Meet Carolyn Palmer! A master sculptor with an international reputation. Her work is in museums, public venues and private collections around the USA and the world.
Carolyn makes magic with clay cast into bronze and marble sculpted directly. She brings the famous from times past “back to life” as well as giving more life to the living. Her most recent sculptures are Pope Francis (the living Pope!), the Roosevelts (Franklin and Eleanor), and Lucille Ball.
A bronze Pope Francis bust by Carolyn Palmer will soon be placed in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, New York.
Lucille Ball! In the top photo, Carolyn is working on her larger-than-life figure portrait of Lucille Ball. Palmer’s sculpture replaced in infamous, “scary lucy” by selection as the winner of a national competition. Palmer’s Lucy sculpture was unveiled on August 6, 2016 on Lucy’s birthday in Lucille Ball Memorial Park, Celoron, New York.
After a visit to Carolyn’s studio for photographs, we continued our conversation in a restaurant converted from an old bank, dwarfed below the thirty-foot ceiling, dumbfounded to see diners in the old vault with its formidable five-ton steel door and surrounded by the bustle, crackle, chatter, hum of waiters, diners, dishes, music; we leaned in to hear each other.
SUZE BIENAIMEE: The purpose of this site, StudioSeeds.com and @StudioSeeds on Twitter is to explore inspiration — the seeds of creativity.
What is your inspiration?
CAROLYN PALMER: Light, shadow and spirit.
Light dancing on the various planes of people’s faces; I am passionate about looking for this. Because I sculpt mostly figures and faces, I’m inspired to bring out the features of each person by studying their lighting environment.
Theatre lighting is one of my favorite venues for inspiration because when I turn around to the audience before a play or intermission, I can see hundreds of portraits under a very strong overhead lighting. It’s a very dramatic way to see the nuances of many facial characteristics at once. Just check it out, you will see a powerful play on light; all the different facets of the face come to life through light casting it’s play on shadows.
And it’s the shadows created by the light.
I sculpt by manipulating the shadows. First, I stage a light from above and watch where it lays on the cheeks, nose, the forehead and then I read the shadows. If you look closely shadows have a spectrum from dark to light. This is how to perceive the depth of the planes; if they curve, turn or where they stop. When trying to achieve a person’s likeness from two-dimensional images, I’ll simulate the exact lighting in my studio with the shadows seen in the reference photographs. Then I start adding clay into the shadows where needed or take clay away from the lit areas to create more shadows. Next, I’ll twist and turn the portrait in various directions to to get a three dimensional likeness.
During this whole process of recreating shadows and light, I am feeling the spirit of my subject. It’s important to work from the heart. Artist, Marc Chagall said, “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing”. I agree!
So I would say, to bring out the spirit, I’m inspired by the way light and shadows dance on faces in many different environments. My current sculpture will be placed outside and when working on the patina, I am considering the position in the park to decide which patina looks best. With the morning, noon and evening lighting, it will appear different, like Monet’s “Haystacks”. The light casts various shadows and colors depending on the time of year and day. Other than the appropriate patina, another concern is sculpting the eyelashes, so they are thick enough to withstand the elements, but there is one caveat: I might not be pleased with the shadows from the sun’s zenith, but some things can’t be controlled.
Sculpture for me in not just about seeing. I sculpt with my eyes closed sometimes; I like to feel the sculpture.
I learned a lot from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt public commission; they said my pieces should be touchable, that the blind would be feeling the sculptures, so I started feeling them too with my eyes closed and thought, gosh, this is a gift to me too — to feel and sculpt with my eyes closed!
Even when I’m working on a leg, I think, that doesn’t feel like a real leg and so then I sculpt with my eyes closed until it does feel real. Then when I’m working on a neck or face, I feel along the shoulders and if I think a body wouldn’t feel that way, I can change it. So a lot of it is touch and feel — the way a real body would feel.
SUZE BIENAIMEE: Wow! Feeling the spirit of your subjects with the help of light and shadow! And sometimes your eyes are closed when you sculpt! That’s inspiring!
Thank you Carolyn.
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Carolyn Palmer Sculpture of Lucille Ball Replaces “Scary Lucy” StudioSeeds Inspire By Suze Bienaimee