My Sculpture Starts With a Line

My Sculpture Starts With a Line -  by Jennie Lea Knight

A line can be a pencil mark on a piece of paper, but that same line can describe the tension that exists from the point of a shoulder to the supporting heel on the same side of a body.  The quality of the line can make it move very rapidly or ramble slowly, and the rate of speed will determine the degree of tension in the body the line is describing.

A line can describe volume.  A single line can create an enormous volume, and, by varying the thickness of the line,  the weight and tension within the volume can be shifted.  Emotion can also be created with a line.  There are nervous lines and humorous lines and heavy threatening lines and countless other kinds of lines that will enrich a drawing.

Drawing two lines creates still another tension, not a line describing a tension, but the tension that actually exists on a piece of paper  between the two lines that have been drawn, another dimension as it were.  If the two lines describe the legs of a figure standing, the opportunity exists for them to describe tension, weight, and volume, and to create still more tension by having those legs describe a twist that will affect the entire body. 

When I draw, these are the qualities I look for and try to capture in my work.  Sometimes, I start drawing because something I have seen says “sculpture” to me, and I need to make marks that will capture the sculpture in whatever I have seen.

I work in wood. I did in the past and I still do today.  There was a time, 20 years ago, when I made large abstract sculpture. I used  heavy industrial machines to mill the wood for my work.  The day came when I could no longer use those machines or work at that scale. I had developed a progressive condition for which there is no cure. There is fatigue and pain involved, and I realized that I had to give up a lot of things that had made up my life. I wondered what I would do with all the hours that those things had filled.  All my tools and the carefully dried wood were still there.  My eyes and hands were still part of me and functioning quite well, but I could no longer use chisels or sanders as the vibrations hurt my hands.  Piece by piece, I sold off the heaviest of the machinery. 

In a catalog, I found an ad for carving knives.  They were very beautiful, and I ordered two or three of them. The knives arrived and were indeed very beautiful, but what was I going to do with them?                                                                                                                                                                                                       I certainly could not make the kind of sculpture I had been making.  The long dry period continued. One day, I picked up a small piece of scrap wood from the studio and began to whittle on it just to see how good the knives were.  The knives were very good, and it felt wonderful to cut wood again.

I started with a line.  A chicken I had seen in the yard that day had a beautiful line from the crest of her neck down her back, becoming a flowing tail and then the great volume of her body, which was supported by two thin sticks that were her legs.  With this in my mind’s eye, I began to carve. Working on something that in reality is measured in inches while trying to keep the quality of  that dynamic line meant that I had to learn a new way of seeing and transposing what I saw.  It took a long time to finish that hen.  It was slow, tedious work.  I had to hold the piece with my left hand and carve with my right, and I had to learn a new set of techniques.  My mind wandered back to the last show I had before I became ill, and I asked myself what in the world I was doing.  Then I looked at my chicken again, and the answer was “I am carving wood.”  The world suddenly seemed a better place.