Eugene Daub is an American ceramicist and sculptor working in both wet clay and oil-base clay. Eugene Daub ceramic sculpture can be massive memorials reliefs or imposing statues. He does small commemorative medals and figurative 3D portraits of famous people. Eugene’s attention to detail is strikingly authentic no matter the scale of the pieces. In Eugene’s workshops, he helps ceramic artists of all experience level realize their desires to work in three dimensions.
HandbuildersMonthly.com recently had a fascinating conversation with Eugene Daub. We’d like to share what we learned with you.
Eugene, what originally drew you to working in clay? Did you jump in and start with large-scale work, or was it more of a journey?
My first career was in graphics. I was an art director — print media. I switched to sculpture in my early thirties. I studied at
various schools and universities trying to figure out how to become a figurative sculptor.
In 1975, I was hired by the Franklin Mint to create relief sculpture for coins and medals. It is somewhat of a mystery how I was able to do this with no training in sculpture or relief; I just instinctively understood how to do it. My background in graphics was an asset.
In 1978 I studied with Angelo Frudakis in Philadelphia. In 1980, I went to the Johnson Atelier Institute of Sculpture for a year to learn the technical aspects of sculpture. I followed that with becoming an artist in residence at Alfred University for a year. That was my real awakening to ceramic sculpture. Soon after, I moved from Philadelphia to California and continued doing public sculpture commissions, primarily bronze .
I’ve done a lot of teaching—at the Pennsylvania Academy for the Fine Arts and the Academy of the Arts University in San Francisco. I’ve conducted workshops for almost 30 years at Scottsdale Artists School in Arizona, and for ten years at Brookgreen Sculpture Gardens in South Carolina.
Looks like you’ve enjoyed warm climates. What particular clays do you work with most often and why?
When I’m not doing commissions, I prefer working with water clay—wet clay. I love all water-base clays. The smooth modeling clays are great for doing quick expressive portraits. But for my handbuilding, I like a coarse, high grog clay that lets me build high and large without the work collapsing. I really don’t have one particular technique, mostly I just cut large slabs and start building. My large clay heads are usually 18’’ to 24” tall. I can finish them in several hours. (For his relief work, Eugene says he uses an oil base clay.)
How much time do you spend in the studio in a particular week?
I spend most of the week working on my public art commissions and I do a great deal of small relief work, typically for medallic purposes. Commemorative medals. I do the ceramic heads in between commissions as a way to keep my loose creative side alive.
Can you run through your process briefly? How do you get such incredible detail?
My large head pieces start the same way you might start a vessel — beginning with a cylindrical bottom and working up. I often figure the piece out as I go, but sometimes I begin with a rough sketch. I prefer to develop the work and push the features without a plan. Occasionally, I’ll need a prop or stilt, because I like to keep working till a piece is finished, usually half a day.
Then I let it dry. I usually work with low fire clay and have it fired to bisque. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about glazes, so I paint the work after firing or sometimes leave them raw. Editor’s Note: subscribers can read more about cold finishing in our recent article.
Do you prefer working in small scale like medals, or doing your huge reliefs? Do you ever just sit down and build a mug, a box, a bowl? (Click on images to see them larger)
I really enjoy the drastic change in the scale of my work. For large scale work I always do a small maquette (maquette – a sculptor’s small preliminary model or sketch) and then have it enlarged digitally and milled in foam. (milled in foam – Foam slabs are cut to specifications, usually by machine.) After I finish creating the enlargement, the work goes to mold-making and, finally, bronze. The large reliefs are usually done at the full size if they are under ten feet wide. Larger ones than that are enlarged from smaller oil clay models. These large reliefs are mainly cast in bronze.
When I make medals, I work the original piece in larger format and have it reduced to the die size. My model is about nine inches and the final scion, or medal, is in the two- to three-inch range. I love jumping back and forth from large to small work, they each have distinctive advantages.
That must keep your creative thoughts flowing. Where do you find your best inspiration? Do you ever just hit a wall and feel frustrated?
Mostly I do historical figures. For commissions, these have to be pretty accurate. When I do my own figures, I like to be free to exaggerate and work loosely. As a professional I don’t have the luxury of hitting the wall. I just have to make it work.
You mentioned you do a good number of workshops. What do you focus on in those workshops? Who is your typical attendee?
My workshops are portrait, relief, and sometimes medallic. Portrait classes may combine 3D and relief. The relief workshops are mainly portrait and figure.
When I plan a workshop, I like to have a mix of skill levels. Some participants are beginners, others are working makers — professional sculptors. It’s great to have them all together in a class. The typical age is 30 to 75. I love to teach, and I relate to students who want to change their lives and become artists. Workshops are a fast track for people who know what they want and who they want to learn from.
What might you say to a ceramicist who loves to do figurative or portrait work but does not know how to take that work forward into a career?
This is a question I deal with quite often. I look at the artists’ work and see where they are struggling. The nature of the work, to some degree, is a clue. Some are seeking commissions, while others want to be represented by galleries. Artists that work with the figure need to know some degree of anatomy, structure and composition. I encourage and push their strengths and work with them on the weak areas. I have a gestalt approach that embraces spirit, gesture, composition, expression, and surface.
What guides you, as an artist?
The creative use of form. I’ve been very catholic in my tastes from the beginning, though I must say the figure is at the
heart of my work. I love to see artists redefine and reinvent the figure in their own way. I think sculpture is like 3D poetry. It’s a language that speaks to us in a deeper way. For me, the figure is the most expressive conduit.
Ever considered doing instructive videos or writing a book?
For 30 years, I’ve been compiling and organizing notes and sketches for a book on relief sculpture. A good one does not exist. But life and commissions keep getting in the way. Two years ago I designed an online portrait sculpture class for the Academy of the Arts University. It has many of my lecture demonstrations on portraits, relief, and handbuilding. That said, the most important part of the work is in the nature of intent, which is personal and harder to describe.
Thanks for talking with us,, Eugene. Great inspiration! What’s your next path or step?
Next, for me, is to do fewer commissions and more personal work. That has always been a struggle where the commissions win. That has to change!
Eugene Daub’s work is known worldwide and widely respected. Here’s an idea of some of the awards he has earned:
Ross Award for Sculpture, Classical America
J. Sanford Saltus Award
ArtistsŐ Guild, Gold Award
Elliot Ganz Award- National Sculpture Society
Agapof Award – National Sculpture Society
American Medallic Sculpture Assn
Medal for the FIDEM, Helsinki
American Numismatic Society
National Sculpture Society Gold medal
Best historical sculpture, California Arts Club