This January I started a course at CREA called ‘model boetseren’ (sculpting models). Since a trip to the Rodin museum on my 12th birthday I have been fascinated by sculptures and sculpting. It seemed remarkable to me, how sculptors are able to bring life to innate materials such as clay, wood and stone. And I had always, always wanted to try it. Sure, I did clay in primary and secondary school and I have given my mom countless clay bowls and unidentifiable figures as ‘gifts’ (she was surely very happy about them), but I never sculpted an actual person. Now, as the end of my course is nearing, I can say that there are few things that I enjoy as much as standing in an atelier for 2½ hours every Monday evening in a huge blue apron and doing just that, sculpting actual people.
Sculpting has taught me several lessons, about seeing, about touch, about people, about bodies. And because not everyone can or wants to take a sculpturing course, I still wanted to share some of these things with you.
- Lesson: The face doesn’t matter
When you look at a person, what is the first thing you see? Probably their face. We have learned to value the face of a person as the most important aspect of someone’s body, yes, maybe even as something apart from, above someone’s body. When you sculpt, a lot of unlearning has to take place, because the first thing that you are taught is that the face doesn’t matter. Like at all. Even if you do a portrait of someone, their face is what you do last and what you devote the least time to. There are other body parts that are so much more important when doing a sculpture or portrait of someone. For example, the neck. It is huge when you think about it, almost 2/3 of your head, extremely muscular and the way you hold your neck is a lot more important to what a feeling a portray conveys then their face. Since I started sculpting, I noticed that I look a lot more at those body parts that are maybe not considered to be important, but are so essential for sculpting. I also think about the ‘sculptability’ of people around me. No joke.
- Lesson: Our bodies are three-dimensional and ROUND
This may seem obvious, but it actually isn’t. Most of the time we perceive people as having a ‘front’ and a ‘back’ and maybe a ‘side’. But all of them separate from one another. Especially if you do painting and photography. There were several times, when I spend maybe half an hour beautifully doing what I would call the ‘front’, only to realize that I had in the process messed up the rest of my sculpture. When you sculpt, you begin to realize that you can’t actually speak of a ‘front’ or a ‘back’, but that everything is round and it makes you appreciate the body as an entity, as something whole, not something made up of parts.
- Lesson: PROPORTIONS
All is relative. At least in sculpting. It doesn’t matter how big or small something is, what matters is how big or small it is in comparison to everything else. And, also here there is a lot of unlearning to do. Because we value the face so much, most people make the head a lot bigger than it actually is. And because small hands and feet are considered to be a beauty standard for femininity, when you sculpt feminine sculptures you tend to make those a lot smaller than they really are.
- Lesson: Our bodies are compositions
I think, that only very few sentences express so beautifully as this one how we should see our bodies: as compositions, as work of arts. I’m sure my sculpturing teacher did not have body positivity in mind when she told us this, but it is true. Our bodies are made up of composition lines and the task of a sculptor is to see and convey these composition lines. It’s a bit like yoga, when you think about it. Also, when you do yoga, you have to think about how your whole body is connected, how for example your feet are connected to your hips, or how the way you hold your back influences the position of your shoulders and head. The same happens in sculpting. Sculpting is really about seeing the big forms, the big connections. Even if you have all the proportions right, if the composition is not good, then your sculpture will not look ‘real’ as well.
- Lesson: The things that make bodies really interesting are …
… wrinkles and fat rolls. Just because they are very challenging to sculpt. And seeing so many different naked bodies makes you realize that everyone has them. And that it doesn’t matter. None of the people I sculpted were traditionally beautiful, most were not very skinny, they were old and young, but all gave of such an ease of being content with their bodies, in their bodies, that it was really humbling.
- Lesson: Sculpting is an emotional investment
You devote a lot of time and care and love to the little people you are making. And this is being rewarded. Because you feel proud of yourself and also because the people you sculpt look at your sculptures afterwards with this happy, glowing feeling. And I do think, the fact that you have made something with your hands, something you can touch gives you a very deep sense of fulfillment.
- Lesson: There are few things as magical as seeing the lump of clay you transformed into a person.
I know that this sounds very creationist and stuff, but it is true. Sometimes you can just tell, that you are sculpting an actual person and can feel their presence vibrating through the room. Maybe one of the reasons, why I talk with the sculptures in my room. Maybe also loneliness, who knows.
If you have become interested in sculpting, CREA has really wonderful courses to offer (and if you don’t live in Amsterdam I’m sure you’d also find them elsewhere)! And on the 3rdof June CREA hosts the exhibition of the photography and art courses, where you can also check out some of the sculptures my course made!
Text: Esther Eumann
Images: Esther Eumann