How to Become a Sculptor
Getting Started as a Sculptor
Ancient Art Form
As far as art goes, sculpting is arguably the world’s oldest profession, barring cave drawings. This 3-dimensional art form has been around for thousands and thousands of years, starting when the first hairy-knuckled troglodyte contemplated over a mass of wet clay mud. Over time, sculptures have played an integral part in religious worship, philosophy, and even politics. Ancient Rome is a prime example, as is also modern Washington D.C. Of course, sculpture is also highly prevalent in both the fine and decorative arts.
Art and Commerce
It is important to note that when one refers to sculpting (or any art for that matter) as a “profession,” he or she should keep in mind that very few who set out to become commercially successful ever really do. As with all art, if you are absolutely called to it, driven to succeed, and can’t imagine doing anything else, then assuming you have the talent and the skill, you might think about investigating the potential of doing what you love for a living. Once you have committed to taking this leap, there are a few ways in which to monetize your art work. These range from public art commissions to galleries to selling your work on Internet sites like Etsy or eBay.
What is Sculpting?
Sculpture is a subcategory of the visual arts that is distinguished by its three-dimensional nature; it is also known as a “plastic art.” There are a few modes of sculpting that an artist can utilize to make this art. Such methods include carving, which is the removal of material to reveal form, and modeling, which is the opposite. Here, the artist creates by the addition of material, such as clay, to create form. There is a wide variety of materials and methods that can be employed to sculpt. Methods include carving, hand or wheel molding, or the welding of various materials into shapes and configurations. A myriad of materials can be chosen as the medium including wood, stone, metal, clay, and even glass. As you explore sculpting, it is important to eventually specialize in one type of material as each medium is so different, and each requires specific methods, tools, and equipment to master.
Essentially, a sculptor must be able to conceptualize how to best represent the chosen subject matter and to choose the size, scale, and the most appropriate material to be used in creating his or her art piece. Basically, it is the job of the sculptor to take an idea and mold it into a three-dimensional object that imaginatively represents the concept, is instantly recognizable, and preferably, impactful to its viewer. In order to be commercially successful, it is important to keep in mind that what sells are works that are distinctly unique from what is already out there; work that embodies a signature style. When one ponders such luminaries as Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir, Warhol, Banksy, or specifically sculptors like Michelangelo and Auguste Rodin, one instantly can associate their work and styles with their names.
This is how you, the artist, can more effectively monetize your creative output and, again, this is by being instantly recognizable and memorable through your work. This is what drives art lovers to seek you out and to collect what you offer. Develop your skills, create a signature style, promote yourself strategically, create momentum, and then you may just have a shot at becoming a self-sustaining and even successful sculptor.
Master the aforementioned methods of sculpting and you can call yourself a “sculptor.” Begin to think like a business person and act strategically. Then sell enough work to live comfortably, and you can then know yourself to be a true “professional.”
Where to Begin
A good place to start is to simply try your hand at it. If, after trial and error, you have developed an affinity and love of this art then you may be ready to take the next steps toward a career in sculpting, but for now, let’s start with the basics. Go down to your local art store and obtain the raw material you will need to create your sculpture. Clay is usually the best choice for those exploring this art for the first time. Remember, clay (and other mediums) are used to build a piece of art by the addition of the material to create form. Sculpting with wood or stone is far more challenging to the beginner and is distinguished by the process of removal of material –again, a less than optimal choice for those getting their proverbial feet wet. Next, purchase the tools that are necessary for the material you are planning to work with. Be sure to obtain enough to realize the full dimensions of your envisioned sculpture. It’s a good idea to always have a little extra on hand.
Once you have your material, let’s say a block of clay, the next step is to take a moment to visualize how your sculpture might be created by pondering the block before you. It is important to have a table that is solid (not wobbly) and a foundation (a piece of wood) upon which to create the sculpture. Give yourself room, and certainly use a table that you won’t mind getting water and clay all over, as that is inevitable. Ask a clerk at your local art supply store about platforms, armatures (the skeletal structure upon which you add the material), various tool suggestions, etc. For purposes of exploring this medium, you can start out more simply. All you really need for now is the material and a good solid surface upon which to work.
Next, take a blade of some kind (or actual sculptor’s cutting tool) and rough out an outline of your envisioned sculpture. Ask at the art supply store to be shown the various kinds of tools that are available for this task. (If you are removing material like wood or stone, be very careful as to not injure yourself.) Keep in mind the intended proportions of your sculpture as you develop the form. It is a good idea to make consistent measurements and to indicate points in your sculpture so as to develop the sculpture in proper proportionality.
Once you feel you are happy with the rough form of the sculpture, you can add details like the individual fingers on the hands or the shape of the nose and the bulk of the hair, should your subject be the human form. Be balanced as you detail so that all sides are shaped incrementally. It is important to avoid working excessively on only one area and to take moments now and again to step away to view the totality of your work and its proportions. See your progress from all sides of the sculpture and, for example, work on the back for a while and then switch to the front, etc. Using a picture or, better yet, a model is the best way to get all the details correct. Eventually, should you keep pursuing sculpture, you will need to invest in the proper tools for the job as it facilitates the process greatly and allows for much greater control.
Now you have reached the point where you can add texture and finish to your sculpture. A wet sponge is ideal to smooth all the surfaces of the clay. You can also use a knife or some kind of textured item to further refine and imprint the surface of your work. If you took the leap to wood or stone, use a sanding tool to create smooth surfaces on these materials.
Congratulations! You have completed your first sculpture. Now you might wish to cure your work of art to properly finish it up even further. You can likely find several places in your local area where you can fire the clay for a reasonable price. Firing the clay will cure it. If you like the natural look of the clay, then you are done. Otherwise, choose a glaze (or stain for wood) to further enhance the look and to match what you originally envisioned for your sculpture. It is also important to invest in a sealant to protect your art piece from the elements. This is especially important if it is to be placed outside.
Take a look at the infographic below for some important statistics and information about a career in sculpting.