Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No Neck Stone Carving

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

This may sound really stupid, but while I knew that I was struggling with the proportions for the chest on my marble sculpture “Gymnast”, I failed to see the obvious. The girl had no neck! This is not acceptable on a female figure, and rarely even on a male.

Part of the problem is that if you tilt your head forward as if to touch your chin to your chest and then extend your upper arm until it is horizontal with the ground, your chin will be lower than the top edge of your arm (as seen in profile). Go ahead. Try it. I will wait . . .

So, I had been trying to dig down inside my figure, between her arms, and make her chest more slender so as to give some shape to her breasts. A gymnast is not usually well endowed there, but I do want a shapely figure somewhere between abstraction and realism. And regardless of whether you see any part of the human anatomy from certain viewpoints, they still are there and must be accounted for -- at least in the style of figurative art that I am carving.

What triggered the ‘Eureka!’ moment was indeed my frustration in wondering why it seemed that her boobs were so far down from her chin, like an older woman’s might be. I knew the breasts had to be seen under the horizontal arm, and yet, the space inside just felt too long! Well, I also know from my experiences in figure drawing that my emotions or intuition need to be heeded. One of my art teachers once told me after I complained that my drawing felt wrong, “We cannot draw feelings; we can only draw lines, shapes, and tones.” I responded that while I understood what he was saying, my ‘feeling’ was my first clue that something was wrong with the lines, shapes, or tones, even when my spatially analytical thoughts were not catching up with my emotion.

Another teacher came up behind me while I was drawing once and said, “Your legs are too long.” I should have given him my Grandpa Mike’s retort about how everyone’s legs are perfectly long enough to start on the ground and go up until they make an ass out of themselves, but I refrained. I was trying to learn, afterall . . . However, and this was another very important lesson I learned: when you notice one problem, step back to analyze the entire situation before you make a correction to make sure that you have discovered the REAL problem. In the case of my long legs, yes, the instructor was correct in that compared to the reclining torso that I had drawn, the legs were too long. However, upon evaluation, I realized that my task had been to draw this reclining figure to a long dimension of 25 cm. Had I shortened the legs, my figure might have been in proportion, but much too short for the assignment! In this case, my solution turned out to be to leave the legs alone and instead widen the torso and head.

Note: the reason that this particular fix was important is because I needed to learn how to create the figure in the size that I wanted, not just something that looked good by itself. For example, if I had been drawing a model in a specific pose to fit into a multi-figure design for a painting, I would have needed her to be exactly the size she needed to be to work with the rest of my larger composition. Sure, if I get a drawing I like, but it is not the right size, I can enlarge or reduce it during a copying process to get what I need, but why not do it right the first time?

Allora, upon examination, I realized that the “Gymnast” needed to have smaller deltoids, not only to fit her frame, but also to help me position the neck. These first two images show the green crayon marks that I made for the new size. I was a bit nervous about this, since I had thought the shoulders were looking good, especially from the back view. When I make significant changes like this, I tend to let it sit awhile, at least overnight. I like to approach the sculpture with a fresh eye to see if my marks FEEL wrong after having been away for a while. It is an interesting mind game sometimes because we have a tendency to get used to what we see before us to the point that it becomes the norm and change begins to feel wrong.

Once I feel confident that my changes will be good, I tend to get out the diamond blade and be quick with it. I have discovered that if I do not make the correction quickly after a lot of thinking and seeing, I tend to repeat my error on a smaller scale. I mean that if I creep up on the correction, removing stone slowly until I work my way down to the line, that part of my brain that does not like change has time to convince me that my correction is too extreme. And I find myself backing out of what I know needs to be done. Sometimes caution simply prolongs the agony.

As I said before, in 3-dimensional art, the sculptor must make all views work. Lowering the collar bones helps dramatically with the chest. Even if the viewer will not see this part so much, it needs to work. And I must be careful to carve the slope over the trapezius at the top of the shoulder down to the protruding collarbone because of the hunching posture, while still keeping a rib cage that is believable for a young girl’s figure.

In this semi-back view, you may see that she is starting to have a neck. And in the last image, I have that lovely feeling of not being able to remember how the shoulders looked before the cuts. I still have work to do, but it is nice to be back on track.

P.S. For those hoping that I will soon get back to my life and writings about Italy, please bear with me. I had to cancel my trip there this May and June to finish up projects and attend to personal things going on in my life right now. But I will be back in bella Italia in December and cannot wait to bring you new stories and images.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Poetry - really?

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

The Wood Floors

Cold nights. Warm afternoons.
Inside this old house it remains
Cold in the daylight, warmer in the evenings --
Echoing the weather
Like a lingering memory.

Candles and incense always burning --
As though anticipating a séance.
The room looks old, but not ancient.
Sometimes familiar and cozy,
Occasionally haunting.

The sound of pots clashing come from
The nearby kitchen -- followed by
A white and black skinny cat
Emerging from the cupboard under the sink.
He doesn’t live here.
There’s a hole in the back wall
Leading to underneath the house.
The house sits above the ground --
About two and a half feet.
A place where animals come to die
I was told when I moved in.

He told me once my house smelled old --
That I even smelled like my house.
As I sit here alone in my candlelit room,
I think about his comment;
Then blow out the flames
And listen to the sounds of
My footsteps creaking
On the wood floors.

~ Kelly Seiler
Persona magazine, 1987

I had not ever written poetry until I met Darryl Smyers in 1986, my senior year in college. He had past-the-shoulders dark hair and even darker eyes. He wore a long black trenchcoat and red high-top tennis shoes. It was hard not to notice him around a campus in Texas and I was aware of who he was before I met him. He was also the editor of Persona, the annual creative literary magazine of Southwest Texas State University (they have since lost the misnomer “Southwest”).

Darryl introduced himself and asked me to be on the committee, with a stipulation that I write at least one poem for the issue. I almost balked, but he had collected an interesting group of people for the committee and I was intrigued. (And we all had such a blast!) He also later traveled to Seguin, Texas, with me while I photographed a farm family that I knew from a college friend back my first year when I had been a math major. Some of those photographs were chosen by Darryl to be included in the publication, including on the cover.

Poetry did not come easy for me (as things rarely do) and Darryl was without a doubt a patient, but straight-to-the-point instructor. His basic advice was to get more specific. The hand-written notes in the margins of my first feeble attempts at poetry include his words, “Far too ambiguous; try being weirder.” and “not too many will get this. Use images to express your pain, not just simple sentences. It ain’t easy, not nothing is.”

I had been focusing on some personal sap based on a failed romance that I was still recovering from and after that particular critique, I switched topics. I hope you enjoy my perhaps-final attempt at poetry, the description of the house I rented during this time, and Darryl’s perception of me in it. And Darryl’s advice is good for the visual arts as well. Try being weirder… ha. Do not gloss over with sentiment. Get into the meat of what you feel. Be specific. Describe your own path in your own terms.

P.S. Incidentally, I wrote the first four lines of “The Wood Floors” after that critique. Darryl scrawled in response, “This kicks ass. Concrete imagery, more of this -- less of I, me, my, mine.” Later, another friend Jamshid said that that explained how the first part did not really feel the same as the rest.

It was this poem that taught me how to spell ‘occasion’ -- Darryl told me after publication that my error of the double Ss made it almost to the end, when one of the professors caught it. Funny how these things stick in one’s memory while other stuff fades.