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Technology in the Stone Sculpture Process

I’ve been experimenting with creating virtual maquettes for sculpture projects, using the application ZBrush for a few years now. The above illustration shows a female nude that I sculpted virtually and had tested as a 3D print in plastic and finally a cast in steel with a bronze patina. I am interested in exploring the use of other mediums for my sculpture as well as adding limited edition works to my repertoire. When I’ve introduced these issues to my long standing patrons, I’m met with resistance in their acceptance of my plans and I’m realizing that it may just be a case of me being a victim of my own success.

So I’m writing this blog article in hopes of clarification and perhaps generate some more discussion. I wrote a four part series earlier (here is the first part), but I thought a recap and review would be of value.

I was taught the direct carve method for stone sculpture, by my mentor George Pratt. This is the method where the artist carves directly into a piece of stone, without the benefit of a prior model. For 4 decades, I have looked at a piece of stone, analyzed its shape and colour patterns and been inspired by these attributes to create a sculpture. This method is fraught with the danger of me making a mistake, which is impossible to correct with the medium of stone. I’ve not always got it right, but I’ve done pretty well.

This method of carving is not how stone sculpture has been produced down through the ages. Direct stone carving became popular in about the mid-20C, and since this has been my method of creation, my followers have been of the opinion that ALL stone sculptors have worked this way. Not so.

Have you ever noticed how the vast majority of stone sculpture we see in museums and galleries around the world are executed in white marble? There is a reason and one that speaks to the fact that stone carving has been predominantly regarded as a craft and not an art form. For years, I have been frustrated by the world’s regard to my profession as not worthy of the term “Art.” This is because sculptors like Bernini, Canova and Rodin created their ideas in clay and hired craftsmen to execute their compositions in stone. The sculptors are considered the artists and the stone carving craftsmen regarded as mere labourers. Up to now, I have been both the artist and the craftsman.

Artists in history that have been credited with stone sculpture were rarely ever carvers of stone because the methodology used was not direct stone carving. These artists created their compositions in a malleable material, usually clay. This afforded them the luxury of correcting mistakes, or altering the composition until they were satisfied with the final design. Once done, the clay model, or maquette (French) was cast in rigid plaster. This was then marked with dozens of points over its surface. Then the model was taken to a stone carving studio, where craftsmen would then use these dozens of reference points to make an exact copy (and usually scale it up or down) of the plaster master into stone with the assistance of mechanical devices. These craftsmen were trained as human machines, not to create original thought in stone, but to simply copy the work of the sculptor. 

When the stone rendition of the sculpture was complete, the artist was called and he came and signed the work. And the plaster model was stored, so that if requested, another exact copy could be created by the craftsmen. This is why there are several white marble “The Kiss” sculptures by Rodin in existence. The model could also be used to cast a bronze (or several bronzes) of the sculpture.

So I’m learning this process late in my career. Instead of using real, malleable clay, I’m using virtual clay. The resulting virtual file can be used to instruct a CNC robot to rough out the sculpture in stone, or a 3D printer can create a mold for casting. And I can store the file away to be used again later – I just don’t need a warehouse to store large plaster maquettes!

I’m not getting any younger, so I’m looking for ways for me to continue creating art that are not so hard on my body….

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