Sometimes the path we set out on isn’t what we imagined it would be. Whether it’s halfway through post-secondary or halfway through a career, it takes a lot of strength to break away from initial goals and challenge ourselves to do something different. The idea of starting over again is a scary thought, but in truth we are never starting over from scratch. Experiences accumulate, and in some way will become applicable in what we do. For Toronto-based sculptor Gosia, she started out as a graduate of Sheridan’s illustration program. Realizing that commercial illustration wasn’t for her, she’s using her eye for detail and illustrative skills in a different way, creating truly unique and delicate sculptural work.
Meet The Artist
Can you describe your background in illustration and sculpture?
G: I thought I was going to be an illustrator. It was a bit of a wavy road to get to sculpture. I tried illustration in the beginning but then I realized I didn’t have the business side of it in me. I did have a website and people kept contacting me to see if they could buy the originals. I thought this is easier, it’s people contacting me rather than the other way around. One day my boyfriend bought me some clay after a few years of illustration and just said make something, so I made a face and I really loved it. I started really getting into these little faces and characters. I was selling them at One of a Kind and those kind of consumer shows. After 4 years I realized that because I made millions of these faces and characters, that my hands have become skilled from all that repetition. I had an urge to sculpt bigger, and I could feel in my hands that I was ready to sculpt bigger. The desire was overwhelming, I felt that I couldn’t do the old work anymore.
When it comes to running a practice, we all have to start somewhere. How did you start?
G: When I first started, I worked in my mom’s basement. My parents were, and still are, really supportive. My mom gave me her whole basement to do whatever I wanted, so it was a really lovely time because I got to spend a lot of time with her. At the same time, I did so much work. I worked until 2-3 in the morning, burning the midnight oil. I think that’s where the obsession with light came from because I worked in the basement and was always working with artificial light.
Did you always predominantly feature the female figure in your work?
G: It was always female figures for my paintings. I feel like the sculptures are just an extension of the larger paintings. I’ve never cared much for painting backgrounds or environments, I didn’t have the vision or patience for it. WIth sculpture, wherever you put it, the rest becomes the background. It was a very natural transition into a different medium.
Are your pieces usually imagined or based on real people?
G: Most of my paintings are imagined, there was one series based on my cousin but nothing too specific. For the sculptures I use models of people that I meet or friends and acquaintances. Usually I have an idea for a sculpture and I’ll think of someone who I think will be perfect for that vision. Then I take reference photos of them and that’s usually how it works. Or I see someone who I think is right and plug them into my idea.
Do you work with live models? What challenges do you have with reference material?
G: Right now I work from photos and take 360° photos. Ideally I’d like to move towards working from live models, I’m just not at a stage of my career where I can afford to do that. It’s easier to sculpt from real life than a photo because you’re still making up stuff, from a flat photo.
What mediums do you currently use for your sculptures?
G: I’ve moved on to water-based ceramic clay. I make molds from that and cast it in polymer gypsum. Polymer gypsum is a powder and a liquid solution, it’s liquid and once it sets it hardens like stone. I believe it’s used in a lot of architectural elements because it’s quite hard.
Are there particular models you like to use for sculpture? Have you ever approached random people on the street?
Usually the people I want to sculpt aren’t models. I have approached complete strangers to say “Can I sculpt you?” It’s like asking someone out on a date, really scary and awkward. Everybody thinks it’s weird, until they see your work, then they realize it’s real, it’s not a joke. I find I’ll miss out on moments sometimes when people walk by me on the street. I’ll see someone and think Ohh I want to sculpt you! But then they’ve already walked away.
What have been some of the technical hurdles in your work?
G: I’m self-taught in sculpture so I have no formal training, and each time I wonder: Can I do this? I’ve never done this before. So far it’s been happy endings for me. I’ve had moments when I’ve had to chop a head off and put it on a new armature to continue working because for instance, maybe my armature wasn’t strong enough and it was slouching. The technical stuff I am learning as I create these pieces so it’s slowing me down a bit. I’m not bored, ever. I’m challenging myself every time. I’ve really been lucky and I don’t know where it’s coming from, but it keeps me motivated and encourages me to work hard everyday.
How much planning goes into a piece?
G: I do thumbnails because I have so many ideas at a time so I start from sketches and from that I might work it out a little bit more. If it doesn’t have too much of an imagined element, I’ll have the model do it. I do alter my photos in Photoshop so that is an extra step in the process. I usually stretch out or change the proportions of the models. I like elongated figures, and the short shoulders to be down and narrow. I don’t stick to the references 100% either, it doesn’t have to be realistic. I do challenge myself to do correct anatomy so that it looks realistic but not entirely. That’s the issue with working directly from models, I might follow reality a bit too much.
Does public opinion or response ever affect your work?
G: I go through phases. I have the confidence, but the public’s input does sometimes make me question my direction. I try for it not to, but if you made three pieces and they react to one, you will question why that one gets more likes, comments, and sales. What did I do, will I try to do that again? Usually the pieces where I go with my gut feeling, those are the ones that end up becoming the most popular. People can really feel the energy and I give a lot of emotion to my pieces.
It seems that you really do put a lot into each piece.
G: I’m a sensitive person. When I sculpt, especially when it’s not working sometimes I cry because you get frustrated and everything’s just on your shoulders. There’s a lot of emotion and I found even when I was painting, it’s the pieces I struggled with the most that ended up being the most popular. It’s a pattern that I noticed.
Your work looks so accomplished it’s hard to imagine you go through this emotional roller coaster every time.
G: I’m always complaining, why I have to go through this roller coaster of emotions to get it right? It’s part of my creative process. Getting frustrated and even questioning my skills and talents halfway through. They are part of it, I wish they weren’t but they are. One moment I’m on top of the world and the next moment I’m wondering what was I thinking? But overall it’s always happy endings, it always turns out.
How many editions do you usually do?
G: Normally I do a limited edition of 5 or so of a piece. It keeps the art going around more so it allows me to send more pieces into different places.
Community & Support
Do you share the difficult experiences you go through in your work with your friends?
My best friend doesn’t listen anymore, she’ll just go ‘yep yep heard it before, talk to me in a month.’ I do a lot of complaining to my loved ones. Support is really nice, in the beginning I was working with my parents, my boyfriend, his family and friends. Behind the scenes I’m not doing it on my own. A lot of people listen to me. That’s why I wanted to move into a studio because even with the support of family they just don’t quite understand, I still felt alone in my mom’s basement because I didn’t have other people going through the same thing as me.
The studio environment must be really important in providing that artist support?
We’re constantly moving around the studio, giving each other support and feedback.
This community extends beyond the studio, we have so many painter and sculptor friends.
We all really support each other, I haven’t come across anyone that was competitive.
In a way we are competing with each other and yet I’ve never met anyone that makes me feel that way.
Is there anyone you’ve found particularly inspirational or influential?
There’s quite a few artists that I like. I think the influences are still illustrative because that’s truly still how I think when I create these pieces. I still think about line work and movement and all of that, which comes from my illustration background. I would say that James Jean was my biggest influence, just because my sculptures are realistic but at the same time they’re stylized and stretched, it’s the aesthetic that I like. I admired that he would do that, he has a few different styles but there’s his style with his linework.
I also liked that he had a little bit of gore but then so much softness in his work. That idea of a bit of innocence and a little bit of something darker. In terms of sculpture, I really admire Richard MacDonald, who does a lot of Cirque du Soleil related sculpture. I aspire to be that kind of a sculptor.
Is there a message or narrative you are trying to convey through your work?
I think it’s more based on feelings, rather than a message. It’s not ever defined, it just comes out in the work. I do always get an emotional response from the viewers, so I think I’m doing it successfully. What interests me is something that is gentle and soft, but there’s always a bit of darkness. Up until now the feeling has been more melancholy, which I find is quite beautiful and it’s easy to convey that kind of emotion.
I’m still kind of figuring it out, I was so focused on technical issues like Can I sculpt larger? Yes I can, but Can I sculpt features I’m not used to? The next step is, Can I do a full figure? So it’s at a point now that I’ve finally stopped questioning my technical ability to do these things, it’s like a world has opened up to me. Eventually I will venture into male characters as well. I still want to keep that sense of emotion and gracefulness, but bring male characters into it and evolve the work.
You’ve accomplished a lot so far with your sculpture. What would you like to try next?
G: Within the next month or two I’d like to do some kiln-fired ceramics. I really love the way kiln-fire pieces look glazed, I can’t get that appearance now. It doesn’t have the same sheen and quality. I would like to have more spontaneous pieces where I’m not so picky about everything, to be more free and expressive. It’s easier when you’re just making one.
To see more of Gosia’s work and find out about upcoming exhibitions, visit http://gosia.ca/.