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Sculpture : What is it and where did it come from?

By Rebecca Punnett

Here, at Radiate Arts, our experts lead sculpting classes, including metal and stone. But where did originally start from and why? Our communications assistant, Rebecca, unpacks the story behind the artform.


Sculpture, to some, could be a piece of rock that has been carved in to, for others it could be a piece of artwork that has taken hours upon hours to complete. To me, sculpture is the mind- being freed through the hands. The notion of unlimited possibilities being allowed out to create an image, person, or place. Sculpture has been around for as long as we can remember, yet we do not know exactly how many types of sculpture there are.

Sculpture is a branch of visual arts in the 3-dimensional form, that throughout history has been commonly, almost expectantly associated with either politics and or religion. Years ago, clay and wood were commonly used by artists, but since modernism, artists have moved away from the traditional process and branched out to include limitless possibilities and materials.

Modern works of sculpture include the process of moulding and casting, alongside wielding and modelling.

There are many forms of sculpture, but the two main ones are carving (the removal of material), and addition (the building of material).

Sculptures throughout time have been made from various materials. However, it is typically work in stone or clay that have been better preserved through the years. Woodwork sculptures are considered a rare find, as the large majority have almost vanished entirely. Wood is a material that breaks down over time, contrasting to clay or metal which may break or rust, but the pieces are still left intact.

There have been many sculptures across the ages, with the sole purpose of communicating a message. For example, in Greece, during the classical period and the middle ages, gothic sculptures were used to portray anguish and passions of the Christian faith. The renaissance period is commonly known for producing Michelangelo’s sculpture, David.

Examples of stone carving:

Hardstone Carving - Hardstone carving is similar to petroglyphs except instead of stone, carvings are made into a precious jewel or gem. These tend to be an image rather than words. A few examples materials include jade, rock crystal (clear quartz), agate, onyx, jasper, serpentinite, or carnelian.

Architectural Carving - Architectural sculpture is typically used by artists or wood carvers when designing a building, bridge or mausoleum details.

Monumental Carvings - Sculptures that are typically memorials. The term monumental carvings are typically described as being 'large'.

Petroglyphs - A petroglyph is an image or words created by removing pieces of the stone by either carving or chipping away.


In Greece, most nearly all statues are known from copies. The Greeks used a traditional artistic method called pointing, alongside freestyle methods. Pointing is a measuring tool used by stone cutters and wood carvers to accurately copy plaster, clay or wax sculpture models into wood or stone. It is a pointing needle that can be set into any position and fixed into place.

Sculpture in Metal

Sculptures in metal usually involves casting. This means melting the metal in a furnace, in a container called a crucible. It is then poured from the crucible into a cast and left to cool. Once the cast is removed, you’re left with the final piece.

Sculpture in Wood

Carving is one of the most popular techniques used for wooden sculptures, as it's much easier to take away from this material, than to add to it!

As wooden material is light, it is suitable to be carried or transported over land, e.g, to villages to build new houses or to be used in a factory as fuel, or to be placed upon a grave as a religious figure. It is also a versatile material, so it can be painted, or plastered over.


Why not have a go at creating your own sculpture? Here is an idea to try at home…

For adults: Find an item around your house and using modelling clay, try to recreate the item. If you don’t want to use an item, observe patterns nature and try to re-create the same lines and textures.

For children: Collect some sticks, twigs or stones. Arrange them into a shape or structure you like. Ask an adult use super glue or use a glue gun to stick the items together. Alternatively, use a glue stick (under supervision) to items to look like something you already know, like a tree or an animal!

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