What Is a Sculpture?

What Is a Sculpture?

What Is Sculpture?

Sculpture is the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions. It is one of the plastic arts. 

Durable sculptural processes originally used carving and modelling, in stone, metal, ceramics, wood and other materials but, since Modernism, there has been an almost complete freedom of materials and process. 

A wide variety of materials may be worked by removal such as carving, assembled by welding or modelling, or moulded or cast.

Sculpture in stone survives far better than works of art in perishable materials, and often represents the majority of the surviving works from ancient cultures, though conversely traditions of sculpture in wood may have vanished almost entirely. 

However, most ancient sculptures were brightly painted, and this has been lost.

Sculpture has been central in religious devotion in many cultures, and until recent centuries large sculptures, too expensive for private individuals to create, were usually an expression of religion or politics. 

Those cultures whose sculptures have survived in quantities include the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean, India and China, as well as many in Central and South America and Africa.

The Importance Of Sculpture

Consider for a moment what we would know of ancient cultures without art. From the cave paintings of the Cro-Magnons to the Pieta of Michelangelo to the great work of our modern masters, art has been one way we humans have expressed ourselves through the ages. 

Before the written word, art was the only way our ancestors were able to convey their religious beliefs, their views on the world around them and the things that they felt were most important.

We make immediate associations to a long gone culture through their artworks left behind. For instance, when we think of ancient Egypt, we think of the Pyramids and the Sphinx among other things.

Their art helped define who they were long ages after the last of the Pharaohs had perished.

How about the ancient Greeks with their statues of athletes and gods -- seeking to show the perfection of the human form, or the Romans seeking to show their Caesars as gods.

Art tells so much about the people or societies, as it were, responsible for it. Take a look at the Moai statues of Easter Island, the temple decorations of the Mayans, the terra-cotta army of China’s first Emperor, the Renaissance statues of Italy, and the Lions outside of the New York Public Library.

With the exception of the last sculpture pictured, what would we really know about these ancient cultures without art? What were they trying to convey for their descendants by creating sculpture in stone and metal?  What are we trying to convey with the guardian lion?

What Is The Purpose Of Sculptures?

Sculptures have served numerous purposes for a long time, and they continue to do so to-date. Here are some of the ways that these objects have served the various areas of our lives


One of the most common ways in which people have used sculptures in the past is in association with their religious beliefs.

Long before people acquired the knowledge to read and write, the church had no means of delivering the message of hope and the doom that would befall those who failed to adhere to the word. 

Sculpting, being one of the oldest forms of art, came before the dawn of painting, and was thus the only way to communicate the importance of religion.

The church, therefore, sought the use of objects that were depictions of devils and demons, and they used these in the holy places such that those attending the services could get a reminder of why they were there. 

And it was not only in the churches that people used sculptures as these objects were also useful in cults.

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia served as a reminder of the godsIn Ancient Greece, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia served as a reminder of the gods. It stood at the height of forty-three meters, thanks to the creativity and hard work of Phidias.

Its creation took place in 453 BC, and it comprised gold panels and ivory plates, carefully placed on a wooden framework, completing an image that spoke to the hearts of the people. 

The god Zeus sat on a wooden throne and top his head were elements such as gold, ivory, ebony and some precious stones.

This sculpture remains to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, thanks to its towering nature and the precision of the art.

The Egyptians also used sculptures as a form of representation of their gods and these were present in their temples.

Though most of these objects are no longer existent, there is evidence of their impact on society. Hindus used lingam objects in their religious practices too.


Portrait sculpting came about as leaders sought ways to symbolize their rules in the form of statues.

Kings would have their likeness carved into materials which they would then place in essential parts of the kingdom. 

An example is in Egypt where the pharaohs would have representative objects which served to show their strength in comparison to that of the common man.

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia served as a reminder of the gods

The belief is that this form of art began back in the 32nd century BCE in Egypt where a ruler had his likeness depicted in an object.

Mesopotamia too has evidence of such portrait sculptures portraying Gudea, a ruler who oversaw Lagash between 2144 and 2124 BCE.

Having a portrait sculpture was an honor, and ancient Greeks and Romans strived to have their likeness in public places. They also aimed to have their portraits on coins, as this was quite an honor.

In other societies such as Egypt, erection of portrait sculptures was only for the rulers, and wealthy people had to be content with representative objects in their tombs, and not in public spaces.

Sportsmen also have had their likenesses carved into objects. Some of the most inspiring sportists are honored with sculptues.

Cristiano Ronaldo is one such recipient, thanks to the work of Emanuel Santos, and the unveiling of the art piece took place at the Madeira Airport. Given his prowess in the field, this statue serves as an honor to his talent. 

Another sportsman who has received this honor is Rocky, a fictional boxer in Rocky III. Initially, the figure was a prop for a scene in the movie, but later on, people agreed that it was much more than a prop and it deserved a permanent place in the City of Philadelphia. 

Another excellent example of honoring an athlete would be the bronze statue of Michael Jordan, a work of art that also goes by the name The Spirit. It serves as a reminder of how great he was on the court.



Sculptures represent many aspects of our society and are thus excellent for symbolism. Take an example of the statues used to portray wild animals, or those used to depict people’s ways of lives.

These objects serve as a reminder of what was, what is and what could be and are thus crucial in our lives. 

Other than representation, sculptures also serve as additions to the beauty around us. 

There is no denying that sculptures in the right place and the right time work to add to the aesthetics and can, therefore, transform a space into an art scene.

Sculpting Tips to Speed Up Your Workflow

No matter what application you use for sculpting there are techniques you can utilize to help speed up your workflow and improve your overall models.

Let’s go over five tips you can start implementing today for better sculpts in your next project.

Establish the Silhouette 

When you’re building a model in your 3D application, you don't start out with the fine details.

You start with a basic shape, maybe a cube or cylinder, and build from there. 

The same goes when you sculpt.

You need to get the most important details first, like form, proportions and a great silhouette. 

From there you can slowly start sculpting in the finer details into the model.

Starting out with a rough base mesh will also make it much easier to make larger changes quickly without having to worry about destroying your model. 

When defining forms, work with a large brush size with a relatively low intensity. It's better to get prominent muscle forms and proportions in just a few brush strokes instead of several dozen. 

Use Reference 

Finding the right reference images for your model is one of the first steps in creating a successful sculpt. Reference images can help you have a better understanding of the anatomy of your character. 

For example, you might not know where all the muscle groups of the arms or legs are and how they should fit within your sculpt. The right reference images can help you get great texture ideas as well. 

For example, you might be sculpting a mythological creature like a dragon. Since it's tough to get actual photographs of dragons, finding reference images of animals will allow you to incorporate some of their details into your creature. 

Getting images of lizards or snakes can help you come up with texture ideas for scales and fine wrinkles.

Focus on One Area 

When sculpting, it can be very easy to get carried away and jump around your model without really focusing on one area.

You might find yourself sculpting a little on the arm, then moving to the leg, and then to the hand. 

This isn’t necessarily the wrong workflow to take, especially when sculpting in the form.

When adding finer details though, you want to focus your attention on one area at a time; sculpt a section until you are happy with it and then move on. While you might be great at multitasking, it's important for you to not stretch yourself thin. 

A great feature in most applications is the masking command. This allows you to isolate certain areas of your model, allowing you to focus on just one section of your sculpt without having to worry about sculpting on areas you didn't intend to. 

With masks you can also isolate parts of your model and inflate and extract them to create new pieces of geometry like armor, gloves, etc.

Working in Symmetry Mode 

The symmetry feature in your sculpting program allows you to focus on one side of the model while the detail is getting transferred to the other side. 

For example, any detail you sculpt into the eye on one side of the face will be repeated on the other. This will speed up your workflow and ensure that your model is symmetrical. Having a place to start from is important, but symmetry should not be used the entire time. 

For instance, asymmetry in your model is extremely important for adding believability and appeal. You also wouldn't want to use symmetry mode when sculpting finer details like wrinkles and skin textures. 

Work with Layers

When sculpting in any application, working with layers is extremely helpful for staying organized and creating nondestructive details on top of your model. Layers are also helpful with making quick edits later on in the sculpting process. 

Layers can hold sculpting, polypainting and masking information. It's important that you don't overdo the layer count though; layers can greatly increase the file size. 

You can create layers dedicated to the fine texture details like wrinkles, folds or scales. They can also be dedicated to certain parts of a character or object to hide and show individual areas so you can only focus on certain parts of your model. 

It's also a good idea to create a separate pose layer to experiment with different poses and not have to worry about destroying your model.   

Regardless of what you’re sculpting, keep these five tips in mind to help you save time and create better sculpts.

Each one encourages you to stay focused first on the big picture, with a clear image of your goal, and then gradually add finer details using smart techniques to make sculpting an enjoyable, creative experience.

What Kind of Rocks Are Used to Make Statues?


Modern sculptors have access to new materials such as plastic and artificial stone, but ancient artisans worked in natural rock to create works of art. Humans use and used stones such as marble, alabaster, limestone, and granite — to name a few — to create impressive sculptural works. 

Some materials stand the test of time better than others — marble, for instance, is far more robust and lasting than sandstone. 

Stone carvings often outlast the cultures that created them, and many enjoy a place of cultural or religious importance. 

Whether ancient or modern, artists have sought the best rock for their art. The best stone for sculpting is easy to work, resists shattering and contains no apparent crystalline structure.


Sculptors have chosen beautiful and durable marble for their finest works of art for thousands of years. The Taj Mahal's carved stone panels, the Elgin Marbles of the Parthenon and Michelangelo's towering statue of David exemplify marble's versatility. 

Marble carves easily and resists breakage, suiting it well for fine art or decorative sculpture. 

The metamorphic version of sedimentary limestone and calcite deposits, marble naturally occurs in white, pink, green, gray, brown and black, depending on the other minerals present during its formation. 

Sculptors frequently choose white marble for representations of the human form because its faint translucency gives the cold stone the appearance of living flesh.


Alabaster refers not to a single type of rock, but to any of a number of minerals that share its characteristic pale color, softness and luminous translucency. 

Gypsum and calcite represent the majority of ancient alabaster statuary. The minerals are soft enough that the ancient Egyptians' malleable copper tools could easily work them into decorative forms. 

Sculptors rarely used alabaster for larger pieces, though, as its softness made it prone to damage. Instead, artisans used it mostly for small household objects like cosmetic jars and translucent inlays for windows.


The sedimentary rock sandstone carves so readily that even wind erosion works it into fantastic shapes.

Early carvers and stonemasons found that making sandstone building blocks and carving them into bas-reliefs allowed them to build towering structures covered with sculpted forms.

The temple complex at Angkor Wat consists of carved sandstone. Sculpting in sandstone requires little effort, and produces finely detailed results, but it is not particularly durable.


Although this progenitor to marble is softer than its metamorphic relative, limestone shares its characteristic lack of crystalline structure and wide array of natural hues.

One of the oldest limestone statues is the 5,000-year-old Guennol Lioness, but modern sculptors are producing new limestone statuary daily.

Easily carved and able to withstand sharp blows without fracturing, limestone rock allows artists the freedom to create elegant curves and crisp lines.


Granite is an igneous rock with a variegated texture, but no overall crystalline structure. Heavy and difficult to work, granite makes a durable basis for statuary that ancient sculptors used for important religious, political and funerary statues.

Granite's natural range of hues include grays, greens, reds, and blacks with an emphasis on darker colors. Ancient artisans used dark granite for dark figures such as the Egyptian goddess of destruction, Sekhmet.

Modern sculptors find that its range of somber colors suits the heavy stone to funeral statuary and gravestone carving.


Like granite, basalt is an igneous rock. Unlike granite, basalt's smooth grain is uniformly dark and typically without visible crystals.

Artisans can polish the black, heavy stone to a satiny shine, as Egyptian sculptors did in their carvings of gods, goddesses, and pharaohs.

Other artists choose to leave the stone matte black and raw, as the sculptors of the few basalt moai on Easter Island did.

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