A painter goes into the third dimension

I’m a figurative artist, and have done lots and lots of drawing from life, working from photographs, and making composites of drawings, photographs and my own drawings. It takes a certain mindset and orientation to translate that three-dimensional world into the confines of a 2-dimensional flat surface.

I have marveled at how the foreshortening makes those lines even shorter than you think, at all the tricks necessary to make the color say foreground and middle and back, all for the sake of that illusion of space. It’s a whole vocabulary, a language, that the 2-dimensional artists uses to make the viewer believe that surface is not flat.

Recently, I’ve decided to take up sculpting in wood, which is a whole different ball of wax, well, wood, but you know what I mean. I start with a solid chunk and there’s no adding at all, it’s just a game of subtraction, and if you go too far, that sculpture can wind up a peanut.

I’m using mechanical grinders, and am dressed up in mask and goggles. That chunk is bolted down to a worktable, but I have to keep detaching and re-attaching it, as I’m working in the round, and you have to see what you’re doing. This is very difficult, because every cut changes the piece from every side, and how in hell can you see it all. This is so different from that flat painting surface, where everything is visible, and where you can keep adding and changing everything.

Here in the wood shop, you have to be ruthless, just go for it. Dig in and grind away. And I just absolutely love this. After a couple of hours, I am dirty as you can imagine, with wood chips up my nose, in my eyes, covering the floor, and attached to every surface of my body.

But it’s a blast, really. I’m exhausted, but I keep coming back for more. The most thrilling thing is to see the wood manifest itself, the grain be revealed, and all the knots and peculiarities present themselves. My first piece was a seated figure I made from a column I found at a building site. When I started carving the head, a knot just appeared in the perfect spot for an eye. I went with it, and the piece became a Winking Buddha.

That’s the way I’ve continued. Since I’m a novice, I let the wood tell me what it wants to be. Of course, I select the chunk because it already suggests something to me, and being a figurative artist, that is almost always a figure. My second big piece was a female torso I made out of a rotted tree trunk I found in a field. I call it the Tree-She, and like to think of it as trans-special.

I totally recommend trying a totally new medium if you can. It makes you look at your art in a fresh way, to go down a road you’ve never discovered before which can take you to a new understanding of your primary medium. When we do too much of the same thing, we often wind up imitating ourselves, and the thrill is gone. But with a new medium, you’re an art babe again, and all is new. Try it, you’ll see what I mean.
Carolyn Schlam
Jan 27, 2016

Scroll to Top