The Job and What's Involved

Sculptors create three-dimensional objects that are designed to give aesthetic appeal.

Most sculptors specialise in a particular type of work: abstracts, busts or statues, for example. Sculptors may create figures out of their own imagination, to express their own ideas or their own response to experience. They may then seek out a buyer for the work. Sculptors with an established reputation are sometimes commissioned (hired in advance at a fee) to produce a piece of work on a required theme.

Creating sculptures may involve any of the following:

  • Collecting the necessary materials - these could be clay, plastic, resin, bronze, stone, metal, wood, sand or ice.
  • Sketching or roughing out a design and perhaps making some speculative small-scale models before starting.
  • Using tools suitable for hard, resistant materials - drills, knives, chisels, soldering or welding equipment.
  • Creating a master mould from an original sculpture and using that to produce multiple copies of the figure.
  • Setting up large-scale models in public buildings or outdoors.
  • Making a bust or statue of a well known person and producing a recognisable resemblance to the subject, while also highlighting some of the inner character.
  • Producing an abstract piece, perhaps with symbolic meaning.

Promoting and selling sculptures may involve:

  • Displaying them on the internet in online galleries or on a personal website.
  • Taking digital images or slides of the sculptures and submitting them to galleries at home or abroad.
  • Making initial contact with gallery owners, agents and dealers and showing them a portfolio of photographs.
  • Keeping up the networking contacts through attending launches and exhibitions.
  • Transporting the sculptures themselves, some of which might be large, heavy, fragile or unwieldy.

Other ways of earning money from sculpture include:

  • Taking up a 'residency', running workshops and classes for a fixed period in a school, hospital, day centre or prison.
  • Running local projects or art festivals in community centres.
  • Teaching adults or children, privately or through community learning.

At the start of their careers, without many contacts, sculptors may not sell a piece of their work for years.

Sculptors with a residency usually work regular hours during the teaching part of their week. They may have to conduct evening or weekend workshops.

Sculptors may work from home or in a specialised studio, which they own or rent either alone or with a group of sculptors. The conditions might be dirty, dusty, hot or even dangerous, depending on the materials and methods used. The work can be physically demanding as they may have to lift and carry heavy and fragile objects. In some cases they wear protective clothing, footwear and eye goggles.

Sculptors travel to attend exhibitions in public art galleries, either in the UK or abroad.

Most sculptors are self-employed and therefore set their own hours of work. They often put in long hours, including weekends and evenings, to complete a commission or build a portfolio.

Only a few, well established sculptors earn money from selling their sculpture alone. The majority of sculptors have to make a living from related jobs, for example teaching, lecturing, community work, arts administration or sometimes therapy roles. Due to the irregularity of their income, it is impossible to estimate a sculptor's yearly earnings.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Becoming a paid sculptor is difficult. There are not many vacancies for residencies or for commissions.

The Crafts Council established the Next Move scheme to provide recent graduates with space to work, funds for materials and career advice from people established in their field. Such schemes can provide a fast-track start to sculptors' careers, launching them immediately into art and craft markets, such as international craft fairs, awards and public commissions.

Openings for sculptors are more often available in urban areas, where there are more public bodies who may want to commission pieces. There are occasional opportunities in historically significant areas.

There may be opportunities to work abroad, or for freelance work if the sculptor has a strong portfolio.

Publications that might help applicants to find employment include The Artist.

Education and Training

Although freelance sculptors do not need formal entry requirements, in practice most sculptors nowadays have a qualification such as a degree or higher national diploma in art and design or fine art, with sculpture as a specialism. These qualifications are offered countrywide in universities and art colleges.

Some colleges or universities may offer places to applicants without formal qualifications, but with a good portfolio. However, most courses require five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), and A levels/H grades are often also required. In all cases the applicant must also offer a strong, varied portfolio of work.

Courses include:

  • BTEC/SQA national awards - students usually need four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3).
  • Degree courses in fine art, often with sculpture as a specialism. In England and Wales entrants usually need an art foundation course and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications. In Scotland, degrees last four years and there is no foundation course, and students need at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications, possibly including a BTEC/SQA national certificate.
  • Postgraduate courses in fine art.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Further training, such as postgraduate degrees or specialist training in certain areas, will help the sculptor to gain more technical skills.

Training usually takes place under the supervision of an established sculptor, allowing students to gain experience of the process of creating and selling a sculpture.

Students learn new techniques which can help them to produce a stronger portfolio of work.

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Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently and Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller.


Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Sculptors need:

  • Creative imagination and flair.
  • Self-belief and self-motivation.
  • Manual dexterity, to use tools such as chisels with precision.
  • Good networking skills, to help promote their work.
  • Physical fitness, as the work is often strenuous.
  • Self-discipline to meet deadlines.
  • The ability to work alone or in a team.
  • An understanding of form.
  • Numeracy skills, to understand measurements for materials.
  • The ability to work to a brief, if they have been commissioned to produce a specific piece.

Your Long Term Prospects

Most sculptors work freelance, and throughout their careers few earn a full living from selling their sculpture. There is no recognised career path. Success depends on sales and therefore on the sculptor's reputation amongst other sculptors and collectors. As they establish a reputation, they are likely to receive more commissions and residencies.

Get Further Information

a-n The Artists Information Company, First Floor,
7-15 Pink Lane, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 5DW
Tel: 0191 241 8000

Arts Council England,
14 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 3NQ
Tel: 0845 300 6200

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland,
77 Malone Road, Belfast BT9 6AQ
Tel: 028 9038 5200

Arts Council of Wales (ACW),
9 Museum Place, Cardiff CF10 3NX
Tel: 029 2037 6500

The Association of Illustrators (AOI),
Second Floor, Back Building,
150 Curtain Road, London EC2A 3AR
Tel: 020 7613 4328

The Crafts Council,
44a Pentonville Road, Islington,
London N1 9BY
Tel: 020 7278 7700

Creative and Cultural Skills, 4th Floor,
Lafone House, The Leathermarket,
Weston Street, London, SE1 3HN
Tel: 020 7015 1847

Creative People,
PO Box 2677, Caterham,
Surrey CR3 6WJ
Tel: 01883 371112

National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD),
The Gatehouse, Corsham Court,
Corsham, Wiltshire SN13 0BZ
Tel: 01249 714825

The Open College of the Arts,
Registration Department, Freepost SF10678
Tel: 0800 731 2116

Scottish Arts Council,
12 Manor Place, Edinburgh EH3 7DD
Tel: 0131 226 6051

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