Have you imagined commissioning a sculpture?
Let’s say your family, a church, or organization wants to commission of a work of sculpture, but you have no idea where to begin or how to proceed. Here I will describe the process that I use in my studio. I am happy to walk clients through the process step-by-step, even if you decide to work with another artist for the project. The first step is to have a general idea of what you want and how much you are willing to spend. Keep in mind that a sculpture is an original work of art that will last for millennia and the quality of the work depends on careful planning.
First, I will work closely with the client to narrow down the final project: site design, scale, materials, and timeline and develop a budget. Once the client would like to move forward on a given project, I will first create an 18” scale model of the desired figure or image. Members of an arts committee from the church or organization will weigh in on the design and composition. Changes can easily be made at this scale. It is a collaborative process. Once the client approves of the design, the work on the final full-scale sculpture will commence upon signing a contract and receiving a 1/3 deposit.
In the case of a portrait, I would meet with the subject, if available, three separate times to create the likeness in clay. A portrait generally does not need a scale model, unless it is a sculpture of the whole figure. If the client is unable to agree to the terms of the commission, then the offer to purchase a finished plaster cast of the 18” scale model will be made. The cost will be determined by composition, complexity, and material. If the client commences with the commission, a cast of the scale model will be included in the final purchase price. The option to make multiple casts in either plaster or bronze to sell as a fundraiser or as commemorative gifts will be available. Further costs will be determined by material and volume.
Sculpting the Carver’s Model
First, I will sculpt clay over a metal and wooden armature in my studio in Frederick, Maryland. I articulate every detail of the sculpture using my fingers and modeling tools. The time to create a finished sculpture varies on the complexity of the work, number of figures, and how many other projects are happening at the same time. Once the sculpture is finished in clay, I will seek approval from the client before beginning the next step.
Casting the Carver’s Model
A casting crew will come to the studio to make a urethane mold of the clay sculpture. They will coat the entire piece in liquid rubber in order to make a negative impression. Then the clay is removed and recycled and the casting crew pours plaster of Paris into the mold and pulls a cast. Once the cast is finished, it will be cleaned and sealed with shellac. The final product is called the carver’s model. This process generally takes a few weeks.
The Final Material
There are two materials suitable for an outdoor sculpture that I generally employ: bronze and marble. They are both noble materials, used for millennia in sculpture. There are pros and cons of each material, as I will outline below. For indoor sculpture, a plaster cast can be a beautiful option that costs less, though it is not as durable. Bronze is the most enduring material to use for an outdoor sculpture. It needs very little maintenance; in general it needs to be wiped down to be cleaned and waxed every year or second year. Archaeologists have uncovered bronze sculptures at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea that have remained intact for centuries. Bronze is less expensive than stone, takes less time to make, and since it is lighter it is easier to install. It is very beautiful and is generally the choice for outdoor statuary. There is simply no more beautiful material for sculpture than white Italian marble. Marble has almost magical qualities and appears to radiate light from within. It can withstand the elements, though is somewhat more fragile than bronze. It is very low maintenance, as we can see all over Europe there are marble sculptures that have been standing for millennia. It is among the most time-consuming to sculpt and expensive materials, but it has no equal.
At this point in the process, the mold will be transported to the bronze foundry, where it will be cast using the lost wax process. This process takes several months. When it is done at the foundry, I will oversee the application of chemicals to develop a rich and beautiful patina in any finish that the client desires. Bronze can be finished in numerous ways. Here is a short video on the bronze casting process:
Delivery and Installation of the Bronze
When the sculpture is complete at the bronze foundry, it will be loaded into a truck and transported to the site. Using the proper equipment, such as a crane and forklift, the rigging crew will place and secure the sculpture atop a pedestal. The sculpture needs to be placed on a proper footing, generally several feet of stone mounted on a deep concrete piling. Once the site is prepared, the sculpture installation generally takes 1-3 days. It is customary to have an unveiling ceremony.
The plaster carver’s model will be shipped to the carving studio in Pietrasanta, Italy. A crate-maker will be brought in to build a shipping crate and using a worldwide freight company, it will be sent via air. The crate can be built in a matter of days and it will take less than a week to arrive in Italy.
Carving the Marble
The carvers at the Italian studio will carefully select a piece of statuario marble from the Carrara Mountains. Once the studio receives the carver’s model, they will carve the marble using both traditional tools as well as pneumatic hammers and grinders. They use a pointing machine, or macchinetta di punta (shown left), which is not really a machine at all, but rather a measuring device. This is the traditional manner of carving a sculpture from a carver’s model. When the sculpture is nearly complete, I will arrive at the studio to carve the final details myself. The carving process takes 3-6 months. The image below shows Master Carver Umberto from Studio Antognazzi in Pietrasanta with both the plaster carver’s model as well as the in process marble sculpture. Notice how St. Joseph’s hands are still surrounded in stone.
Crating and Shipping the Marble
A professional crating team is called in to build a wooden crate for the final marble sculpture and it is loaded into a shipping container and sent by sea from Pietrasanta, Italy to the nearest US harbor to the site. Once the crate reaches the United States, it will go through the customs office. Crating, shipping, and customs inspections can take 2-3 weeks.
Delivery and Installation of the Marble
After it has passed inspections and cleared customs, a sculpture rigging outfit will pick up the crate from the port and transport it to the final site. I will meet the installation crew and the client at the site. Using the proper equipment, such as a crane and forklift, the rigging crew will place and secure the sculpture. There may be posts marble left between the fingers or other delicate features to ensure safe transport that I will have to file, which will be done once the sculpture is in place. The installation generally takes 2-3 days. Below is a slide of of finishing the marble in Pietrasanta and installing it at Our Lady of Mercy.