While at the Sandy Scott workshop in Scottsdale recently she reminded me of something that I'd known about but hadn't been actively using for some time. I say 'actively' because I was employing this technique without conscious thought, but it is so much more powerful a tool when used with purpose and consistently.
The technique I'm referring to is Silhouetting the Work. Painters may do a value sketch to find the shapes and make the composition stronger but sculptors can employ backlighting. With painting, you make one great value sketch and you're in the homestretch, but sculptors must work from every conceivable angle. People don't just look at a sculpture like they would a painting, from basically one vantage point. They will walk completely around the work, or turn the spinning base, to view it from every angle and that also includes from above or slightly below. That is a lot of different viewpoints and the risk of having a dull or underworked area is expanded with every different viewpoint.
So our job is to make the work stunning - from every side. A tall order to say the least. It's so easy to get caught up in one area, one point of view. But that will make for weak work.
By putting the piece into a strong lighting situation, you reduce the the work to a silhouette - seeing only the dark mass that is the work (and doing your best to ignore the pipes or armature needed to create the work). Sandy likes to place her work in front of a bright window to make it dark. Lacking that option in my studio, I shine a light on the wall behind my sculpture which works quite well. Then, with the sculpture dark, you can turn the work and look at it from many angles to see if the shapes and negative spaces are interesting from all viewpoints. Does the sculpture 'read' as it is intended? Does it make sense to the viewer? If this sculpture was placed in the collector's living room window and the afternoon sun sent it into darkness - would it still be beautiful?
That is my goal as an artist. Bring more beauty into the world - celebrate the beauty that exists. Help people notice things more. When a sculpture can be strong when only a shadow, then it is strong, period. If it is uninteresting or simply a single dark shape in silhouette, then all the surface work and patina colors in the world won't make up for that.