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Types of Sculpture Materials to Consider for a Hobby

Sculpting is a worthy art form for fine artists who have patience and willingness to persevere. I have done small scale clay figurines.

A boy angel sculped from marble.

A boy angel sculped from marble.

Clay Is Just the Beginning: How to Make Sculptures in Different Mediums

The soft sculptor may choose to use clay, sand, sawdust, paper, plastics, wax, softwoods, fabrics, glass, and plaster. The hard sculptor will work with stone, marble, bronze, hardwoods, ivory, and other bones, shells, and metal.

Many of us have worked clay and sand in school classes for many types of art and craft projects. We brought together and shaped these objects with our hands. My first clay project was forming an ashtray. This sculpture technique is modeling as we gather soft materials and create shapes and forms.

In the advanced grades, we managed chip carving with special knife blades of designs from soap, wood, or any other soft material. My “chip art” project was on a wooden jewelry box. This sculpture technique is carving.

The serious sculptor art student experiences cutting figures from trees, ice, and other selected medium with a power saw or they may prefer to fuse metal pieces to build an art or utilitarian piece.

17 Types of Sculpting Materials

  1. Stone
  2. Marble
  3. Bronze
  4. Hardwoods
  5. Softwoods
  6. Ivory and other bones
  7. Synthetic resins
  8. Plastic wood
  9. Stucco
  10. Plaster
  11. Clay
  12. Wax
  13. Concrete
  14. Fabrics
  15. Glass
  16. Ice
  17. Molten metal

Tools You'll Need

  • Hand or electronics: Assorted chisels, a hammer, rasps, wet/dry sandpaper, workbench, and a lift for heavy stones.
  • Safety equipment: Safety glasses, ear plugs, gloves, dust mask or respirator, and well-ventilated working environment.
Marble statue of 3 young children.

Marble statue of 3 young children.

Stone Sculpture

Youngsters attending art classes experience sculpting clay in school or in the home. They work the clay to prepare its surface and shape for the intended item. Students will draw their head, face, neck, and part of the chest onto a square or rectangle block of clay. Chisels and cutting blades are used to cut away unwanted sections to show the finished form.

3D Sculpture: Remove clay following the drawing lines to form the head with its facial details and hairstyle. They carve the collar and the neckline area of the chest as one unit. Add an optional pedestal to support the head in an upright position. They call this a bust statue. This piece is visible in every position.

Relief Sculpture: A low or high relief requires different depths of sculpture material. They cut the indents into the background to create a look of the illusion of depth sense on flat stone. Place your design on a shallow marble tile or a thick stone slab. Follow the layout lines, removing unwanted stone. The deeper the stone, the higher the relief. A shallow stone will have a low relief. The finished work will have one viewpoint.

An outdoor frieze of royalty blessed by an angel.

An outdoor frieze of royalty blessed by an angel.

Stone Types

Select stone type according to its features, usage, and its indoor or outdoor location..

The characteristics of the stone will show its workable and aesthetic qualities to help create the best design.

First and foremost the artist sees the image in the rock. Then the process of sculpting involves working with the characteristics of the stone to accomplish the artist's imagery becoming a reality.

Seven Stone Types:

  1. Marble: Preferred stone for skilled artists and crafts sculptors. Marble has a longer lifetime indoors.
  2. Granite: Table tops, funeral statuary, and gravestone markers.
  3. Limestone: Makes excellent outdoor sculptures, but cracks and breaks along the grain.
  4. Sandstone: A natural stone to sculpt with hand tools. Make reliefs and 3D objects.
  5. Alabaster: Soft stone which cracks and damages. Repair cracks with glue and clay. Carve small objects.
  6. Soapstone: An easy stone to knife carve for beginners.
  7. Concrete: A mix of sand and gravel. Use concrete for indoor and outdoor art or craft objects.

Personal notation: Think and visualize your chosen creation using your creative vision to see the finished image. Then let the stone speak to you. If the stone and your visual image collide, it’s the wrong choice. The stone and your visual image need to agree. The sculptured image will emerge with your skills, talents, knowledge of stones, and logical use of tools.

Two chainsaw-carced owls perched on a tree stump.

Two chainsaw-carced owls perched on a tree stump.

Wood Carving

Wood carvers make eating utensils, bowls, vases, statues, jewelry, religious articles, canoes, decorated woodwork in and on buildings, boats, visual art, and other art décor.

Water, insects, mold, mildew, and fire damage woods. Artists and artisans prefer carving stone and marble to avoid these problems. However, many people favor the warmth and beauty of wood.

Draw the design before beginning the carving process. The sketch is our pattern guide for cutting away unwanted wood to create the finished product.

Carving will require special tools and deciding on the type of wood to be used. It can become a very expensive hobby. Begin with a small object to determine if carving wood is the next hobby choice. A pen knife and a bar of soap is a very inexpensive to determine if carving is suitable for your talents and skills.

Carving Tools

  • A pocket knife or an assortment of wood carving knives
  • Hand chisels for detailed work
  • Gouges, spoon-shaped or straight, for chipping away
  • V-tool for relief carving
  • The type of wood and the project determines which tools are to be used

Hardwood trees have wide broad leaves. This includes all fruit trees, Oak, Maple Hickory, Birch, Acacia, Eucalyptus, Walnut, Chestnut, Aspen, Mahogany, Poplar, and the Linden tree.

Softwoods have needles and cones. These trees include pines and spruces. Redwoods, Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, Cedar, Cypress, Juniper, white pine, and basswood (the most popular carving wood).

Soft woods are carved with hand tools and most hardwoods will require mechanical or electronic tools.

Angel Ice sculpture on a buffet table.

Angel Ice sculpture on a buffet table.

Ice and Snow Sculpture

Ice sculpture is beautiful and lasts for hours or a few months, depending on the surrounding frigid temperature. The question is, “Are you prepared to sculpt an object that is short-lived?” Ice carvings or building sand castles on the beach are short-lived. Some people don't mind rebuilding. Do you?

Ice sculpture does not differ from other sculptures in that they can carve it into lifelike figures or abstract art. They must keep the ice at freezing temperatures. A better enduring medium is glass or crystals.

We may see sculptured ice figures in the winter outdoors, on large buffet tables at conventions, weddings, and specialized gatherings, and at ice festivals, which feature these artworks.

They carve the figure from blocks of ice from frozen rivers, lakes, and ponds. The block size determines using hand tools or a power saw. An individual or a machine may carve the ice block. A wiser method is to place water into a mold, add dye for coloring, freeze, remove, and refine the details.

Snow sculpture uses frozen blocks of snow or collections of hand-packed snow. Children build snowmen while adult creators build figurines and other objects. Onlookers watch or supervise the building process.

A short lineup of garden gnomes molded from clay.

A short lineup of garden gnomes molded from clay.

Sculpting With Clay

All school children have experienced molding clay in school or in the home. With our hands we start working the clay until it feels just right to be molded or cut. Some of us will start with a round ball of modeler’s clay and cut away unwanted areas or add additional clay pieces depending on the creation.

Example: A round face is the head of a person. We then cut away or indent the clay where necessary or add pieces of shaped clay to bring detailed features to the head. When completed we then paint our artwork and place it in the kiln for a permanent finish.

Others may roll the clay in the same way we roll out pastry dough, and then cut the pieces which will be needed. The cut pieces are then connected by pinching or pressing the clay pieces together.


We can create stick figures of gingerbread men or other favorite cartoon or animated characters with different shapes of cut clay. A cookie cutter or a sculptor's knife may be used to cut desired shapes. Additional pieces of clay may be applied by pressing the pieces together with our fingers or using a flat blade tool.

Starting on a small project is affordable. However, should you decide to make larger pieces, like pottery, additional accessories, and a kiln will be required? You may wish to take classes and be exposed to the tool necessities before investing in more complex clay projects.

Questions & Answers

Question: what material is clay composed of?

Answer: Clay is earth mixed with a variety of minerals and rocks. Natural clay is available in red, yellow, and terracotta or brownish color. Most of us find it more convenient to purchase clay at an arts and crafts store.


RAMESH K K. BHAGAM ARTS KERALA on February 27, 2020:

I am a sculptor i have making woodern and rock sculpture so my life for art

Tricia Deed on June 17, 2019:


I took a tour online to check out stone carving in Kenya. It this is the type of work you sculpture; it is beautiful. It appears to me that the natural stone in your area offers the opportunity to sculpt any object to create unusual and different stone grain patterns in finished pieces.

The photos of the sculptured pieces which I saw online are stunning.

Gerard Motondi on June 12, 2019:

Grew up in a stone carving community in Western Kenya. I enjoy sculpting any type of stone. Garden sculpture is decorative, records history, and commemorate events. it is also therapeutic

Tricia Deed (author) from Orlando, Florida on March 30, 2018:

Deborah, click into Wiki How on the Internet. They have an article on oil based clay with illustrations to help you make this clay.

Tricia Deed (author) from Orlando, Florida on March 30, 2018:

Deborah, I found an article by WikiHow describing how to make an oil based clay. The article includes step by step instructions with pictures. Check out their website for this information.

Deborah Atwood on March 28, 2018:

I have been searching for hours, for Homemade Oil based clay.

And only able to find 1. The guy doesn't give out the Recipe.

Is there anyone out here that has a recipe they don't mind sharing with me?