Rowland Cooney will be teaching the basics of sculpture with The Three Kings: Adult Sculpture Workshop Dec. 7 and 8 at The Art Room.
Growing up, Rowland Cooney had a hard time finding toys of some of his favorite game and cartoon characters. Because of this, the fan of video games, superheroes and Japanese anime began sculpting his own out of clay.
“I’ve always been a big toy collector — I still am — and that’s why I started sculpting, because they weren’t making the toys I wanted,” Cooney said. “I wanted Mario toys. I wanted Sonic the Hedgehog toys, but nobody had them.”
The self-taught sculptor began his craft as a child but didn’t start taking it seriously until after discovering the tabletop game HeroClix — which uses small figurines of various superheroes and other characters — at age 16.
“Again, they weren’t making the heroes I wanted (for HeroClix),” Cooney said. “So I would take the (figurines) off the base and start trying to sculpt them. That’s when I really started sculpting for real, and I taught myself everything I know. I got better and better and better until people started ordering from me.”
Today, Cooney, 33, takes his knowledge of sculpture to the classroom. He will be teaching
The Three Kings: Adult Sculpture Workshop from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, and Saturday, Dec. 8, at The Art Room, 709 Main St., Windermere. The workshop costs $250 and includes lunch and supplies. Those who attend will learn basic sculpture techniques as they sculpt the Three Kings — Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar.
“I’m going to walk them through the basics,” Cooney said. “All the (sculpture) techniques I chose for the Three Kings, I try to keep them really simple. ... So it’ll be easy cuts, easy sculptures and then we can just put it together.”
Attendees will learn techniques such as blocking out shapes, and a process Cooney calls “puzzle-piecing,” which is a technique he uses to sculpt complicated shapes.
“The blocking out helps you layer the clay on easier,” Cooney said. “(To make) a complicated shape ... you make the smaller, easier shapes and then you place it all together like a giant puzzle piece.”
The Three Kings workshop isn’t Cooney’s first teaching experience. Prior to moving to Windermere about a year ago, he spent about seven years teaching at Frederick Community College in Frederick, Maryland. It was there that Cooney discovered his passion for teaching. He taught classes in sculpture, stop-motion animation, origami and classical Japanese art and even taught a class called “architecture through Minecraft.” He said his favorite thing about teaching is seeing students’ reactions when they love what they’re learning.
“I love seeing people get passionate about this stuff,” Cooney said. “Teaching is the most important thing to me. … Even on the days where my work started at 8 (in the morning) and ended at like midnight, I woke up (the next day) ready to go again. It was just so fun.”
Cooney landed the teaching job at Frederick Community College in 2010 after the school’s animation teacher quit just weeks before the start of a semester. He was one of eight candidates interviewed, and — although he lacks a college degree — he was hired on the spot because of his experience in sculpture and stop-motion animation. At the time, he did stop-motion animation as a simple hobby and didn’t expect it to lead to a job. His stop-motion animation class became his most popular one, he said.
“I was so popular, they asked me to come back,” Cooney said. “Every summer, I was blocked in and the most popular class was stop-motion. It was consistently full.”
Although Cooney is passionate about teaching — and aside from teaching sculpture classes at The Art Room — he hasn’t been able to land another teaching job with a school because he doesn’t have a degree. Being a self-taught sculptor gives Cooney a strong sense of pride, however, the lack of a degree has presented one of his biggest challenges.
“I look a lot worse on paper than I do in person,” Cooney said. “The biggest challenge for me has been that I am self-taught. It’s the thing I’m proudest of, but it’s also been the hardest thing, because that degree gets you through a lot of hoops that I have to really negotiate around.”