Sculpture As Practice, by Nick Salome

Practice Sculpting: Thoughts on a Pastime as Practice

by AZC Member Nick Salome

Buddha said that we create the world with our mind.  There is something very tangible about the art of sculpting clay in this regard.   You literally take simple mud from the earth and shape into something directly from your mind.  It is very surprising that clay didn’t make the list of Zen Fine Arts, and I lobby that Sculpting could easily replace one of the others (Don’t worry Rich, Flower Arranging is safe in my book!)

With all of the extra time that “sheltering in place” has given me, I find myself falling into great flow with sculpture.  Hours pass sometimes and I find that that I have just been perfectly engaged with making some little figure come to life.  And ‘come to life’ really seems to embody the process.

You might start out with an amorphous lump of clay, but as you give it attention, it moves from amorphous to geometric, but then something rather magical happens.  All at once, like an insight, like Satori, the geometric shape becomes ‘the thing’ and from then on you see it totally differently.    If you were shaping a leg for instance, it starts as a cylinder, but as you manipulate it, it will all of the sudden ‘become a leg’.  If you have ever seen one of the those 3D dinosaurs hidden in a mirage of squares,  it feels like that.  You just suddenly ‘see it’ and wonder how you had never seen it before.

Then the fun really begins, because once you have a leg that then starts to take on life of its own.  It becomes as strong leg, or an old leg, or very thin and long leg.  Then of course, it needs a body, it needs to be doing something, and off you go!

One of my favorite things to sculpt lately is Buddha.  Although it is said, “A clay Buddha cannot survive the water” (Diamond Sutra), It sure can survive quarantine!  ‘Am I right?’

I have been making all sorts of Buddhas; realistic Buddhas, abstract Buddhas, Smaller ones, Bigger ones (although I am limited to 16 inches for my kiln), even one very Buff Buddha (swole and flexy!).

Here is a picture of my home altar. This table is just the right height so when I sit Zazen in front of the altar, my hands are level with the sculpture of the hands.

That got me thinking that all of ‘my Sangha’ is at home practicing, and this might be a great time for them to make a little altar at home.  So tell me what you need:  Candles, a vase, an incensor, a Buddha sculpture?

If you would like some pottery, let me know what color you might like and if you would like a Buddha, I would love to sculpt some ‘special order’.  Just let me know if you would like: Big or small, realistic or abstract, what kind of glaze.  I would also be happy to make sets if you prefer.

Written March 28th, 2020 by Nick Salome

Contact Nick to take him up on his generous offer to fire up your very own hand-crafted sculpture!



  • Thinking about setting up your own home altar? Check out this Tricycle article.
  • Interested in sharing a photo of your own home altar, and/or some words on practicing from home? Send us something in time for the next AZC newsletter!