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In the past sculpture was limited to using a few materials such as stone, clay, metal and focused on representational depiction. Now sculpture has expanded to encompass all forms of making ranging from previously used stone and clay to electronics, welding, organic foods, fur, glass, performance, Video , computers, and Virtual Reality. Other than focusing on 3D dimensional space versus the 2D concerns of drawing, painting, and Photography there are no real limits or boundaries for sculpture. This was famously described by Rosalind Krauss in the 1979 October article “Sculpture in the Expanded Field”. 1 The wide array of materials and processes available to a sculptor is great because it allows any concept and idea to be realized. This wide field of possibilities is also a burden because so many techniques and ways of making must be learned in order to successfully realize different ideas.

What is a Sculpture?

The form of the question already limits the answer. By asking what a sculpture is. We are already assuming it is the discreet object. Is that always the case?

“What is the practice of sculpture?” may be a better question. Or at least asking what is the purpose of the action? Does the action result in a physical change in the universe? Does it affect people who would see or feel or touch or smell or taste the results of a proposed action?

What if the action never happens and it is just a concept?

Types of Sculpture

There are many types of sculpture but the unifying attribute of all of them as that they exist in 3D space. Even 100% conceptual sculptures exist in the 3D space occupying the synapses of the brain.

Low Relief Sculpture vs Freestanding Sculpture

Low-Relief-Sculpture resembles two dimensional art more than three dimensional free standing sculpture. Low Relief Sculpture extends out from a flat or planer surface. Parts of it can be fully 3D but will resemble “peninsulas of sculpture” that protrude out from a plane. The plane can be flat, geometric, round, organic or undulating but will defer be planar in nature and have a “back”.


Sculptural art installations can be site-specific or non site-specific.

Time Based Work

Time Based Artwork is not static over time and part of the experience of the piece is it’s duration and change over time. Performance Art is a type of the based practice.

Interactive Sculpture

Some sculptures or art installations become more alive or complete once an audience engages withe the art. This audience interaction can be as simple as being in the same spaces, the artwork can be as complex as a computer vision driven people tracking device using Physical-Computing .

Representational Sculpture

For much of history most sculpture was representational, meaning that it attempted to visually depict physical forms visible in the world. Figurative sculpture is a type of representative sculpture focused on the human form.

Non-Representational Sculpture

Everything that is not trying to visually mimic something in the world is not representational. Sculpture. Non-representational sculpture may emphasis the formal elements of design or may not. Non-representational sculpture allows for addressing more concepts and ideas than representational sculpture which is limited by needing to have semiliteral placeholders for things in the world.

Site Specific Sculpture

Site-Specific artwork and sculpture is made for a specific location or locations. It meaning, intent and reception will change if displayed in another location or context. Some site specific sculpture that relies on the architecture of a particular place for physical support may not even be able to be displayed anywhere else without heavy modifications.


Earthworks are a special type of site specific sculpture that use the landscape as site. Earthworks are usually large in scale and alter the surrounding area and earth into the form of the sculpture. The sculpture and the site become one.

Public Art

Public Art is generally made on a commission basis. Artists or artworks are selected by public agencies through an open competitive process. Public art is made of durable materials designed to last a long time exposed to environmental elements.

Kinetic Sculpture

Kinetic Sculpture is not static but moves in space. The source of the movement could be a motor, or a natural cause such as flowing water, or the wind. Whirlygigs and mobiles are examples of kinetic sculpture.

How to make a Sculpture?

What is your idea? What do you want to communicate? Are you making a unique object or a series. Setting up an Artist-Studio will give you a place to make sculpture.

Generally it is a good idea to start with Sketching out different ideas and variations of those ideas. Think about all sides and points of view of the form. Sketches can be used to make maquettes, smaller scale test versions of final artworks. Working with models and maquettes is an efficient way to explore ideas and possibilities without waiting a lot of time and materials. Then a final form can be made out of the desired materials.

Sculpture Processes and Methods

Ways of Making Objects

There are only five main ways to make any physical object. The ways of making any three-dimensional object are additive , Subtractive-Processes , Fabrication , deformation and Casting . These ways of making do not exist in isolation and often will be combined to make a final sculptural object or installation.


Sewing is a Fabrication process using fabric and thread. The types of fabric and thread vary widely depending on the desired outcome. Sewing relies on assembling flat planar pieces of fabric in ways that make a three-dimensional form.


Welding joins different pieces of metal together to make a new piece of metal that is actually a single piece. The metal is melted and fused together usually using a filler rod of metal. Common types of welding can be include oxyacetylene welding, TIG-Welding , MIG welding , and stick Arc Welding .

Brazing is a sculptural process related to welding since it joins multiple pieces of metal together but instead of melting the joined pieces, brazing merely heats them to a red hot temperature. This expands the grain structure of the metals so there is physical space between the grain structure. A filler metal that melts at a cooler temperature that the metals being joined is used to mechanically attach the metals. The melted joining metal flows into the gaps of the red hot expanded metal pieces. Flux is used to promote the capillary flow of the filler metal into these spaces. After everything cools the pieces are now mechanically joined.

Clay Sculpting

Clay sculpture is an additive and Subtractive-Processes , sculpture process. Pieces of clay are joined together or cut away to make the desired form. Clay is malleable and can be easily deformed to achieve a desired shape. Two common types of clay used in sculpture are water based ceramic clay and oil based Oil-Clay .

Essential Sculpting Skills

The following basic sculptural skills are necessary to have a fundamental understanding of how to make sculptural works.

How to Improve Your Work

Critique is the method used to assess artwork while it is being made and after it is finished.

Sculptors Past and Present

Sculpture and Expanded Media Reading List

  1. Krauss, Rosalind. “Sculpture in the Expanded Field.” October 8 (1979): 31–44. link↩︎