Over the last few weeks we posted photos on social media of a Gollum sculpture Simon created. Thank you to those of you who left kind comments. It’s always encouraging to hear and see you enjoying Simon’s pieces. As always, there were questions about how to see it in real life, and about how Simon made it. And so, in this week’s blog we walk you through the process of creating the Gollum sculpture.
About the Sculpture
Regular readers will remember that in July Simon created an Ent sculpture from a Monkey Puzzle trunk in the grounds of Poulton Hall; the seat of the Lancelyn-Green family. The father of the current incumbent was Roger Lancelyn Green – well known author, member of The Inklings, and friend of J R R Tolkien. This connection was the inspiration for a Lord of the Rings sculpture, which ties in with some of the other sculptures in the ground which are also based on Fastasy Literature.
As well as the standing monkey puzzle stump, there was a good, workable piece of the monkey puzzle trunk left over. It was perfect for creating another Lord of the Rings sculpture for the grounds of the hall. In this case Simon created something better known: Gollum.
Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Evaluating the Timber
The first thing Simon does when he starts a sculpture, is evaluate the timber. There are a few things he looks out for. However the first is definitely looking at what is useable, and where there is rot. For those who are interested, Simon explains a bit more in this video about different kinds of rot. For those who prefer to read, we also have this blog explaining the difference between white and brown rot.
In the case of this stump, it looked pretty nasty on the outside, but had some good, solid timber on the inside.
Simon also has to evaluate the timber from an artistic perspective. Using his original sketches as a guide, he has to imagine the figure within the stump. This includes thinking about the position of the figure, and what sections can be used. He pays attention to any visible branches, knots and other characteristics that he can use to help give shape to the figure. He also needs to find the point at which he wants the head to sit. From there he can work out the size and proportions.
Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Removing Large Facets
The next part of Simon’s process as he created the Gollum sculpture was to remove large pieces of the wood and outline the basic figure of Gollum. For this, he will use a ‘meaty’ chainsaw like the Stihl MS500i. It’s well suited to harvesting and processing large timber, but also makes easy work of this part of creating a sculpture!
Simon will still consider the original sketch, but at this point may need to change or adapt certain parts. As we have said before, wood is unpredictable. At this stage he may find pockets of rot, cracks and knots as he strips back the timber. All of these may mean needing to alter angles or even change a pose.
In Simon’s own words, this stage of the process is all about “working into the wood and working with it”.
Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Whittling Down the Figure
The next stage in the process of creating Gollum was whittling down the basic figure so the pose and proportions were correct. Most human form sculptures have specific fixed points and proportions that need to be considered at this stage. There is sometimes a formula for working those out, for example, The Golden Ratio. In the case of Gollum though, he is almost a caricature with certain features in very different proportion to a typical human. So in creating something like Gollum, Simon had to forget normal proportions and ratios.
Things he had to particularly consider were Gollum’s large head in comparison with his much skinnier body and limbs!
It’s important for Simon to get this right at this stage. If he began working on details like facial features before this is done, it would be easy to make a mistake that can’t be corrected once the wood is removed. In particular, an anatomically correct head shape gives Simon the reference points to begin adding facial features.
Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Creating the Face
Once Simon is happy with the shape and pose, he can begin working on the facial features. One of Simon’s strengths as an artist is that his work always tells a story and invites the viewer to participate. The face is a key part in that. And that means Simon always needs to have a back-story in mind which will determine the facial expression. In the case of the Gollum sculpture, Simon wanted to go for a look of surprise. The sculpture is more reminiscent of Gollum’s alter-ego, Smeagal. He has just caught a fish which he is about to eat, and is caught off guard by someone or something disturbing him. The moment Simon captures in this sculpture is when Gollum turns to face the thing that has disturbed him, surprise on his face.
Surprisingly, at this stage, Simon doesn’t usually switch to smaller tools yet, and will still use a chainsaw! He is still able to create a lot of detail just by using a smaller chainsaw (such as the Stihl MSA 200c) and a smaller blade.
Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Refining the Facial Detail
The final stage of creating a sculpture is to refine the details on the face – and indeed the rest of the sculpture. At this point Simon will use a Milwaukee angle grinder with Manpatools multicutter or Saburrtooth burr bits. The latter are especially great for adding shape and texture. For those who are interested in finding out more about how to use these tools, we have a blog about Simon’s favourite burr bits and how he uses them HERE. We also have a blog about the Manpatools tools he favours HERE.
Simon will often use these smaller tools to get into small nooks and crannies and create small, deep features. The gaps in Gollum’s teeth in the photo above are a great example of this.
Unlike visual art where there are different tones and colours that can be used, Simon is dependant on different depths of cut creating shadows which create the illusion of shape and texture. This means that at this stage he may need to exaggerate some cuts and create depths or gaps that are deeper than they would be in real life. Examples of this in the Gollum sculpture are the eyes, toes, and the tunic.
In the case of the eyes, Simon used the eye bit to create a deep cavity, where our eyes would usually be a ball shape. He left wood in place, and so created the illusion of a pupil.
We can also see this exaggerated cut in the toes. Simon has created much deeper cuts than we actually have if we examine our bare feet. The shadow this creates help give the impression of five distinct digits. If he didn’t do this, the viewer would have only the impression of a foot rather than a realistic representation.
The final example of these exaggerated cuts is the tunic, photographed above. In reality, this tunic would lie flat against Gollum’s legs. Simon, however, has made a deep cut along the edge of the tunic, which creates a thicker edge to the tunic, several centimetres removed from the leg underneath. This trick is what allows us to see that Gollum is indeed wearing clothing! Without that exaggerated gap and with no difference in the colour between the body and clothing, we wouldn’t be able to see the clothing from a distance.
Process of Creating the Gollum Sculpture: Knowing When to Finish
The final stage of creating a sculpture is refining the rest of the sculpture. This may include texture or folds in clothing, wrinkles in the skin or the fold of an elbow or knee. At this point though, the key part in the process is…. knowing when to finish!
Simon – like most artists – is committed to excellence. In a quest for perfection though, it can be easy to ‘over do’ it. There will always be small tweaks and refinements that can be made. However, Simon has to consider that those things may actually take away from a sculpture of this nature.
Simon also can’t rely on ‘am I happy with this?’ to determine if something is finished. Like most artists, he can be over critical and see flaws or things he would do differently next time, so that point may never come!
And so, at this point, Simon will be asking is the pose correct? Are all the proportions correct? Is the overall effect as it should be?
Then the sculpture is finished!
And in the case of Gollum, we hope you agree that it’s another fantastic piece.
If you have any questions about Simon’s process as an artist, we would love to answer them! You can contact Simon through his Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or by filling out the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.
That form is also the contact if you would like to commission your own sculpture.
Lastly, if you would like to see Simon creating this sculpture and hear his own thoughts on the process, we will have a video on Simon’s YouTube channel soon. Watch this space!