Sculpture Materials

Sculptures have been a part of human history for longer than humans have been recording history. With the oldest sculpture we know of dating back 37000 years, sculpting is deeply engrained in humans as one of the original forms of art.

For a long time, sculpting stayed from simple wood and even times at stone. As humans started to develop tools which could break harder material, our sculptures moved to the harder materials. Below, we will discuss some of these materials along with some potential difficulties of each.

Stones

Wood is undeniably the original material for sculptures, but for the most sake wood was predominantly used in the making of religious idols and other cultural appropriate sculptures. Not what a lot of people would consider a real artistic expression. For the break away from a culturally set mould, the first real artistic and creative sculptures started to appear around 1100 BCE. This time period in Ancient Greece was not only the real start of artistic sculpturing, but also saw the biggest shift in materials used to make these sculptures.

Chief among these materials was a variety of different types of stone, and most specifically marble. Marble is an incredible hard material with a high tensile strength but very brittle in working, a small mistake with a chisel could result in the work piece cracking and completely failing. Marble is one of the most difficult materials to reliably make sculptures with, its surprising that it stayed a favoured medium for much time to come. Today, marble remains as a very sought-after material for sculptures the world over.

Metals

Another interesting material being used in these times was a variety of metals, the large majority of metal sculptures throughout history have been made from bronze. Bronze is an alloy commonly consisting of copper and tin.

The copper brings in an anti-corrosion element and the tin brings up the overall strength of the mixture, resulting in the perfect material for cast or fabrication. Unlike the chiselling and smoothing techniques used on stone statues, brass, along with other metals, make use of the following techniques.

  • Cast – the casting process begins with an initial impression of the workpiece. In historical casting, the first impression was usually made from wood, as it was one of the easiest materials to work with. Once the initial impression was done, it would be used to create a mold, generally in a compacted sand mixture.

This mold would then be poured full of the molten brass mixture to allow the brass to solidify in virtually any shape. Casting is technically a wasteful process as the full infill is often not required with metal work, at the time though, there were few reliable ways to join metal to create a pure metal shell.

  • Fabrication – Fabrication sculptures are more common in recent years as metal shaping and joining techniques have come a long way. Fabrication is making the outside shell out of welded pieces of metal and shaping the metal as needed for the sculpture.
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