What does a Sculptor do?

Sheri Cyprus

A sculptor is a visual artist who is usually self-employed. He or she may work in sculpture part-time and have a part-time or full-time job in another career area to pay regular bills. One with teaching credentials may teach sculpting classes at an art school. Sculptors create original sculptures in a home studio or in rented commercial space such as in a warehouse converted into artists' studios.

A sculptor can work with many types of materials in the creation of their sculptures.
A sculptor can work with many types of materials in the creation of their sculptures.

Developing ideas for three-dimensional (3-D) sculptures or statues and following them through into finished works of art is the main task of a sculptor. He or she may work in one or more mediums that could include paper, stone, metal, ice or wood. The sculpting techniques and sizes of sculptured pieces vary widely between artists. For instance, one sculptor may specialize in small carved wood statues, while another may create large 3-D murals made of rolled or folded paper.

A statue of Chinese politician Deng Xiaoping at Lianhua Mountain Park in Shenzhen, China.
A statue of Chinese politician Deng Xiaoping at Lianhua Mountain Park in Shenzhen, China.

A contemporary sculptor must spend time promoting his or her artistic talent and services. In order to become well known, artists need to get both their name and work out in the community, such as through articles and photographs in local and state newspapers. People in this position should build a portfolio that shows pictures of their artistic pieces. They may have a website featuring a gallery of their sculptures and usually try to get their work displayed in local artist's galleries or museums.

Some sculptors sell their work to governments or building project owners. Having their sculptures prominently displayed such as in the lobby of buildings or in the forms of fountains or statues in public parks can really help artists and their work become well known. In most cases, a plaque with the creator's name and other information about him or her as well as the sculpted artwork itself is featured near the sculpture.

Many sculptors work long hours. One who perseveres and has a real passion and talent for original sculpting is the most likely to receive average or above average payment, as well as recognition, for his or her sculpture work. Those who combine hard work with aggressive promotion tend to make the most sales and receive the highest project rates for artists.

Sculptors may design statues for commercial or private display.
Sculptors may design statues for commercial or private display.

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Discussion Comments


If you want to begin to learn to carve, think of something you want to make, e.g., a tree frog, then cast a small block of candle wax--a little too big to hold in one hand, (candle wax smells good too), (melt at low heat and pour it carefully, filling a smaller size cream carton.) then use a not so sharp pen-knife or small pocket knife to carve the wax.

I made several small carvings this way before moving on to bass wood, and then on to hardwoods. Carving in jeweler's wax is also very challenging, and can be cast by the lost-wax process. Now I carve Japanese-style netsuke, and they sell very well.

I can't think of anything I enjoy doing as much, and sometimes I don't even stop to eat, and carve the entire day. Patience isn't even a consideration, because there is no such thing as time.


Sculptors have to be patient in order to do what they do. I lost my patience halfway through my first sculpting class project and quit the class, so I know how hard it must be.

I admire famous sculptors who have stuck with it long enough to make a name for themselves. This is one career where persistence pays off in a big way, both in the craft and in the making of your career.


A sculptor needs a gallery exhibit to help them get started. The fine arts degree program at my university would help students get their work displayed in a gallery when they were about to graduate.

The university had its own art gallery, so getting students set up there was no problem. The school newspaper would feature an article on the student, along with photos of their sculptures.

From there, it wasn't too hard to get an exhibit at the gallery in the city. Having a lot to show for yourself really helps get your foot in the door.


@giddion – That was probably a good glimpse into the life of a sculptor. They often have to work in hot environments, and sometimes, they have to work outdoors.

If they are working on something that is too big to be transported once it's done, they probably have to sculpt it on site. That would mean dealing with unpleasant temperatures sometimes.


@ceilingcat – I know what you mean. I took a sculpting class during summer session, and it was intense! I spent four hours a day down in the basement of the art building where they kept the tools and equipment we needed.

We did everything from making sculptures out of a form of cow dung used in Africa to making molds and pouring hot metal into them. I did enjoy carving the molds, but it was hard work.

I was usually sore after class. Also, it was hot down there, because all we had was a fan!


@betterment - While working as a freelance figurative sculptor might not pay well for some, if an artist is getting commissioned for public sculpture, they're probably getting paid fairly well.

Usually if an artist gets a job like that, they're fairly well established and have been around for awhile. So they probably did pay their dues at one point. But artists taking jobs like that aren't "starving artists," that's for sure!


Sculpture is one of my favorite kinds of public art. I think it's so much more accessible than a lot of other art forms! I know sometimes being an artist doesn't pay well, so I'm glad there are still some people out there who are willing to do it!


@ceilingcat - I took three-dimensional design when I was in college also. My teacher was actually an abstract sculptor, and as the article said, he taught to supplement his income, because work as an artist can be fairly sporadic.

In my class, I didn't work with metal or anything like that. Instead, I made most of my pieces out of foam board. It sounds weird, but foam board is sturdy, easy to cut, and you can paint it or cover it with paper to make it look like another surface. It's also fairly cheap, which is great for a college student.


I took three-dimensional design when I was in college, because I was getting a degree in art, and it was a requirement. I have to say, sculpting is fairly difficult. I found it enjoyable, but it was definitely one of my most time consuming classes!

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