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0:00 Reductive sculpture
0:44 Getting to know the balsa wood
1:38 Organic forms in balsa wood
2:35 4 stages of the process
3:44 Kevlar gloves, knives
6:17 Visual references & artists
7:04 Removing edges & corners
13:19 Refining the Form
19:01 Sanding: sandpaper grits
Prof Lieu: “This is a really fun sculpture project because students have the opportunity to work reductively. If you think about clay, clay is really mushy. You can always add more clay, or you can take the clay away, it’s super flexible. This is different because you’re starting with a block of wood and you’re taking a knife and you’re carving away so you can’t add to this, you can just remove.”
Annelise: “How does working reductively change your mindset?”
Prof Lieu: “Well, it’s different because first of all, it’s a rigid material. f I carve something that maybe hangs over I don’t worry about it falling off, whereas if I have clay and I put something that comes out it’s probably going to fall off because it’s so mushy. So there’s a lot of things you can do with the structure of the sculpture that’s a lot more flexible.”
Annelise: “How are students choosing what form to make?”
Prof Lieu: “Well, it’s funny because I’m such a planner most of the time. When I have a drawing project, I’m really into thumbnail sketches and really knowing what I’m doing in advance. This is such a different project because we don’t plan at all.
I literally just give them the hunk of wood and say, ‘just start carving,’ because I find that with this particular technique, it’s challenging enough to work reductively. I think sometimes students draw these really intricate pencil sketches and then they feel really frustrated when they can’t reproduce that sketch in the balsa wood.
I find it’s really an engagement with the balsa wood, that you just see what the balsa wood can do instead of trying to get the balsa wood to behave in a way that’s unnatural. The students really like that and it’s also a nice surprise. You just don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
Annelise: “I’m noticing that all your examples are really rounded, there are no sharp edges. Why is that?”
Prof Lieu: “The balsa wood sands really well, so you can get these gorgeous surfaces. For example, this is one that has been carved but hasn’t been sanded, and if you look at the cuts, they’re really messy looking.
It’s really hard to make a clean cut, I think it’s pretty much impossible. So if you make a rounded form and you sand it, you get these beautiful, soft surfaces, so to me the organic form really shows the talents that the balsa-wood has.
One thing I like to do with students is whenever we work with a new material, especially in sculpture, I say to them, ‘Make friends with your sculpture, make friends with the material. Don’t fight it, don’t try to make it do something it doesn’t want to do.’ And that’s something I’m trying to do here. I’m saying, ‘Well what is the balsa wood really good at, and how can I exploit those qualities?’
So here we have four different stages of the project I think if you’re going to teach this in a classroom situation, this is a really important visual to show the students. When you give them a hunk of wood, how are you supposed to visualize anything on it?
So this is the beginning, which is just a piece of balsa wood.
This is where you can see the edges and the corners have been removed, which is the first stage. You have to just get rid of all those edges and corners. This is one where you’re starting to shave more specifically. You’re starting to build out the form.
And then this is a piece which has been sanded. So there are multiple stages, and I think it’s important for the students to feel that they’re making progress. I think the leap from this to this is the most difficult to make, because just initially shaving it takes a while.
So what I found with this project, is that students will work on it for a while and feel like nothing’s happening. And then they’ll get here and it looks great all of a sudden. So you have to really egg on the students in the beginning. You have to really convince them that it’s worth doing this because it pays off in the end.”
Annelise: “What if you’re working with a really big class- having a lot of blades around sounds like it could get kind of dangerous. Is there anything safety wise you should keep in mind?”
Prof Lieu: “Yeah, I mean one thing you can buy is Kevlar gloves, and these are really good because they’ll protect your hand from little knick’s…”
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Balsa Wood Sculpture Carving / ART PROF