A direction to head in and a sculpture challenge

Blocks of Jelutong wood ready and waiting to be made into sculptures and masks over the next week
Blocks of Jelutong wood ready and waiting to be made into….

I have always had trouble deciding on which direction I want my art to go in, actually that’s not strictly true. Other people have always told me I have trouble deciding what to do, that I am indecisive. I feel that I have only had trouble since I left uni, when I was there I hit on a direction and whole heartedly went with it. It was quite personal work based around me and my feelings and my confidence and I was not sure that I wanted to continue along that line afterwards. I backed away from basing my work around myself completely and have spent years trying to figure out what to do instead…which mostly ended up being nothing…I have finally come to the conclusion that I have no other choice, I have to do that which is inside of me, I have to have some personal meaning in my work. Well at least in a part of my work I have to satisfy that urge, scratch that itch if you like. It may sound like an almost trivial decision but it has taken me a long time to reach that conclusion.

One thing that I have realised recently is that although I have said since I was small that I wanted to be a sculptor I had never actually worked out what kind of sculpture I wanted to do, what material, what theme, what area, no specific detail. Looking back I feel that may be due to it being frowned upon, even in a creative family, and I didn’t rebel enough to just go and do it so I was feeling unfulfilled for a long time but doing nothing about it and not even working out what I really wanted.

The work I produced for my degree show was sculptural, more sculptural than the tutors on my course liked, but after that I just seemed to let it dwindle away. And once I took over the frame carving business it seemed to disappear altogether as I had other things right in front of me that needed to be dealt with first, namely making work that would be guaranteed to be paid for, work on commission.

I have over the past few years realised that something is missing, I don’t feel right, there is more that I want and need to do. I have never stopped having ideas, nor being inspired, nor coming up with things to make yet I have never really pursued any of them. I am very good at setting up my own barriers and stopping myself moving forwards, after all being right where I am is quite nice and comfortable and not at all scary or anything.

But the time has come to change that, I need for my soul to sing, I need to give myself a good hard shove out of my comfort zone and see where I end up. Up till now I have done that quite gently by trying different things, Netsuke, portrait sculpture, life drawing, corset making, latex clothing, chainsaw carving, but I haven’t really shared all that much with anyone, as I’ve not been sure where I’m headed I’ve just done it for myself.

And I have discovered that I have trouble finishing things that are done just for me, well if you don’t finish it you can’t show it to anyone can you? Commissioned frames I do not have trouble with, they are always finished on deadline. And I also got into the habit of if I did decide to share something I was trying I would not start talking about it until I knew it was going to work out. All things that I need to work on, and I have made a start by posting my life drawing when it was half way through and I didn’t know how it would turn out, you can see the first part here and the second part here. Yes I finished it and I shared it and even though it was a scary experience no puppies have died and nothing bad has happened…I think I may well do it again…in fact I am going to do it again, hence this post.

I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out answers to my own questions of direction and what kind of sculpture I want to make and I feel that I finally have some inkling of where I am going to start. I have realised that I can only choose a starting point and see where it takes me, I cannot plan out the whole thing, I cannot guess where I’m going to end up. Attempting to do that is what has caused me to not even start in the past. I have to concentrate on the now and trust that it will lead to somewhere and not try to work out that end point. The only thing that I do know is that I would like it to be some form of sculpture, although there is no actual guarantee that it will end up as such.

The starting point I have decided on is my fascination with faces, and people, and their bodies, and personalities, and emotion, and how much you cannot tell about someone just by looking at them, the things that are hidden, the things that cannot be seen. I am not quite sure how this will manifest itself, but I am going to give myself the starting point of exploring this by looking at masks…..

I have devised myself a challenge, something to get me making and finishing work and all to a set time deadline. For the next 5 days I will make one piece per day, based around the emotions and feelings I am having on the day. I will get each piece to a finished state in that day and then I will share it with you. At this time I have no real idea what size I will be making the pieces, I’m guessing I will find out what I can do in the time that I have available as I still have other work to do as well. The woodchips (my newsletter) readers will get to see the finished result first on the morning of the following day and then I will post here on the blog in the afternoon. I may well be posting sneak peeks of the pieces as I work on them on instagram and twitter. If you would like to be among the first to see what I am up to then please do sign up to get woodchips in your inbox here.

I am really excited about this and so looking forward to it, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind since I only decided to do this late last week. I have some pieces of wood on standby to give me some choice of size and shape (you can see some of them in the photo in this post). It’s going to be a busy week but I know that it will be worth it. I cannot wait to meet the pieces I am going to make. I do hope that you will come along with me….




Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Sculpture, Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .


Life Drawing – Part Two

In this life painting study of a head and shoulders, the body has been put in with light washes so that the emphasis is still on the head.
The final life painting. The body has been washed in and I feel helps to complete the composition of the piece yet does not overwhelm the head which is the focal point.

I do find it quite difficult coming back to a life drawing after a week’s break. Mostly because I never seem to know where to start it again or usually what to do when I finally do. Then again that is a part of the excitement and challenge of doing the life drawing. You can read the post about the first week here.

It’s really odd but as soon as I get more time and can progress further with a painting a little panic creeps in. I get very worried about how I am going to continue. Mostly because my head is usually in a completely different place and things can look very different. And also because the more I work the more I lose the translucency and brightness that comes from the washes of paint that I usually start with.

Inevitably the paint gets thicker, well the more layers of paint you put on the paper it is bound to happen. And I sometimes end up with muddy areas where things start to brown when I haven’t meant them to. I have discovered that kitchen towel is a great help here to mop up any unwanted paint and also helps a lot when a mistake has been made and needs to be removed.


The life drawing in gouache at the beginning of week two
Life drawing/painting in gouache. Beginning of week two


I was quite pleased with the first weeks work on this painting, I felt that I had stopped at a place that gave me a good starting point for the second week but had no real clue where to start again. I did ask for help and advice. The thing that really stood out for me was the darkness behind the model and the glints of light that I could see around the front edge of her face. That was something that I really wanted to show. From where I was sitting her whole face was in shadow and the colours I could see were amazing. I worked hard to keep the highlights clear of paint as I had no masking fluid to protect the white of the paper.

As the painting moved on I was surprised that the bright colours I use were getting more and more muted, I haven’t quite decided what I think about that just yet though there I still a lot of colour in the painting.


the first break of week two, the background is getting darker and I'm working hard to protect the highlights
First break of week two, concentrating on darkening the background and protecting the highlights.


I do find that even though this was a two week (four hours total) there is still never enough time to get the painting to a finished state. Although what is a finished state anyway? I am not sure that I even know. I do like having an imposed time limit as it forces me to stop painting no matter how far I have got. I do remember when working on A level paintings I sometimes over worked the painting as I didn’t know when to stop.

I have taught myself to take a picture every time we stop for a break and that gives me a good idea of the changes that I make as I go along although I feel that the changes that happen in the first week can often seem more dramatic than those that happen in the second week.



The panting is getting darker overall and I have been working to define the muscles and detail of the face
The painting is getting darker overall, more time has been spent defining the details on the face.


A good suggestion made by the tutor during this class was to leave some areas of the painting with lighter washes and work more into other areas so that the different parts of the painting start to have a different emphasis. He showed me some of Picasso’s gouache work which is really beautiful and such an inspiration. It really gave me a good idea of what to head for. I used that idea to work more into certain areas and to start to use white paint to give the painting a lift.

I could have spent a lot longer on this painting although I am very pleased with the final result. This is my first head study for many years but hopefully not my last. I would love to know what you think….




Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Sculpture, Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .


Printmakers Exhibition at Avocet Gallery


Shooting Star over the Long Man by Ian O'Halloran
‘Shooting Star over the Long Man’ by Ian O’Halloran

We popped along to Avocet Gallery and Tea Rooms the other day to have a look at their current exhibition – Printmakers.


I have always been drawn to printmaking ever since my dad showed me a book of Aubrey Beardsley’s work when I was quite small, I know maybe something a little odd to show a small child? I never really understood what I was looking at back then, I just loved all the swirls and trails. I think it could be responsible for my love of Art Nouveau.


Much as I like printmaking  it’s not something that I have ever really tried. I like to go and look at prints and am especially drawn by work with lots of texture, I love texture.


The textures in this print ‘Shooting Star over the Long Man’ by Ian O’Halloran called out to me. Even though I know it is depicting the countryside around the Long Man of Wilmington (well I hope it’s that Long Man!), to me it feels like I am looking at a roiling sea shown in that beautiful red light you sometimes get at sunset. All the patterns and textures allow your eye to flow around the image, it took me quite a while to find the shooting stars as I was a little bewitched by following the flowing and turning of the earth.


Another by Ian O’Halloran that drew me towards it is ‘Folkington Hill’. The fantastic texture of the ploughed field pulled me right into the print deep enough to follow right to the back and make me wonder what is around the corner behind that hill. You could spend quite a while just sitting and wondering that, working out the wondrous things that are hidden just out of sight.


Folkington Hill by Ian O'Halloran
‘Folkington Hill’ by Ian O’Halloran


Hester Cox’s ‘Autumn Field’ is also depicting a ploughed field, see the textures are just sucking me in. The ploughed furrows lead your eye straight to the horizon at the back of the print, again making me wonder what is there just over the horizon, tucked out of sight. It looks like a pretty desolate landscape and to my eyes a very flat one, I wonder if he spends any time on Romney Marsh at all. The round circles in the ‘sky’ of the print are actually the lights in the gallery reflected in the glass, they are not a part of the print, though it does make it look like it is an alien world with several suns in orbit. I am completely fascinated by ploughed fields, there are so many round here, I think maybe one day I should try carving one, but that is a topic for another time.


Autumn Field by Hester Cox
‘Autumn Field’ by Hester Cox


This is, I think, the first time I have seen work by Flora McLaughlin and I seriously have to wonder if she is a field archer. A couple of the prints shown here are so like archery shots it is uncanny, made me stop and look for a very long time, especially ‘Deer Drop’. This print makes me feel like I am standing in the heart of the forest in amongst where the trees are the most ancient and densely packed. Sneaking a look around a tree and seeing the deer in the clearing ahead, the dew drop caught on the branch right in front of me, threatening to drip onto my nose.


Deer Drop by Flora McLachlan
‘Deer Drop’ by Flora McLachlin


‘Hastings Old Town’ by John Russell is not strictly a print, being described on the label as a ‘paint-ink collage’. It watched us while we ate and I spent quite a long time looking back, I’m not sure what it is I like about it, maybe it’s the colours, maybe it’s the slight randomness of the buildings. It’s something I know that I could live with and spend a lifetime looking at. Sadly at the moment I can’t justify the purchase so it will have to stay where it is.


Hastings Old Town by John Russell
‘Hastings Old Town’ by John Russell


Looking back at the photographs I have taken of the work in the exhibition I have realised that I have done the one thing I hate about images in art books, I have left out the frames!!! Considering I am a frame maker I think it’s terrible of me, I must try to remember next time to include the frames.


The exhibition is on until the middle of October and the gallery is open Wednesday till Sunday from 10.30am – 5pm. Go along and have a look, Avocet is a lovely gallery and the owners are so welcoming.


And finally, as they say, as mentioned before yes we did eat while we were there. I mean who can resist the lure of homemade cake? A stronger person than me obviously. I succumbed to the lure of my favourite fruit cake and Mum can highly recommend the cheese platter, yum.


Cheese platter at Avocet Gallery
Cheese platter at Avocet Gallery








Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .



A carved wood George and Dragon for St George’s Day

Carved wood and silver gilded George and Dragon by Norbert Stiller, my dad
‘George and Dragon’ by Norbert Stiller (my dad) carved wood and silver gilded.


Just a little something to share as it is St George’s Day today.

My dad, Norbert Stiller, carved this as a part of his diploma when he was, I think, 16. He said that he had an argument with his tutor about it as he didn’t want to gild it but the tutor made him. I have no idea what wood was used.

It stands about 4 feet tall to the tip of the spear.







Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .