Art Resources: Sculpting

By: Francesca Fiori

Sculptures can range from rather small creations to monuments as big as the famous Great Sphinx of Gaza. Sculpting typically involves carving and refining a piece of solid material to produce another shape. The medium can vary from marble to plaster, clay, metal, and even ice. In ancient times, many East Asian countries created sculptures for religious purposes. One well-known example is the massive Terracotta Army; a collection of life-sized warriors that were sculpted and buried in the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang in 209 BC.

The Ancient Greeks and Romans made their own special mark on the world of sculpture. Their classical styles became so well-known that they are still appreciated today. The Ancient Greeks developed a style that celebrated the nude human form, however not in any perverse manner. Since then, nude figures have become an artistic ideal, and this practice is still continued today.

History of Sculpting

It was during the Renaissance era that sculpting was revived in Europe. This was especially so in Italy. Artists such as Donatello and Michelangelo created works like David and the Pieta that still remain largely unrivaled today. At the time, religion and memorials to noble figures largely governed the subject of artists’ sculptures. By comparison, contemporary sculpture has evolved to become much more abstract and encompassing. While in earlier times there were stricter cultural guidelines about what was acceptable, today’s sculptors have much more freedom in being able to express themselves.

Types of Sculpture

There are several different ways of creating a sculpture. Subtractive sculpting is likely the most well-known. It involves simply cutting away parts of a block to reveal a shape. This is typically practiced with relief or round sculptures. A round sculpture is one that is free-standing, while a relief is a sculpture molded from a flat piece. A relief can be mounted on a wall, while a round can be stood on a table. On the other hand, additive sculpting involves appending rather than removing materials. For example, in assemblage sculpting, the artist puts together a number of objects to create an entirely new work of art. Within sculpture, there are also various different styles that are practiced. This can vary based on cultural influences as well as styles of a certain time period.

Materials Used

Sculptors’ materials can vary depending on the medium that they are using to sculpt. For materials like marble or limestone, traditional sculptors usually use a wooden mallet with a number of chisels. Some people also use a drill to do the hard work and save time. Electric scrapers and grinders are then used to refine the piece. Other tools can include knives, which are useful in plaster sculpting, as well as brushes and sandpaper to smooth down the sculpture after the main work is completed. It is very important to use gloves, a dust mask, and safety goggles to prevent accidental injury.


When sculpting with stone or plaster, the artist normally creates a light sketch over the block of material. This helps them to see where they need to start carving. Once the basic pieces are carved, they can then begin contouring. Sculpting is usually a lengthy process since it needs to be done in many small steps. When the main sculpting work is completed, they can then refine it by sanding or abrading. Finally, the piece is polished with a wax or polishing fluid. Some mediums such as marble or plaster need to be sealed to prevent them from wear. After this, some sculptors may also choose to paint the sculpture.

Associations and Clubs

There are a large number of sculptor groups within the U.S. and internationally. These groups are a great way to meet other sculptors, trade information and learn new techniques. The larger organizations, such as the American Sculptors Guild and the National Sculpture Society help to promote and educate people about sculpting. There are also many small local groups and clubs where sculptors can get together informally.

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