Tamara Bonet Sculpture, Bronze and Ceramic Figurative Art
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American Indian Woman in a Canoe Sculpture Art

American Indian Woman in a Canoe Sculpture Art

Hi Everyone,

Here’s another Amercian Indian woman sculpture work in progress to share with you. I’ve taken a few pictures along the way to show the progression of her….. She first started out as a demo for a show that I did for my home town’s centennial celebration. Well, actually, she first began as a concept drawing. I like to keep a large ringed drawing pad and draw sculpture ideas in the evening after finishing sculpting. In the drawing she was a Victorian woman in a boat with fabrics draped around her. So instead of that I decided to make her a Native American in a canoe (since I recently sculpted an American Indian woman and enjoyed that).

The initial sculpture of her was a maquette, a roughly and quickly sculpted version of the initial concept. I demonstrated how the clay feels and what tools I use while sculpting her at the Orland Centennial and the Sacramento Arts Festival. Later on, I decided to do a serious sculpture.

First I began with getting her face to have the American Indian features that I wanted. This was accomplished by doing hours of research, collecting real pictures of American Indians. The Museum of the American Indian was very helpful for that research as well as photos taken by Edward S. Curtis. He spent 30 years photographing and documenting over eighty tribes from 1907-1930.

I wanted her to have a hook in her nose, a larger upper lip, high cheek bones, wide face and slightly flared nostrils, strong jaw, and small eyes. The reason for wanting a large upper lip is that one of my reference photos shows an Indian girl with that and I thought it was unique and beautiful.

Below is a closeup front view. You can see that I still have my reference line in the middle of her forehead. This line is something that gets removed very often and has to be put back in. It helps me keep her features lined up correctly.

My friend, Micha, agreed to come and sit for me as a model. She had many of the features that I already had in my sculpture’s face. This along with taking photos of her was very helpful. As for the eyes, I wanted them to be small but ended up using my own eyes as reference which are medium sized. But that’s okay; her eyes are the focus of the sculpture so having them a little bigger draws more attention to them. With the eyelashes, they really draw attention.

The name of this sculpture is Whispers of the Dawn, so the story is all about what she is hearing. Her eyes naturally are following what she is hearing. Questions are asked such as: What’s up in the sky for her to see? Is she in awe or scared, or what might be coming? She is intent in her focus and slightly squinted as she looks on. It’s the morning so her eye’s pupils aren’t dilated that much as the sunlight is dim. She’s squinting because she wants to see more clearly what she’s looking at.

(Edit: Deleted photos)

I ended up repositioning her head a bit more upwards than the above photo shows. Getting the angle of her head right is important. As her body is leaning over, she needs to have her head positioned very naturally and comfortably.

Her body is first sculpted nude. One might ask why since she will have clothing to cover it all up. But if you look at your own body, notice how the clothing rests on the skin. So making when making a believable sculpture, it’s important to have the body showing through the clothing somewhat (even if it’s loose fitted clothing.)

American Indian woman's sculpted nude back view.

American Indian woman’s sculpted nude back view.

Above is a picture showing that the American Indian woman is leaning over, kneeling on her knees. My research showed that very often when Indian women were gathering tule grass (cattails) they would kneel and lean over at the front of the canoe. They would use these grasses in constructing their homes as well as things like baskets. They would cut the grass with a stone knife. I’ll see if I can find a spot to put the knife in the sculpture. The composition of  the partial canoe is one that I’ll work with in order to get it to look right. Tule grass will be laying over the broken off section and disguise and balance out the picture. If I were to do a complete canoe, it would be very large. As it stands now, the canoe is over 2 ft. long so that’s plenty big for a table top size sculpture.

American Indian woman's clothing is being put on.

American Indian woman’s clothing is being put on.

Her blouse is being worked out in the above photo. I have many photos that show the Native Americans in loose fitted cotton blouses and often wore these underneath their hide skin clothing. So at first I was going to have her just with the cotton blouse but the next photo shows that the hide blouse is worn over that.

American Indian woman's blouse is being refined.

American Indian woman’s blouse is being refined.

One sleeve of her cotton blouse has been worked out. The next photo shows that the other sleeve roughed out as well. I may leave them very rough or I might fill out the forms a bit more. I do want this sculpture to have a rawness to it with a refined face (becoming my trademark :-) )

American Indian woman's blouse sleeves are sculpted.

American Indian woman’s blouse sleeves are sculpted.

Her skirt has been roughed out and some hair put on (family was coming and I didn’t want to show her bald but with some hair). However, the hair isn’t how it will look but is removed in later views. Likely I’ll have a wokas (a yellow pond lily they would collect the seeds for food) flower in her hair. So the bump by her ear represents what will later be a flower.

American Indian woman's skirt's back view.

American Indian woman’s skirt’s back view.

I’ve worked on her leather hide blouse’s sleeve with hide fringe as can be seen below. I’ll remove the fringe later in order work out the cotton blouse folds some more.

American Indian woman's leather hide blouse.

American Indian woman’s leather hide blouse.

American Indian woman's leather hide blouse partially finished.

American Indian woman’s leather hide blouse partially finished.

American Indian woman's blanket wrapped around shoulders back view.

So often I see the Native American women with blankets wrapped around them. Well, if we lived out in the elements we’d probably have blankets on us too. :-) Since this is early morning, she has a blanket draped over her shoulders for warmth (and because I love sculpting fabric!) The photo above shows just the beginnings of the drapery being sculpted. It takes a while to get the fall of the drapery to look right.

The beaded yoke is something that was often incorporated onto their clothing. The Native Americans would use sinew (tendon) thread and sometimes put several beads on a strand and then sew that to the blouse; this saved time rather than sewing each bead to the blouse. So above there are bead strands applied in an Indian pattern as seen in an archived antique Indian photo.

Native American woman sculpture blanket being worked on.

Native American woman sculpture blanket being worked on.

Her moccasins will be on her feet but they will be rough and blend in somewhat with the bottom of the boat.  I like how her feet are positioned (although it’s hard to tell in the photo) with one foot tucked under the other.  It has a cute factor to me.  :-) Footsies are always cute (well, not always if you see my husband’s feet -we call them two left handed rat feet but that’s a different story!).

Native American woman sculpture blanket has much more work to go in order to finish it.

Native American woman sculpture blanket has much more work to go in order to finish it.

Much work is to go on the blanket.  It’s been roughed in but later progress will be made for it to look pleasing.  I need to keep in mind that the hair will be the focus trailing down the back of the blanket. So keep the blanket folds simple and understated so that the hair will be the eye catcher.  I don’t want everything to be too busy or too much detail.

She will have long flowing straight hair down her back.

She will have long flowing straight hair down her back.

Sometimes I hesitate to show early pictures because they don’t look so good and I know where I intend to go with it but the current state isn’t there yet.  But I need to be loyal to my blog and do better at sharing works even the in progress ones.  I hope you like seeing the pictures and follow through with seeing her to completion.  She has a way to go.

Another closeup view of face and beaded yoke.

Thanks for watching the progress and hopefully soon I can post some more pictures on how she is doing.  Please feel free to make a comment or ask a question.  I enjoy hearing back from viewers and seeing what they have to say.  If you want to sign up for my blog in order to get updates then just click on the ”RSS feed” link in order to subscribe.


17 Responses to “American Indian Woman in a Canoe Sculpture Art”

  1. doris says:

    hello Tamara,
    thank you so much for sharing the progress on your new sculpture in so many details. i enjoyed reading all you said, and it gives me an idea how you approach such a big task. and, i enjoyed looking all the fotos. i know that often in early stages one feels vulnerable when showing pictures of the work, which still looks so different from what we intend it to be in the end. but exactely this sharing, i believe, is most helpful. for the interested viewer, but i think for the one who is sharing too, since it somehow makes a time mark, in the sculpting process… and, later, i imagine you will yourselve enjoy revisiting these foto diary. at least, i do with my own work that i have taken step fotos from.

    her face is very pretty, and i like the story i see in it. ,,, your approach of building the sculpture “from within”, building up first her body and then layer after layer of her clothing, shows already the benefit in the early stage. each stage in its own is believable, and just to mention one point, but i am really amazed how you achieve that we can see the different qualities of the clothing, like the leather and the cloth of the blouse,,,wonderful,,and the nice beading detail, that sure was delicate to model.
    i am looking forward to follow along,

  2. Tamara Bonet says:

    Hi Doris,
    Yes, doing a photo diary and keeping notes on what I did can be a benefit to myself later as I might forget some of the things. It’s hard for me to want to share publicly until I get to a stage where I can see the finish line and are sure that I’ll get there. I’m still wondering how I might pull off the half canoe composition but I will try. If it doesn’t work out, then I’ll just make a full length canoe which would end up being a 50 inch sculpture or more! But whatever it takes to have it look right I will do. For most people’s homes, including mine, a half canoe would fit much better. :-) Thank you for your comments!

  3. Kurt Fischer says:

    Hi Tamara,

    very impressive work again! I liked your first Indian woman, but this will also be excellent. Her face is beautiful – I like especially the lips and the eyes. Her body also is beautiful, what a pity you covered it with clothes. Okay, just kidding, of course. ;)
    Her clothes look very natural and convincing, even at this early stage. And I have to agree with Doris: you shouldn’t be concerned about showing these ‘ugly’ stages, because in fact they’re not ugly at all, at least not in the eyes of your fellow artists. They show important steps of your way to the finished sculpture and as you may already know from my videos, I think the way is as important as the final result.

    In my opinion the half canoe composition works very well, making it full length perhaps could endanger the harmony of the whole composition, but of course that’s just my opinion, you’re closer to it.

    Thanks for sharing the progress and good luck for the rest! :)

  4. Tamara Bonet says:

    Thanks Kurt for your comments. :-) To know you think that the half canoe looks good is good to know. In person it actually looks better than it shows up in pictures. When I see the half canoe in the photos is when I wonder about it. But now that I have a basket at the back of the canoe, I think this is going to work out and look okay. I’m having the back of the basket fading out and broken off looking so it follows the idea of the boat.

    You and Doris are right about sharing the early stages of the work. Once I can see that it’s going to look okay then I feel like posting all the early photos too. I’m just glad that I’m back on my blog. It’s good for me to keep up with it and keep writing things going on in my artist’s path. :-) I always enjoy seeing your wood carvings such as your last one with mother and child. So very beautiful and touching she is. Doris’ panel with it’s flowing drapery and flowers is so pretty too. Here’s a link if you haven’t seen it yet: http://woodcarvingblog.wordpress.com/doris/alphonse-mucha-panel/
    Thanks for watching the Indian woman progress!

  5. This is wonderful, Tamara…truly outstanding and I love looking at all the stages. The subtle quality and of the volumes, especially in the face are wonderful!


  6. Tamara Bonet says:

    Hi Lori,

    I’m so glad you wrote and are enjoying the photos. Thanks for the kind words!


  7. Beth Bjorklund says:

    Oh Tamara, your talent is amazing! She is beautiful. I would love to see the smoothness of her skin and the perfection of her eyes and lashes(!) and the amazing lifelike quality you achieved with her hands… WITH the imperfection of her hair and roughness of the canoe. I understand the perfection you strive for… since you CAN make everything perfect, that’s when I think it SHOULDN’T be perfect. Do you know what I mean?
    I’m sure though, that whatever you do will still be breathtaking. Like all of your other sculptures! love, beth

  8. Tamara Bonet says:

    Hi Beth,

    That’s just what I hope to do, allow the hair to be imperfect and impressionistic. So the main focus will be on the face and then have contrasting simplicity of the hair. Having your opinion means a lot to me because you are wonderful artist (painter to be precise!). Since this is tax time, I’m doing paperwork instead of sculpting but hopefully soon I can get back to her.
    Thanks for watching and commenting!

  9. Ian Haggerty says:

    Stunning, what type of clay do you use.



  10. Tamara Bonet says:

    Thanks. It’s Stoneware 1-C from Industrial Minerals. I looked at your site and noticed your Indian woman bust. She’s wonderful! I’d like to invite you to join Heidi Maiers portrait forum. I’m sure you’d enjoy being with like company there. We have world class sculptors as well as beginners just starting out. http://www.heidimaiers.com/phpBB/index.php
    Take care,

  11. Theresa says:

    this is the most stuning work I have ever seen, Ko rangatira koe, tino ataahua Very beautiful, Theresa

  12. I came across your work and its amazing. I’ve been an artist all my life but I’m just starting sculpting now. I don’t know how I missed it!

  13. Tamara Bonet says:

    Thank you! Hope you fall in love with sculpture as much as I have!

  14. Doug Bieniek says:

    Hi Tamara
    I think your work is beautiful. I am starting to work with oil based clay and wonder how you get the surfaces so smooth and perfect…on the face for example. Any help is appreciated.

  15. Tamara says:

    Using water based clay (earth clay) allows for a wet brush to be pulled over the surface and smooth the clay. In addition, I use pieces of paper (from paper plate or other thicknesses)to pull across the surface much like screeding concrete.

    For oil clay, “screeding” with rakes and possibly with thick paper pulled along the contours would help even things out. Also, I’ve heard to use an orange based cleaner like Fast Orange (rather than toxic solvents) to melt the surface some and allow for smoothing.

    Hope this helps and thanks for commenting.

  16. Jim Lee says:


    I too just came by your website. Your Indian woman is stunning! I so admire your abilities. I sculpt busts. My pieces are much larger and I’ve had cracking issues during the firing process. I’m using Luguna Clay Soldate 60 (WC843). Do you fire or make molds?

    Thanks and I will follow your progress.

  17. Tamara Bonet says:

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks very much for your kind words.

    I fire my pieces after I make molds of them. (Have to repair a bit from the molding process). Could it be that you aren’t working the clay pieces in well enough so that cracks develop? Or perhaps the weight of the clay sculpt because of being large needs some support rods of clay either externally propping the piece or internal and worked into the inside structure. I don’t need to do that with most of my sculpts because of their smaller size. If you are firing to Cone 5 or hotter, more issues with cracking will occur than the cooler temps. Once I go larger, I’ll encounter some of this too I’m sure.

    This sculpt is next on my list to finish after I finish one other sculpt (reading book lady).


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