In preparation for an exhibition of my sculptural work next year I am planning to show a lot of my working sketches. In fact, I’m hoping that the exhibition will feature process just as much as final outcome, not only sketches but maquettes, colour/texture samples and even the raw materials, but at the moment I’m not sure how far I can take this. I’ve recently been trying out a new method of preparation and idea development, which first involves creating maquettes, photographing them and then using these photos to explore/develop form and colour digitally. Because digital material is infinitely adaptable and reusable it opens up all sorts of rehearsal/improvisation opportunities. It can also lay the basis for promoting sketchworks to finalised outcomes in their own right.
My new work on one of my favourite subjects of ‘putti’ is a case in point. The interest developed many years ago during a visit to the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich. Amongst many other truly emotive and tactile examples of Baroque sculpture, the museum had one of the best collections of nativity dioramas in the world. In a darkened, maze-like room thick with atmosphere I saw huge installations filled to bursting with carved figures. In many the richly blue skies were just as crowded, with colourful airborne beings .. many of them adult-looking angels, but just as many infants, and as I remember it, some were just fragments or, as if, in the process of forming .. like heads with wings, or clumps of flesh-coloured buds with golden petals, sprouts with layers peeling. This made a deep and lasting impression .. though a mainly formal and associative one. I don’t subscribe to religion, but I can be moved by the beauty such devotion generates.
So for the ‘putti’ sculpture I’m working on .. and have been nudging forward on-and-off for years .. I’m trying to recapture that thrill, trying to find a sculptural form which will suggest the physical simulation of something glorious .. but also ancient, and also strongly organic. For example the words ‘protean flesh’ spring to mind, and that’s the reason why I’ve preferred to keep to the title ‘putti’ rather than something more maturely angelic, because this makes me think of ‘putty’ and particularly the gorgeous, dark pink, rubbery ‘silly putty’ one could get when I was a child which seemed to have an innate life and will of its own and could become many things though only what it wanted to.
So I think it’s very fitting that I happen to be using digital material to find a way through this .. it’s very fluid, it can be breathtakingly spontaneous, all manner of variations can be fairly instantly and effortlessly previewed. Although in the beginning I fought against the intangibility, the fact that what I was doing did not really exist in any physical sense .. until it’s printed, and then it’s something else .. I think I’ve come to value that ethereal, ‘protean’ aspect. In a sense it has more allegiance to, or is in the same space as, what’s inside my head.
As I said though, I prefer to make something physical as a starting point, providing an anchor .. but something simple, no real pressure, it’s just raw material for transformation. These are the ‘putti’ forms I produced a while ago in response to the flying angels, and which I still want to use as a basis ..
.. though over the years they’ve acquired a lot of experimental patination, because I haven’t been able to get the surfaces right yet.
To create the sketches I took these, or similar photos into PaintShop Pro where I could experiment with either softening or enhancing contrast. Eventually I found that the best basis for the effect I wanted was to enhance the contrast and deepen the shadows but change to an almost complete monochrome, to give more freedom when later ‘colouring in’. For this, the main ‘painting’ process, I exported the modified photos to Procreate on my iPad.
Procreate is a ‘painting’ application developed solely for the iPad. It has given me pretty much everything I’ve wanted so far from this kind of tool and I would strongly recommended it .. though I don’t know how it compares to others since I haven’t had to consider them. In either working colour gradually into the photo-basis or making alterations to the forms I found the brushes, blender and eraser nicely delicate. I did experience some frustration though, which I have not yet overcome .. feeling that I couldn’t fully judge what I was doing, compared for example with controlling the effect of real paint, pastel or pencil shades on paper. It also took me a while to realise that, for all the choices of brush or setting that digital painting offers, one has to choose a manageable handful of favourites and stick with them.