Artist Spotlight - Heather Cole

Artist Spotlight - Heather Cole

Heather is an artist that can invigorate any listener with her love for sculpting and her drive to create art and she has certainly accomplished a lot since she started her journey.  Heather was incredibly available and giving of her thoughts for this interview which was conducted about six months ago via numerous emails.  Thank you Heather!

SS: The beginning is always a good place to start. Has art always been a part of your life?

HC:  I have always loved creating things.  At an early age I would sketch faces and write poetry.  My father made art: sculpting, painting, building, things like that when I was a child, but he always kept it hidden under the guise of a “hobby”.

I don’t think the choice of becoming an artist happened overnight.  It was more a slow unfolding with many stops and starts.  Yet, there are two times that stand out as pivotal commitment moments.  The first took place in Italy about three years ago.  My friend, Erica, and I took advantage of an opportunity to live and make art in a small village named Pacentro in central Italy.  Her uncle had an empty apartment there.  It was paradise.  I would paint all day and socialize all night with the locals over a scrumptious meal.  Mid-way through this adventure I had a strong desire to create something with more substance than a painting.  A friend suggested sculpting to me and brought me a hunk of clay.  The movement and feel of three-dimensional art felt right.  My hands flowed with ease during the process.  Yet I wanted more and soon bumped into the local stone sculptor.  Immediately thereafter he whisked me off to his studio and taught me the preliminaries to stone sculpting well into the night! Three months later it was time to return to America. I promised myself to pursue art in a more serious manner then I had previously done.

SS:  Who most influenced your pursuit of sculpting when you returned home?

HC:  I quickly and easily found myself a mentor, Chuck Iffland, and a spacious yet primitive studio equipped with power, other stone sculptures and wild cats.  Chuck was and still is an excellent teacher. He would show me the basics then leave me to experience the rest for myself.  I shared the studio with him so he was there to answer most questions that would arise.  For the first year I concentrated solely on sandstone heads, a bit larger than life, using only hand tools.  Then my sessions with Chuck became more focused on the philosophy of art and what was happening inside me than the practical side of chiseling chunks.  An inner transformation was taking place as I pushed myself to express more of myself within my art.  I became more vulnerable, more open and therefore less “normal”.  My life began to change rapidly.  I had been a traveler and had a vagabond  lifestyle that came to a halt. You can’t easily move stones from place to place, country to country! Chuck told me, after a little over a year of sculpting with him, that it was time to go solo on my sculpting adventure.  I then got a job as a freelance sculptor doing commercial art.  I knew at the time it was going to be temporary because although I was learning new skills and getting paid for it, it did not feel at all like art (not to mention the toxicity of polyurethane foam).  At about the same time I had the opportunity of doing a show with my first six pieces at the Art Not Terminal Gallery.  Immediately after this I moved to Port Townsend. Here I have set up a studio in my garage.  I had felt that I was ready to spend some serious time exploring all that the previous year and half had taught me within the peace and seclusion of a small town.


SS:  How has NWSSA influenced you or helped in your art pursuits?

HC:  A few months after moving to Port Townsend I met Arliss Newcomb who introduced me to NWSSA and told me about Camp Brotherhood. It was at Camp Brotherhood that another big leap happened for me.  I became familiar with power tools, other stones besides sandstone and I met a variety of stone sculptors with endless information.  My world as a sculptor expanded.

During the year that followed Camp Brotherhood I worked on many different stones - alabaster, limestone, soapstone, and began researching power tools.  By the time the next Camp Brotherhood came around I began my $4,000 purchase of power tools and studio necessities and committed myself further.  I went from sculpting two to three times a week just about every day.  For the past six months I have been diligently teaching myself (with the help of Arliss, Chuck and Alex) about pneumatic hammers, angle grinders, drills, sanders, along with more new stone: pipestone, marble, granite and basalt.  Two months ago, I made a promise to myself to finish five of my pieces that I had not yet completed to gallery showing status.  This meant learning how to base, sand, seal and wax.  Thanks to Joanne Duby’s classes at Camp Brotherhood I had a big helping start.  Having accomplished this I now feel confident with power tools and all stages of stone sculpting.


SS:  Tell us a little about the transformation you spoke of earlier, and your relationship with sculpting?

HC:  To me, making art is about letting go.  Releasing the ego, the mind, time, stresses, etc.  Giving in to deep emotion.  To me it’s about being absolutely honest and being able to be vulnerable within this honesty.  Through this I hope to color my art in a way that touches others.  Any reaction, as long as it is real, pleases me.  Even disgust, because that would mean that my art was challenging someone and therefore saying something to them.  Art can be simply another, possibly higher, form of communication.  My life philosophy is to always be learning and teaching.  To be honest and open within all parts of my life, and to have fun but never avoid.  To conquer all my fears.  To learn, and relearn, what strength is and to be that.  And to love.


SS:  Do you have a particular “style” that you have developed, or a form that you use in carving?

HC:  I am primarily a figurative artist.  The body is a language that I feel deeply and can easily communicate with.  My focus in art is stone sculpting but I also oil paint, sketch, use clay and am open to almost any form of art.  I am not completely representational with my figurative art.  I feel the need for balance but not complete realism.

I enjoy going with shapes and movements and will follow this over correct figure alignment.


SS:  And how do you carve what methods or tools do you use?

HC:  I use a direct process when sculpting.  I have never used a maquette.  Before I begin a sculpture, I spend quite some time with the stone looking at all angles until I come upon its form.  I allow the stone and my emotion, through the entire process, to dictate what will be its form.  At times, I feel as if I am simply cleaning the stone of unwanted debris.  The most important thing to me is to remain open, so that outside influences don’t impose themselves upon the sculpture and in order for my emotion to be transferred honestly to the piece.  Nearly every time I have had a major break in the stone while sculpting it was clear to me that I had broken the above rule.  Amazingly, these times are also some of my greatest creative break-throughs — where I go beyond what I have ever done before.  It is difficult to shut off the mind, to release outside opinions, to not allow previously viewed art to influence my pieces.  Following the stone helps with all this.  It takes me partially out of the process.  I am also very interested in balance. When I am not in my studio sculpting, I study the human figure by going to nude drawing sessions, sketching from memory and use of my own body. I also oil paint the figure (paying attention to light), do clay figurative studies, and look at other figurative art as well as studying books on human musculature and bone structure.  I feel it is important to know the language of the body well.  In order to express naturally and easily during the sculpting process and making sure that balance is obtained.


SS:  Tell us about your most recent works?

HC:  My most recent piece is a mother and child out of pipestone.  It stands about a foot and half tall.  It is very much about flow and is more abstract than most of my pieces.  I felt a deeper sense of letting go within this one.  I used mostly power tools on this piece because it is a hard stone and I was happy to see that doing this did not inhibit the emotion transfusion that happens so easily with hand tools.

I’ve recently finished an alabaster piece that I had made for my boyfriend.  I finished the bulk of it over a seven-day period.  I worked morning and night, not concentrating on the practicalities as much as my emotion.  I felt like I was reading a great novel that I could not put down.  My feeling easily flowed in this mania.  I like this piece because I can easily see the love that I was feeling during this period.

I have produced seven sculptures this year - limestone, soapstone, three alabaster pieces, pipestone, and sandstone, all of which are figurative.  My biggest challenge in my work has consistently been validating the choice of being an artist to those people who do not create art and will never understand.


SS:  Heather, what has been your greatest satisfaction so far?

HC:  My greatest satisfaction as an artist is the peace and connectedness  I feel while in the process of creating a sculpture.  This experience is the highest one in my life.  Another satisfaction is when my art deeply touches someone else.


SS:  What does the future hold in store for you? Do you have any plans?

HC:  I hope to do a gallery show sometime this year and in the fall of next year I hope to go to Pietra Sante, Italy, to study marble sculpting for a month.  Until then I will be working on my portfolio and cruising through the literally ton of Colorado and Italian marble I have calling to me in my studio.