Thank you for joining us once more in our series of free art lessons from Golden Road Arts. In our last post, we discussed why students need art enrichment activities for their personal and educational development.
Today, we’re joined by Tony Furtado to learn about his passion for music and sculpture. This Portland-based artist discusses his inspiration and the techniques behind his work.
Tony Furtado Demonstrates His Approach to Clay Sculpture
Discover how Tony Furtado’s love for music and sculpture – and the natural world – inspires his creativity. Get a unique insight into his techniques and processes, and hear some original slide guitar and banjo compositions as well.
Materials Required for Tony Furtado Ceramic Sculpting
- Sculpture wax
- Sculpting tools
Scroll down for images from Tony Furtado’s ceramic sculpture lesson.
Learn the Techniques of Ceramic Sculpture
Follow the transcript below to hear how Tony Furtado blends his love of folk-based music and ceramic sculpture to fuel his creative process. Hear how environmental concerns and his awareness of disappearing species inspires his work.
The obvious thing would be to remove the horn, but I wanted to keep that, this whole part right here, intact because that’s what pulls you in. And then you look further at the body. Oh, my intention was to show, you know, that this species is disappearing. That’s what it’s called, disappearing.
Well, my name ‘s Tony Furtado. I’m a Portland-based artist and musician. I’ve been here about 20 years now. My music is folk-based. Some people call it Americana. It’s got elements of Blues and bluegrass and Celtic music, jazz. Mostly original stuff. I play slide guitar and banjo. I’ve played banjo most of my life and I sing and write songs and then my artwork, my visual artwork is sculpture.
I do sculpture and it’s mostly ceramic-based, but there’s elements of other things. Mixed in with it. I like making things biologically correct sometimes, but also just like letting my hands and mind wander and see what I come up with. I think that I think that my visual art creation is similar to my music creation, in that it’s a little bit of a soup in here, you know, and when you create something you take all of what you’ve experienced, what you love, even what you hate and it all influences what you’re creating. And I think my favorite way of creation is not thinking about it and just going with the emotion of the moment.
A little Irish song. I’m a heartbroken draftsman from Greenville. I came, all my virtues departed with a lass I did feign, pain from the strong darts of Cupid I have suffered much grief. My heart spoke asunder. I can get no relief. Of my trouble, I tell you, without much delay of a sweet little lassie my heart stole away. She’s a blacksmith’s fair daughter on the flat riverside. I always intended to make her my bride.
I got interested in clay about the same time I got interested in music. It was 6th or 7th grade, where you had to take ceramics class, and I remember the teacher was Joe Frankina and he just had this air of joy about him and it was fun. Everything was infused with humor and fun with the clay and right from the get-go it just felt like home, like I got my hands in the clay. It was like, this is the way things need to feel – squishy and you know, malleable. I can create with this, I can work with this wet clay stuff. You know when I’m in here working, it’s like, it’s like meditation for me. I completely relax. And I don’t think about the stress of the music business. And I think that helps my music, helps my brain. Umm. And there I think that because my approach to creating art is similar to my approach for creating music, I think that they feed off of each other, you know? It’s almost like two teammates cheering each other on.
I used to go over to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Livermore, CA. And they were always watching The Beverly Hillbillies or Hee Haw. And so I knew what a banjo was, even though I grew up in the Bay Area. And so I decided to do the banjo. And I found out that the banjo came from Africa and it had a rich history of different kinds of music like Celtic music. Something called bluegrass and old-timey, mountain music and even in rock’n’roll. So, I decided I wanted to play the banjo. My dad and mom got me a very real banjo for my 12th birthday. One thing led to another. I play music for a living.
I think when I have to play music that is already completely written and set in stone, which is rare, I rarely do that kind of thing. And when I have to create a piece that is already decided and basically a replica of something else or a biological rendering of the specific animal, I don’t enjoy it as much, you know. And so, I think there’s some spillover in the process there. It’s like when I can work on a piece then write a song, that’s the creative process that is what I love the most.
When I was doing the research, I saw an aerial view of a pod of orca whales and there was something about the silent beauty of them just swimming along that I noticed. It caught me, something from that bird’s eye view. Also, you could see some of them were noticeably super thin from starvation. You know they’re having a tricky time. It gave way to me wanting to make a bunch of whales and kind of use it as, almost use the form as a mantra. It’s like I’m riffing on the form and taking in what I’m taking in about the species and what I see in the form.
And I was going to have them all at the same, but that still didn’t create what I wanted to because we’re so attracted to and moved by patterns And here’s one idea that I had. I wanted to have it be a continuous line, like a spiral that goes all the way around and just almost like the inside of it. You know, a tree, that would be just concentric circles. I have an idea that it would just be a spiral that would continue to close and close and close all the way up the fin right here.
There’s another couple ideas. Oh, was this one that was almost like river stones or something, or it could be bubbles, or it could be holes. This could be all negative space. That’s one idea. And then there’s a couple here that I really like. One of the whales has this pattern on the inside. In fact, it’s the one with the plates. This latticework on the inside is what’s holding those plates onto it. You just can’t see it. But it looks so interesting that I think I should do one with that on the outside. And then this one. This would almost be like the texture would be deep. It wouldn’t just be lines on the outside, it would be actually like the way gills are and then this one would be also a similar thing where it’s just deep, deep lines and it’s almost like slices taken out of it, so it’s disappearing, but you still see these lines. I’m not sure. I could see the problems with this. You know, with the warping of the clay and stuff. It might be hard to like make sure that all of these lines stay connected.
Well, right now I’m putting together, I’m designing it as I make it, so that’s why it takes so long as I’m designing where I want the bends to happen, you know. I don’t want too many diagonal things happening in one place or too many straights, you know. I’m trying to create a pattern that looks pleasing as well as slightly baffling at the same time. I’ve decided what I’m doing now, I’m going to go along here. It’s going to give me a little switchback there. Up, switch back here. That couple times and this will be the exit.
Hear it, all right?
And I also have to think about the actual structure of it so that it will come back together again. Because when you fire clay, unfortunately sometimes things decide to warp and bend a little bit and so, I want to have as little amount of post-firing work to put it back together again. There will be some, you know, and I’ve got the tools to do that where I can grind it, cut it, whatever and then glue it. But the less that I have to do the better.
And so, it all takes some time to make sure and get this all to make sense the way I want it to. And then after that, the next thing I do is I take I’m going to take some really thin flat pieces. And score and slip everything on the very surface and connect all of these pieces to those flat parts and it’s going to all connect. You can keep it in place and then I can pull it out, flip it over and work it all to make it all look connected.
Well, when I decide a pattern. It’s funny sometimes I’ll think, oh, this one will go quickly. This one’s going to be easy breezy. I’ll just get in make it. But that’s not ever the way it works. I always get in and figure out ways to make it take longer. Because I just look at it, I will. It would be more cool if I did this, and it would be even better if I did that while I’m doing it, you know, I’m discovering. And then also there’s sometimes there’s the logistical things, the structural things where you got to figure it out to make sure it’ll it’s going to hang on a wall well. So, you know, sometimes they’ll take weeks to make, sometimes they just take a couple days.
I’m trying to think of one that took a couple days. That one took a couple of days. That one took a couple weeks. That one took weeks and weeks. And so did the plate, one that took some weeks.
Right now I’m just tightening the template on there. A little more clay in there. Too much more. And so what I’m doing is you get all that clay in this nice chamber there, you got the template. Where the clay actually gets pushed through there. And I get what I need from that and I’m doing ribbons on this so if I did it right, there we go. Nice ribbon of clay.
With these pieces and some of my others, when I’m showing, when I’m working with the negative space, you know, sometimes it can be seen as literally as that creature is disappearing, or as literally as this one that has the maze, which is a puzzle. It’s a puzzle.
What to deal with? You know how to deal with the problem. And now I’m prepping for a show. I’m just getting all of them slightly spiffed up. I really like having the contrast of rough, like I’ve got this here all rusty and dry looking, but then on the very surface, I’ve got it shined with a sculpture wax. So there it kind of helps pop the details. As well as show just the roughness, you know, I like that. That rough, dry, rusty look, you know. And I’m, I’m constantly fighting myself, like do I do more wax, do I get more shine? Like this one over here. I’m having a tricky time. I don’t know how much shine I actually want to get out of it, but just starting to get it.
So a few years ago I was sitting down eating lunch at a little café and I saw this bee just land and I could tell it was having a tricky time and it just started to die right there, like on my table, like I couldn’t do anything about it, so I just watched it. I took pictures. I felt bad, but I just sat there taking pictures of what it was going through and then it died, you know, and that’s another species that’s affected by us, affected by everything that’s happening. And so I created. First I did a lot of research on the form and the animal and I created a bee that I liked and then I made a mold and then I started making more of them and still, it’s still an ongoing process. I’m still trying to find what I want it to look like, but this is getting there, you know? I think in this show that’s coming up, I’m going to have a few of them presented.
Access Top-Quality Free Art Lessons for Children
At Golden Road Arts, we develop instructional art guides for elementary and middle school children. Our tutorials cover practical hands-on instruction, art literacy, as well as insights into leading artists throughout history. To learn more, browse our free art lessons today.