In this series, the artists working at Creative Gateways give us a behind-the-scenes insight into their current works in progress, inspiration and creative challenges. Today, we look at a current project of Sumati Colpitts…
Out of hibernation
In Sumati Colpitts‘s long career as a ceramic artist, she has used her talent to create an impressively wide array of animals. Indeed, her garage (which doubles as a work space) contains a loving, sculpted menagerie that has to be seen to be believed. Sumati has love for all animals, but that does not mean they are all equally easy to create. Recently, she has found herself working on a particularly interesting animal: bears.
For Sumati, one of the initial motivations for coming back to bears was simple economics. “The bears have sold really well,” she explains. “They do especially well at shows. Rabbits have been really popular too, but I think this may be shifting into the year of the bear. I actually sold my last full one at a recent show in Texas. So then I knew ‘Okay, I have to go make some more.'” This time, however, things would be a little different. “I’ve made bears before, but these new ones are turning out different. They’re bigger than the ones I’ve made before, which means the challenges are bigger as well.”
This can be particularly tricky for Sumati, as bears of any size are inherently harder for her to create. “They’re not the hardest animal I’ve ever made, but they’re definitely not the easiest either. I definitely find it harder to kind of focus and get started on them compared to other animals. On the more technical side, they end up being a lot heavier and their fur is thick and requires more work. It can really wear my hands out!” But the technical is just one aspect of the difficulty. Sumati’s works are known for their personality and spirit – things that are harder to balance with certain animals like bears. “I obviously have photos I can reference for any animal, but they only help so far. At a certain point I have to just let myself imagine how these animals look myself. I’m not trying to make photo-realistic sculptures. I want them to have personality and cuteness and whimsy. The hard part is that I can’t have too much of those things either. It can’t feel like they’ve completely come from a fantasy land.”
Perhaps the peak of the fantastic can be seen in pieces of Sumati’s like the “Caped Rabbit” or “Caped Mouse” that express the greatest degree of anthropomorphism. But something about those animals allows them more leeway when it comes to whimsical traits. A caped bear feels more unreal than a caped mouse, and to an extent that many collector’s may not want. “So I end up having to work hard to find that balance. They need to be cute, but they can’t be too cute. Sometimes it’s really hard for me, because my natural inclination is to make them as cute as possible!”
It would be hard, though, for anyone to deny that Sumati’s bears are adorable. They may not be wearing clothes, but their posture and expressions instantly connect with the viewer. The way they playfully hold their feet or look up at you with a smile creates a loving, warm feeling that will not soon be forgotten.
So, aside from the financial aspect, why does Sumati continue to make bears? “Because I love them! They’re wonderful animals that I feel a connection to. Their difficulty may mean that I don’t make as many of them as I do other animals, but that doesn’t mean I care about them any less.”
Bear with us
Be sure to see much more of Sumati’s work (including her bears, while they last), as well as the work of all our resident artists, at Creative Gateways Open Studios and Gallery, open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm!