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Five years ago I decided I wanted to do a special piece of the four classic elements;
Earth, Wind, Fire & Water.

Two things have stopped me until now.

First, I have seen many pieces over the years of the elements, almost every sculptor has done one or all of the elements, but I was looking for something unique.

Second, I needed to hone my skills as a sculptor before starting this project. I have drawn and painted for over fifty years, but I have been sculpting for only the last six. In painting we talk about the more 'brush milage' you have, the better you get. I needed more 'clay milage' before I tackled this one.

I am ready.

You might be surprised to find out the amount of research time that is involved in a piece like The Elements. Hours and hours of searching in books at a library, yes, I am old enough to remember how to do research in a brick and mortar environment using real books and the Dewey decimal system. Then of course there is the all powerful Internet.

The something unique I envisioned was to combine all four element figures into one sculpture, and to create each individual element image combining the beliefs from the ancient Greeks and Romans, Wicca, Babylonia, Hindu, Christianity, medieval alchemy and astrology. It has turned out to be a daunting task, but one that after years of thought and searching is coming together rather nicely.

When I was in college, my art history class was extremely interesting and different. We did not memorize slide images and artists and dates and regurgitate them back to the teacher in a final like all other art history classes. The instructor loved art and history so he showed us the art of an era and explained how it developed as it did and then we studied the religions, government, architecture, history and morals of the time to help us understand the art. From that study I always found it interesting the similarities between the religions and how beliefs are intertwined.

The next stage of the sculpture is developing the concept of the piece to where I can start creating and designing the figures. Since I am classically trained, I begin all my sculptures by drawing. Because this is a public forum with includes younger people, I will forgo showing you my initial sketches and just say that I have filled many pages with drawings of many, many figures.

After the drawings as in the Jeweler sculpture, I did a pinch model. See photo. I must admit after looking at the photo, you really need a good imagination to see the figures and their forms. Trust me, it worked out fine.

Then I needed to do the metal armatures. This is where I deviated from my initial thoughts. I decided that I would sculpt each figure separately. This will allow me several options in the final piece. First is that if there is an interest in any one of the individual figures, I can easily cast them separately. Second they are supported by their own armatures for more total stability. Third is that by sculpting them separately I have more freedom moving them around each other to create and refine the final piece. Because even though I think I know what the piece will look like, in the end the clay tells me how it wants to look. Over the years I have found if I am smart I will listen to the clay, otherwise I end up not liking it and toss it, or I change it.

I am starting with the Water figure since she lies on the base that will become a rock or cliff that all of the other figures emerge from. That is why the foam base. For the stability of form and it is light weight. Covered with clay it makes sculpting the rock easier.

One of the important parts of the final piece as with all of my sculptures is that with all four figures combined, there is not a front or back to the sculpture. As a graphic designer, I feel that the piece should be seen from every angle, every view and the sculpture should stand as a well designed piece. So in this piece from every side you will be able to see the front of a figure.

Let me tell you about Water and the how mine is being created.

Waterís qualities or being is dreamy, compassionate, emotional, passive, nurturing and intuitive. Her place on the compass is west the place of dusk and the setting sun, her season is winter, her time of life is as an adult and people born as Pisces, Cancer, and Scorpion are of the water element. The dolphin, mermaid or sea serpent is her animal image and she is ruled by the planet Venus. Her alchemical sign is a triangle with the point down, and she carries a cup. My Water combines most of these, all wrapped up in one figure.

And in the beginning there was aluminum wire, galvanized pipe and foam. Iím afraid I did not take beginning photos of Water when she was all wire, but here is the wire armature for Air, which at this stage looks similar. Like all of my sculptures I add a heart to the wire frame giving it a soul, then start with the head. The head sets the proportions of the body, 8 heads high, 2 heads wide at the hips and shoulders and 1+ heads wide at the waist, legs are 4 heads long, etc.

Once I have the head formed, I finish the face. To me finishing up the face first - adds a personality to the piece and the rest of the body flows from that.

Then I work on the forms of the body and I work from the inside out. First come the bones then I add the muscles, then the skin. That way it looks more real even though it is an impressionists view I want it to be believable. What is important are the proportions and how the muscles that carry the weight contract and are bulkier while those that don't are in a relax state and are smoother. These subtle changes add weight and movement to the piece. As an artist I'll take it one step farther and accentuate the tension or lack of it and the curves to move your eyes around and through the piece.

A good example would be the calves of the Water figure. Notice how I have bulked up her left calf muscle and made it edgier this is the leg that is bent and the muscles are more prominent and there is tension on the muscles. Now if you look at her right leg and calf you'll see how the muscles are not close to the surface and sculpted, but are smoother. You can see that this leg and its muscles are passive and relaxed.

I decided that the alchemical sign for each figure will be a tattoo on their chest and they will each wear a crown that will be made up of their different symbols and signs.

Now is the time to start working on my next figure, I think it will be Fire which is the opposit figure to Water and is also in the center of the grouping of four figures. More clay is going to be needed, so I'll place an order along with the order for the supplies to make the molds and wax for the 18" "Courage". But until the order arrives I'll use up the last of my old clay that has been recycled from my other sculptures.

Water sculpture in clay with wire armatures of the other three elements.

Detail of Water clay.

Water from the front under construction.

Water from the back under construction.

Fire Under Construction

Earth Under Construction

Air Under Construction


All Works Copyright 2010 Michael Tieman


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