Biomorphic Abstraction For ARTS306

Today I am putting up some images for my students in their 3-D course that has to do with our final project which will involve subtractive methods in sculpture.

The images I am going to show you are just starting points.  And yes, I am limiting you in some ways by asking you to stick to biomorphic abstraction.  There are reasons for this.  First, you may have only carved from a block or wood or stone a few times in your life, if at all.  The ability to render realistic details in a material like this requires years of study, or a natural ability to do it, like a savant.  So by being realistic about this, biomorphic abstraction will allow you to ponder and think about the foundation or forms that make up our world without a slavish fidelity to them.  This will allow you to make “mistakes” without losing your piece.

I explained in class, for those of you who were there 🙂 that the process of subtractive sculpture is very different from any other method tried so far.  It requires planning out your concept on paper or in a small model (I gave out clay to those who want to mold a model) so that you can transfer your piece to the block in order to know what you will begin taking away.  In this method, you begin with a block and then transfer an image of your piece in profile on each corresponding facet or plane of the block.  This method requires that you align each profile as close as possible so that once you begin carving, your profiles all match up into one cohesive form.  Simple measuring twice and cutting once is the concept to follow.  this often means taking time to think through your piece ahead of time and as you lay it out on the block.  For your purposes, a sharpie works fine, is fairly permanent, and wont scratch off right away (until you carve along the lines).

This project is wide open to you besides the requirement that it be abstract.  I want to see you think about composition, creating an interesting and engaging form that works in the round.  To achieve this, most often, you need forms that flow from one to the other through the use of line and gentle transitions from one plane to another.  While a focal point is fine for a piece like this, expect us to look at your finished work by turning or walking around it.  This is where having a model to work from can be so useful.  Conceiving the piece on paper is okay, but having a model will give you a tried and true real-world simulation of what your finished piece will be like. If something does not flow or move you around the piece, a quick adjustment to the clay can solve it.  I encourage you to use some sort of clay material to make your model.  🙂

Okay, that said, look at some images related to this project.  Some are by well known artists, and some are by students.  Some are even in plaster. I will have some notes at the end for anyone who was not present for our talk this past week about lay-out and tools used that can be really useful (and are cheap!).

Jean Arp, bronze.  Looks like a figure (s) but has a lot of energy. Seems to be expanding, contracting?
Jean Arp, bronze. Looks like a figure (s) but has a lot of energy. Seems to be expanding, contracting?
Jean Arp Again, marble.
Jean Arp Again, marble.

04PlasterSculpture_l 06PlasterSculpture_l

Three views of the same piece, artist unknown.
Three views of the same piece, artist unknown.

The piece above is a good example of how you choose to mount or place the piece can give the form more energy (on an angle).  Remember how lines that are diagonal are more dynamic?  Same here…

Bronze sculpture, artists unknown.
Bronze sculpture, artists unknown.
Student work, plaster.
Student work, plaster.
Student work, plaster.
Student work, plaster.

295 9161_1339272329_9

Student work, plaster.
Student work, plaster.
Henry Moore
Henry Moore



Henry Moore, bronze
Henry Moore, bronze


Henry Moore, bronze (multiple views)
Henry Moore, bronze (multiple views)


IMG_0369 IMG_0373 IMG_0370

This piece was made more visually dynamic when the student placed the piece up on one of the “knobs” and found a balance point.



Barbara Hepworth, Mother and Child.


Okay, this piece?  This is not a carving, no. But this is an example of what you wont be able to do with plaster!  Remember that plaster is fairly weak in thin cross-sections, so think bulk forms. If you want tendril-like effects, you can carve them into the surface of a larger form, much like how you did your reliefs, extending off the surface.  You can get all kinds of surface effects, and while most of the pieces are smooth, you do not need to do smooth; how would texture work with your piece?  Using a tool like a nail over a smooth surface could add a great deal of visual energy, like a pointalist effect.  Or carving lines into the surface, as I described earlier?  There are lots of possibilities.  But looking at your proposals will help me to help you navigate what forms will be workable, possible, and not make your next few weeks of the semester filled with sheer frustration!

Hopefully weather will cooperate and we will have some classes where you can bring your piece and we can carve outside.  I can show you some really fast ways to rough out your pieces and get moving on the work. Having your tools on-hand once the piece is cast will be good to do because carving plaster when it is still damp makes it much easier, especially for the roughing out process!  Also, you can use a cheap dinner knife (not the sharp kind) and I can sharpen it so it is a good carving tool.  Also, taking duct tape to a knife handle makes it easier to grasp and will limit the likelihood of getting blisters on your fingers.

Here are a few links for you to use if you need them to refer back, look deeper if you feel uninspired or stuck.


Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture garden in U.K.:


This sculpture park of Hepworth’s work you can see a more cubistic turn in her work, for what it is worth….


Henry Moore:


2nd Page of the Moore: (a little more interesting, if you ask me….)


This is made out of paper, so its not a subtractive method, but its kind of cool, especially if you are getting bored right about now….


This is a great site for all things art….If you scroll through, you will find examples of biomorphic abstraction.  So much of this type of search is just looking and consuming images and finding what interests you….browsing is encouraged!


Okay, so that should get you thinking!  Keep this piece small so you can keep the costs down.  Six inches in any dimension should be enough.  You CAN do larger, but it might mean needing to get more plaster.

This piece is due the last day of class.  As mentioned in class, if everyone is good with that time-line, you can be done before exam week.  However, if people need more time, we go to our meeting time during exam week.  Otherwise, there is no final exam, just a review of your work.  Your paper piece is due the second to last class meeting (important to get it done soon so its out of the way as you begin the plaster piece!!).  Bring money for plaster next class meeting.  Also, a “jab saw” which is found in Lowes in the tool section is a very useful tool for doing the rough-out of your piece and will save you LOTS of time.  Paring knives that have strong blades that do not flex much can be good carving tools.  Peelers can be good for more finished work.  There is also a tool used for scraping callouses that looks like a mini-grater sold in beauty sections of stores that is also good for finish work.  For the final finish, sand paper in grits 120 and 400-600 range are two good choices for finishing your piece for those smooth surfaces.


One Comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.