Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sculpting with Wax: I love you, I hate you

I have used hard tooling wax in my sculpture for years now. Somewhere along the way I was able to strike a balance in using it though. Recently I have decided that I am in a "I hate you" phase with it.

Why do I hate wax you ask?

It's an evil temptress with pouty lips blowing you kisses with one hand, and in the other hand holding a prison shank, waiting to stick a sculptor where it hurts the most... His ticking clock.

I've had this discussion quite a bit lately with a sculpting pal of mine Tony Cipriano. Why is it that somewhere along the line, I decided to use wax to sculpt? I haven't attempted to sculpt a head or hand with clay in ages, but why is that? What made me think that I couldn't achieve what I wanted in a medium that is faster and easier to alter? Those damn pouty lips I tell you... they made me do it.

When I started learning wax and how to sculpt with wax, I was a relative sculpting noob. I had no skill, I had no touch with clay. I saw the wax work that these top tier sculptors were doing and listened to them go on about the control they had with it. Much like a damn informercial playing non-stop at 3AM Sunday morning, I was sucked in to that temptress blowing kisses. What I wasn't clearly paying attention to was all of the other top tier sculptors that were still using clay to do pretty amazing pieces in their own right... Enter that shank waiting to stick me under my ribs.

In truth I have learned wax and how to manage it somewhat efficiently. I have molds laying around of heads and hands in all of these different scales and for a time it was easy enough to pour a "blank" and just spend a bunch of time modifying the blank into the new piece.

There's some hilarity to that statement though. I said "easy enough" and "spend a bunch of time modifying" in the same breath.

Why would I spend all that time dripping and scraping and changing a portrait from Thor to Surtur? That makes little to no sense, but at the time it sure beat building one from scratch in wax right? Time is money isn't it? There I go again... how is this method a time saver again? Lots of guys work this way, it's not a new concept, it's just part of the process... The incredible detail and clean surface you get at the end make all of the dripping and scraping worth it.

Never again will I pour a blank and modify it. If a project is worth that much work and effort, why not focus that on building up the head in clay first and then if needed finishing in wax? It's a much faster method, you can still get amazing detail and polish, but aren't frantically scraping and dripping to somehow sculpt the unique features that the "blank" doesn't have? Why not grab some mushy Super Sculpey and rough out the head and features with clay? Need to add a helmet? Bake the rough, add more material and bake again?

What you are left with is something that looks a lot more like the particular character you are working on, something that you can mold and cast in tooling wax, and ultimately add all of the finishing touches that wax is known for. Art directors won't know or care how you got there, only how good it looks and how many they can sell.

So that brings us to the "I love you part" of wax sculpting.

I still use it, I still love what I can do with it, I still love the look and the feel of it. I've gotten pretty good at delivering the quality I want to be with it. I am merely dropping the tedious effort it takes to get a piece looking like there is life in it. I am ditching the act of annihilating one sculpt to create another. Thor is NOT Surtur so the work it takes to get there is stressful and time consuming, so why not trust in my ability to rough one in instead of using the "Hot" material that has been brought in to save all of sculpture? Wax will be that much more powerful when you use it to refine and detail rather than create. If it's worth using, it is worth making it easier on yourself when you get there.

I understand now what Tony C, has been telling me for years. Feel free to give the temptress with the pouty lips a smooch, just make sure you see the prison shank coming.

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