“Wooden Head” is neither wooden, nor a head. Rather, it is a sculpture created by Ms. Olivia Comstock, a friendly Idahoan who is a freshman at the University of Idaho and who is studying microbiology and philosophy.
Recently, I interviewed her to learn more about her, “Wooden Head” and what it means, how it was created, and what inspired her to create it. I also asked her other questions such as what the best advice is that she’s been given and what the best advice is that she would give.
The Scribendi staff awarded “Wooden Head” the Staff Choice Award because it is sleek and because the soft, browns of the sculpture make for a pleasant picture against the gradient background. But with the additional information about the artist and the piece, “Wooden Head” can be enjoyed all that more.
Tell me, who is Olivia?
I am from Boise, Idaho. While there, I was on the swim team, and I enjoyed reading, science, art, outdoor activities, and rock climbing! I am now a freshman at the University of Idaho and I am majoring in microbiology and philosophy. Currently, I am figuring out what I want to do during and after college. I would probably like to go to grad school, but, who knows really? Life is unpredictable and fluctuating! This is a hard question because it is so hard to define yourself. I feel like I enjoy so many different things, but none of them really overlap.
How do you feel about being published in Scribendi?
It is pretty exciting and very unexpected!
How did you react when you received news that you were being published?
I was really surprised, and I was also impressed that my stuff made it in because I have never really thought of myself as an artist.
How do you feel about getting this award?
I have received other awards before for different work, and every time I get one I always feel a little bit like an imposter because I think that this should be for someone else—that they deserve it more than I do. There are so many really talented people out there and so I just never feel like I am the one who deserves it!
What does this award mean to you?
It just further helps to confirm myself as someone who is artistic and whose art actually matters and is not just a fun, side hobby.
What does your piece mean?
In my sculpture, I compare human age and wisdom with the width of trees. I challenge the idea that we automatically acquire wisdom as we age. Instead, I argue that humans grow and acquire wisdom like trees: People acquire lots of wisdom (thick rings of wisdom) when they have experience heavy years, and people do not acquire lots of wisdom in other years. In other words, they have a thin ring since they had a dry time without character growth. A tree can become very wise in only a few years, but an old tree can still be small.
This is also what the audience needs to know in order to understand, or “get the most out of,” “Wooden Head.” You should also think about people in your life: adults, grandparents, younger kids, and peers. Think about how wisdom presents itself in people of different ages and whether or not you always see elderly people as the most knowledgeable ones. I would also think about just life experiences and how they shape you as a person.
How did you create this piece? Writers have a writing process that they follow when they write, do you have a process that you follow when you create sculpture?
My process is not super planned because I find that when I plan work meticulously it never ends up the way I want to. I just end up frustrated. Instead, I just start with a vague outcome or a vague inspiration and then just go with the flow as I work on the piece. It is especially important for me to remember to not get too caught up in something going wrong with a sculpture that is made of clay because clay and glaze can be so unpredictable. I just have to work with what is happening.
What inspired you to create this piece? What were you thinking about while you were creating this piece?
I was doing a mini-study on busts in sculpture and so I had created several different busts. Another part of my inspiration was incorporating nature into human aspects because humans are part of nature and evolution and are animals and I think people forget that a lot of the time. I wanted to remind them that we all come from the same place. This really affects how we view the world, how we interact with it, and whether or not we are destructive.
Did you face any challenges while you were creating this piece?
There are always challenges with anything, any artwork, and always with clay! Technically, doing the wood grain texture was a discovery because I was trying to figure out the best way to do that, but, after I figured that out, I used that texture in several other works. Another challenge for me was in deciding if I wanted to glaze the piece because glaze can really make-or-break something. It is always a stressful step.
Is sculpture experienced the same or differently when we see it in person or in a photograph? Does this affect how the “Wooden Head” is received? If so, how?
Oh, man! Sculpture is so different in person. I always think 2-D work has an advantage in this sense because it is better in person as well, but it is closer to the real experience. Sculpture is like a person. It is really hard to capture the nature of a person in a photograph because people are three-dimensional and are moving around. There are so many different ways to look at them. Sculpture is the same way. There are so many different ways to view it and in order to really see it you need to be able to have that physical interaction.
Which artists do you admire?
I like Kate McDowell because she combines a lot of human and animal characteristics in her work. She wants people to interact with nature peacefully, so I take a lot of inspiration from her. I also like Adrian Arleo who does many of the same things as McDowell. Ruth Power’s work is really political and feminist, but still incorporates that nature and human interaction, just in a much more aggressive way.
Who has influenced your work?
Christina West specifically influenced this work because she has a series of busts with different flat facets, so the top flat part of my head is definitely taken from that.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
The best advice I have ever received art-wise is from my high school art teacher who is really invested in kids—even if they seem like bad kids, he really cares about them a lot. His favorite question to ask is “Why?” and he will ask you that like five times until you are super frustrated, but that is how you get answers! Even beyond art, it is important to introspect.
What advice would you give to other artists, especially to those who are starting in sculpture?
Even if you do not think of yourself as an artist or think you have no talent, just stick with it and get in an open mindset and you will really surprise yourself with what you are able to do. Anyone can do art if they want to. It is not necessarily about technical skill at the beginning. Ideas are much more important.
You can see “Wooden Head” in the 2016, 30th-anniversary edition of Scribendi! Ms. Comstock also has another piece featured in this Scribendi, which can be found opposite “Wooden Head.” Check it out!
What does sculpture mean to you? What do you think that sculpture should mean to the greater artistic world?
Sculpture to me is valuable. In the art world, ceramics and pottery have for a long time been considered craft rather than art. I think the recent push toward considering ceramics and pottery art is important. As long as something has an idea and a concept behind it, it should be art. It doesn’t matter what material it is made out of.
Do you have any hobbies? How do those hobbies affect your art and the process by which you create your art?
I like rock climbing a lot and I think this is similar to the artistic process because it has a process of its own. A huge part of rick climbing is getting in the flow and focusing and that is a large part of art too. You can’t be distracted with all of the other things going on in your life, you have to just be present in that moment.