In the Making: Custom 9th Anniversary Gift

Custom 9th anniversary gift by Small Company Artworks"I'd like to commission a custom sculpture celebrating my 9th wedding anniversary to the best wife in the world. 9th is supposed to be pottery, and I know that can include things outside of dishware, but I have this vision of me given her a terracotta pot and, well, that vision doesn't end well for me. I just need to somehow link your work to the 9th anniversary gift tradition!

"I'm looking for something that shows the closeness of our family unit. We're a family of three. I don't know what else to say, I could send some photos if you'd like. Thanks! A."

As it happens, I love when my collectors send photos, and A. sent over a passel of some of the most adorable family photos I could hope for. For privacy reasons, I won't share them here (and I've edited his letter for brevity and to remove personal details), but trust me when I say that this "family unit" made me smile in a big way.

The first thing I noticed from the photos was that The Best Wife Ever had a characteristic pose when she took photos with her family: she hooked her elbow around A.'s neck in a charming hug. So that had to be included, of course.

A. and I batted a few ideas back and forth, and he pointed out that his son is "larger than life:"

He's like a cat on catnip 24/7.  Trying to capture that essence in a sculpture...I guess the only thing that comes to my mind is a superhero pose with hands on hips and chest sticking out.

So that meant sedate poses with their son, say, resting his head on Mom's lap wouldn't work. So I offered three other pose ideas:

  1. One way I could envision would be with you and your wife sitting together, with your son standing facing you as a superhero. I do wonder, though, if that pose conveys the "Best Wife in the World" message that you intend? I'd like to make her the centerpiece, unless you have a different interpretation of that message (or want a different message entirely).
  2. What if (brainstorming again) you're sitting beside your wife on the riser, and your son is standing on her other side? He could have his chest out, arms crossed, or maybe her arm is around his waist, and he's leaning against her?
  3. OR we don't go with super-hero, but with super-son. He could be standing behind her, arms around her neck, giving her a kiss or just leaning on her shoulder. She can be leaning on you, with her head tilted back toward him, to keep it balanced.​ 

Bingo! The third option fit the bill. Super-son and Best Wife (with pretty great husband) was underway. I drafted the sculpture and snapped a few photos for A.'s feedback.

Draft 9th anniversary custom sculpture by Small Company Artworks

In the first draft, I over-estimated their son's height, and needed to make some tweaks. He was much too tall in this draft sculpture! A. sent over a couple more (adorable) pictures showing the family standing together, to help me gauge relative heights. A. even convinced his son to stand still long enough to get some measurements - and came up with a pretty great story about making that happen without letting out the secret. A tweak here and there, a little more feedback, and after about a week, I had a new set of photos ready for A.'s feedback.
Draft custom stone sculpture gift by Small Company Artworks

"It looks amazing!  I have no other input than praise!  Unless you think something needs to be tweaked I say we go with this!"

Success! With A.'s confirmation, I went on bake the clay "master" sculpture, and then molded the master in rubber. Once the mold cured, I cast the one-and-only stone sculpture.

Custom cast-stone sculpture work in progress by Small Company Artworks

Little secret: This stage is the most nerve-wracking part of my job. Why? When I create the rubber mold, the master sculpture gets destroyed every single time. That means that the mold is the only faithful representation of the original sculpture - and it's impossible to know in advance if the mold introduced flaws.

Even with precautions, mold failure happens about 1% of the time, and the only way to know it's failed is to try a casting. If this first cast comes out seriously flawed, my only solution is to start over again at the beginning with a brand, new draft sculpture. So the first casting comes with a lot of care, patience, hope, and silent prayers to the sculpture gods.

As fortune had it, the casting was perfect. After completing a noisy, happy dance around the studio, I forced myself to walk away and let the sculpture cure thoroughly for a couple of days. Then it was time for sanding, wax, buffing, varnish, and all the finishing details.

Draft anniversary sculpture gift from Small Company Artworks

A. had waited very patiently through the behind-the-scenes stages, before the final photos of the sculpture were ready. This stage takes the longest, because of the multiple steps and work, but silence means I'm hard at work. No news is good news!

At last I had a final set of photos, before I gift-wrapped A.'s anniversary sculpture and created the title card. I'm couldn't be happier with how the one-of-a-kind "Best Wife Ever" sculpture turned out! And A.'s message came back:

"Looks awesome!  This is the perfect gift, thanks so much!"

One-of-a-kind cast-stone anniversary sculpture by Small Company Artworks

Thank you to A. for allowing me to share the creation of this sculpture. I had so much fun creating this special gift, and hope it brings many, many years of smiles. Happy 9th anniversary!

I create a limited number of custom, one-of-a-kind sculptures each year. The process takes about 4-6 weeks, or longer around the holidays. Contact me in advance of your gift-giving occasion if you'd like to discuss a custom sculpture that captures your perfect message.


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