My darling, lovely, wonderful friend Natasia wrote to me this summer with a custom request that, paraphrased, went something like this. "I know you said you aren't comfortable sculpting men in the new clothed style like your babywearing pieces, but a family sculpture would mean the world. I want all of us together with Josh sitting on something playing guitar and Gavin touching his knee with me holding Liam behind him and Faith and Skye twirling together".
I read that and thought... Natasia is cray. That is not a paraphrase, in my mind I literally said cray. You know the shoulder-sitting devils and angels of conscience that whisper wooingly into each of your ears? Artists have them as well, but they have nothing to do with our consciences, just our consciousness. Our *self* consciousness, to be blunt. Let's call them Bravery and Fear. I'm going to pass the buck quickly and say it was Fear that called my precious Natasia "cray". I would never say that, that's friendship blasphemy! And Fear didn't stop there either, he just kept running that mouth. In my mind he whispered, "She's seen what I can do, heard me say so many times that I can't sculpt men in this style, I don't do clothing other than gowns really, and for real - a guitar??? !! I don't know where she ever got the idea that I could sculpt a guitar, props aren't my thang. Can we talk about the twirling? It's not a ballerina music box, these pieces are motionless. I don't know how I'm supposed to show them dancing like that.. Way, way, way outside of my comfort zone. She's craaaaaaaaayyyyyyy." But I love Natasia, she has been such an avid supporter of me and my artwork through the years, and I of hers, and more meaningful to me than that, she has been the sincerest of friends. Sometimes I can't tell if it's her face or her heart that makes me think we must be soul-sisters. See all these nice things I'm saying about her? None of this came from Bravery, I get to take full credit for my sweetness. These thoughts were all my very own. Bravery, that came from somewhere else entirely. Bravery was 100% Skye.
When I met Natasia, at the same time I had the honor of meeting the memory of her baby girl, beautiful angel Skye. Josh and Natasia's firstborn daughter, who came into this world so special that the doctors, in all their knowledge and research, had never met anyone like her with her condition before. Skye who lived for 17 days. Skye whose name and legacy so many of us know, and we have come to love her fiercely. I encourage you all to read Skye's story where we learn the true meaning of bravery and see it portrayed so incredibly by this uniquely special baby girl. When Natasia had written to me, she asked me for something else she'd never asked me to do before. She wanted to see Skye age progressed in honor of her upcoming 7th birthday. She shared that she believed Skye had shoulder length auburn curls. I never sculpted Skye outside of infant form, and I needed to see this through for Natasia, for her family, and ultimately for Skye. I may not have been able to see Josh and his guitar, or twirling dancing sisters, but I could see the vision of her that Natasia gave to me, and Bravery encouraged me gently and told me not only that I should do this, but I that I could do this as well.
I wrote back to Natasia and reeled it in. I told her what I thought I could do (sculpt everyone standing together holding each other) and gave her an I-wish-I-could on the guitar. She understood, agreed we could leave it out, and gave me what every artist loves to hear, full artistic liberty over the design. We settled on a standing family all grouped together, so at this point the challenge was muted down to just sculpting a guy with clothes and hair. Again, though I wish it were, it's not my thing. I explained that to Natasia and she understood and said she trusted me and that my best was good enough for her. The pressure was off, kind of. I started to get excited. The time came to work on the project and I began with what was comfortable to me and made Natasia holding baby Liam and her two daughters standing on each side of her gown. Skye had auburn curls just like Natasia asked for, and it amazed me to now be able to see her as a 7 year old, the same age as my youngest daughter. I felt so close to her, what a precious thing to see her unfold before me no longer frozen in time as a perpetual baby, but as a bursting 7 year old. Just... my heart. I can't even explain and I know that I don't need to. Next I needed to add Josh and Gavin to the sculpture, and that was the challenge point for me. I could make Josh standing, but the thought came that it would be easier to bake him without issue if he were seated in some way, and then I could add Gavin in without his toddler self getting lost in the crowd of his family. Oh Gavin, you little big boy, where oh where do I put you? The thought - "Okay, I'll sit Josh down for now, once they're all sculpted I can come back to it and figure it out." Once I had him seated it just became so obvious to me that there had to be a reason for it, and clearly the reason was musical. I've been following Josh's musician heart and all the exciting things he's been working on, and I knew that despite whatever Fear may have assured me I couldn't do, Josh really needed to be playing that guitar. I started to play as well. I looked up a clay guitar tutorial on youtube and one of the steps was to print out the shape of a guitar and use it to trace its outline into clay. To find the right shape, I used one of Josh's guitars, found a master image of it, and printed it out on photo paper so it'd be easier to outline. Once I did that, I had the wonderful aha moment of realizing I could just skip all the other steps in the tutorial because I didn't need to paint on the details, the frets, the strings - I had an overlay right in my hands that I could use and it *was* Josh's guitar. Pulling it all together wasn't effortless, but it wasn't nearly as impossible as I thought and I decided on using the image I had on top of thickened clay to make his guitar. Ouila!
As for the hair, well, again - hard for me. But I threw myself into it with Bravery poised angelic on my shoulder and I did what I always do - my best. My best is not perfect, my best did not make a replica of Josh, but my best is what I always commit to with all of you, and here is what my best looks like for Josh.
At this point my confidence was reinstated, and I thought "Take that Fear, I punched your nose!". There was no more room for fear here, I pulled off the scariest part of what Natasia first described for me, and it was time to rethink her other requests. Here mini-Josh sat before me, guitar in hand, and why the heck should I think I couldn't make his daughters dancing in the midst of his song? How beautiful is the thought of that? I took them from holding their momma's leg and joined them together, waltzing their arms. They just looked so darling. To add some movement to it, because after all, this still is not a ballerina music box, I rolled some clay sheets very thin to make fabric gowns and played with the flow of them. So, so special!
I haven't taken the time to talk to you about Faith, but I have watched this little sparkplug blossom over the years and become a big sister twice-over. For the first time I was able to actually see a tangible portrait of her before me as a little sister. Though they've never met earthside, Faith has the very real knowledge and understanding that she has a big sister, and Faith misses her. She cries for her. The thing I am always aware of with my sculptures is that not only are they so poignant for parents to be able to see their whole family as a unit, but they allow siblings to recognize their family structure and see everyone together. Where they fit in. Foresight dawned on me and I realized that in the near future, Faith herself would be sitting with her family and given the opportunity to hold this in her tiny palm and see a portrait of her and Skye dancing. I cried at the preciousness of it all. What a beautiful gift for Faith to have this experience and this visual of seeing herself, proportionally, as a little sister. It is going to bless her little heart, and the privilege for me to be a part of this is inexpressible. I finished up Natasia's gown last - the colors were mine to choose and I went with an earthy ombre and added some deeply colored crystals to the bottom of her gown.
At this point I couldn't wait to see it complete, the rest of the project came without challenge and just needed Gavin and glazing. I was so eager to finalize it and be able to situate them all together in different contexts, I couldn't wait to photograph it and show it to Natasia for the grand crescendo!
This is the portrait of a family who loved, lost, loved more and more. Whose legacy would not be what it is today without the absence yet enduring presence of their beautiful firstborn, Skye. The Champion family has 6 members, and this is all of them together finally, in tangible, touchable form.
Thank you Skye, for standing in as my Bravery, and thank you Natasia for letting me sculpt your blessings for you.