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The Story: Page 2
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Here is what I was able to achieve on my very first try.  Realize that I had no idea I could do this and I had probably only made 3 or 4 duck decoys and a few relief carvings by this time.

With the hands buoying me up, I had John glue me up a big block of basswood and I got to carving Babe Ruth's head.  I looked at as many photos of him as I could.  Hundreds and hundreds of photos.  I looked at them, and them looked some more.  Some nights, I was so scared to remove any wood, that I just looked at pictures.  While I've improved greatly at heads and likenesses since this piece, I did not do drawings and still don't.  To put energy into a drawing is a waste, to my thinking.  If I put that energy into the carving, I'll be better off.  You draw with the pencil right on the wood, and then you draw with your chisel and grinders.

It's hard to explain the slowness that this phase takes on.  You might look at 5 or 6 different photos and then remove a single puff of sawdust from his cheek, before you get spooked and stop, and look back at the pictures all over again.  And the photos themselves are not what you think they are.  While Babe Ruth and these other big stars were the most photographed humans in history, the photos are usually unusable for various reasons.  With a guy like Babe Ruth, his weight fluctuated, I want to bet, almost 100 pounds during his playing career from 1914 to 1935.  And much of that weight gain and loss was in his face!  So you might have a great photo with a lot of eye detail, but his weight is so high that it throws you off!  And the Holy Grail of photos are true profiles and half profiles, but you may have the bill of the hat ruin the eye area, or he may be smiling!  Smiling, RUINS the face for my purposes!  And that was by far the biggest challenge of doing Mickey Mantle's face.  He's smiling in almost all of his photos!  That ruins everything from the bump in the nose, down.  Ruth must have not deliberately smiled as much as Mantle; that, or he was hung over in many of his shots, because he is stone faced in enough of them, that he leaves  you the bottom of his face to work from.

The other important component of faces is distinguishing features.  You know, it's kind of like caricature--if the subject has a big hook nose or a squinty look, the caricature artist can use that to do a great caricature.  It's really no different with sculpture, when you are trying to nail the likeness of a famous person so that 90% of the people that see it, will immediately think, "...oh yea, that's so-and-so".  With Babe Ruth, you have the wide nose.  I've measured it over and over on both of my Ruth statues and it is a full inch to either side of the center.  It is an enormous nose.  In fact, in his day, many opposing ballplayers would taunt him over the size of his nose.  So a feature like that is a real boon to the carving.  I look at the photos of my first statue and today, the face and likeness are the one thing I feel bad about.  Don't get me wrong, I love that statue and the overall look works, but I feel I could do a lot better on the face now.  But you know something?  Because of the absurd features of Babe Ruth, the primitive job I did on him work well in an almost folk-art kind of sense.

Mickey Mantle was challenging because his features were so perfect.  Face it, Mickey was a good looking guy with no real out-of-the-ordinary facial features.  That makes it hard to do his likeness.  A millimeter of wood on his cheek and he's not Mickey anymore.  Lesson learned.  Mickey was torture.  But Babe's face was very forgiving.

Here's the raw head of Babe Ruth on the left and Mickey Mantle on the right.  But you see the magic marker lines and the basic face taking shape.  Nose is defined first and then eyes and mouth.  Once you know those are spaced correctly, you define chin and cheeks, easing in all the time so as not to ruin what you have started.  And since you cut in from the front, your tendency is to make a flat face.  One of the hardest things to do is take wood off of those edges of the cheeks and orbital bones of the eyes.  It's particularly hard because you usually don't have good 3/4 photos of the face to prove to yourself that it's ok to remove that wood.  It gets downright scary.  Sometimes you have to just get mad at yourself and get a little "reckless", if that makes any sense.  Sometimes, you are looking in a mirror at YOUR face, to convince yourself that there's no way some wood belongs on the guy's face.  Sometimes, a beverage can get you to "care less", which paradoxically, is exactly what you need to get going at some points.  You can't let the fear of making a mistake paralyze you.  Sometimes you are literally chanting to yourself, "...even if I ruin it, I'm going to take some wood off now...the worst thing that can happen is we start over..."  And away you go.

My sculpting mantra has always been: You do the easy parts first, and the hard parts become easy.  And that is true with the face and head.  At first, you are just doing common sense wood-removal.  You're thinking, "no one has a square head, so this has to go..."  Or, "no one has a neck this thick, so this goes..."  But as you ease into the likeness, it all slows to a crawl and you check photo after photo for each time you TOUCH the wood.  You need to do that, but you also need to avoid the paralysis that sets in. 

Here, the work on the body has halted while the head and hands got top priority.  I cringe now, looking at not only how much wood I wasted, but how much endgrain I worked.  And I did this statue without the chainsaw so it was all chisel and die grinder work.  So much wasted time!  If I did it now, everything above the second tier across the legs would be hollow in the middle.  The folds in the uniform haven't been done yet, but apparently, I've been thinking about them with a red magic marker.  Actually, on the right leg, I see the beginnings of some folds and creases being cut in.

Here is the head now pretty nearly finished and the likeness looks pretty good, overall.

As Babe finally took full height, the enormity of the thing started to hit me.  This guy was huge.  Even unpainted, he did something to you.  Many, many times, I'd turn my head and catch him out of the corner of my eye and just JUMP!  Your brain tells you that there's no one in the room with you and then you see a glimpse of something that makes you doubt that.  Everyone had a few of those moments in the beginning.

Again, bad planning had me cutting out the shoulder sockets and handling it a different way--wasted wood!  Wasted money!  Wasted time!

Although he looks to be near to finished here, he's far from it.  Much more wood has to come off, especially on top.  Belt loops have to be made, seams carved and burned in and then the whole thing sanded until your fingernails were gone, and then sanded some more.  After that comes the sealer and more sanding and more sealer and then finally, you can think about the paint job.

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