Artists use whatever source material works for the piece they want to create, and they choose the medium based on what they want to convey aesthetically. Some artists choose the medium for their sculptures because of tactile qualities, while others create sculptures that appeal to other senses: sight, sound, smell and even taste. Some sculptures are made from mediums that are temporary, such as ice or food, while others are meant to be more permanent. The medium chosen is often as much a part of the art as the artwork itself.
Bricks, Clay and Terra Cotta
Artists often use the medium that works best for the application. Sculptures can be made from brick, such as the Patriots Peace Memorial in Louisville, Kentucky, and may include bas-relief stone carvings like the Arc de Triomf -- the Arch of Triumph -- in Barcelona, Spain. Clay is a common sculpting medium because it’s easy to work with. The Chinese Terracotta Army discovered in 1974 near the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi contains life-sized horses and an army of 8,000 individually sculpted soldiers, all with different faces and gear.
Metal and Wire Sculptures
Metal artist Richard Carey makes wire and metal sculptures depicting dragonflies, rabbits, kiwi, chameleon and even a piece that resembles a xenomorph creature from “The Alien” movie franchise. Other metal sources for sculptures include gold, lead, brass, steel, copper and silver.
Fabric, Paper and Ivory
Internationally acclaimed Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz began working with fabric mediums such as burlap and gauze, among other items in the 1970s. Her Androgyn III, created in 1985, consists of burlap, wood, string, resin and nails, and resides in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sculptors have long valued ivory from elephant tusks as a material for small detailed carvings. People even create 3D art pieces from paper by wetting, molding, cutting and shaping.
Sand and Stone
If you’ve ever visited a beach during a sand sculpting contest, you’ll marvel at the creativity of the artists who create sculptures from sand. In most cases, the sculptures are temporary, washed away with the next high tide. One company promotes their sand sculptors for special events, which involves displays of the project as the artists create castles and dragons from sand. All types of stone are used as source materials for a variety of sculptures, with Michelangelo’s work at the top of the list for his creations from marble, such as David and the Pieta.
Wax and Wood
Wax sculptures abound at Madame Tussauds wax museums in cities around the world. These museums depict life-sized wax sculptures of the famous and infamous. With museums in America, Asia, Australia and Europe, the wax sculptures include movie stars, historical figures, world leaders and more. Native Americans have long used wood for their hand-sculpted totem poles, [while many wood artisans today carve wooden sculptures with chainsaws].
In the end, the materials an artist uses may be part of a statement she makes with her artwork, as when an artist creates a sculpture that includes glass, lights and sound or recycled materials. Slater Barron -- the Lint Lady -- makes sculptures from lint from the dryer lint screen and uses recorded sound in some of her pieces. The mediums that artists choose are as varied and wild as their imaginations.
- Patriot Peach Memorial: History
- A View On Cities: Arc De Trimof
- Smithsonian Magazine: Terra Cotta Soldiers On the March
- Behance: Alien Sculpture
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Androgyn III
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Ivory and Boxwood Carvings
- Sand Sculpting: Castles and Dragons
- YouTube: Paper Sculptures (Chinese Paper Sculptures Stretch Imaginations in New York)
- Madame Tussauds: Explore What's Inside Madame Tussauds Sydney?
- Chainsaw Carving Man: Gallery
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.