Sculpting Emotion with Jim Lee of Auburn
● Published by Style
Sculptor Jim Lee creates clay portraits and figures with incredible precision and emotion, in addition to offering workshops at his studio in Auburn. “Watching people’s expressions—who’ve never sculpted or even touched clay—[as they] create a human bust or torso is very rewarding.” His 20-hour, three-day workshops are taught in small groups, so he can provide hands-on coaching and detailed instruction. Watch Lee in action at the Auburn Art Walk (August 4) and PlacerArts Studios Tour (November 10-12), as he performs live sculpting demonstrations.
HLB: What about the human form captivates you?
JL: Its simplistic complexity. The human form is very lineal yet no one is perfect. All teaching is from a “rule of thumb” perspective (vertical, horizontal lines and triangles), [but] it’s the oddities that make us so different and beautiful.
HLB: How have you progressed in your art?
JL: I’ve drawn faces [for as long as] I can remember. As an adult, I tried sculpting faces out of wood only to find that if you make a mistake, [you] just keep digging. Years later, I came across an artist sculpting clay masks at the Laguna Art Festival. The mask he was working on had one cheek lower than the other, and I watched with fascination as he simply reached down, grabbed a piece of clay and fixed the error—just like that! It triggered a five-alarm fire in my head. I went out the next day, bought 50 pounds of clay, and started sculpting.
HLB: You emphasize studying anatomy, bone structure, emotion, age, etc. Why are these key?
JL: When I started sculpting, I did a lot without really knowing why; it was like drawing but in 3D. I was introduced to Larry Ortiz at Clay Arts Studio in Auburn who taught me a lot about clay. In my search to be a better sculptor (books, YouTube, Internet), I came across renowned sculptor Philippe Faraut from New York. His easy and fast teaching style with an emphasis on emotion and gesture was exactly what I needed. I bought his books, DVDs and tools, and eventually took classes from him in portrait and full figure. Both artists encouraged me to teach, [and said it] would make me better, but if I was going to do it, I had to know what’s under the skin to explain what happens with expression and why, as well as proper bone structure. I’ve spent countless hours learning anatomy and bone structure, and I’m still learning; the learning curve is endless.
HLB: What are your future ambitions?
JL: I got a fortune cookie years ago that read: “More art in your life will make you happy.” If I can share something that may last someone’s lifetime, that’s a good goal; watching a student tear up after they thought they couldn’t [do something] is another worthy one; making a complicated subject simple is good, too. The education of the human form is never-ending. My work improves every day that I improve. I’m always looking for more! jcleestudios.com