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The Basics of Sculpture

The Basics of Sculpture

“I simply took away everything that was not David.”


Michelangelo quoted this about one of his most famous sculptures. Sculpture requires a greater knowledge of physics compared to 2D art. It is, however, a very relaxing practice to do with your hands, similar to ceramics. Sculpture can be a 3D art piece using any materials, though many work with natural materials from the Earth. How are sculptures made? Where can you find the best ones for your home? How do you create your own? This article examines the basics of all things sculpture.

Michelangelo Night Sculpture in Paris


People create sculptures through carving, molding, or assembly. We use sculptures as monuments because they last for many years. When made from wood or stone, the artist uses a hammer and chisel to gently chip away “all that isn’t your final product”. Many sculptors have an uncanny ability to see a being trapped within a solid block. Because sculpting from marble can be so difficult and there isn’t a way to really “draw out” what you need to chip away, many sculptures will fashion their ideal image out of clay first then try to mimic the exact measurements and proportions when using the marble.

People are so enamored with sculptures because they can be so difficult to fashion–picture some of the delicate ancient greek figures chiseled out of marble. The details in marble fabric folds look so lifelike that it stuns viewers and immortalizes the subject.

wood carving,


We produce sculptures with much more ease today. The subject of a sculpture can be created out of clay, then cast to create a mold, which then can be filled with molten metal or fiberglass for a final filled piece in a fraction of the time. Sculptures are now often welded out of metal pieces as well. Choosing the right sculpture for you depends of your preferences and price point. A small, hand-carved, abstract piece may put you back only a few hundred dollars, but for large pieces prepare to pay about $10,000. Resin-cast sculptures are your best bet if you want something large and highly detailed that won’t break the bank. If you want something one of a kind crafted by an artist as a collector’s piece, try auction websites and art dealers like

1stdibs, Mother and Child, Frederick Hart, Hand-carved Acrylic, 1997, $24,500

Creating your Own Sculpture

Want to get into making your own sculptures? Start with clay. You don’t need anything fancy. Pick up a tub of air-dry clay from a craft store and play around with it a bit. To create ceramics you need a wheel, but for sculpting, you just need your two hands. Create a rough sketch of your ideal design, noting what you want the measurements to be so you can mimic them as you go. 

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If your piece is going to be large, or top-heavy, you’ll have to create the scaffolding for it. Use wires and dow rods to support it like you would a plant. Start adding chunks of clay to block out the general sizes of the piece components. From there, go back in and add or subtract smaller pieces to make this more detailed. If you need to add a piece onto the clay, use a toothpick to scratch up the connecting surfaces of both the individual piece and existing sculpture. Use “slip” (a think mixture of water and a bit of clay) and apply it to the scratched sides, then combine them. This will help them grip together. You can use your fingers and toothpicks, but to make it a bit easier it’s worth it to invest in a set of clay modeling tools.

Skip around all over the sculpture rather than focusing on one area for a long time. It is easy to mess up the proportions of a piece of art when you’re right up against it, so step back a few times to make sure it looks like your sketch. Once you start focusing on the minute details, use a wet sponge to begin smoothing things out. Finally, cure it by baking or air dry. Depending on the material and where it will go, you may have to treat it with a lacquer finisher. 

Sculpting out of stone is much more in-depth. Master clay first, then invest in a local sculpting class to learn this trade under proper instruction. If you appreciate the masters and would like something to inspire you, view our auction picks here.

Stephen Walling, Peeking, $3,600,
Katharine Morling, Porcelain Matches “Butterfly”, $395,
David LeCheminant, Jet Stream, $3,400,
Jane B. Grimm, All That Jazz Ceramic Wall Sculpture, $3,000,
Isabelle Jeandot, Aphrodite, $20,801,
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