Vocabulary for Sculpture Materials, Styles & Techniques

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  • 0:03 Background on Sculpting
  • 0:43 Materials: Bronze,…
  • 2:34 Techniques: Carving,…
  • 4:20 Styles: In the Round & Relief
  • 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Sculpting is a centuries-old art. Like artists in other industries, sculptors use specific vocabulary to refer to their materials, styles, and techniques. In this lesson, we will learn vocabulary words related to sculpture.

Background on Sculpting

Sculpting dates back to ancient civilizations. In ancient Egypt, the Great Sphinx was carved from limestone. Sculpting was also important to the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. Since ancient times, sculpting has persisted as one of the most popular art forms around the world to represent beauty, emotion, and form.

Sculptors, art critics, art appreciators, and art students use the common words for sculpting materials, styles, and techniques in order to have a meaningful dialogue with one another. In this lesson, we will learn several terms for the materials, styles, and techniques commonly used in the sculpting world.

Materials: Bronze, Ceramic, Marble

Like paint to a painter, the materials used by sculptors are important. Materials such as ceramic clay, bronze, and marble have been used by some of the most renowned artists.

Bronze is a popular sculpting material used by famous sculptors such as Donatello and Carlo Marochetti. Bronze is a strong material, and bronze sculptures are made by creating a mold which the bronze can be cast into. A wax or plaster mold is common because they can be removed with ease and protect the art piece underneath. Bronze is heated to a liquid at around 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, poured into the mold, and allowed to cool. Afterwards, the artist carefully breaks off the mold. David by Donatello is a famous bronze sculpture, which was made around 1440.

Pottery clay, or better known as ceramic in the art world, is one of the most popular sculpting materials. Pottery makers love to work with ceramic clay because it is incredibly flexible, making it perfect for beginners and advanced artists. Ceramic clay can be self-hardening, meaning it doesn't require heat, or it can be more traditional clay that requires a firing kiln to harden the design. Ceramic can be molded into any design that the artist can come up with, and the sculptor can use his or her hands or other tools to craft the piece. Ancient Greeks are famous for their clay pottery, which was made on a clay wheel and decorated with black paint.

Michelangelo's impressive Pieta, a marble statue inside St. Peter's Basilica, was carved in 1498. Marble lends a very realistic depiction of the human body and makes it perfect for sculptures of people. To carve a marble sculpture, an artist carves onto the original piece of marble or creates a mold to work from. A sculptor uses a chisel and other tools to carve out the design.

Techniques: Carving, Casting, & More

Sculptors use additive and subtractive techniques to create sculptures. Additive means to bring materials together, while subtractive means to take away from the base material. Four main techniques exist in sculpting: carving, assembling, modeling, and casting.

What happens when you take a large stone or piece of timber and turn it into a masterpiece? Carving, that's what! Carving is a subtractive sculpting technique in which the sculptor chips away from the chosen material. Carving can be used on a variety of materials, such as wood and stone. Sculptors use chisels, mallets, knives, sanding sheets, and other tools to realize their visions.

Many modern sculptures are created through assembling, an additive sculpting technique that involves bringing materials together to form an art piece. Assembling is more popular in modern sculpting than classical sculpting. Mark di Suvero's Aurora, a sculpture made by connecting eight tons of steel together, is an assembled sculpture. To make this piece, Suvero bound his materials together with bolts and welding.

The ancient Greek pottery that we discussed in the materials section was made through modeling, an additive technique that refers to the manipulation of a soft material. Waxes, clays, and even concrete can be molded to create a sculpture. Sculptors use knives, soft mallets, chisels, and other tools to mold the material.

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