Reflection: Red vs. Blue & Speed Sculpting

Reflection, Research and Enquiry

Red vs. Blue Retrospective

For this first two-week project, I sculpted the busts of two heads representing two approaches to sculpting (and their corresponding softwares): organic, clay-like sculpts in ZBrush vs. hard-surface angular work in Maya. Overall, I’m quite pleased with my final piece, but there are definitely some changes I would make given more time. I tried to place the clay 3D glasses in a way that the logo text was still readable, but I don’t like how much it obscures the text. Although I think the final lighting setup shows off the texture of the sculpts well, it doesn’t have as much 10-ft impact as my original brightly-colored lighting setup. I struggled with adding colored lighting without losing some of the much-needed shadows, but that’s something I’ll experiment with in future. Finally, when I compare the two head sculpts to my references, I think I could make the differences even stronger (more divots and exaggerated shapes on the clay head, flatter and sharper planes on the hard-surface one). Part of this stems from a continued resistance to letting go of and distorting my original clean sculpt.

While many of the techniques I used were new to me – proper head anatomy, planar sculpting, rough clay brush creation, etc. – I did fall back on some skills that I was already comfortable with, namely in the final rendering. We were encouraged to pick up Unreal to show off the finished piece, but overwhelmed with this new assignment as I was, I chose to render in Maya to avoid last-minute panic. This is something I hope to remedy next week, as my idea fits well with UE4 integration.

This first assignment revealed a time management issue for me. I started on it immediately and spent many hours, but I struggle with two major things: making snap judgements and executing ideas quickly. My previous projects took at least a few months, and while my speed has improved between each project, this was an order of magnitude quicker than I’m used to. My usual approach to a task is to consider it from as many angles as possible, evaluate possible ideas, and pick the best one. In industry, as in this assignment, I won’t necessarily have that luxury. I was actually able to settle on a concept fairly quickly, and modified it somewhat after storyboarding/prototyping without too much deliberation. However, when it came to actually sculpting the pieces, I wanted to carefully perfect each element (for example, actually sculpt the skull from scratch before creating a detailed head, which meant researching head anatomy and proportions, trying out twenty brushes with different settings, and so on). I’m clearly still in the rut of wanting to experiment with many ideas first, and have a hard time committing to a final design.

Speed Sculpting

Many years ago, I read a story on Tumblr regarding the benefits of speed practice for artists. From memory, the parable goes something like this: a ceramics teacher tells his class that they will be divided into two groups for grading purposes. Half the students will be graded on the quantity of pots they produce by the end of the semester, while the other half will be graded on the quality of a single pot. By the end of the course, the students who had created a hundred pots without being concerned about their perfection ended up producing collectively higher quality pieces, while the ‘single perfect pot’ group was struggling with philosophizing about what defines a perfect artwork to the detriment of their skill.

Given concerns about my ability to keep up with these quick weekly projects, I decided to investigate this story and found an article by Austin Kleon explaining its background. It turns out that it was based on a real experiment by Professor Jerry Uelsmann at the University of Florida, albeit with photography students, not ceramics. The tale was modified by authors Bayles and Orland in their book Art & Fear in order to broaden the range of artistic mediums described in their examples.

This stuck with me for many years, despite assuming it was an exaggerated or simply invented story. It touches upon one of my frustrations with my own work: I’m very much in the quality over quantity camp, despite knowing that speed sculpting and rough practice is a more effective way to learn. I tend to want to perfect every stage of a project as I go along, and really struggle with establishing the larger, basic forms before focusing in on the details. Part of this stems from my background in 3D printing: my pieces have to be set in stone before being sent to the printer with no room for iteration later, and are based on existing concept artwork where accuracy is a major factor. I’m hoping that this semester’s weekly projects, with their lack of expectation for a finished or polished result, will be just what I need to adjust my workflow.


Bayles, D. and Orland, T. (1993). Art & fear. Santa Cruz, CA: Image Continuum Press.

Kleon, A. (2021). Quantity leads to quality (the origin of a parable). [Online]. Austin Kleon Blog. Available at: [Accessed: 9 October 2021].

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