One of the most often asked questions I get (after “How long does it take you to make a giraffe?”) is “Where do you get your ideas?”
My answer (to both questions) is usually “I don’t know”. Of course, that’s not a very satisfying answer, so I then babble something about coming up with a form or color or some other vague idea and then letting the sculpture tell me where it needs to go. Neither the questioner nor I are really happy with this response and I, at least, go away feeling like the conversation was unfinished. And yet I still find it awkward and difficult to complete the conversation with total strangers, I guess because I don’t totally understand it myself.
The truth is that the answer is in some ways very simple and, in others, very complex. The simple answer is that I get my ideas from the muse. (Or whatever higher power you like to call it.) I truly feel that when making my more successful and pleasing sculptures, I am just a vessel for a process that is bigger than I am.
The more complex answer involves just how difficult and how easy this process can be. The problem lies in the quixotic relationship between myself and my muse. The pathways are not always open. There are days when the ideas flow, when my heart, hands, eyes and brain all seem to be facing in the same direction. Every piece of steel or polymer clay or whatever I’m working with fits together just right and makes the piece even more powerful. The story becomes more clear, the purpose of creating it more obvious. These are the good days. The days when I leave the studio more refreshed and exhilarated than when I went in. They are the days when leaving the studio is tough only because I’m having too much fun to want to stop and deal with the outside world.
Then there are the other days. These are the days when the muse has gone to the mall or is taking a nap. Or perhaps there is a storm front moving in that has obstructed the airwaves. Or my brain has fogged over, my body hurts, it is Sunday and the Steelers are playing the Ravens (not an easy day in my house). There are so many reasons why nothing happens in the studio on those days but it shows in how many dead ends I reach and how frustrated I feel. Or in how often I have to rip out what I’ve done on those days and start over again.
So, saying that I start a sculpture with an abstract idea, a color, a shape, a direction like “up” or “round” is actually very true. I often start with an object or a story line given to me by the muse and then we work together to make it happen in the form and medium that I am good at working with. My training come with the somewhat odd combination of welded steel and polymer clay (name another artist who works with these two materials!). I tend to think the muse is kind of excited to be able to work with and through me. I know I am excited to have the ability and talent to work with the muse. On the good days, it’s an awesome job. Actually, it is on the bad days too.