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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Terlizzi

Getting Ahead: Please, Just Let Me Get a Head.

Look at photos of a person’s head taken from all sides. Contemplate the angle of the cheek, the fullness of the lips, the curve of the chin. Print out the photos and use them to measure the distance between the hairline and brow line and the brow line and end of the nose and turn those numbers into ratios that you can transfer to a head that is 22 mm tall. Stare at photos some more, so that when you close your eyes you *still* see them, and you begin to worry that you have burned the images permanently onto the back of your eyeballs. Wrap a foil armature with clay, add and carve away at it until your fingers and tools have reproduced what your brain sees in the photos. How hard can that be?

It turns out—really, really, %#&*-ing hard.

Now I was never so full of myself that I believed that recreating likenesses would be simple, but I *am* pretty good at copying things, and work from photos ALL THE TIME. But this is very different. I mean, slap a pair of big round eyes and two long back legs onto a blob of green clay and you have a frog. Everybody recognizes it’s a frog because they see the eyes and legs and their brains fill in the rest. Inaccuracy can be dismissed as “artistic license.” In fact, put the legs on backwards, and only people who realllllly like frogs will even notice. Human faces are not so forgiving. A *specific* human face reduces the margin of error to zero.

This cake topper experiment is making me think a lot about artists who paint or sculpt people, and how skilled they have to be to capture likenesses. Everybody from political cartoonists or the caricature artists who draw souvenir portraits for tourists, to Leonardo de Vinci, who captured the ropes of muscle on the human neck so beautifully in his drawings you can almost see a pulse. Both sides of the extreme—caricaturist and Leonardo—fill me with awe right now.

My family tells me that I am trying too hard, and they are probably right. I do get a little obsessed about things. (I tell myself that it’s part of my charm.) I WILL figure this out. In fact, if the bride and groom were both in their 60s; if they bore uncanny resemblance to Gandhi or Patrick Stewart; if they were getting married in Kabuki masks, or dressed up like Pennywise the Clown—I would be sticking them in the oven right now, and there would be no need for me to write this blog.

My heads need to strike a balance: enough likeness, so that they are recognizable—but not so much that they give people nightmares. Enough caricature, so that they look cute—but not so much that they look ghoulish or offend anyone. I am not there yet, but if I sculpt enough heads, I should eventually come up with two that come close enough, right? Right? 😳

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