I am an experienced portrait painter, but in the last couple of years I have increasingly branched out into portrait sculpture. I try to bring the same truthfulness to sculpture as I hope I give to my paintings.
Why sculpture? Portraiture is about getting to the essence of the person, and sculpture is just another ‘way in’. I see sculpture as a very pure art form because everything is whittled down to form – there is no colour and no background, only composition in space, and the light and shade that that creates.
In any kind of portrait, regardless of medium, I always try to generate a feeling of the presence of the subject. I don’t want to just produce a ‘likeness’, I want, as far as possible, for it to feel as though the person is there.
Because sculpture is three-dimensional it can give a real sense of physical (as well as spiritual) presence. Also, you can change the lighting on a portrait bust to reveal different aspects both of the sculpture and of the person it depicts.
On a practical note, I require fewer sittings for a portrait sculpture than I do for a painting, because I can do a lot of blocking in using photographs. That said, if you have time and are willing to sit, it’s always my preference to work from life.
When my grandfather died, I did a portrait sculpture of him entirely based on photographic references. It was a present for my grandmother, and when I presented it to her, she was visibly moved and immediately reached out to touch it. It comforted her to have a physical representation of her husband in her house. Her reaction really encouraged me to do more of this kind of work.
In commemorative work, the physical presence of sculpture comes into its own. You can go up to a sculpture and touch it – you can stroke it, you can relate to it physically in a way that you can’t with a two dimensional work.
The process – what to expect
For commemorative sculpture, the more photographic references the better. As a bare minimum, I need profile views from both sides and a clear front view. If there is video material of the subject that can also be extremely useful. It is also important to sit down and talk about the person because everything I know about their personality will inform the way I do the portrait.
With sculpture the cost is divided into two parts: the fee for my work, and a separate cost for mold-making and casting which would be outsourced to a foundry. The material used for casting (bronze, plaster, bronze resin) is ultimately up to the client and how much they want to spend, but I will be on hand to advise and to see the project through to the end.