Any material that can be formed in three dimensions is possible to use sculptural. Certain materials, because of their structural and aesthetic properties and their availability, have proven particularly suitable.
The most important of these are plaster, stone, wood, metal, clay, and ivory. There are also a number of materials of secondary importance, and many of them have only recently begun to be used.
Stone in the art of sculpture
Throughout history, stone has been a frequently used material for monumental sculpture. There are practical reasons for this:
- Many types of stone are highly resistant to weather conditions and are therefore suitable for outdoor applications;
- stone is available in all parts of the world and can be obtained in large blocks;
- many stones have a fairly uniform texture and uniform hardness, making them suitable for carving;
- stone was the main material used for monumental architecture, with which sculptural elements were associated.
Stones belonging to all three major categories of rock formation were used in sculpture:
Magmatic rocks, formed by the cooling of molten mineral masses as they approach the Earth’s surface, include granite, diorite, basalt, and obsidian. These are some of the hardest rocks used for sculpture.
Sedimentary rocks, which include sandstones and limestones, are formed from accumulated deposits of mineral and organic matter. Sandstones are an accumulation of fractured stone particles bound together by a cementitious substance. Limestones are formed mainly from calcareous remains of organisms. Alabaster (gypsum) is also a sedimentary rock. Many varieties of sandstone and limestone, which vary greatly in quality and suitability for carving, are used for sculpture. Because of their method of formation, many sedimentary rocks have pronounced strata and are rich in fossil inclusions.
Metamorphic rocks result from changes in the structure of sedimentary and igneous rocks under extreme pressure or heat. The most famous metamorphic rocks used in sculpture are marbles, which are recrystallized limestones. The most famous is the Italian Carrara marble. It was used by Roman and Renaissance sculptors, especially Michelangelo, and is still widely used today. The most famous types of marble used by Greek sculptors, for whom marble was more popular than any other stone, are Pentelic (it became the basis for the Parthenon) and Paros.
The disadvantages of certain types of stone considered when creating a sculpture
Because the stone is very heavy and has no tensile strength, it can easily be broken if cut too thinly or not properly secured. Some rocks can be handled more freely. In particular, marble was handled by some European sculptors with almost as much freedom as bronze. But this virtuosity is achieved by overcoming rather than using the properties of the material itself.
That is why plaster sculptures are initially made, in which all possible options for the placement of elements and other important points are calculated. Only after having received a perfect plaster sculpture, the master will take up the stone.
Colors and textures of stone
The colors and textures of stone are the most admirable features that leave neither sculptors nor viewers indifferent.
Some stones are fine-grained and can be cut with fine detail. The finished pieces are finished by polishing, and the result is close to perfect. Stones with a coarse-grained composition require a completely different approach. But sculptural products made of such rocks, made with consideration of the pluses of structure and with taste, have a special attraction.
Purely white Carrara marble, which has the property of translucency, reacts to light and seems to glow. These properties of marble were brilliantly used by Italian sculptors of the 15th century Donatello and Desiderio de Bartolomeo di Francesco.
The coloring of granite is heterogeneous, but includes elements with contrasting colors and luster. Mica and quartz crystals add luster to this rock. In sculpture are used mainly black or white variant of coloring and various shades of gray, pink and red.
Sandstones vary in texture and are often colored in warm colors, including pink and even red hues.
Limestones vary greatly in color. But the presence of fossils in them is especially valuable. The surface of a properly treated limestone does not need any additional decorations; it is unique, mysterious, and attractive in its own right.
A number of stones have a rich mottled coloring due to the veins that run through them. But for the sculptor, this point is more important when creating a decorative inanimate object. Human figures and faces benefit not from the beauty of the stone, but more from the sculptor’s skill.
A special group consists of hard or semi-precious stones. It includes the most beautiful and decorative rocks. Working with these stones, along with the treatment of more precious stones, is usually considered part of the glyptic (stone carving or engraving) or lapidary arts, although many of the artifacts produced from them can be considered fine sculpture.
Such stones are often more difficult to work with than steel. The first among the hard stones used for sculpture is jade. This stone was revered by the ancient Chinese, who worked with it with extreme skill. This rock was also used in sculptures by Mayan and Mexican artists.
Other hard stones that have played a huge role in sculpture are rock crystal, rose quartz, amethyst, agate and jasper.
Wood as a material for sculpture
The primary material of tribal sculpture in Africa, Oceania and North America was wood. It was also used by every great civilization. Wood was widely used in the Middle Ages, for example in Germany and Central Europe. Contemporary sculptors who used wood include Ernst Barlach, Osip Zadkin, and Henry Moore.
Both hardwoods and conifers were used for sculpture. Some are fine-grained and cut as easily as cheese, while others are hard or ductile. The fibrous structure of wood gives it considerable tensile strength, so wood can be carved finely and with more freedom than stone.
The advantage of this material is that in large or complex compositions, several elements cut from different trees can be joined together.
The structure of wood is one of its most attractive features, giving variety to the pattern and texture of its surface. The colors of different species are also different. Wood has a warmth that stone does not have, but it lacks the massive dignity and weight of stone.
A huge disadvantage of wood is that it is subject to different variants of deformation under the influence of adverse conditions. Changes in humidity and temperature lead to swelling, splitting, rotting. Wood is susceptible to attack by insects and fungi that easily destroy it. And if it is covered with a special protection against these influences, it loses its natural appearance and attractiveness, which is exactly what this material is valued for. For these reasons, wood is used mainly for interior sculpture.
And also wood burns, so many of the sculptures simply have not survived to this day.
The main species for sculpture are oak, mahogany, lime, walnut, elm, pine, cedar, boxwood, pear, and ebony, but many others are also used. The size of the material available is limited by the size of the business wood of the individual tree. For example, North American Indians could carve giant totem poles out of pine, but boxwood can only be purchased in small pieces.
In the 20th century, wood was used by many sculptors as a building material as well as for carving. Laminated lumber, particle board, and lumber in the form of blocks and boards are easy to join – they can be glued, spliced, screwed, or bolted together and can have a variety of finishes. Still, the most prized works are those made from a single piece of wood of a rare, sturdy species.
Metal in sculpture
Metal was used for sculpture wherever casting and metalworking techniques were developed. The number of metal sculptures that have survived since the ancient world does not adequately reflect the extent of their use, as a huge number of artifacts were looted and melted down for resale as ingots or for other purposes.
Thus, numerous Far Eastern and Greek metal sculptures and almost all the gold jewelry of the pre-Columbian American Indians have been lost.
The metal most used for sculpture was bronze, mostly an alloy of copper and tin. But gold, silver, aluminum, copper, brass, lead, and iron were also widely used.
Most metals are extremely strong, hard and durable. They have a sufficient margin of tensile strength that provides much greater design freedom than is possible with stone or wood. A life-size bronze figure that is firmly attached to the base needs no support other than its own base. Significant loosening of the form is also possible without the risk of fracturing the piece.
The color, luster, and reflectivity of metal surfaces were highly prized and fully utilized in sculpture, although since the Renaissance, artificial patinas were usually preferred as finishes for bronze.
Metals can be treated in a variety of ways. They can be cast, that is, melted and poured into molds, pressed into dies, as in coin making, or worked directly, such as by hammering, bending, cutting, welding, and punching (forging or pressing in relief).
Important traditions of bronze sculpture can be traced by looking at the works of Greek, Roman, Indian (especially Chola), African (Bini and Yoruba), Chinese masters and sculptors of the Italian Renaissance.
Gold was used for small works in pre-Columbian America and medieval Europe. More recently, aluminum has been widely used by modern sculptors. In recent years, iron has been used little as a foundry material; it is more popular for direct machining by methods similar to blacksmithing.
The main material currently used for structural sculpture is sheet metal. For example, stainless steel in sheet form was used effectively by the American sculptor David Smith.
Of course, antique classic sculptures made of gold, bronze and silver cannot help but please fan of real art, because they were created to decorate the palaces of the highest dignitaries. Great masters worked on such sculptures, others simply did not have access to this expensive material.
As for the metal sculptures commissioned by party officials, their artistic value is debatable. Only time will tell how important they are for art.
This, one of the most common and readily available materials was used to model animal and human figures long before people learned how to shoot pots. It has since become one of the main materials of folk sculptors.
Clay has four properties that explain its wide use:
- when wet, it is maximally malleable, easy to model, with its help you can easily make any impressions;
- when it is partially or completely dry, it can be cut and sanded;
- when the clay has been mixed with enough water to a creamy consistency, it can be poured into molds;
- When heated to temperatures between 700 and 1400 °C, it undergoes irreversible structural changes that make it strong and extremely durable.
Modern sculptors use clay as a material for the initial realization of ideas and for creating preliminary models which are later cast in plaster, metal, concrete or carved in stone.
But for pottery sculpture, clay is the basis. Depending on the nature of the clay itself and its firing temperature, the finished pottery product comes out different. Clay can be used to make:
- earthenware – opaque, relatively soft and porous;
- porcelain is hard, non-porous and more or less vitrified;
- Porcelain – finely textured, vitrified and translucent.
All three types of ceramics are used for sculpture. Sculpture made from clay with a low firing temperature, particularly clay and red clay, is known as terracotta (burnt earth). However, the term is used inconsistently, encompassing all forms of pottery sculpture.
Unglazed clay sculptures can be smooth or rough in texture and painted white, gray, light brown, brown, pink or red. Pottery sculpture can be decorated with any of the techniques invented by potters and covered with various beautiful glazes.
We have inherited different kinds of clay figurines and other artistic products, each with its own distinctive features that make the objects unique and priceless:
- Paleolithic sculptors produced relief and circular objects without using firing;
- the ancient Chinese, especially during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, produced magnificent pottery sculptures, including large human figures;
- the most famous Greek works are intimate small figures and Tanagra groups;
- Mexican Mayan sculptors left behind vigorous, modeled clay figures;
- during the Renaissance, ceramics were used in Italy for large-scale sculptural projects, including large-scale glazed and colored sculptures. An example is the work of Luca de la Robbia and his family.
One of the most popular uses of clay in art was to make statuettes, such as in Staffordshire, Meissen, and Sèvres.
The main source of ivory is elephant tusks. In addition to these, walrus tusks, hippopotamus, narwhal (an Arctic aquatic animal) and in Paleolithic times mammoth tusks were used for sculpture.
Ivory is dense, heavy and difficult to work. Initially its color is creamy white, but over time it usually turns yellow. The material requires careful polishing. The tusk can be sawn into panels for relief carving or into blocks for coiled carving. The shape of the tusk itself can also be used.
The physical properties of the material suggest the finest, most detailed carving, so the virtuosity of ivory sculpture is commonplace.
Ivory was widely used in antiquity in the Middle and Far East and in the Mediterranean.
An almost continuous Christian tradition of ivory carving extends from Rome and Byzantium to the late Middle Ages. Throughout this time the material was used primarily for relief, often in combination with precious metals, enamels, and gemstones. One of the main uses of such sculpture was to adorn religious diptychs, portable altars, book covers, tables (shelves above altars), caskets and crucifixes.
The Baroque is also rich in ivory objects, especially loved in Germany. A good tradition of ivory carving also existed in Benin, the former kingdom of West Africa.
Small sculptures of ivory, horns, and tusks have been used since the Paleolithic period. The two most important materials for the Eskimo carver were reindeer antlers and walrus tusks.
One of the best medieval examples of ivory work is considered the Adoration of the Magi (Victoria and Albert Museum, London).
Gypsum is particularly useful for moldings, sculptures, and even entire ensembles, molds, castings, and pre-models.
It was used in Egyptian and Greek sculpture as a casting medium, and is today the most versatile material in the sculptor’s studio.
When mixed with water, gypsum recrystallizes after a short time, or sets, that is, it becomes hard and inert, and its volume increases slightly.
Gypsum can be poured as a liquid, modeled directly when it has a suitable consistency. It is easy to cut out after it has set. Other materials can be added to it to retard setting, increase hardness, or increase resistance to heat. It is also easy to change or enhance the color of gypsum with additives.
The main sculptural use of gypsum in the past was sculpting and casting clay models as a step in making cast metal sculpture. Many sculptors today omit the clay molding stage and mold directly into plaster.
Plaster is widely used to create molds for sculpture casting. It is important as a material for reproducing existing sculpture. For example, many museums use such casts for teaching purposes.
According to experts, gypsum is ideal as a material: unlike metal, it can be used in any interior, unlike stone, it weighs little and is easy to work with, it does not deteriorate like, for example, wood. Gypsum is cheap and available, unlike ivory or base metal.
At the same time, gypsum products look flawless, they can be combined, and gypsum decoration is always in fashion, as it shows the taste and wealth of the owners. Real stucco is not used in every home – it is a decoration option for stylish cottages, ceremonial halls, religious institutions, theaters, so the customer who has chosen it for design has nothing to fear accusations of blandness or love of the mass-produced goods.
Secondary materials in the art of sculpture
Contemporary artists are looking for new forms of self-expression, which is why sculptures made of concrete, polymers and other materials are increasingly appearing. Can such works be considered art? Time will tell!
Concrete. It is a mixture of aggregate (usually sand and small stones) bound together by cement. As an aggregate can be used a variety of stones: crushed marble, granite crumb and gravel, each of which has its own color and texture.
Manufactured cement is gray, white or black, but it can be colored with additives. Cement is most commonly used by sculptors as a raw material that sets very quickly. A recent invention is concrete replacing stone for certain types of work. Because it is cheap, hard, strong and durable, it is most suitable for large exterior projects, especially decorative walls. When reinforced properly, it gives a lot of freedom for design. And using methods similar to those used in the construction industry, sculptors can create works in concrete on a giant scale.
Synthetic resins. When synthetic resins, especially polyesters, are reinforced with fiberglass, the result is a lightweight shell – extremely hard and durable. It is usually referred to simply as fiberglass. After fiberglass was successfully used for car bodies, boat hulls and other devices, the material began to be used for sculpture as well.
Because the material itself is visually unattractive, it is usually colored with fillers and pigments. It was first used in sculpture in combination with powdered metal fillers to produce cheap “cold” substitutes for bronze and aluminum. But with the recent trend to use bright colors in sculpture, fiberglass is now often pigmented or painted.
Fiberglass can be modeled, but more often it is cast as a laminated shell. According to the authors, the possibilities of the material for sculpture have not yet been fully exploited.
Different formulas for modeling. Talented authors, not being able to use classical materials, often used improvised ones. For example, in the past, wax was taken to make small statues.
The main use of wax in sculpture was as a preliminary material for modeling the process of casting metal and for creating sketches. It was not strong enough to be used as an independent material, although small works were created, but they were kept under a glass dome.
Another cheap material – papier-mâché (cellulose paper glued with glue) – was often used for sculpture in the Far East. Basically, papier-mâché is suitable for decorative works, especially for making masks. With the right technology, the finished product can have a significant strength at low weight. The Japanese, for example, made armor from it.
Sheet paper sculpture is a limited form of art, used only for ephemeral and usually trivial work.
It is worth listing other materials: permanent – shells, amber, bricks – and ephemeral, such as feathers, dough, sugar, seeds, leaves, ice. They have been attempted to be used to create three-dimensional forms. Such materials do not fit well in the art of sculpture because they are out of the classical range, but nevertheless these ideas have the right to life.
Thus, given the trends of the late 20th century, it is no longer possible to speak of specific “materials for sculpture. Modern sculpture has no framework. Art historians predict that any material, natural or artificial, including polyethylene, foam rubber, Styrofoam, fabrics and neon tubes, will probably continue to be used.
Moreover, real objects can be incorporated into sculpture, as in Edward Kienholz’s mixed media compositions. And even trash has its own authors creating “trash” sculpture.
However, we should not forget that times and mores change, fashion trends change and only one thing remains eternal – true classical art based on traditional materials. Therefore, choosing a sculpture to decorate your home or institution, you should not buy a product made of paper, iron or feathers. Also, it is not necessary to drag into the house a cumbersome structure of stone. It is much more practical to order a real plaster sculpture, which will really please the eye regardless of the time of year and era.
As a subject you can choose a vivid historical event, one of the famous masterpieces or serve as a model for the master himself. In any case, the specialist will do so that his work will fit successfully into the interior, taking a worthy place in your home. By the way, the most famous sculptures were created exactly to order. Who knows, maybe your masterpiece will ever end up in a museum.
What are the four basic methods for making sculpture?
The four basic methods for making sculpture are carving, modeling, assembling and casting.
What are the two principal materials for carving?
Carving is the process of using a cutting tool to remove excess material from a solid object or shape.
Carving can be done with many different types of tools, including chisels, knives, and sanding blocks.
The two principal materials for carving are wood and stone.
What does the additive process of sculpture include?
The additive process of sculpture is a way of creating art by starting with a large block of material and adding material to create the desired form.
The process starts with the artist deciding what they want to create. The artist will then start with a large block of material, often stone or clay. They then use tools such as chisels or carving knives to remove pieces from this block until it has the desired form.