JOE DeVITO'S NOTES ON SCULPTING

As in my section on painting, I am writing these notes in response to often asked questions regarding how I do what I do. Again, as in my notes on painting, I want to clearly state that what I write is only one way of doing things. It is in no way intended to be definitive. The field of sculpture is vast and I can only comment on my work over the last ten years, which is sculpture that is additive, such as clay or wax, and is cast for reproduction. It does not refer to chipping marble except in the broad sense of what makes an interesting piece of three-dimensional art. Sculptural knowledge of the academic kind is extremely important, I believe, but is far better described than I can articulate here in a myriad of wonderful books (particularly in the Dover collection). I strongly recommend that anyone seeking to learn should do what I did: read and look at everything they can get their eyes on and talk to everyone who knows more than they do.

What may be most useful in these notes is the practical knowledge of some materials, tools and processes gained from different experiences in different fields. Over the years I’ve sculpted everything from half-inch human heads to twice life-size figures and just about every other kind of thing in between. These are some solutions I’ve come up with to adapt to the many different demands of those projects. In any event, I hope they prove useful.

THE CONCEPT

As in painting, I have found that everything begins with drawing. Whatever the need, I draw endless thumbnail sketches, turning the composition around in my head, keeping in mind that in most cases the piece will be viewed from all angles. When brainstorming this way it is important to be able to visualize in three dimensions when sketching from imagination. I do not really know how to explain it, it is something that always has come intuitively. If I draw something from one angle, as I turn it around in my mind it will logically look like ‘this’ from another angle. Sometimes it helps to do one profile drawing and draw horizontal lines across a page from key points, such as a line indicating the level of the top, bottom and middle of a statue. Those key points line up and help you visualize when drawing it from a different angle (See an example of this here) Of course, you could always sculpt a whole bunch of ‘thumbnail sculpts’. That is not a bad way to go, it just takes a lot more time. Do whatever works best so long as you don’t waste your time on a detailed drawing or sculpt before you have a strong basic idea of where you are going.

I tend toward lines and forms that flow and move the eye from one point to another around the sculpture. Since the statue can’t move itself, if the viewer is so engaged, it helps create motion by having him move around it or turn the statue. Composition can be talked about to a point, but I think that past the basics it is a very individual thing. Over time, either consciously or unconsciously, each artist develops a look of his or her own.

Among the things that need to be considered are size, what its purpose is, cost, weight and complexity – these things are important in that the composition of a piece has a lot to do with how difficult it is to cast. A well planned sculpture can not only be more successful visually, but far easier to cast as well. Things like undercuts - extreme creases such as deep folds or complicated forms which intertwine that create difficulty in pulling the mold off of a piece - are to be avoided if possible.

THE SCULPTING MATERIAL

The traditional material is an oil and sulfur-based clay called plastecine. It comes in various hardnesses, has good texture and will stay pliable for a long time. The problem is, if you are sculpting commercially and you do not know how to make a mold of your finished piece, there is no way to ship it to someone who can make a mold if you cannot transport it personally. Since many of the materials used in casting are highly toxic, and I have kids running around (not to mention a concern for my own well being), I never got into casting. What to do?

Enter a synthetic compound called ‘Super Sculpy”. This material changed many things because it has a texture close enough to plastecene, but unlike the latter, it can be fired in your home oven at 200+ degrees and when it cools off, it is hard. This means the resulting piece can be sanded, drilled, added to etc., then packed and shipped safely to whomever can cast it. It can be gotten at just about any art store, but if you are going to use it in quantity, I suggest you find a source to buy it in bulk.

THE ARMATURE

After a composition is decided upon and the size of the piece determined, it is time to make and armature, a wire framework of sorts – essentially a skeleton, in order to support the weight of the clay during sculpting.

If the sculpt is of a figure that is 12” tall, I draw a rough human skeleton 12” high and measure out the wire to fit on top of the bones. There are many books out there that explain many good methods of doing this, or just use your common sense. One thing to keep in mind is that it is very difficult to add clay to bare wire, so whatever gauge armature wire (which can be gotten in any art store) you use, spiral wrap a much thinner strand of wire around that so as to provide something for the clay to grab onto when you apply it.

I will try and expound on the notes written above and incorporate further notes and images on the following topics as time allows:

• Dremel tools
• Styrene plastic for models
• Great Stuff at the Dollar Store
• Apoxy/Magic Sculpt
• Measurements
• McKensie/Wasco Catalogs
• Perfect Touch Tools
• Ultra Waxer machine and tips
• Heat gun
• Making your own tools
• Packing and shipping delicate pieces

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