By TACP Staff on July 11, 2021

If you enjoy carving or molding figures from clay, metal, marble, or other materials, have excellent artistic talent and a keen imagination (and you played in the mud as a child), a career as a sculptor is for you.

What Is a Sculptor?

A sculptor shapes clay, stone, marble, wood, and other materials (even ice and potatoes) into two- or three-dimensional art. Some sculptors carve out stone or marble or weld pieces of metal together into freestanding statues. Sculptors also carve into walls or other surfaces, a technique called relief.

Sculptors are creative visual artists who take various materials, which they then carve, chisel, and model to make a finished sculptural work of art. For many years, the term “sculpture” was used to describe large works of art, called monumental sculpture, such as Mount Rushmore and David, by Michelangelo. Today, the term also covers many smaller works, including medals and coins, using the same techniques. In the 20th century, techniques used to create sculpture widened considerably. With the development of technology, contemporary sculpture now utilizes a variety of materials. For example, 3D printing is a form of contemporary sculpture, demonstrating that sculpture is no longer a fixed term to describe this creative activity, but rather an ever-expanding art form.

What Does a Sculptor Do?

Using their imagination and artistic abilities, sculptors craft objects from a variety of different materials, and turn them into works of art. In addition to carving or shaping only one material, such as wood, into a sculpture, some artists use many different kinds of materials, like clay, metal, and paper to form designs. Some sculptors craft pieces known as kinetic sculptural art, which features light and sound, as well as movement.

Sculptors create artwork to be used in a wide range of places, such as businesses, government buildings, home, lawns, and outdoor parks, just to name a few. Depending on the assignment, sculptors choose the appropriate materials and tools needed to make their vision or the vision of their clients a reality. When commissioned to sculpt a piece, a sculptor may visit the site, measure the area, and take into consideration the intent of the piece – as a vehicle for expression or a catalyst for discussion. Unless specified by the client, it is then that a sculpture will often choose and collect materials and begin the design process by sketching, taking photos, and experimenting with materials. These steps are very relevant to the research and development of a piece, as they answer questions and open the playing field to artistic expression.

A thorough knowledge and a sharpened skillset are absolutely necessary for sculptors to succeed in this field. Some, like artistic ability, may be inherent or learned through experience or cultivated while in school. Other skills must be cultivated through experimentation over a period of time. Either way, a sculptor must have a solid grounding in the fine arts, be familiar with historical period art and artists, have hand skills, and be acquainted with a wide range of materials and tools for carving, sculpting, molding, etc. Many sculptors work within tight deadlines and must also pay close attention to detail and work accurately, while always meeting the needs of the client.

Tools are also an important part of a sculptor’s arsenal. Some sculptors prefer to work in one medium, while others work in a variety of mediums. Understanding tools, such as rasps, wood and modeling clay carving tools, stone carving tools, armatures and wire, various chisels, hammers, bankers, grinders, etc., is fundamental. And, as safety should always be a concern, safety goggles, respirators, and other safety devises may be necessary to have on hand depending on the medium. Besides tools, sculptors must have a thorough knowledge of all materials, such as wood, marble, granite, almost any metal, clay, glass, etc., and how to manipulate each of them to reach the desired outcome.

Sculptors should be knowledgeable about modern equipment and technologies, even if it is not the intent of the individual to ever use them. Technical ceramics, such as silicon carbide or nitride (which some artists say can outlast even granite), plastics and metals, or plastics used with 3D printers are becoming more and more popular as sculptors experiment and grow in their art. In the film industry, sculptors are increasingly using polystyrene, as it can be easily carved into 3D forms and figures.

Related: Interview with Pablo Solomon, Sculptor & Designer

Where Does a Sculptor Work?

Sculptors hired by large and small companies or organizations will begin their career with routine work, which helps them observe and hone techniques from professionals in the field. On-the-job-training can take years. But, once they have developed a skill-set, established a portfolio of work, and gained a reputation, a sculptor will advance, either in a company or out on their own. In 2014, there were about 50,000 sculptor jobs. Half of all sculptors were self-employed.

Most sculptors work full-time or have variable work schedules depending on whether or not they are working on a project. Many sculptors hold another job, as work can be sporadic. When working on a project or under a deadline, sculptors can work additional hours, weekends, and even holidays. Self-employed sculptors can often set their own hours as long as they meet a client’s deadline.

Typical Work Environment

Most sculptors work in a studio environment that is large enough to accommodate their tools, materials, and finished work. Some sculptors will work in furniture designinterior design, or as an industrial designer. They work in museums, in manufacturing, and in the motion picture industry. Some professionals are product designers, toy designers, model makers, and motion picture modelers working in a variety of locations in the US or internationally. Galleries, museums, television and film, retail stores, colleges and universities all hire sculptors. Many sculptors work in commercial art studios located in office buildings or warehouses. Self-employed sculptors work in garages, large buildings located near their home, or in a dedicated room in their home.

Sculptor Education & Training Requirements

Some individuals are born with artistic talent; others attend school to develop a skill set. To become a sculptor, there is no specific educational requirement. However, formal training can benefit sculptors in a number of ways. A Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) can provide opportunities for students to explore otherwise unfamiliar techniques, methods, and materials. Students will learn the history of sculpture, and be introduced to famous past and present artists. They will develop sketching, molding, and casting techniques, and have the opportunity to participate in internships.

Students who choose to continue their education and earn a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture will have the opportunity to take English, business, and marketing courses, which helps sculptors navigate the business of becoming a sculptor if they choose to work on their own. Although the curriculum varies by school, an MFA also includes courses in the social sciences, art history, natural science, and large amounts of studio work. To graduate, a thesis is often required, as is an exhibition of work.

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Sculptor Salary & Job Outlook


The US Bureau of Labor Statistics lists a median annual salary for fine artists, which includes sculptors, of $48,660 per year, or about $23.54 per hour. Earnings of self-employed sculptors varies greatly. Some charge a nominal fee while earning a reputation, while others with many years of professional experience can command a much higher wage.

Job Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for fine artists, which includes sculptors, is expected to grow two percent (slower than average for all career fields) from 2018 to 2028. Of course, jobs in this field can grow as the economy prospers, or slow as the economy slows. There is enormous competition for both salaried and freelance work as the arts industry attracts many very talented people. However, studios and individual clients are always on the lookout for talented sculptors who demonstrate creativity, competence, and artistic talent. A professional portfolio – online and in-print via photographs of past work – that knocks the socks off the competition will set you apart with potential employers/clients. Freelancers must also understand that a lot of their time will be spent attaining clients, so a portfolio showcasing a strong body of work is absolutely imperative.

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