Tag Archives: The Human Figure

Inside The Artist’s Studio with Andrea Scofield Olmstead

Andrea Olmstead Turtle 24” x 16” x 16” earthenware milk paint, wax

Andrea Olmstead, “Turtle”, 24” x 16” x 16”, earthenware, milk paint, wax

I grew up in the Florida Panhandle and remain influenced by the color and texture of the natural landscape. Rusty iron fences, brick sidewalks, tin roofs, and giant oak trees overwhelm the senses. Lush foliage is always on the verge of taking over, and everything quickly decays. I used imagery from the Florida Gulf Coast Box Turtle to carve the turtle pattern in the pants of my sculpture.

I sculpt with clay because it reminds me of the red earth from the South. It feels humble in my hands and it in turn makes me feel humble. It accepts textures either pressed, carved, or added to and allows me to sculpt the human figure. It connects me to civilizations past and present and unites me with people who are obsessed with this demanding and exacting material.

Thirteen of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s delicate terra cotta sketches can be seen at the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, MA. These  quick sculptural models, complete with fingerprints, remind me how powerful clay is in its gestural form .

Bernini, 1598-1680, “Angel with the Superscription”, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA

I look to Jean Antoine Houdon  for guidance in anatomy, especially the eyes, which are full of life.

Jean Antoine Houdon  Louise Brongniart 1779, marble

Jean Antoine Houdon, “Louise Brongniart”, 1779, marble

Kathe Kollwitz’s powerfully dark and emotionally tender drawings and sculptures guide me  empathetically, technically, and conceptually. The layered textures in her work are permanently etched in my mind.

Kathe Kollwitz,  Mother with Dead Son Neue Wache Museum, Berlin

Kathe Kollwitz, “Mother with Dead Son”, Neue Wache Museum, Berlin 

The contemporary sculptor Louise Bourgeois’s conceptually driven work causes me to  address my own childhood experiences.

Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010

Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010

“Turtle” is a portrait of a boy as he sits down to play, equally strong and vulnerable. I work from photos and have the model sit for brief periods.

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leather hard stage

leather hard stage

I use charcoal because the medium is humble and simple but able to produce a wide variety of marks. It allows me to be aggressive or delicately whimsical. I often draw to work out the textures on paper before the labor of sculpting them. In the drawing below, the turtle pattern is worked out in the shirt.

Andrea Olmstead  Turtle charcoal 24" x 18" 2016

Andrea Olmstead, “Turtle”, charcoal, 24″ x 18″, 2016

I work with large rectangular coils that allow me to press, carve, and pound into shape. I use a metal serrated rib tool for scoring and smoothing, a fettling knife for cutting and shaping, and calipers for measuring.

large rectangular coils

large rectangular coils

I start by building a structural base that can withstand the weight of the sculpture. I continue to add interior struts where I know the clay might cave in on itself, and I give the clay time to set up in order to hold the next couple of layers. Laguna EM 10 G is an earthenware that fires white and has strength. The grog particles are fine and don’t get in the way when I carve textures, but give the clay the strength it needs.

structural base

structural base, legs and hips

I sculpted the head separately and used the knee to help support the weight. It was important for me to work out this structural detail  through sketches and photos before I began the sculpture.

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head using the knee as a support

I smooth areas with a rib tool and carve textures with a pin tool.

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A clear wax protects the finish, and milk paint highlights the texture  in the pants.

Andrea Olmstead Turtle 24” x 16” x 16” earthenware milk paint, wax

Andrea Olmstead, “Turtle”, 24” x 16” x 16”,  earthenware, milk paint, wax


Stop by Main Street Arts to see Andrea’s sculpture “Turtle” in our current exhibition The Human Figure (runs through July 1). View her work online at www.andreascofieldolmstead.com

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by artist Kate Fisher.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Kate Fisher

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I have been working on this body of work for over a year. Each piece involves several steps and these steps have evolved with time. I started by taking or finding photos. One of the fascinating things for me with this project has been meeting the people whom I have photographed. I usually introduce myself, show them what I am doing, and take some photos. Sometimes they share something of themselves, sometimes they say very little. Almost all of the people I have asked were very curious and willing to let me take their photograph.

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Using the photograph as reference, I then work on a contour/outline drawing. Since my very first drawing class, I have been fascinated by contour drawings. They seem related to haiku poetry. Good ones can say the most with limited lines or words. When I have gotten a drawing that I am pleased with, I use the Bernina sewing machine free motion stitch, and sew the drawing, sometimes adding texture, color or detail. Then I to go to the Genesee Book Arts Center and print the names of the figures using the Vandercook press. This involves looking through the antique wood type collection to find a font that works with my drawing. Then I go to the press where I set the type, proof the print and print the name on the stitched drawing.

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The final step is deciding which threads go and which stay. The threads are very important to these pieces. I feel that they not only add line and motion but they seem to really create a metaphor for the people I have met and stitched. They are changing, growing, and vital.

I am usually the only one to see the back of the stitched drawing. To me they are fascinating, messy and very lively, while still capturing the feel of the figures. I have included an example for you to see.

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People often ask me how long a figure has taken me to create. I never know how to answer this and mentioned it to an artist friend. She said that her response when asked that question is, “a lifetime.” Certainly that is true.


Stop by Main Street Arts to see Kate’s artwork in our current exhibition The Human Figure (runs through July 1). View her work online at www.blackbirdknits.com

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by painter Nate Hodge.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Nate Hodge

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My name is Nate Hodge. I’m an artist living and working out of Brockport, NY, a village situated on the periphery of the periphery of the art world. For a few reasons this works well for my practice: first is the connection to cities and the people working within them, second is the physical distance from the cities which acts to impose  isolation and the internal focus that goes along with it. I like having the ability to be socially present one moment and then travel ten minutes and find places where I can be alone and disconnected.   Being able to find physical evidence of the effort and industry of past generations alongside present inhabitants brings into question the nature of time and has informed how I work and what I’m trying to bring out of my pieces.

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I first started drawing to illustrate stories I would write as a kid, usually talking animals or elaborate battle scenes. The first paintings I remember doing were from postcards my Dad had of his hometown Thiells and portraits of Eastern Europeans I found in National Geographic. In some shape or form I have been making since then all the way up to the present, it just went in different directions. Sometimes the creative process was focused in the studio and other times it was trying to find similar processes in more practical tasks at day jobs. I graduated with my BFA from SUNY Brockport in 2013 and received my MFA from the University of Buffalo in 2015.

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Since 2012 I have been developing a non-objective painting style that combines physical, practical constraints and working elements I feel like exploring onto a surface or into an environment. For the most part I have been making work with a mixture of donated/found house-paints and a small selection of aerosols and acrylics. The mediums are dictated by outside influence, either environmental guidelines imposed by an institution or in the form of the types of paints left behind by a collaborator on a larger project. There is a challenge in making with what you have immediately available or with mediums selected by others and it has become a central tenet to my work. The combination of external/internal influences of scale, medium, time, and palette constraints all become parameters to work within and bounce off of, pushing me in different directions than if I had remained with one medium I had selected and was comfortable with.

Working in a non-objective fashion allows me to delve deeper into questions I have  about movement, time, peoples’ relationships with space and how these look explored on a single surface.  I like leaving anchors to universal shared experience and locations without dictating to a viewer what it is that they should be seeing. The concept behind my abstract work is to move beyond a single voice narrative, there is no specific communication I’m trying to get across but rather encourage viewers to develop their own interpretations. Recently my studio work has been about establishing more definitive links to direct experiences. My piece for the Human Figure exhibit is one in a series of portraits that attempts to create a portrait the way memory might, recalling details while obscuring or deleting others.

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The series  I’m currently working on takes this exercise further and is based on a number of photographs I took on a visit to Tahawus Tract in Essex County, a continuation of the exploration of memory as filter and subjective mediator between the present and past. Within the pieces, colors are amplified, certain details are left out and others are accentuated the same way that continued reflections on places and people become further abstracted from the original experience. The Tahawus Tract series is about playing with space and time, starting with the experience of traveling through and abandoned group of cottages and seeing how they have been slowly reclaimed by the surrounding forest. There is the impact the buildings originally had on the area, the way the area has responded, and then my reactions to the place. In physical locations like this the borders between the past and the present become hazy and time seems capable of moving in different directions.

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For me, this current body of work is about questioning that blurring of borders, going against the need for everything to fit into neat and tidy, easily defined categories because I don’t think that people operate that way. The 20th century saw a cultural/institutional push toward efficiency and speed, the importance of streamlined movement traveled from the workplace and into personal lives, but at what cost?  I’m working against the need for efficiency, factory-style production, and compartmentalization through my process and finished pieces. I think we are inefficient and messy but its those tendencies and the luxury of exploring them that can lead to beautiful and inimitable moments.

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Stop by Main Street Arts to see Nate’s painting “Water Babies Tertiary” in our current exhibition The Human Figure (runs through July 1). View his work online at www.masiori.com. Follow him on Instagram at @masiori.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by sculptor Leslie Schomp.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Leslie Schomp

Schomp,Self-Portrait with Snake and Mouse

Schomp, “Self with Snake and Mouse”, 2015

As an artist I am interested in many subjects. Although it can sometimes be difficult in the studio to choose what I wish to work with or which direction to settle on, my work is at its best when I can layer these varied interests.  The piece included in this exhibit, Self-Portrait with Snake and Mouse is a cloth stitched sculpture and is inspired by many historical objects I was researching at the time.

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William Bartram, Drawing, Natural History Museum Archives

In early 2015 I travelled to London to see the work of Maria Sibylla Merian, William Bartram and Mary Delany. Their 18th century works are drawings, paintings and collages that record their close observations of flowers, animals and insect interactions.  Their appeal for me was the balance between the violence of some of their subjects’ interactions and the exquisite use of composition and materials.  The work links science and art beautifully.

Maria Sybilla Merian,  From British Museum

Maria Sibylla Merian, From British Museum

This sculpture is part of a larger series that are self-portraits investigating animal behavior to gain self-awareness. The work often questions whether we project human traits onto animals or whether we are simply just alike. I investigate primary experiences shared by all, such as hunger, self-protection, fear, aging and love. I pursue how animal skins (chicken, elephant, horse, fox, snake, etc.) can translate into drawn line or sewn edges.

Snake,  Natural History Museum in London

Snake, Natural History Museum in London

I was able to view taxidermy at the Natural History Museum and historical and contemporary works in textiles at the Victoria Albert Museum, which also greatly impacted the ideas for this sculpture.

What I cannot see in museums, I research in books. Below is a photo of an anonymous Egyptian funerary portrait sculpture from the book Portraiture by Shearer West.  This was one of the largest influences on this work.

Anonymous, Portrait of a Woman, AD 190-220,

Anonymous, Portrait of a Woman, AD 190-220,

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Schomp, Process: early parts of “Self with Snake and Mouse”

I am often asked why I use cloth instead of clay or wood.  As an artist I believe you find a material you want to grapple with.  It’s not something that is necessarily easy or available but something that perhaps you have a history with or an instinctual desire to pick up and wrestle with.  I have worked with cloth my whole life since I was a  child in a convent school in Ireland where we knitted, embroidered and quilted. I made my own dolls and clothing.  I find myself buying vintage textiles and clothing in antique stores.  I’m drawn to it’s ability to be flat or structural. Its connection to the body as something practical, ornamental, or sensual is of immense interest. Textiles are part of my own history.

Schomp, Process Shot of "Double Self-Portrait with Elephant Skin"

Schomp, Process Shot of “Double Self-Portrait with Elephant Skin”

My process is layering bundles of cloth together slowly until I reach the final form. The bundles get smaller as I arrive at the surface. The stitching on the surface is like drawing and are maps of how planes form. At times I use wire or wood for a support. Cloth acts like the body. The bundles are like organs and it can be stretched like skin. Its outer layers reveal the inner ones. It puckers, gathers, stretches and hangs. I use all kinds of cloth for it’s texture, color, weave, translucency, history, or meaning. These attributes often inspire my content or how I approach my subject matter. My work often hovers between the 2d and 3d worlds. My drawings are often objects and my sculptures often contain drawings on surface.

Schomp, Self-Portrait With Elephant Skin

Schomp, Self-Portrait With Elephant Skin, ink on paper

I also create drawings in ink to play with ideas and textures before I settle into a sculpture that may take 6 months to make such as Self-Portrait with Snake and Mouse.

I live in the country in Massachusetts. The landscape is a daily powerful visual in my life. As a gardener I am always struck by the heartache, fear, desire, violence and  beauty of the natural world.  These works are an investigation into how I see myself as part of and apart from nature.


Stop by Main Street Arts to see Leslie’s sculpture “Self-Portrait with Snake and Mouse” in our current exhibition The Human Figure (runs through July 1). View her work online at www.leslieschomp.com.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by painter Robert Samartino.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Robert Samartino

I paint as much as I can and embrace a variety of figurative content in my work. What remains constant to my creative process is best described by the habits and rituals I use to eliminate distraction. I paint where I live and I allow the practicalities of my life to influence the direction of my work. I keep my workspace lights on and my materials are always set up to be used.

photographed in workspace

26″ x 32″
oil and wax on linen
2015

I take and collect pictures constantly; of anything that captures my attention–this allows me to include my time away from painting into my work. I review these images routinely and allow my intuition to select and/or combine them. This improvisational state is enhanced by working on multiple paintings at once–changing the channel in my mind to remain in a trance. My sculptural work is literally made in the space and time between my palette and whatever canvas I am working on. Accretions and Inclusions grew as accumulations of paint and wax wiped off from my palette knife.  I am motivated with a fetishization of accumulation; by applying and removing layers with an unclear motive my art is grown to reflect the path indecision inevitably takes.

6" x 5.5" x 6"  oil, wax, discarded materials on ethafoam 2015

6″ x 5.5″ x 6″
oil, wax, discarded materials on ethafoam
2015

5" x 5" x 5.5" oil, wax, discarded materials on ethafoam 2015

5″ x 5″ x 5.5″
oil, wax, discarded materials on ethafoam
2015

Manual labor, in particular roadwork, fascinates me in its similarity to my own layering process. I began depicting men at work with the first of a three part series titled Concrete Labor. Its source derives from a scene I photographed on 23rd St. in Manhattan, the workers were positioned in front of a darkened storefront which is omitted in the translated painting. The attention becomes concentrated – their labor objectifies into our infrastructure as its utility becomes universal in the function of a roadway.

26" x 32"  oil and wax on canvas 2013

26″ x 32″
oil and wax on canvas
2013

26" x 32"  oil and wax on linen 2015

26″ x 32″
oil and wax on linen
2015

Stop by Main Street Arts to see two of Robert’s paintings in our current exhibition The Human Figure (runs through July 1). View his work online at www.robertsamartino.com.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by ceramic artist John Brien.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with John Brien

John Brien (1)

Applying slips before the first firing

I am originally from Rochester, NY and grew up in Dayton, OH. I moved back to the Rochester area after high school and currently live in Victor, NY. I studied art and art education at Monroe Community College and Nazareth College, and I currently teach art at Fairport High School.

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“Fleeting” early rough in of the sculpture

I was not able to concentrate on clay in college as much as I wanted to, so a lot of what I do has been learned in the studio, through practice, or from the wonderful, sharing clay community on the internet. I am an avid reader of ceramic blogs, books , and magazines and I have watched hundreds of hours of demos on YouTube. So, even though my ceramics education was not traditional, I did learn from the best.

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First layer of colored slips applied

As an educator, I believe it is important to teach by example. Early in my teaching career I read an article about ceramic artist and educator Paul Soldner. He talked about the importance of teacher as maker in the classroom. I believe it is important for my students to see me work. The pieces that I work on in the classroom are used for demonstrations and discussions on technique and craftsmanship. I find that it raises the level of understanding about what it is to make art and be creative.

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work in progress faceted yunomi

Mishima skull yunomi

Mishima skull yunomi

I have two very different bodies of work. I make figurative sculptures, and I also make functional ceramic work with my wife as J&K Clayworks. Because I chose to (and love to) make functional pieces I only have time to make 2 to 3 sculptures a year.

Fleeting 2015

Fleeting 2015

The figurative work I do is often related to personal reflections and can be an interpretation of my experiences and people in my life. I start each sculpture with a general direction and I enjoy finding the face and form in the clay. I let my ideas evolve as the work develops though a process of trial and error. There is always a lot of experimentation in what I do: If something works, it works. If it doesn’t work, then I find another way.

Flora 2016

Flora 2016

I have always been drawn to figurative works where the subject connects with the viewer through a gesture or through eye contact. Art is an interaction between the maker and the viewer. Most of us have seen work that “speaks” to us. It gives us pause and allows us to reflect on what the artist is saying or to connect with a narrative in the work. This is my goal. This is what keeps me making. Whether it is a sculpture or a cup, the interaction with the audience allows my art to achieve its purpose.

Stop by Main Street Arts to see John’s ceramic sculpture “Fleeting” in our current exhibition The Human Figure (runs through July 1). View his work on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jandkclayworks. You can also follow John on Instagram @jbrien145.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by painter Paul Garland.