[0:07] Brady Walker: Hello, and welcome to Pixel and Paint—the show where we talk to some of today’s top artists and collectors immersed in web three. I’m your host, Brady Walker, broadcasting from Makerspace, the world’s most trusted NFT marketplace and community for discovering, buying, and selling remarkable crypto art from leading digital artists. Each week, we publish conversations in which I delve into the creative practices, professional mindsets, and unique habits that the best artists in web3 employ. We appreciate you joining us on your creative journey, and we hope you find something in today’s interview that you can incorporate into your own creative practice and career.
Today, we’re thrilled to welcome digital artist and marble sculptor, Leo Caillard. A staunch advocate of new technologies in science, Leo explores themes of time and quantum physics and our relationship with time. Leaving the realm of numbers, he expresses his inquiries through a career in art. A graduate of École des Gobelins in 2008, he continued studying the history of art and practicing photography while conducting research in 3D and new media. His study of marble sculpture in Italy perhaps sparked his dialogue with time—someone at the intersection of one of the oldest art forms and one of the newest.
Since 2013, Leo has produced numerous sculptures expanding on the concept of marble and bronze works, adorned with casual modern clothes and other anachronistic accoutrements. His purpose extends beyond mere cleverness, delving into aspects of self-image, art, and time, which we’ll discuss in today’s episode. Leo believes he is part of a new movement, a sort of Neo-Renaissance, where artists and intellectuals from all walks of life seek to draw upon classical cultures to establish robust roots with a novel way of thinking—contrary to a linear temporal approach. Without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Leo Caillard.
[2:00] Leo Caillard: Hello, my name is Leo Caillard. I’ve been an artist for more than 15 years. I started with digital art in 2008 before moving onto marble sculptures. I have a deep love for stone and marble, and I’ve been sculpting for more than ten years, beginning in 2012. Born in 1985 in France, you’ll have to pardon my French accent throughout this podcast. I have a keen interest in the dialogue between the past and the future, and how looking at the past can offer a wealth of information about who we are and how society operates.
[2:53] Brady Walker: That’s interesting. Could you tell me about your transition into sculpting? Marvel seems like such an intimidating medium to work with. What prompted this change, and what was the journey like from a craftsmanship perspective?
[3:16] Leo Caillard: When I was 20, back in 2005, I was into 3D, but I was always fascinated by physical sculptures. I visited the Louvre museum often, and each time I was struck by the enduring nature of marble sculptures—they remain intact for centuries. It’s the most long-lasting artwork that we can create. This concept of time impressed me, and I felt compelled to try it myself. It was an urge even stronger than my inclination for digital art.
So, in 2012, I went to Italy to learn marble carving. There’s an excellent marble school in a small city named Pietrasanta. I must admit it was a challenging journey. With digital art, you have total control, which is gratifying because you can materialize exactly what’s in your mind. When you carve marble, you grapple with the reality of its weight and the physical labor involved. It’s kind of painful because you can’t immediately achieve what you envision—especially at the beginning—you make mistakes and break the marble. It’s a long process that demands resilience.
But gradually, I improved, and it was exhilarating to see my work become increasingly beautiful year after year. Initially, I didn’t exhibit my pieces, but around 2015-2016, I had my first solo exhibition in Paris, where I showed my physical marble sculptures. I was pleasantly surprised by the positive reception. The audience appreciated this new approach to marble sculpting, which was a refreshing change from the traditional pieces seen in museums.
[5:50] Brady Walker: That’s remarkable. How many marble sculptures would you say you made before you created the first one that you were truly satisfied with?
[6:04] Leo Caillard: It’s hard to say, but I think it was around 20. It takes two to three years to gain a good understanding of this material and how to work with it.
[6:16] Brady Walker: While learning to work with marble, did you also experiment with other materials and sculpting principles?
[6:27] Leo Caillard: I did a bit of molding for bronze. Sometimes, I would make molds of marble sculptures that I liked. But for some reason, I always gravitated towards marble. There’s something special about stone—it’s natural, and because of that, it has these veins and unique details that are never exactly the same. I appreciate that it’s a unique piece in itself.
[6:59] Brady Walker: So, you’ve studied both digital and traditional art. Despite their physical differences and their distinct skill and knowledge requirements, how have these two areas of study influenced each other?
[7:19] Leo Caillard: Digital art was my first foray into the art world. As a young man, it was easier for me to sculpt digitally than physically, particularly with marble. But being easier doesn’t mean it’s without challenges. My 3D work mainly involves high-detail sculpting. I don’t do animation—I focus on sculpting. Although the tools and techniques for digital and traditional sculpting are different, the mindset and the end goal are the same—you’re creating something out of nothing. In both 3D and marble sculpting, you start with a block and make the shape emerge from it.
[8:30] Brady Walker: So when you’re sculpting in 3D, rather than building from nothing, you actually start with a block, just like physical sculpting?
[8:46] Leo Caillard: Exactly. I apply the same concept in digital sculpting. I start with a block, primarily using ZBrush software, and then carve this regular shape into something increasingly detailed. This is the same process with marble sculpting—you start with a block, initially using heavy, robust tools, then gradually transitioning to smaller tools as you add details.
What I find interesting is how surprising it is for people to see a marble sculpture and then, at the same exhibition, see a digital version of it on the wall. I enjoy opening this dialogue between physical and digital reality. I strongly believe digital art will become a major movement in the next five or ten years. It’s important to educate viewers that as long as an artwork invokes feelings and emotions, it’s art. Marble isn’t inherently more or less interesting than digital art—they both have their merits. It’s about finding what moves you, what makes you feel alive. If looking at a digital file evokes strong emotions, then it’s undoubtedly art.
[10:17] Brady Walker: I agree, although marble might have the advantage of physical presence and an impression of virtuosity—it’s clear that someone with a great deal of skill has created it. The same can be true for digital art, though perhaps the artist has to work a bit harder or differently to convey that. I’m curious about your process—how many iterations do you go through? I assume that although you start with a block, you’ve done some preparatory work to determine what you want to express. Or do you just improvise?
[11:16] Leo Caillard: No, improvisation isn’t an option with marble sculpting because there are many steps, and you need to know exactly what you’re doing. If you don’t, you risk breaking the piece. One of the unique challenges with marble is that you can’t undo an action, unlike in digital art where you can simply revert to a previous step if you’re unhappy with the result.
Before I begin sculpting, I work on my ideas and concepts on the computer. I start by creating a very basic shape of the statue in 3D software. I examine it from different angles, looking for potential technical issues. Once I have a good vision of what I want to create in marble, I print pictures of the shape I’ve created in the software. I then sketch this shape onto the marble block.
The first step of marble sculpting is precutting the marble with a machine to remove as much material as possible without straining your hand muscles. This step amazes me about the masterpieces by artists like Michelangelo—they did everything by hand. Even with modern tools, marble sculpting is still a strenuous task.
After precutting, we move on to hammering with stone scissors. This part is satisfying because you start to see the final shape emerge. The final stage involves adding details and finalizing the piece using rotary tools and sandpaper. At this point, we stop using the hammer because the marble has become quite thin and can easily break.
This final step is interesting because it demands patience—it takes hours to get the precise details you want. When you start, there’s a temptation to rush and use the hammer for too long, but that often results in breaking the piece. Through such experiences, you learn that marble sculpting is a work of time and resilience. It’s something you must accept will take time to create.
[15:22] Brady Walker: This brings up another question I wanted to ask about the exploration of time in your work. It’s fascinating how it mirrors your process, especially with marble sculpture, arguably one of the most time-consuming mediums. You’ve undertaken this with an eye towards having a dialogue with time. You juxtapose classical images with anachronistic trappings like VR goggles, cell phones, sunglasses, baseball hats, T-shirts. What is it about time that’s so intriguing to you?
[16:24] Leo Caillard: I love working with the concept of time. Even from a scientific perspective, we often view time as a line, but it’s more of a circle—time repeats itself. It’s a complex and profound concept to accept. When I visit museums and look at statues from the past, I don’t see old stones. I see people of today, only living in a different period. We are fundamentally the same with the same questions, the same ego, the same myths. Things repeat themselves. When we take a selfie, it’s just the modern version of Narcissus. The underlying meaning is the same.
I work on anachronistic details that I add to the statues. I like this concept because as soon as you notice these details, you don’t see the statue as an old stone or piece from the past—you see someone from today. This is possible just because of small accessories like Google Glass or a hat. I like to catch the viewer’s attention with humor and fun. Once you’ve captured their interest with interesting details, you can delve deeper into more profound concepts.
[18:11] Brady Walker: That’s cool. I love that. I’m speaking about a week before NFT Paris, where you’re going to be presenting a few pieces, some sculptures and 2D pieces on Makers Place. This conversation will probably air a month after NFT Paris, but can you tell me a bit about the 2D pieces? They have a sort of Renaissance look, and there’s not a lot of obvious anachronism. Can you tell me about those pieces?
[18:59] Leo Caillard: Absolutely, I will present for the first time phygital pieces, meaning two unique NFT pieces linked to two unique marble sculpting pieces. They will be displayed together on the Makers Place stage during the NFT Paris event next week. This presents an interesting opportunity to bring reality into the virtual world and foster a dialogue between the two.
I worked on the concept of two iconic figures from the past: Caesar and the god Horus. They are both fighters, both iconic figures from history—great emperors of their times. I like to work on this concept of iconic figures and present them in a new light. I added a gas mask to Caesar and VR goggles to Horus, and suddenly, they appear more like video game characters or something much more modern and different. Suddenly, the classical piece becomes something even futuristic. I like this open dialogue between styles. It appears as the past, but it’s not anymore—it’s perhaps the future.
By bringing in the marble pieces with this anachronism, I believe the dialogue will be very interesting. I’m actually excited to see the pieces live and to discuss with the people. I’m sure I will receive a lot of questions about why and how I do this. I can’t wait for it.
[20:56] Brady Walker: What inspired you to put a gas mask on Caesar?
[21:05] Leo Caillard: I started working on the Caesar piece in 2020. It was fashionable then to have a mask on your face due to the circumstances. We were in a kind of war against the situation, and Caesar is a warrior with a gas mask, which is also a reference to the masks we were wearing. I believe it’s a significant piece of mine, and I’m thrilled to display it here.
[21:36] Brady Walker: You said something during our conversation last week that resonated with me, and I’d love for you to expand on it. You said, Artists are people who refuse to accept reality. Can you elaborate on that?
[21:51] Leo Caillard: Absolutely. Being an artist is a daily commitment. It’s something you live with and can’t escape. To my parents’ dismay, I was a good student and could have pursued business or other fields, but I was drawn to marble sculpting. I had this need to carve, to challenge myself with something different that I had in my mind. It’s not easy because, in the beginning, you are in a fog. You know you want to express something that you feel deep inside, but you can’t because you don’t know how to, you don’t have the techniques, and you’re unsure of what you want to say.
So, it’s like being surrounded by fog. You don’t perceive reality like others do because this foggy impression makes you see things differently. I often advise younger artists who ask me what they should do: just walk, follow your path, look at your feet and move forward, step by step. It’s the only way to break through the fog and see a new reality that you create yourself. It may exist only in your head at the beginning, but by pushing forward, you make it real.
At the start, nobody will understand. There will be no galleries, no exhibitions, no attention. But if you persist, slowly but surely, it will become something visible, something tangible. It will become a new reality. You must follow your path.
[23:41] Brady Walker: It sounds like another angle on the advice you’re giving is to not overthink the outcome, but instead to continue with the process. Is that correct?
[24:01] Leo Caillard: Yes, absolutely. As an artist, the biggest problem is often overthinking your creation. You want to control it because it’s emotional, and to control your emotions, you may feel the need to overthink. However, the most important thing is just to create. Even if your creations are subpar at the beginning, even if they’re repulsive—I know my first sketches were terrible and are painful to look at now—it was the only way to move forward. Just do things, even if they’re not up to your expectations, even if people around you don’t like them. As cliché as it sounds, just do it. Make what you have in your head, and don’t overthink it. Don’t let others discourage you. They might not understand at first, and they might tell you it’s not good, and maybe it isn’t, but it will improve if you keep pushing.
[25:08] Brady Walker: How do you avoid overthinking things, especially when you’re about to embark on something as daunting as sculpting in marble? How do you prevent yourself from getting halfway through a sculpture and thinking it was a terrible idea to begin with?
[25:47] Leo Caillard: You have to live with it. Success, visibility, exhibitions—they don’t change the feeling that every piece I make could be better. I still believe that no one will like my work at the exhibition. I feel the same pain, and it never changes. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel illustrates this beautifully: the fingers never touch at the top. You never achieve something that feels truly beautiful or perfect. You never feel fully satisfied. But in a way, that’s good. It means you still have something to say, something to push forward with. If the fingers did touch at the end of the Sistine Chapel, it would mean that nothing else needs to be done, that the final piece has been found. But that doesn’t exist—it’s a concept.
You have to learn to live with that. I think you start to cope better when you accept that it will never leave you, that it’s part of the process to feel these emotions and this pain. Once you start to live with it, it becomes a kind of friend. It helps you create interesting pieces because it challenges you every day. As an artist, you have to feel these emotions, this sensitivity. And yes, over time, you gain a better understanding of how to manage it. The little successes you achieve through exhibitions and sales build a sort of armor that helps you not to feel too much pain from it.
[27:57] Brady Walker: I’d like to delve deeper into this topic, as it’s something I struggle with and I assume many of our listeners do too. As someone who has achieved a level of success and continues to progress in your creative journey, how do you balance preserving your momentum and potentially repeating past victories, versus the desire to chart new territory?
[28:51] Leo Caillard: The biggest challenge when you start to gain visibility in your art is avoiding the comfort zone. Comfort is the enemy of art and creation. It’s a survival instinct; we all want to be comfortable. But comfort doesn’t facilitate creativity or happiness—it merely signifies a lack of immediate desires, like food or sleep. It’s important to constantly challenge yourself, to avoid stagnation. If you don’t, you’ll just keep creating the same things over and over. After a few years, people lose interest because you need to evolve along with the world.
You have to stay ahead, anticipate the future, and create art that reflects it. The best artists are pioneers. Impressionists, Picasso, Warhol—they all made art that was ahead of its time. Andy Warhol was so modern, maybe 50 years ahead of his time. As an artist, you have to take on this challenge, and to do so, you must often do the exact opposite of what others expect.
If someone tells you something is good, and you should stick to it, that’s the comfort zone. It might be comfortable for a few years, but it won’t lead anywhere. When you present something and people don’t immediately understand or feel slightly uncomfortable, yet they can’t stop talking about it—that’s a good sign. That’s art. It hits a sensitive spot, it raises questions, and that is what makes life interesting. It’s a challenge because you have to continually push yourself out of your comfort zone and embrace this feeling, which may not be pleasant every day, but is undoubtedly exciting.
[32:07] Brady Walker: That’s great. I have two questions. First, can you tell me about a recent time you challenged yourself or created a piece of art that put you and possibly your collectors or viewers out of their comfort zone? Second, is there a recent piece of art by someone else that made you scratch your head or raised questions for you?
[32:50] Leo Caillard: I’ll answer the first question first. When I started creating distortions, like a digital glitch or bug in the marble stone, many people around me, including my art galleries, were unsure whether it was good or bad. I had this fantastic technique, but suddenly I chose to insert an abstract element in the middle of a perfectly made piece. I decided to distort the shape, to create an abstract glitch or wave. Because of their reactions, I knew it was intriguing. It’s a dialogue between the digital and real worlds in one marble piece.
Now, it’s one of my most successful series. Usually, a new concept doesn’t sell well in the first year—it takes four or five years to become the primary value of your art. So when I create something and it doesn’t sell in the first year, I see it as a positive sign. It means it’s not comfortable, it’s interesting, and it’s raising questions.
As for other artists, there are many I admire, like Goshka Macuga. There are also artists whose work I don’t personally like, such as Jeff Koons, but I recognize their genius. They take mundane things and turn them into masterpieces. The meaning is strong and interesting. Art should stir emotions—I’d rather someone be repulsed by my art than have a lukewarm response.
[36:13] Brady Walker: Yeah, it’s fascinating. The big news on MakersPlace’s Slack this week is Claire Silver making about, at this count, 55 ETH on one piece on SuperRare. Now, there’s a bidding war on one of her pieces on MakersPlace. What’s interesting is, it’s been on MakersPlace for 188 days and there was very quiet reception to it. A lot of people are still hesitant about AI art. But just this week, she’s had this life-changing bidding war happening on two different platforms for her work. It echoes exactly what you were saying. Also, when I was describing your work to my wife last night, the glitch sculptures were the first thing that came to mind because they’re my favorite of your pieces.
In that vein, I’d like to move on to my next question. How has your style evolved over the years? I think an artist might have a different insight into how their style has evolved than their audience would. I mean, the audience has a certain insight, but it’s kind of like knowing yourself versus other people knowing you.
[37:50] Leo Caillard: I believe art must evolve, but the meaning must remain the same. The message is still there, I open a dialogue between the past and the future. And it will stay like this, I believe, for all the pieces that I will make. But the shape and style must evolve a lot. What I like in growing your art is that you become more bold, and you free yourself from societal expectations. As an artist, I believe it’s most important to evolve this way: to be more audacious and to take risks in your style. I started with hipster in stone, dressing up statues—it was cool, but not too disruptive. Now I distort and twist shapes, opening a dialogue between abstraction, figuration, and reality. I believe the meaning is a bit stronger now because I’ve made these audacious moves, these bold moves, taking the risk to be unpleasant. If you want to be loved by everyone, don’t be an artist. Because that’s not how to do something great. You see, with good music, some people love it, and many people hate it. It’s good music. But elevator music, for example, everyone will say, ‘yeah, this is music. It’s not bad. It’s harmonious, well done.’ But you can’t say it’s bad. It’s just flat. Good things, by their nature, bring love and hate at the same time. And you have to accept that and be audacious with that.
[40:08] Brady Walker: I’m trying to articulate this question—if you know that your art is having a dialogue with time, a conversation between the past, present, and future, what does your creative process look like to find different expressions of this dialogue?
[40:44] Leo Caillard: I believe childhood memories are very important. For example, this glitch distortion on the statues—it reminds me of when we were kids. If you’re around 40, like me, you’ll remember the glitches on TV because the reception wasn’t good enough. It was interesting, the sudden appearance of something like a glitch in the movie. It’s also the concept of time, a quantum vibration, the pure definition of time—it’s a wavelength. These kinds of memories pop into my head. I don’t know why, it’s the magic of the brain, you know. Most of the time, it’s very simple concepts, very small things. Those might be the best ideas you’ll have. So, you have to catch that, you have to be sensitive to the past.
[41:58] Brady Walker:
Can you tell me about your earliest experience with NFTs? I believe you said you were in New York at the time?
[42:05] Leo Caillard:
Yes, exactly. I was in New York in 2008, assisting some artists. I was struggling and actually selling my photos on the street to pay the rent—it was a tough time, the subprime crisis was in full swing. I saw the arrival of Bitcoin, some friends of mine were talking about it. They said, ‘Bitcoin has arrived. We don’t know what it is, but it seems interesting.’ But I didn’t understand at all what was happening. It was fascinating to see that I was there at the very beginning of the blockchain, but I didn’t catch the train. At the time, my focus was on my art and other things.
But because I was doing digital art, I’ve been following it for the last 15 years. Back in 2010, I was checking out the experiments of digital artists on blogs every day. Gaming is also a very inspiring way to discover art and digital art—I’ve been observing the gaming industry since its inception. So, it was enlightening to be in touch with the digital world while also sculpting in marble.
When NFTs arrived, it was a big boom in the digital art world because digital artists started to understand that technology could make digital art scarce and therefore valuable. The biggest problem with creating value through digital art was the inability to certify uniqueness or scarcity. So, because of that, I started to get involved with Ethereum and blockchain back in 2018. I minted my first NFT in 2020. I think it was around January 2020 or December 2019.
I was there at the beginning of the journey, and I’ve seen the first steps of digital art. I’m thrilled to see that now museums, large institutions, and auction houses are starting to realize that digital art is here to stay. It’s important to remember that all the biggest art movements started with refusal. The established art market doesn’t immediately accept new things—like the Impressionism movement. At first, nobody wanted to exhibit artists like Monet or Degas. Now, their paintings are the most valuable. Similarly, with digital art, it’s too much the future for big institutions. They need time to understand what’s happening. Now they’re starting to understand, so I believe the movement will accelerate from here.
[45:37] Brady Walker: So, having been in the art world for more than a decade and in the crypto art world for over four years, what are some common mistakes or misconceptions you see from artists trying to break in or make a living off their art?
[45:54] Leo Caillard: I think the biggest mistake, particularly in digital art, is focusing too much on volume—making too many pieces. Most of the time, quantity and quality don’t go hand in hand. Artists need to work on scarcity, take the time to improve, and concentrate on one piece at a time. The real value lies there. I see many artists starting in digital art with massive open editions. They put all their artworks out there without focusing on scarcity. That’s the biggest issue I see in digital art.
[46:50] Brady Walker: How do you manage your time and prioritize tasks as an artist?
[46:56] Leo Caillard: The good thing now is that I have two assistants in the art studio and one for digital art. This allows me to delegate some of the workload and focus on the most crucial aspects—the creative part. At the beginning, when you’re living as an artist, you have a lot of freedom—you can work at night, in the morning, anytime, anywhere. But to improve, you have to manage yourself like a small business. You need to keep regular hours, have a schedule, and stay organized, because no one else will do it for you. I see this as a common issue with many artists, including my friends. Some of them are more talented than I am—I don’t think I’m an extraordinarily creative artist. I have good ideas, but nothing crazy. However, I do manage myself well. I ensure I get six to eight hours of sleep and try to wake up at the same time each morning to maintain focus on my schedule. It’s important to have structure around your work.
[48:34] Brady Walker: Do you have a cadence for finishing new work that you try to maintain?
[48:39] Leo Caillard: Yes, and I push myself to accept when a piece is finished. The problem with art is that you always want it to be perfect, so you think there’s always something you can add or improve. But that’s a trap—if you keep thinking that way, you’ll never finish anything. You also won’t be able to sell your work because you’ll be too attached to it. It’s important to set deadlines for yourself. For instance, I might tell myself, ‘This piece will be done by March 8.’ Even if it’s not perfect, I declare it finished, send it off for a show, and no longer see it in my studio. It’s crucial to push yourself to set limits, otherwise you can get lost in an endless process of trying to achieve perfection.
[49:53] Brady Walker: It seems like you had to learn that lesson the hard way with marble sculpture since overworking could irreparably ruin something.
[50:07] Leo Caillard: Definitely, sometimes you want to improve it, and you end up making it worse. We have a saying in French, ‘Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.’ It doesn’t have an exact translation in English, but it means that if you try too hard to make something better, you might make it worse. So, it’s crucial to know when to stop, even if the result isn’t exactly what you had in mind. You will never be fully satisfied with the final piece. It’s important to learn when to call a piece finished; otherwise, you’re just wasting time.
[50:52] Brady Walker: How does frustration manifest in your practice? And how do you overcome that?
[51:00] Leo Caillard: Reality can be frustrating by itself because as an artist, you want to transcend reality, create something that outlasts you. And often, you can’t. You face this reality every day, and it can be a bit unsettling. But again, discipline is key. It’s like being a high-level athlete—creativity alone isn’t enough to make something good. You need discipline. If you work on something with discipline, even if it’s not a masterpiece, it will be good enough to be noticed. Focusing on discipline helps artists not be overwhelmed by their feelings.
[52:09] Brady Walker: Great. I have one last question to wrap up, and thank you for this—it’s been great talking to you. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self about art and creativity? Is there anything you wish you’d known or any mindset you wish you’d had?
[52:31] Leo Caillard: I would say, don’t overthink, and focus on maintaining a regular daily discipline. You are in a fog, and overthinking won’t help you see through it. Just look at your feet and take it step by step. Create daily, finish your pieces, show them—even if nobody likes them, it’s okay. You move on and create another one the next day. You keep moving forward with discipline and joy. We’re here to spread joy and feelings, after all. If you don’t enjoy creating art, perhaps it’s not the right path for you. Creating art should be a passion. It’s not easy—sometimes I wake up not wanting to work on marble or digital art. But as soon as I start, I always feel good. So, focus on the pleasure you derive from painting or doing something creative, and with long-term vision and regularity, things will fall into place.