The Making of a Sculpture of a Curious Otter


Perhaps it was the plethora of cherished memories from my childhood spent playing with plasticine that ignited my passion for sculpture, but when I discovered the Singapore Sculpture Society in 2022, I was eager to become a member to expand my experience in making sculpture and to get to know more like-minded artists.

Wood Sculpture Symposium 2023 Singapore Sculpture Society

Since joining the Singapore Sculpture Society in March this year, I had the privilege of participating in the Wood Symposium organized by the Society at the Pasir Ris Park.  Inspired by the prospects of having my art work displayed at a public space, I decided to sculpt an otter as I was interested in exploring the significance of these creatures in Singapore and the challenges they represent in terms of environmental conservation and coexistence with humans.

Clay Marquette of an otter for a life size wood sculpture carved from a log

As it was my first time working with wood and sculpting an otter, I started by making sketches of otters from photos of the Singapore smooth coated otter found on the internet and creating a clay maquette. This preliminary model helped me better understand the otter's form and served as a guide when I transitioned to carving it out of the hard Khaya or Mahogany wood. 

Rough cuts were made on the log using a chain saw to get the general shape of the sculpture

Being a complete novice at wood carving I was filled with anticipation as I attended the Master Class conducted by esteemed sculptor Mr Chua Boon Kee, who also serves as the advisor for the Singapore Sculpture Society.  Witnessing his depth of knowledge and his patient explanations of the process and tools used, I was truly grateful and inspired to transform my ideas into reality.

Carving a sculpture from a raw log proved to be an incredible journey of discovery and skill-building. To transform the log into a magnificent otter sculpture, I delved head on into the realm of power tools. Using a power saw, I tackled the log's formidable mass, carefully shaping the wood to bring out the otter's proportions and overall form. The saw's precision cuts gradually turned the raw material into the canvas for my artistic vision.

General form taking shape. Further refinements were made with the chain saw and angle grinder

Refining the sculpture's shape and adding intricate details called for the use of an angle grinder. With its rotating disc, I meticulously sculpted the wood, patiently removing excess material and refining the contours of the otter's body. The angle grinder became instrumental in achieving the level of precision necessary to capture the essence and character of the otter.

Further refinement on the otter sculpture were made using the angle grinder

As I delved deeper into the process, I turned to electric drills fitted with various bits. These tools became my trusted allies in breathing life into the sculpture. With meticulous care, I carved out details that gave the otter its distinctive personality and charm. The tools also allowed me to create texture, define facial features, and emphasize the unique characteristics of the otter's fur and anatomy.

In this artistic journey, I not only honed my technical skills with power tools but also gained a profound appreciation for patience and respect toward the medium. Wood, with its unique grain and inherent qualities, demanded my unwavering attention and understanding. It was a delicate dance between controlling the tools and allowing the wood to guide me, resulting in a harmonious collaboration between the artist and the material. 

Guidance from renowned sculptor Mr Chua Boon Kee for the otter sculptureThroughout this process, I received invaluable guidance and encouragement from both Mr Chua Boon Kee and Mr Casey Chen (symposium lead), which gave me the confidence to express my artistic vision. Their willingness to share their wealth of knowledge allowed me to explore and experiment with different techniques. They both offered insightful feedback and practical suggestions, enabling me to refine my carving skills and bring out the essence of the otter sculpture. With their guidance, I gained a deeper understanding of the artistry involved in wood carving and the ability to translate my creative concepts into tangible forms.

Completed sculpture of an otter at Pasir Ris Park by John Leong

Engaging in the creation of this sculpture required five days of relentless dedication and hard work. However, the end result was incredibly fulfilling. Witnessing the otter sculpture come to life, embodying the spirit of these captivating creatures while symbolizing the challenges faced by Singapore's society, filled me with a profound sense of accomplishment.  By placing the otter sculpture in a public space, I hope that it would shed light on the intricate relationship between humans and nature, and initiate meaningful conversations about the importance of environmental preservation and harmonious coexistence with the wildlife that shares our world.

Back view of the completed wood sculpture of an otter

Finally, I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to NParks for their gracious support in providing the logs for the event and the Singapore Sculpture Society which offered me the chance to embark on this extraordinary art journey. Also a big thank you to the dedicated organizing committee of the symposium whose tireless efforts and unwavering commitment ensured that the event was a resounding success. Their dedication to serving the members and creating an enriching experience for all participants was truly commendable.

Singapore Sculpture Society Wood Symposium 2023

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