In the Studio: The first head

I actually started and bisque fired this piece before moving back to Nebraska, so it’s been waiting for some kind of finish for about two years. It made it through my first pit firing, and a few weeks ago I finished it with a little gilding. I’m very happy with the result.

I’ve continued with the heads now that storm season is over. (A number of my cloud forms didn’t make it through the recent bisque or pit firings. Some were a porcelain I was trying out that just didn’t work with this kind of dynamic form.) They will be my winter project, in essence. I’m happy with the four or five more I’ve carved out so far and have tentatively begun sketching the human form again in order to hone my craft and inform the series — which for the moment is being referred to as “Us.”

There are some gorgeous results here from the pit firing, very subtle variations. The lack of detail in the face is intentional, a result of using a groggy clay at a small scale (about 7″ tall). This also makes the work a little less personal and more representative of the series’ generalized title.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

3 Responses to In the Studio: The first head

  1. sojournwanderer says:

    Your website is snowing. What in the world??

    A bust. It seems to be female, but may be a child. The hair is stylized, planes. The surface is mottled, smoky; the leaf gives a sense of erosion. The crown of the head is darkest by far, not from shadow; scorched, burned, the dark mark reads as representing a hole. This is the significant dark mark; the rest of the bust is fairly low-contrast in tone. The strongest feature of the face is the nose; another dark mark creates the appearance of the right nostril, but the other is flat, blank. The face’s most distinguishing openings – eyes, mouth – are blank, absent. From her left, she appears tight-lipped, whereas from front and right, she appears mouthless. The camera’s focus in all three images is on the hair, the part of the sculpture closest to the camera. The hair has a roughened, groggy-clay texture. I suspect this texture isn’t evident in person until the viewer gets close – which is interesting, because then there is some reward for walking up to the piece, which, I suspect, would otherwise be read in its entirety at a ten-foot distance or so. Photographically, the effect of focusing on this plane is to increase the quality of featurelessness, smoothing any similar texture that may exist, in some ways turning it into a shadow.

    “Us” becomes a title that offers questions. The person(s) represented is(are) blind and mute. Are – or have been made so. This person is vague enough to be anyone, but is also an anyone that is not right in the most fundamental way: the features that normally visually distinguish a face (infants can identify two dark spots with another dark line/shape below and centered, as a face) are gone… faceless face.

    • pcNielsen says:

      I must say, it’s interesting to read such a thorough response to [the photographs of] your own sculpture. I’m not sure I’ve ever had that kind of opportunity. The dark spot on the head I’m not sure about, but you can’t control those kinds of things in atmospheric firings as you know.

      The snow, I might be able to turn off, but it’s a seasonal WordPress thing. Came automatically.

  2. sojournwanderer says:

    This morning I was writing a reply to a friend’s responses to my recent work and also thinking of how much I learned from listening to my teacher talk about one of my works, literally just describing what he was seeing. It is a rare thing, something I will try to drag out of people in my next crit. And when I looked at this piece, I found myself wanting to write the same sort of thing in response.

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