Some rocks, a fork, a piece of wire, a wooden baseball bat. This is a short list of Favorite Tools for creating figurative ceramic sculpture. The rocks are chunks of concrete and asphalt that fit my hands. They are rough here and sharp there. I have memorized their shapes to intuit the best rock for sculpting the clay in the gesture of the moment. When I am deep in the process, this happens without thought. My name is Andy Kennedy and a lump of asphalt has become magical to me.
I asked our Pacific NW Sculptors president, George Heath, what would he like for an article in the newsletter? His reply suggested that I write about my bat; a gray, weather beaten, wooden baseball bat. He had seen me sculpting with the bat last September at the Fall Festival for the Arts in Troutdale. We were both demo (demonstration) artists there along with Dave Gonzales. To digress a little, I really recommend being a demo artist. I have done numerous demo gigs with Pacific NW Sculptors, and being with the public and your art process at the same time can make your art more authentic, more responsive, and more real.
Dave Gonzo got a few seconds of video of me using my bat and posted it to Instagram. In the video, you will notice that I’m holding the bat in the middle of its length, where it is balanced. This allows me to toss it in the air slightly and spin it 180 degrees, like a baton. With that flip the bat adjusts from a club to a prod and there is an easy flow to the gesture. Instead of writing more about this tool or the technique of its use, I’m going to attempt to refer to the frame of mind that I have during the process. There is a temptation to say, as with the asphalt chunk, this 180 flip happens without thinking, because there was no conscious intention to flip the bat. I never practiced this trick or considered ideas such as, “Can I do this?” or “Should I do this?”
I have the sense that the thinking is accelerated and nonlinear, guided by my focus on crafting the clay figure. I am alert to states of mind that seem suspended, paradoxical, timeless, and irrational. I believe this is what allows an artist to discover new forms and meaning. This is why our work can be considered priceless, because the value of this work should not be measured by a linear metric.
There is also an elegance and solidity to linear thought. This how we engineer our work to stand up against gravity. A thought building on the thoughts that came before, as in an essay. The focus of this essay is tools. The asphalt chunk and baseball bat are both used for blunt force to shape and texture the clay, but for building structure one tool more than any other helps me to sculpt: a fork. Learning to fuse together clay pieces is a most important technical skill for building clay objects. A fork looks like a tiny hand; consider that roughening and scoring into the clay where it is to stick to other roughened clay is like creating a series if hands that reach out to each other to hold fast the two joined parts. Structural strength only results when the two halves are sufficiently blended together by force and fork. Bonus feature: most fork handles can be used as a knife to cut into clay. A common household object useful for adding and subtracting from clay sculpture; definitely a Favorite Tool.