Making Art

Bringing Art Making Into Your Life

Finishing an artwork- it’s hard to know when.

We’ve all done it: gone too far on an art work because we couldn’t see that it was finished. Or gone too far because we were enjoying the process so we didn’t want to stop tinkering. Or stopped working on a piece too early because it was looking good and you don’t want to wreck it. Sometimes  we don’t trust ourselves that a work is enough so we add more to it which ultimately makes it less.

If you read my last post – My top tips for getting into a creative headspace, you will know that I have been working on a clay bust of my child. I got through the part I wasn’t enjoying much: kneading  big clumps of clay that weigh several kilos each is hard work. Assembling the basic forms felt more like an engineering rather than an artistic endeavour. But then I was onto the good bit. The part you enjoy. Losing yourself in your concentration and in the detail. Seeing the form come to life slowly.

The difficulty in  making something realistic like a clay bust, is that you have to take it to a very finished point before you can start to make it look like that specific person. So first you get the proportions fairly right using photos. Then you get the actual person sitting in front of you and correct the proportions from all angles: photos just can’t show you the truth of the 3 dimensions, the subtleties of the angles. Being a little kid my child could only sit still for 5 minutes at a time. So I would do as much as I could quickly, then store a couple more moves in my memory as she ran off. Then repeat the next day.

Each session I would get a little closer to it looking like her. At some point I would be very pleased with something, for example the nose was looking really good. Then I would look at her and think yes but it’s too scooped out and pointy for her nose even though it’s an excellent nose. So, I have to change the nose, but I don’t want to because it’s really good and I don’t want to screw it up, but it’s not right…. So basically you are thinking you are finished over and over but you aren’t. So after about 7 days of this you think right, well it’s not going to be perfect this piece but I will have to finish it anyway. I realise that the proportions of this piece are not quite right but I can’t go backwards enough to fix some of the problems.


Above: the almost finished bust of my daughter. When it is leather hard I will finish the surface, take off all the little loose bits in the hair and hollow out the piece.


Above: I really like it from this angle. When its finished it will be just a little smaller than life size.

So yesterday I decided that this part of the process was finished and that it was time to let it dry a bit so it can be cut open and  hollowed out. You leave the piece until the surface is leather hard. This also gives you a chance to clean up the surface of the piece which is easier when it’s a little firmer. The thing is I keep looking at my daughter’s face and thinking yes, I should have made the face a little pointier in the chin, or a bit longer or whatever. Over the years I have had similar thoughts about various works. Not  just realistic pieces, because with any piece I have a vision in my mind of where I want it to go and what I want it to look like. Very occasionally, you make a piece you are totally satisfied with as soon as you finish it. But not often.  I have to say LOL here.. it’s not a tragedy… its part of making art. The process is as flawed and beautiful as all of human life.

But what tends to happen is that if I have a bit of a rest from the piece I can far better assess it. I quite often think later, ‘oh that’s rather nice isnt it?’ And occasionally ‘that just really didn’t work’. I can also usually see much more clearly if I have finished working at the right moment or not or gone too far. You learn from experience and seeing your own work evolve, when you have done enough.

Yesterday my daughter said to me ‘Are you looking at my face again? You’ll just have to leave it mama. It’s good’.

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This entry was posted on March 14, 2013 by in Making art, sculpture and tagged , , , .
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