Summer Carving Intensive Part 2: Ah! I Cleaved! Combating a Carver’s Biggest Fear

You’ve seen it in cartoons.  The sculptor takes the chisel and hammer to the nearly finished statue of David and, chink, off slides half of David’s face!  (And a dejected Michelangelo crawls into a corner for a good, long cry.)

I mean, you spend months – or longer – working on a sculpture and it could be ruined in one misplaced strike of a chisel!  It can give a person pause before swinging the hammer, let alone using a pneumatic or an angle grinder that removes material with far greater speed and force.  I’ve spent a good amount of time staring at my rock, deciding where and how much to take off with a deliberation that can border on obsessive.

And there still came that moment this week when I looked at the corner of one of the pedestals and thought, “I should hit this from the other side, or else it’s going to cleave off a huge chunk.”  But I couldn’t find the right angle to get at it from that side.  So I decided I’d just get that sucker off, whatever it took, and move on. (This is commonly known as impatience.)

This was the result:

IMG_1447 Oops.

Luckily, it was only a baby-cleave.  And after assessing the whole design, the material would have had to come off anyway.  Phew! But I definitely stopped and stared at the missing divot in my sculpture for a good few minutes before continuing.

If more material had cleaved I probably would have first stared in silence for an hour, then crawled into the corner with Michelangelo (in the alternate universe where he maimed the statue of David).  Then I would take the rest of the day off.  And finally, after the grief subsided, I would redesign my piece to accommodate the new shape of my stone.

That’s all my fear of chiseling a sculpture to bits is, after all, a fear of not realizing the vision for the sculpture exactly as it appears in my head.  I think a lot of artsy types have this issue.  We want to touch the shape in our minds, make it real and say, “See?  That’s what I’ve been trying to describe to you all this time!”  So when the materials (or our current skills) don’t match up to the idea, it’s disappointing.

My teacher reminds us that we always need to take off more material than we think.  I have a feeling this is because we’re afraid to take off too much.  Chunks aren’t easily put back once they’re removed.  Glue can work in a pinch, but not in every situation.  So we obsess and shave off little bits at a time, making a long process take even longer.  When I’m too hesitant the teacher offers to let other students chisel at the piece.  They’re not afraid.  It’s not their baby!  So they can take the risks more easily.

Sometimes, stone requires a certain amount of bravery.  It takes so long to carve, there’s no thought of starting over if something accidentally breaks off – so one chance is all you get!  I’ve decided to adopt the philosophy of rolling with the punches when it comes to carving.  It can always still work out, just differently.  Maybe better.  (Maybe not, but there will never be any proof!) So I might as well assume that all accidents are always for the better and amend my design to whatever happens.  Then there’s no reason to be afraid of taking off too much stone to find my sculpture!

So far, here’s the progress.  The lines mean I’ve started in with the pneumatic hammer which does speed things up considerably!

front
front
widowbird sculpture base - back
back

Check out where this project started here!

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