Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Living a Creative Life
Article by: Susan Gallacher-Turner

Podcast by : Michael Turner

Listen to the podcast at

“My first job out of school was sculpting for a high end mannequin company,” says Patrick. “I went from sculpting one life-size sculpture a semester to doing one every week and a half and getting paid for it. I had a beautiful studio and I was getting paid to do what I loved.”

Portland, Oregon sculptor, Patrick Gracewood, started his traditional and rigorous drawing and sculpture training at California State University at Long Beach. He describes the sculpture homework for one class, “We had to do one head bust a week. You could only spend 3 hours on it and only work on the face in the last hour. You had to learn to take accurate measurements, so you could produce a recognizable likeness in a very short period of time.” It’s this training that’s given him the skills, efficiency and confidence to do the wide variety of sculpture.

After the job ended at the Los Angeles mannequin company, Wolf & Vine/Greneker, Patrick went looking for work, showing his portfolio to an aerospace company, a mortuary and a wax works. The wax works company was approached by a film company and that led to working in the film industry. “I was told that you can’t get into the film industry unless you’ve worked on film and you can’t work on film until you’re in the industry,” says Patrick. “In, 1984 I got paid $25 an hour to sculpt.” Working on the film, “Legend”, Patrick did character drawings, sculpting and prosthetics for actors including Tom Cruise and Tim Curry. He worked on the film, Legal Eagles, created sets for the Twilight Zone and other shows for CBS and Universal Studios. What might look like a dream job was sometimes a nightmare. According to Gracewood, “The hours are inhuman, you work 10-16 hours a day with an hour commute each way. When you’re done after 6-8 months, you’re just exhausted.” And as a commercial sculptor, when he was done with a job, he was out of a job.

Gracewood combats the stress of job insecurity with curiosity and research. That’s how he found himself doing architectural sculpture for historic restoration, new construction and landscape sculpture. The commercial sculpture jobs give him the chance to expand his skills and work with a wider range of materials as well as giving him a chance to be part of a team, to create work he could never do on his own. He finds it’s a perfect balance to the isolation of studio work.

He’s designed fountains, columns capitols for casinos and created a portrait of Jimmy Hendrix for Seattle’s Garfield High School, that Hendrix attended. “My curiosity has always been a boon to my art and my professional life,” Gracewood explains. “I saw an article on landscape design and said, that’s sculpture. I introduced myself to the designers and found out what they needed.” He’s now using the internet to market his work with a website and a blog, but he feels it’s really about developing relationships, not how many people you know on Facebook. Sometimes his persistence pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. But he feels that failures are learning experiences and a chance for him to regroup and recommit to his art, not stop doing it. “I’m not going to quit making art. It’s ok that I bounce back and forth between my own work and commercial art,” Gracewood says. “I like them all and they’re all valuable.”

Along with sculpture, Patrick’s interests branched out into gardening and dance. He’s designed a beautiful garden outside his studio filled with large and small scale garden sculptures for his own pleasure and to show clients his art installed in a garden. In the 90’s, he and friend, Caroline Stewart did over 200 performances with their Contact Improvisation dance company, Touch Monkey. In the end, he had to make a choice. “The dance was a good counterpoint to sculpting,” says Gracewood. “But I realized I couldn’t have two careers.” Now, he dances for pleasure and stress relief.

The Buddhist theme of stillness is central to Gracewood’s dance, sculpture and dance. It relieves his stress and grounds him in the moment that allows his work to be quiet, contemplative and healing. That’s what he says drives his creative life, “I try to have my sculpture have a positive meaning, to make art about healing is vital.” His newest series of wood carvings featuring Buddhist monks in meditating poses clearly show his love of stillness. As he slowly carves the wood, he sees the transformation of life in the wood going from an old growth cedar tree, to a found fence rail to a garden sculpture.

Whether it’s an enormous dragon for Wynn Casino in China, a Portland area garden fountain, Seattle architectural restoration, or his own carvings, the bottom line for Gracewood is commitment. “In my early art I was trying to escape; now I’m arriving at myself. My pieces embody our humanity, patience, stillness or gentleness,” he says. “Art has saved my life many times; I give my life to art. It takes a big commitment.” He admits that the creative life is scary at times and that goes with the territory. Recently, when commissions dried up and out of fear, he applied at the local supermarket. When he didn’t get the job, he realized, “The universe is telling you stop. It’s not going to work. While I was waiting, I made a carving and figured out I have to be a better salesman of my work.”

His advice for others, “It’s a funny tightrope when you’re a professional artist, because it’s what you do for money. “But it’s also what you do for love. Stop comparing yourself and just be very grateful to have the good health and the good fortune to be able to do something you love. And be stubborn enough to keep at it.”

Patrick Gracewood is living a creative life and making a living with his sculpture work for many different businesses. Along the way, he’s managed to produce an impressive body of his own studio work from large concrete garden sculptures to small, hand-carved wooden figures. His ability to handle the variety comes from a simple philosophy: if it’s sculpture, he’ll do it.

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