A Love for Sculpture

Q. How and when did you get started creating art?

A. My interest in art began by watching my father paint his beautiful acrylic rural scenes. He would hand me his brush and let me paint right onto his painting, I thought I died and went to heaven. I?d sit in his lap and carefully paint over a few lines that he?d already painted. I?m still amazed he allowed a child with paint around his brilliant artwork. He?s the inspiration of my life as an artist, and I find myself always using his techniques in my work.

Mingle (cast paper, 32×20)

Though I never did entire paintings myself while growing up, I drew everything that could be drawn. After I married in 1988, I experimented with a few acrylic paintings on my own; they were mostly unsuccessful. I was intrigued with sculpture, but had no training whatsoever and didn?t know where to begin. After one disastrous attempt at sculpture with air-drying clay, and one not-so-bad attempt years later with oil-based clay, sculpting was something I knew I had to learn.

My husband and I moved to Montana and I came across an ad for sculpting classes at a local bronze foundry. This is when I fell in love with the entire sculpture process. After a few months of classes, working from start to finish on my own bronzes, I was offered a job in the foundry. I worked there for about one year, and gained some invaluable experience from a truly remarkable artist. My husband and I moved to Anchorage, Alaska, in 1997. I began attending the University here a year later. Inspired by a professor in a beginning drawing class that I took “just for fun,” I decided on a career in art, and began the laborious but exciting work towards my bachelor of fine arts degree. I?ll graduate with a BFA this May.

My large variety of art courses included life drawing, which I?ve learned from the most about being a figurative artist. Oil painting classes became my secondary emphasis, and I?m also very involved in metalsmithing. In the last four years I?ve also experimented with wood and stone carving; mold making; bronze and aluminum casting; and paper casting, which I have learned through trial and error because I haven?t found any courses in this medium. However, my love and my primary emphasis as a student, is sculpture.

Q. What media and genres do you work in?

A. I think I?m a Heinz 57 when it comes to artistic interests. I like it all and I try everything. Sculpture is my love, but oil painting and drawing are as much a part of my life and I feel all go hand in hand for me as an artist. Making artisan jewelry is also a close contender of my love of sculpture. I enjoy painting portraits and drawing in trompe l?oeil. Realism is my favorite style, and I work mainly with the female figure. I?ve experimented with drawing, painting and sculpting animals as well, and plan to do more art with animals in the future.

Q. What was your inspiration for Mingle?

A. Mingle was probably inside me for years. My favorite artist is Alphonse Mucha, and the Art Nouveau style is something I?ve always appreciated. I chose to do a relief sculpture with the movement and serpentine line found in the style of Art Nouveau, mimicking Mucha?s style of femininity.

Q. What?s your process?

A. When I get an idea I?ll quickly jot it down in my sketchbook, sometimes I?ll just write out a few words describing my idea. I found this to be a good habit to get into, as I now have several sketchbooks that I can go back and consider ideas that I?d forgotten about. Paintings usually start for me with a freehand sketch or an outline of a portrait right on the canvas, but sculpture usually follows a different method. Much to the chagrin of my sculpting professor, I tend to skip important initial steps such as doing a drawing or making a maquet, (a thumbnail-size study in clay.) Usually, I just grab a hunk of clay and just begin sculpting mostly using my hands and a few of my favorite tools. But I have to admit that I often have to stop my work and make a small maquet to organize my ideas, and then return to the piece.

Working from life is essential for me in my figurative work. I?m fortunate to get a wide variety of excellent models through school. This isn?t always available, however, so working from the photograph is necessary. I try to photograph every angle of my models, even when I?m working two-dimensionally. I find having different perspectives of the model helps me understand different aspects, such as curves or shadows. Though it can?t replace working from life, I find working from photographs is an exciting challenge, and very enjoyable.

When I work in relief sculpture, like that of Mingle, I usually start with a piece of Masonite hardboard, pressing oil-based clay into the flat surface, making a mound anywhere from 1 to 5 inches deep, depending on the effect I want in my final piece. Then, using sculpting tools, I subtract clay so the figure develops in three-dimensional relief. The mold-making process follows. This step requires patience as it can take several days to make one small mold. After making and sealing wood or plastic barrier walls surrounding the clay relief, I pour a silicone mixture over the clay that I primed first with a release agent (silicone spray). I have to pour the mixture very slowly so I don?t create air bubbles. The rubber mold has to cure over night, and then I lift off the mold to expose the clay sculpture underneath that I now can put aside and reuse later.

I clean the rubber mold of any residual clay and spray it with the same release agent I used before. Then the process continues with the mixing of paper pulp. I usually use cotton linters, but have experimented with my own paper combinations. Oddly enough, I found that combining good typing paper and tissue paper in a blender with clean water makes a nice durable pulp. The blender dissolves any lumps. After the mixture is just right, I pour it directly onto the rubber mold. Water usually spills everywhere so I do this process where I don?t have to worry about the mess. I then painstakingly soak up the water with sponges, slowly subtracting as much of the water from the pulp as possible, while simultaneously gently pressing the pulp into details of the mold underneath.

Then comes fighting the desire to peek. The mold must stay undisturbed in a cool dark place for several days, maybe weeks, until it?s completely dry to the touch. If it dries too fast the paper can curl or wrinkle. Sometimes I?ll wait a few more days just to be sure it?s dry underneath. If I pull it from the mold prematurely, the moist paper won?t lift from the mold, ruining the entire piece. When I?m sure it?s dried, I gently peel back the flexible rubber mold from the now solid cast paper piece, an exact duplication of my original clay form. After making a few touchups, such as scratching out unwanted particles that might have gotten into the pulp, I can mount it onto a backing such as foamboard using white glue, or glue on a small support, leaving it to be hung as is. Though tedious, paper casting is my most enjoyable way to work.

Q. What are you working on right now?

A. With my BFA thesis show approaching next semester, I?m currently working on pieces for this show. The theme for my thesis is “Women as Vessels,” which will be mostly cast paper sculptures of vessel forms incorporating the female figure. Each vessel will portray a quality that I find noteworthy in women I have known in my life.

Monroe, Michigan, artist David Larkins began his artistic career at age 7 by taking private painting lessons. A signature member of the National Watercolor Society, he received his first Best of Show award at the age of 16. Larkins? paintings have been in solo exhibitions in Michigan and a National Realism show in Toledo, Ohio, and they won two awards in The Artist?s Magazine?s 2002 Art Competition. His work appears in collections throughout the United States, Japan and Europe. For more information, check out Larkins? Web site at www.absolutearts.com/portfolios/d/davidlarkins/.

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