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  • Writer's pictureDavid


Updated: Nov 18, 2020



The first stage in any piece is having an idea of what to make. A think has to have been thunk. We artists are quite full of ideas, but fortunately it is only the rarest of rare ideas that go on to become an object of art. Not rare enough, mind you, but rare. I wouldn’t have it any other way. What to make should be seriously considered. Many of these things we make could last for thousands of years, and perfectly decent archaeologists will have to dig them up with feather and spoon. Is that at all fair?

Anyway, after arriving at a decision on what to make comes the fleshing out of the idea into a design. I usually work out a drawing that I can refer to as I work up the form in 3D.

The figure to the left is the original crude sketch for my piece called The Curious Order of Things. Many of the final elements of the figure are present, but the proportions were very crude.

In the final work-up of the image, the legs are longer and positioned differently, the head smaller, and the chest area is more defined. This is about as resolved as most any of my drawings get before I begin to build the 3D form.


Scale is hugely important in art. It can make or break an image. We might spend weeks or months making something only to discover it is not the right size. It has the right proportions, the right attitude, and the right textures, but the scale is wrong. It has no presence. Or its presence is not as intended. Of course, one can start over, but nobody wants to redo something they have just done. There is no creative energy for that, and in art, creative energy counts. It shows in the product.

Besides being a potential pest, scale can also be a financial hurdle. A sculpture that would present best at a mammoth size will cost a mammoth amount of time and resources to create. Costs go up exponentially as scale increases. A sculpture ten feet tall might consume twenty-five times, or more, the resources of an identical form made ten inches tall. An artist can only work on a scale they can afford.

But setting aside time and expense, scale is still very complicated. Things have right sizes and wrong sizes when it comes to art. A good example of failing to properly scale often happens in the 3/4 life-size human figure. Our familiarity with humans is such that at 3/4 life-size we begin to compare our own stature to that of the sculpture, much like a child does when they start to discover that they are getting as tall as their grandmother. Interestingly, when you scale a human figure a little closer to 1/2 life-size, the problem goes away. It becomes a small sculpture of an ordinary sized human. There is no innate leap to assume it is a depiction of a life-sized small person.

As a sculptor, I can't help but envy the photography artists their tools. Scale is so easily altered in a photograph. A relatively diminutive photo of this horse leaves one wondering what size it is, and it is no size in particular as a photograph. As is obvious by the photo below, scale is hugely effective in bringing attention to detail.

Most any subject has its sweet spots when it comes to scale, even abstract forms. But with human and animal forms those sweet spots are almost always a bit over 1/2 life-size and smaller, or full life-size and larger. We can find ourselves sending unintended messages when we over-scale, or under-scale. So, scale is complicated. I can bore you to tears with my thoughts on scale, if I haven’t already. I have the time, but we don’t have to go there. We’ve better things to do!

But please, when you see that the Statue of Liberty has been replaced by a scowling trio of six hundred foot tall clowns, try to appreciate the artistic merits of the work as it relates to scale (or assume I’ve somehow fallen into a vast fortune).

Photo credit of The Curious Order of Things, Kendrick Moholt

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