Meet the Faculty - Tim Bruckner

Tim Holter Bruckner has been a professional free-lance sculptor for over four decades.

He's created works for virtually every major gift, toy and specialty company in the United States. He's appeared in the Spectrum Fantastic Art books numerous times and has won two Gold Awards in the Dimensional category. In 2009, he was inducted into the ToyFare Hall of Fame. 

Pop Sculpture, co-authored by Mr. Bruckner, published in 2010 by Watson/Guptill, has become the go-to book on how to use traditional methods to create action figures and collectible statues. Mr. Bruckner is currently focused on personal work and private commissions.

What is the most exciting thing you've learned recently?

I've been a hands-for-hire sculptor for most of my forty-six year career. It's a culture of deadlines and production and the quickest, most expedient way to get the job done. Any personal work I've been able to do had to be carved out and sandwiched in between deadlines. I semi-retired from commercial work last year, concentrating on personal work and private commissions. 

I don't know if it would classify as exciting, but something I learned recently is to let a piece evolve. Allowing the concept to develop and deepen. Be willing to change my mind and change direction. Something there was just no time for when I was working deadlines. And honestly, probably didn't have the mind set to allow that to happen. The first piece I applied this to was SHE. I had the concept which presented scores of design, execution and engineering issues. Over the course of several weeks, rather than scale back the concept, I allowed myself the time to let it expand and deepen, which I resulted in a better piece. 

How do you battle through rough patches? What drives you forward?

Curiosity. Every piece has its challenges. Most are fairly modest and solvable. But there are those pieces which just do not want to cooperate. And the more you work it, the more entrenched the problems become. The problem isn't the piece, the problem is the way you're thinking about it. That's when you take a big step back and come at it from a different angle. Still, there are pieces that are going to be crap, no matter how many ways you look at it. But in most cases, this is when you learn things you couldn't have if everything had gone according to plan. Success teaches you very little. Looming failure is a great, if sometimes harsh educator.

What do you wish you had known earlier in your career?

Focus. I wish I would have had a more focused intent. A game plan. Having said that, times were very different when I came up - you had to be open to every opportunity, even if you weren't exactly right for the job and weren't sure if you were going to be able to pull it off. But still, I think being more focused on my work, creating a body of work that could be identified as me as an artist might have improved my career aim as opposed to the shotgun approach I used over the years. Variety confuses people. Hook them in and then it's easier for them to follow you.

What is the best piece of advice you've very received?

Get out of your own way. We think art comes from us, through us, because of us. Only part of that is true. Art is a collaboration between the artist and, what? The Muse? Diving inspiration? A nagging inner voice? Indigestion? Whatever it is, the artist has to be open and available to listening. I can't tell you how many times I've started a piece fully confident I knew what I was doing and where I was going only to have it go nowhere. When I take a step back and start pushing clay around and am open to the alteration of shape, mood, and intent, things get better. And the end result is often a piece more satisfying than the one I kept forcing on my own.

At this stage in your career, what is your dream project?

I can see it now, a moving van backs into our driveway and the driver raises the door to reveal it's stuffed to the ceiling with cash. My wife and I unload a gazillion dollars in crisp green. Before he drives off he hands me a note. It's from a mysterious collector. It reads, "Take a year. Do what you want. I'll be back". Or, I have no clue. I'm working on one of the most ambitious pieces I've ever done right now. It's based on the John Lennon song, I Am the Walrus.** Working on this piece has shown me what I can accomplish with time and rumination. And it's given me the opportunity to explore story telling in a way I couldn't have before. I guess my dream project would be one that allowed me to explore a narrative on a deeper and more complex level.

What's one thing that your students will take away from your workshop?

If I can help them see the human condition in a more intuitive way, that will be very satisfying. Such as, when creating characters, not to default to the formulaic, but to dig a little deeper to see if what they mean to say is what it is they're saying.  I did a bust some years ago of a proud, simple-minded character. He's so pleased with himself, he can hardly stand it. He's pointing to a medal on his chest with his fist and extended thumb. I kept looking at it and couldn't figure out what was wrong or, why it wasn't right. So I cut out a piece of foam core, hung it around my neck, imbued myself with who I thought he was and made the gesture - made a fist, stuck out my thumb and pointed to my chest. Look at me! Making the gesture with a fully closed fist was aggressive. Look at me, damn it! Cocking up the little finger and the gesture became less threatening. He was happy and proud and wanted you to know it.

Did the change markedly make the piece better? Would it have been obvious to the viewer if I'd kept the closed fist? Who can say? But gesture is a language we understand and respond to on a very intimate level. It telegraphs intent subliminally. If my students come away with a better feel for that, I've done my job.

Tim is teaching Expressive Sculpture and Maquettes Fri-Sun, April 8-10. Go here to read more and to register. All experience levels welcome.

** Tim was also interviewed recently by Krab Jab Studio, who carries his original sculptures in their gallery. He is one of the featured artists in next month's show, Lennon, which opens the same weekend as his workshop.

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