Sculpture Basics

Sculptures, or works of art created as three-dimensional objects, can be created out of any materials in any combinations, including metal, stone, wood, plaster, glass, paper, etc. Techniques for making sculptures vary with the materials used and include assemblage, casting, carving, modeling, welding, etc.

Sculptures may be editioned the same as two-dimensional works, and are called sculpture multiples, The practice of making multiple impressions of a sculpture has a long history. In Greek and Roman times, marble sculptures were often copied and widely distributed. 19th century French sculptor Rodin expected that his hand-sculpted models would be cast into bronze many times. It was not unusual for him to have several different foundries cast the same work over the span of his life, and since his death, the French government has routinely issued new editions of his works. This situation has created a good deal of confusion for art historians and conservators who try to authenticate and date Rodin sculptures.

The contemporary practice of making limited edition, numbered sculpture multiples is fairly recent. Typically, sculpture editions are smaller in number than print editions. However, the terminology used for sculpture editions is generally the same as print editions with a few exceptions. (See Printmaking Terms.)

The exceptions are as follows:


The maquette takes the place of the State Proofs, Trial Proofs and Progressive Proofs in the creation of the sculpture. A maquette is a model of the intended work. It is made from less expensive materials that the edition and is, upon occasion, smaller scaled than the intended work. Maquettes can be made from wood, cardboard, or any other relatively inexpensive material that gives the illusion of the final shape and form of the editioned work. The maquette is critical to the creation of the bon á tirer and is valuable as documentation of the creative process; however, the size and temporary nature of the maquette may preclude its use as a permanent record of the creative process.


Prototypes are to scale works sometimes make in the same or different materials to work out the technical aspects of the projects and its production.

Bon á tirer (BAT)

As with prints, this is the first perfect work approved by the artist to judge other works in the edition.

Presentation Proofs

In sculpture, Presentation Proofs perform two functions. They are used as Presentation Proofs as well as “Printer’s Proofs.”

Technical Glossary of Terms


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A work that has been put together, or assembled, from diverse elements. For example, Ear Poem, by Lesley Dill, is composed of bronze, paper and thread affixed to a stiff backing.


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The hardened or rock form of lava. Cycas revoluta bulbil, by Keith Edmier, uses basalt that has been melted into lava, and allowed to reharden in a sculptural shape.


A metal alloy composed of copper and tin that is ideally suited for casting sculptures. Sandro Chia’s Youth and the Devil and Richard Tuttle’s Renaissance Unframed #26 are both cast bronze sculptures.


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CAD drawings or files

Three dimensional digital drawings (used by architects, engineers, designers) that can be used to draw up plans for sculptures or for use in rapid prototyping for mold-making. Graphicstudio faculty used CAD drawings in making Los Carpinteros sculptures Panera and Sandalia.


A subtractive method of creating sculpture in which the material is cut or chipped away to form the object. Hard, solid materials such as stone or wood are often used.


A sculpture produced from a mold.


The process of making a sculpture by pouring a liquid material into a mold. Bronze, rubber, porcelain, epoxy resin and urethane resin are just a few of the materials that can be used to cast sculptures.


A sharp-edged tool used to cut and shape wood, stone, or other solid materials used for sculptures.


An earthly material, often found near riverbeds, that is easily pliable when moist but becomes very hard when dry. Used for sculpture and ceramics. See Lesley Lerner’s hand-painted ceramic sculptures from the series, My Life in France: The Man with the Wooden Arm.


The thick “cup” used to melt and pour metals, glass and stone into a mold.


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Epoxy resin

A two part chemistry that mixes a liquid resin and a catalyst to form a casting compound or adhesive, that can be pigmented, cast, and cured. See Head Cheese by Roxy Paine.


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A workshop where sculptures are cast.


Sculpture that does not derive from a background plane and is completely three-dimensional (the opposite of "relief").


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A photographic relief technique that can be used on wood, glass or other substrates. A photosensitive mask is applied to the substrate, it is exposed to a positive image, and washed out. The unexposed areas stay resistent to sandblasting, which is then used to blast away the exposed areas and create a relief image. See I Remember Birmingham, by John Scott.


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Lost-wax casting

A wax model of a sculpture is made. It is surrounded by plaster, creating an outside or negative mold. Bronze or another hot metal is poured into the plaster mold, melting or “losing” the wax and leaving the bronze cast as the finished product. See Renaissance Unframed #26 by Richard Tuttle.


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A small model made by a sculptor as a preparation for a larger finished work.


A material or technique with which an artist works.


The process of forming a sculpture from a pliable, soft substance, such as clay or wax.


A hollow form used to cast a sculpture. It takes the negative shape of the sculpture that is being cast.


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A greenish film on the surface of old bronze caused by oxidation. It is also a chemical substance brushed onto a sculpture’s surface, for aesthetic effect. “Hot patina” is a special process that broadens the range of colors available. Diana Al-Hadid's In Mortal Repose is a good example of applied patina.


A mixture of water, lime, and sand that hardens when dry. Used for making molds, casts, and for coating surfaces of sculpture.


A versatile polymer plastic that can take the form of flexible or rigid forms, elastomers, adhesives, sealants, or hard plastics. It can be pigmented and cast. See Translumina – Spring Hues, by Richard Anuszkiewicz.


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Rapid prototyping

A machine that creates a three-dimensional “print” from a CAD drawing. This can be used to make a mold (See Sandalia, by Los Carpinteros) or to draw up plans for a sculpture.


A type of sculpture in which the subject is carved or modeled from a flat background plane–not completely three-dimensional. Characterized by the projection of the relief– bas, mezzo and alto (low, medium, and high). See Tabaco con ideologia, by Abel Barroso.


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A detailed representation of a composition, made so that the artist can achieve accuracy in the final artwork.


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Torch cut

Cutting metal with a welding torch. This leaves a characteristic appearance that may be left as is or further refined. See Five Indeterminate Lines by Bernar Venet.


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Urethane resin

A two part chemistry that combines a urethane plastic base resin with a catalyst to form a polyurethane plastic that can be pigmented and cast. See Cycas revoluta bulbil, by Keith Edmier.


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A process of joining metal or plastic. In metals, this involves using high energy heat, electricity, laser, ultrasound or other means to fuse two metals together. In plastics, a solvent is used to coalesce two plastic surfaces in unity. Richard Anuszkiewicz’s Azure is made of welded bronze.