Being an art-model is a strange gig – and there really is something very gig-like about it, because no two classes are ever anything like the same. Of course the subject makes a difference, and the personalities even more so – but things like time of day and even the weather outside also have their effect.
The biggie though, always, is the maestro involved. I sat for this first-year bust-class year after year for the brilliant (now retired from teaching, to sculpt full-time) George Boileau, and learned much of use myself – not least from his absolutely extraordinary (and highly contagious) enthusiasm for the work (no substitute for this – that’s why I caution my young artist-friends to guard their joy, especially – so they can still have access to full playfulness, even when grey!)
He trained and worked earlier in life as an engineer, so his approach was highly rigorous and traditional – every one of the key dimensions of my skull was measured with callipers (analog, in the most direct sense), and the measurements transferred to each student’s paper, so they could all check their dimensions continuously as they worked (without having to threaten to poke me in the eye with a stick, every minute or two).
Everyone works on stands with wheels and a rotating armature, so they can set up in different places to observe and work on different angles – and especially on week-two, when the faces really start to gain detail, it’s kind of creepy watching a whole crowd of disembodied you-heads floating around the room. At one point, George called everyone to look directly at their bust – and I felt as if I was in the middle of a Klingon discommodation ceremony – where every fellow-warrior turns their backs on me at once!
Of course high-points in teaching and student effort are always memorable – but in the case of this particular class, I loved the way a secondary thing emerged – almost a historical run through art. Week one, George was top of his game, teaching intensely – week-two he was sick, and they just worked on their own, and so indulged their own finishing-styles even more variously than usual.
Here’s a striking example of what can be accomplished in less than six hours of working time, by a first-year student (when they work hard, in the right direction). You can feel the learning – active exploration of the skull beneath, and the muscular and fatty forms overlaying it. Lovely detail, too.
This fellow was working harder on the expression – which I appreciate, because it’s a lot of work to put on even a light smile and hold it. Funny thing is, after they’ve been working for awhile, they stop seeing it so clearly. When I call, “Here’s a minute of dead-face, so you can see where the muscle-tension is,” they almost always giggle, from the dramatic comparison.
Medieval church sculpture
This student really blew my mind – and he worked right through all of his breaks (so I gave him some extra model-time from my own breaks, because I respected his level of effort and focus so much).
This same piece was the header photograph also (spectacular job on my insanely asymmetrical nose). I was taken back at once to old black and white photographs of the wood-carvings in medieval European churches.
The Greek philosopher
This one looks very ancient Greek to me – lovely soulful personae – a feel of the projection forward of intent. Do please remember though, Euripides, you boughtta dese!
I want this as the figurehead on my schooner! The sculptor of this version of me definitely gets my vote for most likely to be well-tipped by portrait-clients. The work is both excellent and super-flattering, and she took a lot of time not just with finding her planes and turnings, but also thinking about her surfaces (try after try). Plus, giggling definitely beats muttering darkly to ones-self about one’s general uselessness, for a sotto-voce working patter. An excellent lesson that I’m still working on incorporating. Very grateful to one and all.
Now here’s the thing though – the REAL lesson. After every one of these incredible (often lifetime-best) sculptures and milestone confidence-building demonstrations is done, and they’ve each had crit and marks, every single one of them is cut apart, smashed, torn, pounded and generally reduced to the produce from whence it came. Talk about courage! Forging self over artefact – always a seriously-great art-day.
A scene too, that I can’t help thinking a grumpy spouse would utterly adore! (maybe even pay to do herself)