimacy and joy. I want to feel like they like each other just a bit more, and today I'm not afraid to mess with my figures' poses until I get it right.
Contrast that to the Adored sculpture, which is my most popular romantic design (ever). The woman leans into her partner very trustingly, and the position of their heads feel very intimate. The pose moves from left to right and back again, and I can almost imagine what he's whispering in her ear. I also love how their feet are cuddling, to complete the picture.
The newer designs have more presence
Along with the tactile feel of the cast stone and the greater expression of the poses, I see an evolution in visual presence. This isn't just about size (although my sculpture has grown about 40% bigger since I started), but also about the silhouette and negative space.
I find myself staring (glaring) at new designs before they're final, seeing how they appear from across the room, or from above, or in low light. I'll prop up black paper backdrops to get a feel for the outline, or leave the sculpture someplace weird (like the bathroom) to gauge my own gut reaction when I happen on it "unexpectedly." I'll leave a piece alone for weeks, then try to pretend I've never seen it before to evaluate its impact.
I know I've hit the right notes when a piece gives me a little frisson after we've been apart. This new process takes a lot longer, but I'm much happier with the results.
Everything keeps evolving
Lots of other changes jump out at me as I look over those old photos, some of them probably more obvious to people who don't stare at it everyday like I do.
- Nuanced color - layers and layers of it, actually
- Subtler finishes, with layers of satin and gloss varnish for the right level of shine and protection
- Different use of negative space, to accommodate the molding process
- Did I mention most of it's 40% larger?
- And to address the elephant in the room: my photography skills are so, so much better
The largest, most obvious change is of course the new minimalist sculpture. The newest collection kind of throws out all my own rules about realism in favor of purer feeling and expression. I feel my way through these pieces even more than I do my original collection.
But some things stay the same
But the more some things change, the more they stay the same.
- I still aim to sculpt work that will make people smile, bring a laugh, or send a message of love
- I still get a twist of anxiety every time I ship a sculpture out. What if they hate it?!
- I still play favorites, even when my collectors obviously don't love a pose as much as I do. In fact, I'm going to close with photos of my personal favorites that don't seem to resonate with others like they do with me. Yeah, they're my favorites, but please don't tell my other sculpture, okay?