I’m in the middle of a 4-week human figure sculpture class. I love the way the cool clay yields to my fingers, the weight of it. I love the way it feels wet, but dries to a chalky powder on my hands, leaving prints against my thighs when I accidentally wipe them there. I like to challenge my creativity using different mediums; I always discover deeper awareness for my writing practice this way.
This is a class in observation. We are creating “a study” of the human figure, in clay, using an armature (a stick like human figure made of bendy wires). There is a nude model instructed to maintain the “study posture”, but to rotate every 7-10 minutes. The study pose is a contrapposto, or counterpose, where the body appears to be in mid-step with a slight twist of the torso that signals a certain vitality to a finished sculpture. The model’s timed rotations mean students never stick to rendering one view but must rotate armatures to match the model’s stance, building out only the three-dimensional form from their unique viewpoint in the room.
At the end of this class (which, due to covid-19 has been a bit bumpy with some classes cancelled and rescheduled), we will destroy our works by pulling the clay from the armature to be stored in a plastic bagged blob. The forced breaks, shifting viewpoints, and the fact that the finished product is nothing more than the end of a “study” process, has made me feel a light creative freedom.
I’m delighted working in the small class, listening to the murmurings of conversation, the shushing hiss of spray bottles and overplayed classical tunes. To be in the moment of “trying” for no other joy but to try. It is a focused peace.
In sculpting, I’m working to render gesture, observing the live, three-dimensional form, and attempting to replicate a scaled down version with my hands. I’m assessing volume and shape, curves and hollows, the points of bones and how the softness of body, muscles, skin, drapes over them. Expression is captured in the stance and gesture of how the body stands in place.
In drawings, gesture is captured in the line. A move from rendering “the study” from three-dimensions to two. A line can capture energy, a subject’s vitality, by how it is it rendered on paper – thin and fast, thick and slow, etc.
But the experience of observation captured on the page through writing transfers the three-dimensional world (even four or five dimensional if we start to add things like emotion and interior thoughts) into flat words on a blank page. Words are abstract symbols of representation. Each word sparks connotations and connections unique to our own experiences and interpretations. I guess this is why reading another’s words can feel so magically transportive. Just as my viewpoint of the art class model rotates on a platform in the middle of the sculpture class, my experiential viewpoint alters the interpretation of words. I witness – eyewitness – the object or the sensory experience – I interpret it (my own way) and render it into words to be able to convey my interpretative experience through writing. And if that sensory experience, imagery, or idea is understood and resonates with the reader, there is a frisson of recognition and pleasure in sharing these experiences and thoughts across time and space.
But getting the words to come through…not so easy.
Some observations from the last week:
I saw a porcupine. I thought it was a beaver at first because the animal was so round with a paddle like tail but as I passed (quickly – I was road cycling) – I realised the tail was not so big but rather narrow and flat– the animal was approaching the base of a large old oak with, I believed, an intention to climb it. It was mid-day. The sun was high and bright but the wind, blowing east, blew strong against my direction of travel, stole the warm huffing of my exhalations fast past my ears. But how to describe the porcupine’s unrushed perambulation? Its roly-poly demeanor? The animal wobbled.
And a swan, bending its neck, s-like, to its back, its wings, still folded, raised and what? Trembling? Quivering? Shivering…yes, shivered and fluffed.
A friend’s high-pitched reaction to one of my questions. A squeak.
The dairy farm’s manure and powdered milk smell that makes me want to gag.
The scent of pine sap needling the shade when I passed beneath their feathery boughs.
The friendly waves from motorcyclists as they passed me cycling. Is this a thing? Are we in solidarity somehow, riding through the fresh air with bodies exposed to the spring? Not just one, but three different motorcyclists at different points along my route. One even when they must have seen me gagging for breath on a long uphill. Maybe that is why they waved. For encouragement? I waved back regardless.
This is the process of art making: observing the world with loving attention, transferring that loving view as a gift for the viewer/reader to share in that joy and delight.