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What bronze sculptures am I working on? What exhibitions and events are coming up? My blog tells you everything that's happening in my life as a sculptor.

Vanessa Pooley bronze sculptor

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Large Sculpture That Wasn't

(This is Part One in a two part series about the development of a recent sculpture.)

Nearly a year ago, I started this sculpture when a client in London requested a larger, upright bronze for her courtyard garden.  Although I don’t normally work to commission I used this as a serious nudge for my next project. It’s very helpful to have something to work towards. Complete freedom to make anything, which is normally my position, can be daunting. So I set out with great excitement to do this much larger than normal piece. As a starting point I decided roughly on the pose of a tiny sitting figure I completed recently that I think works really well.

Tiny Sitting Figure, Hand to Cheek is the small bronze I used for inspiration

This little bronze is full of useful triangular shapes, and the figure forms an overall triangular shape. I thought this piece would transfer into a larger sculpture very successfully. I began by making large forms for the legs and body.

Carving out the forms that will become the legs and torso

I do not use an armature, so I rely on the clay’s ability to support itself which this pose with its wide base promised. Beginning a sculpture ought to be the exciting stage but I find it’s the least comfortable. The forms at first are unresolved and ugly. It’s an awkward stage which has to be worked through. Unfortunately its also the longest stage! Anyway, I continued and established these fairly large forms making the sculpture about four foot six high and using about 10 x 25 kg bags of clay. A lot of the decision making came when it was time to position the arms.

The form is taking shape

Generally I prefer to have the torso area of my figures ‘open’ so the arms must be well out of the way. This always seems to be difficult! But I was following the lines from the tiny sculpture where the right arm hung loosely down to the ground. The large sculpture was coming on well except that the ugly stage was going on too long and the piece had no zing.  In desperation I took the dangling arm off and repositioned it so that it curved over the head of the figure and the sculpture looked instantly much more dynamic.

Relocating the arm was a great improvement

Coming back into the studio soon after this change I noticed a distinct sagging of the structures. In fact the whole thing was beginning to collapse. The clay was obviously too soft to hold its weight and I had placed much too much wet clay higher up for it to support itself.  I took emergency measures – I chocked up each part with logs of fire wood. Then I left the clay uncovered for 24 hours so that it could gain strength from drying and hardening somewhat.

Bolstering the clay with firewood

I'll be posting the final blog post about this process next week. Please read Part Two to see the sculpture's demise!