Let’s talk about sculpture!

By: Trevor Gregg

What a dreary winter it’s been! I don’t know if anyone else has had art block, but I feel like I’ve hit a wall these past few months. The only way to get out of a rut is to keep making, so I’ve started branching out in my choice of sculpting materials and methods to try and spark some creativity. Hopefully I will have a bunch of new explorations in sculpture to share with you all in the coming months! Since I’m doing some exploring, I thought it might be good to make a post regarding something often overlooked by the art student…vocabulary.

I know it’s not particularly exciting, but using the right vocabulary can make all the difference when you’re discussing art, especially your own (hint: you sound more professional, so you make better impressions!). Feel free to use this list as you see fit. It isn’t complete, but it should cover the basics!

An Incomplete List of Sculpture Terms:

Relief – a sculpture that projects from a background. Usually carved into walls, etc.

Bas Relief – a low relief sculpture, rendered with shallow carving and no undercuts; pronounced “BAH”, like what a sheep says.

Freestanding – also called sculpture “in the round”; a freestanding sculpture is meant to be viewed from all sides, and can stand on its own in space. This is what most people picture when they think of a sculpture.

Kinetic – freestanding sculpture that is designed to move through interaction with human or environmental factors.

Mobile – a type of kinetic sculpture that works by suspension and balance. Usually a mobile hangs from the ceiling, but they can also stand on a base.

Base – the support on which a freestanding sculpture rests for display. Can be attached to a sculpture, or a separate piece. Not all sculptures use a base.

Additive – a sculptural process where material is built up to form a sculpture.

Assemblage – like a collage; an additive method where various odds and ends are assembled into a work of sculpture. An assemblage can be made with found objects, mass-produced objects, objects created or manipulated by the artist…

“The Retrospective Bust of a Woman”, Salvador Dali, 1933 – I saw this sculpture on display at the MoMA and had to snap a quick picture! She can be clearly categorized as an assemblage.

Ready-made – a sculpture or element within a sculpture that has been manipulated very little, if at all, by the artist. Often a man-made form.

Modeling – an additive method where pliable materials, like clay, are worked; often but not always over an armature.

This sculpture of the Hash-Slinging Slasher that I made last fall was modeled in clay, without the assistance of an armature.

Armature – a support or framework for a modeled sculpture. Usually an armature will be made from wire or lightweight wood.

Subtractive – a sculptural process where material (usually wood or stone) is removed to form a sculpture.

Direct Carving – a subtractive method where the sculpture is carved directly out of the material, with no maquettes or models for assistance.

Indirect Carving – a subtractive method where a model or maquette was designed to assist the sculptor in carving the material.

Maquette – a small scale model used to plan a sculpture; think of it like a sketch. Also called a modello.

Casting – a process where material is poured into a mold to create one or more copies of a sculpture. Metals are commonly cast, but other materials can be cast too, like resin, paper, clay, and glass.

This plaster piece that I made as a freshman actually used several techniques. First it was cast into a mold made of foam core, then it was cut into pieces and reassembled. Finally, it was carved, filed, and sanded into this geometric abstraction.

Mold – a hollow form that material is cast into to create one or more copies of a sculpture. To make a mold, you need to have a positive form that you want to duplicate. I think I covered molds pretty extensively in my post about the lost wax process.


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