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Sculptural Processes: Definition & Techniques

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Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever modeled a figure in clay? Carved something from soap? If so, you've experimented with sculpture. In this lesson, learn about terms and techniques related to several sculptural processes.

What Is Sculpture?

Artists work with many kinds of materials. Some paint or draw, but others create artwork that is dimensional. Such works are called sculpture.

Sculpture is art that's three-dimensional and protrudes into space. Unlike two-dimensional art, many sculptures have height, width, and length. Sculpture is a very old art form that's been made by cultures around the world for centuries. The ancient Egyptians created massive stone sculptures like the Sphinx, which stands several stories high, and the classical Greeks were known for their spectacular carved stone figures.

Sculpture can be made of many materials. It can be realistic or abstract, which means it doesn't resemble anything in the natural world. Some sculptures are reliefs, or dimensional forms that protrude from a surface but are still connected to it. If you have a coin in your pocket, look carefully at its surface designs. They are examples of shallow relief sculptures.

Other sculptural works are freestanding, which means they can be walked around and stand alone apart from any background. The word statue is often used to describe fully freestanding sculptures. The Statue of Liberty is a very large example of a freestanding sculpture. Can you imagine planning and making a sculpture that big?

Artists use many processes to create sculptures. Let's learn more about some of them.

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Coming up next: Common Problems & Solutions in Sculpting

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  • 0:03 What Is Sculpture?
  • 1:25 Carving, Modeling & Assembly
  • 2:46 Casting
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Carving, Modeling, and Assembly

Two of the most traditional sculptural processes are carving and modeling. Carving is a method of making a sculpture using a solid block of material, like wood or stone. The artist removes areas to create the desired shape, cutting away the excess material from the solid mass. Carvers use tools like chisels, which have straight cutting blades, and gouges, which have convex cutting blades. Carving is considered a subtractive process because the excess material is removed in the process of creating a finished work.

The opposite of carving is modeling, a method in which a sculpture is created by adding pliable material to create a form. Artists who sculpt build up a form in layers of substances like wax or clay. Artwork that's modeled is sometimes supported by a hidden armature, or an underlying form made of wire or wood. Think of an armature like a skeleton that supports the sculpture from the inside. Armatures are helpful for large or complex works that can become heavy as layers of clay are added.

Assembly is a newer method of making sculptures, where artists use pre-made objects, like large pieces of metal, and put them together to make a sculpture. Sometimes they might also use found objects, or cast-off materials repurposed for art. The discarded items are assembled into a work of sculpture. Such works are often connected by processes like gluing or welding.

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