Sculpture Challenge Day 1 and an apology

Stiller Designs Sculpture Challenge Day 1, mask in Jelutong wood, front view
Day 1 mask in Jelutong, finished front view

The best laid plans and all that……

I must apologise for the delay in starting my Sculpture Challenge….I had something scheduled in on Monday that overran by 6 hours…..It kind of threw off the whole schedule of the day and sadly there was no time to make my sculpture challenge piece as I had work that needed to be completed and delivered. However, I did jot down a few sketches and came up with a couple of designs and I had a bit of a rethink about the whole challenge. Part of me thought I should just give up totally, after all I have missed my own deadlines and feel a little foolish. Part of me thought I should postpone it to another week, having missed the first day what is the point? But I decided that the same thing could well happen another week so it would be best to just get on with it this week. However, the biggest part of me said to just bump the whole thing by a day and get on with it…..

So here I am two days later ( I know, I know), and I have my first piece to share, which I am really pleased about. I also have a new plan for the challenge which should make it easier for me to complete it. Plan first…..I have discovered that trying to get through the day, figure out what to represent from the day, make it and write about it is just all too much, I don’t have the time. But I do have a solution for this which is how I have produced this first piece. At the end of the day I will sit and think about what I want to represent, make a few sketches and come up with a few potential designs. Then I will make the piece the next day. Writing about it and publishing the newsletter and blog post the following day (though earlier in the day!). So a new piece will appear each day, just under a more manageable schedule.

Stiller Designs Sculpture Challenge Day 1, mask sketches and initial ideas
Sketches and designs, working out variations in shape and placement.

Monday was a bit of an odd day for me filled with an awful lot of intense emotion, huge amounts of worry followed by immense relief. Somewhere I got the idea of waves or ripples and calm….the way that the waves/ripples of worry faded away into the calm of relief.

Stiller Designs Sculpture Challenge Day 1 - mask in jelutong wood, drawing out the approximate shape onto the squared piece of wood
Drawing the approximate shape onto the wood to make sure it looks roughly right.

I had picked out quite a few different sizes of wood to choose from but once I realised the time constraints I will be under I decided to restrict the size and depth of the piece of wood that I was using. I have enough to do all five pieces using the same size of wood, another worry gone or rather another decision gone.

Stiller Designs Sculpture Challenge Day 1 - mask in jelutong wood, starting the waves/ripples
Starting to put in the waves/ripples, trying out different gouges.

Something that has always amused me, and I tend to forget all the time, is how difficult a simple sketch can be to make in three dimensions. I thought I had come up with a really simple design, as you can see in my sketches…..boy was I wrong! I think it’s a combination of the smallish size of the piece, the wood I’m using and the design. Jelutong does not hold a sharp edge very well, but I have managed to work around that though.

Stiller Designs Sculpture Challenge Day 1 - mask in jelutong wood, putting the second eye in and using the waves/ripples to guide the outer shape
Putting the second eye in and using the waves/ripples to guide the outer shape

I roughed out the overall shape first, having left straight edges so that the block could be held in the vice. Then I worked in the ripples, experimenting with various gouges to see which ones had the shape and the cut that I wanted. It took a little while to work out something that I thought worked well.

I felt that one eye closed and one eye open would work the best, those are the only facial features that I felt were necessary.

Stiller Designs Sculpture Challenge Day 1 - mask in jelutong wood, finished piece, back view
Day 1 finished mask, back view…. was a bit nerve racking hollowing that out!

Hollowing out the back was quite nerve racking, I was worried about cutting through to the front of the carving so I left it thicker than I would think would be ideal.

Stiller Designs Sculpture Challenge Day 1 - mask in jelutong wood, finished piece, right hand view
Day 1 finished mask, right hand view

I am really, really pleased that I managed to finish this mask, i see it as being a sketch, a work in progress and it has given me a lot of ideas of further pieces to make. It really reminds me in both look and feel of a shell. I decided to not colour it in any way, to leave it plain this time and to not sand it in any way. I like the surface of the wood to have some life to it, sanding can seem to deaden the whole thing somehow. I think I will hang it above the carving bench, at least for now.

Stiller Designs Sculpture Challenge Day 1 - mask in jelutong wood, finished piece, left hand view
Day 1 finished mask, left hand view

This has all taken me a lot longer than I thought it would. I’m not sure if that’s due to all the general decisions I had to make regarding the challenge as a whole or if it’s just me getting my head around the piece. Whatever it was I am looking forward to what happens with the next sculpture.

I’d love to know what you think of this mask….

You can find the sculpture challenge day two here.




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’ .


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’ .


Life drawing, my weekly oasis

The life drawing at the end of week one, it turned out to be quite a good likeness of the model although that was unintentional
Life drawing/painting in gouache. End of week one

I love life drawing. There I’ve finally said it out loud.

When I was on foundation and my degree I did so much of it that I got a bit blasé about it and even a little bored. But since I started life drawing again just over a year ago I have refound my love of it. I take the class for the pure enjoyment of it, for fun, for the challenge it brings. Even bad weeks feel good. And I so look forward to each class.

What’s lovely about it is there is no pressure on me. It’s just for fun, to play and experiment, there is no other purpose to it and its brill. It is actually helping me to keep my sanity. A bit like a pressure relief valve in my week. A little oasis that is highly protected time. Things get arranged around life drawing….

At the beginning I started off using pencil but eventually, after a suggestion from the tutor, I moved to gouache. Something I have never used before. Crikey I haven’t painted since my A level art and that was in oils. Anyway I am loving gouache. The way it can be used in thin washes or put on thickly really appeal to me. Actually I haven’t really got around to applying it thickly at all, I never seem to get around to it in the time I have in class. To be honest I was more worried about the thought of using colour as I have always been told that colour is not my thing and I am no good at it. So I started off with using just black and white and introduced more colours over time.

To my amazement I have found that I do love playing with colour, especially the way the colours mix together when I apply the paint to already wet paper so that they run and bleed together and make up new colours in the process. I see all sorts of colours on the flesh, as you can see in my paintings. In fact I have a very hard time seeing what would be considered normal flesh type colours.

I am still working on finding a ‘style’ to my painting but I am thoroughly enjoying the playing and experimenting. Some of the paintings I like and some of them I don’t, but that’s just the way of the world I guess.

Once every term our tutor arranges for the same model to sit for two weeks, usually it’s a different model each week, to give us all the chance to work a bit longer on a single piece. We are just about to go to our second week of this term’s two week model session. Which is also the last class before the summer break.

All this time I have been drawing the whole body on the paper. This time I started it off in that way. Then I realised that things just weren’t right, the parts of the body I had done were not lining up and the angles were not right. I was going to have to start again. So I did the thing that is wonderful about gouache….I over wet the painting and wiped the paint away. Well not completely, it isn’t fool proof and does leave a ghost of the original painting. You can then paint over the top without being able to see the original, though it is easier if you change slightly what you are painting. I decided to go bigger. Bigger with less of the model on the paper

And for the first time this whole year I focused in on the head of the model. Just the head and shoulders quite large on the page as you can see. And you know what…

I am quite pleased with how the painting is going so far. Its something different for me and I am enjoying it.

Part of the purpose of sharing this painting before it is completed and before I have had a chance to work on it again is that it will force me to share the completed work no matter what I think of it when it is done. I have in the past had a tendency to wait until I knew whether something was going to work out as I had hoped it would before starting to show progress pics. This showing it before I know the outcome is a new and quite scary experience for me.

I am quite excited to see how this painting changes over the next class. I always find it a bit nerve racking going back to a completely dry painting when I am in a different headspace from when I started it. The best thing here is that I don’t feel any pressure. If it goes wrong, it goes wrong. I lose nothing. I gain experience. There is nothing relying on this painting, apart from sharing it here and in my newsletter, and that really takes a weight off my mind before I even start.

So lets see how the next class goes. And I look forward to sharing what happens with you…well kind of…sort of…maybe….watch this space…..





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’ .