Updated: June 14, 2015
Your Guide to Getting Started with Sculpting:Sculpting and Sculpting Tools Review - For as long as there have been people, there has been the need to create. Whether to tell a story, instruct, preserve history, or to simply capture a fleeting piece of beauty and hold it close, art has been a staple of human existence before it could even be defined. We see this in the cave paintings at Lascoux, gorgeous Gothic cathedrals like Notre Dame, and paintings and sculptures from Renaissance masters like Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, Ghiberti, and Verrochio. Sculpting was one of the very first forms of art, and it grew out of necessity and practicality. The first crude clay pots and vessels grew into masterpieces of stone and marble. Besides its well-earned place in history, sculpting is an enjoyable and fulfilling pursuit. What better way to relieve stress and harness your creative energy than to create something? Sculpting lets you do this, and with today's widely available supplies, it is easy to enjoy the many benefits. This guide will help you get started.
Getting Started: Sculpting for the BeginnerWhat is a beginner sculptor? It is a child with his first container of play-dough or a toddler making mud pies after a good rain. Sculpting comes naturally to us, and if you forget trying to be the next Michelangelo, you can enjoy the process and grow as an artist without pressure. If you are interested in sculpting, you can check out local organizations or colleges to find a beginner's class. This is a great way to learn the basics and get some guidance and support in your pursuit. If you don't have the time or taking a class is impractical, you can put together your own self-study. The internet is a great place to look, and you can find clay and polymer clay tutorials that will help you start. Check out the video of sculpting the human body from clay below and this one for sculpting with polymer clay (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKCrtlt__yc). The best way to start is to just start. Don't be intimidated by sculpting. Remember, you weren't scared or pressured when you were a child making fantastic creatures from play-dough. Just because you're using the grown-up version, doesn't mean you should stop enjoying it just as much.
What Do You Need? Sculpting Clay- The first sculptors depended on the earth and the riverbanks to give up rich clay. Today, it's a little more expensive. Choosing your clay is the most basic step, but it is also one of the more difficult. Your choice will depend on the pieces you want to create. For instance, ceramics can be done with earthenware, stoneware, or porcelain clays. This Expert Village video can help you determine the best kind of clay for your needs (http://www.ehow.com/video_4946354_types-clay-ceramics.html). This Helium review is also very helpful (http://www.helium.com/items/951259-best-clay-for-easy-sculpting). Ceramic clays are relatively inexpensive; a five pound box of Amaco Moist Pottery Clay, for instance, is about $9. If you want to do ceramics, you will not only need the clay, but you will need a kiln to fire your pieces. Since ceramic clays need temperatures exceeding 2000 degrees F, you can't just pop them in the oven! This is a great reason to find a class; you may pay a fee, but you will have access to clay, sculpting tools, glazes, and a kiln. A small kiln from popular manufacturer, Paragon, sells for about $465. It runs on a household 120 volt outlet and can be used for clay and glass. It measures only 8 inches square and 4.5 inches high. A large model can easily sell for thousands. See all kilns here.
Best Sculpting Tools:Modeling Clay and Polymer Clay - If you want to enjoy sculpting at home, you can try a type of air-dry clay that doesn't require kiln firing. American Art Clay, for instance, offers a moist clay suitable for hand modeling or throwing. Their 25LB Grey Air Dry Clay is only $13 and can be air dried or kiln fired, so you have that extra versatility. One note from reviewers is that shrinkage was a bit more than with other clays. You can compensate by making sure original sculpture is a bit larger than you want the finished product to be.
Crayola also makes great air dry clay. It has a very smooth, fine consistency and is easily worked. This is great for children, but you can also create much more advanced sculptures. A five pound container is under $9, and you can paint your end products with acrylics or Tempera paint, which eliminates the need for costly glazes.
Another alternative to more messy, costly ceramics clay is to use a polymer clay, like Sculpey or Fimo. Polymer clay is more akin to PVC than earth clay, but it has the same type of workable texture. Polymer has become quite popular because it either air dries or is cured in a low temperature oven. Usually, it hardens at about 200 as opposed to 2000 for earthen clays.
Both Fimo and Sculpey are popular choices, and you can find them readily available at craft stores and online. Let's take a quick look at the Sculpey III Polymer Clay Multi Pack. The "clay" is pliable and easy to work. It can be used for small sculptures and jewelry (it is popular with those who do beadwork). Once you have finished sculpting your piece, you simply bake it in the oven at the required temperature. Many artists use a toaster oven, which also works quite well. After it has dried, which only takes about 15 minutes, you can sand, drill, glue, and paint. Sculpey Glaze works well, but regular water-based acrylics do as well.
Polymer clay gives you the flexibility and artistic freedom you need and allows you to work without the expense of a kiln. It is a great choice for those who are just beginning, children, and artists on a budget. But it is also wonderful for any artist who appreciates value and workability.
Sculpting Tools - When you get started, your hands are your most important sculpting tools, but you can add to your repertoire. A set like the 11-piece Pottery / Sculpture Tool Set, Clay & Wax Carving Tools from SE, for instance, gives you variety of tools for detail work. In this particular set, each wood-handled tool has two tips so you have a great deal of flexibility. From carving details to smoothing clay, these are a great investment and can help make your finished product much more effective. You can find the SE kit for about $12.
Browse through all the great sculpting supplies on Amazon. As you advance, your needs will change and progress, and you may want to add to your tools. But to start, all you really need is a container of moist clay, air dry clay or polymer clay, and your imagination.