The portrait bust
A portrait bust is defined as capturing a face, neck and chest in a medium such as bronze or stone, etc.. Although traditionally a portrait bust included part of the chest, today we (myself included) incorrectly use the word ‘bust’ to include the head and neck and no chest. But removing a couple of inches of clay to the neckline shouldn’t be enough reason to change its name, so we give it a pass. No harm done. It’s close enough, carry on.
Portrait bust sculpture goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. And 2,500 years later they are still common. The art form even made it through the abstract art movement unscathed. Portrait busts are a way to honor someone living or dead and can capture various expressions, moods and a likeness all in a small amount of space. In short, it does everything a full figure can do but with less materials, space and time.
Portrait sculpture is one of those art forms that every sculpture student should spend time on. The reasons are:
- They are inexpensive to make
- They aren’t overwhelming for a beginner, compared with making a full figure portrait
- If you can make a good portrait bust you can make a good figure
My own history creating portrait busts
The first finished portrait bust I made was an art student at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. The model was a beautiful, young Chinese-American woman who sat live for the class. The sculpture I made was of her head, neck and partial chest and I spent two or three weeks creating her likeness. It was challenging and fun. When the clay was all dry, post-graduate students fired it as part of their masters degree program.
The moment I laid eyes on the fired terracotta I was mesmerized. The bust took on a new life. It was then that I realized I had potential at being a sculptor. There was and continues to be a higher level of beauty that us artists experience when we first see our own sculptures transform into a permanent medium like bronze. Perhaps its comparable to when a mother sees her newborn baby for the first time? It’s mesmerizing, magical and beautiful. Symbolically, firing the bust also solidified my passion for sculpture. After I left the Academy I would look at the bust for inspiration. It helped push me forward through the early years of creating sculpture.
To date I have created somewhere between 25-30 portrait busts. Unfortunately, only about 10 of them were ever molded and even less cast in bronze. However, I am excited with the many new busts coming in the next year as more commissions come in. New portrait busts in queue are of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Buddy Holly and a second bust of James Dean.
To see these and some of my other sculptures take shape, please follow me on Facebook at Sutton Betti Sculptures.