For a long time I worked with a man named Fernando who made his living by copying things in marble. He must have been one of the fastest stone carvers in the world.
Artists would bring him a plaster model of one of their works and Fernando would reproduce it in any stone they wanted. You could even take him a little figure you had modelled in clay and he would copy it for you—enlarged to any size. His workshop was full of marble blocks for you to choose from. He was lightning fast and not even very expensive.
His margin of profit depended on the speed of execution. Every day the work stayed in his shop cost him that day´s workmen´s wages. But even aside from the business consideration, Fernando saw no point in “horsing around”. He cut into the marble with enviable boldness and authority and finished a statue in a hurry.
He would come to work quite late in the morning and, after changing into the clown outfit they all put on, he would sit down on a little milkstool in front of the block, which by the time it was ready for Fernando had already been roughed out. He would look at the stone and then at the plaster model, consider for a moment, and then set right to work with the air-hammer.
He had a good eye for detail and he was a fair judge of the quality of a thing, but he was incapable of coming up with his own original figure. Yet as soon as he had someone else´s figure in front of him his mind got filled with it and he would start to work and to use his considerable talent to copy it and even to improve it. Often in his craft or trade you have to invent here or there where the model is unfinished or unclear. That Fernando could do as well or better than the artist himself.
How could that be?
Sculptors always said Fernando´s work was easier than theirs. He had before him the work as it was, while the sculptor usually didn´t consider the work a finished thing and wherever he looked would see something that could be improved. Or he didn´t want to finish. Maybe he liked a certain effect he had achieved but didn´t want to believe it was the best possible one. It is said that works of art are abandoned rather than finished: they are only sketches.
In fact, the plaster figures sculptors gave Fernando to copy were often sketchy in places. What did they expect him to do? Of course he used his own judgment and clarified the murky area as he thought appropriate to the figure, which more often pleased than displeased sculptors. They were grateful for the authority someone else exercised. Any decision is better than no decision.