Are you interested in pursuing your passion and becoming a sculptor? You’re in luck. There’s a range of opportunities available for people with a talent for sculpting, from art gallery owners and individual collectors looking for one-of-a-kind pieces to industrial design firms in need of professionals who can create 3D models in the early stages of project conception. And whichever way you go, you’ll get to challenge your skills—and your imagination—in pursuit of a successful career.

While sculpting is an ancient art, technology has expanded the art form and what it can mean to sculpt for a living. It has also made it easier than ever to pursue a career as a freelance sculptor and get your work in front of potential buyers or clients.

So, what does a sculptor do, and how can you turn a talent for sculpting into a career? Here’s what to know, including the average sculptor salary and why that art degree might not be as necessary as you think. 

What Is a Sculptor?

sculpting marble
Source:Pixabay
Sculptors vary widely in the materials and techniques that they use to create original two- and three-dimensional objects.

A sculptor is a type of visual artist who creates two- or three-dimensional objects for display. These objects are often made out of physical materials, such as clay, metal, marble, glass, ice, stone, or wood, though there are also digital sculptors who create objects on a screen.

In both cases, the sculptor uses the materials on hand to build a visual representation that can then be admired or utilized, depending on its purpose. Sculpting techniques themselves vary widely, from the manipulation of “digitized clay” to the traditional arts of wall carvings (also known as reliefs), chiseling, and clay modeling by hand.

The defining feature of the sculptor is their ability to create something out of nothing, whether that’s a slab of Carrara marble turned into the statue of David or a block of clay turned into a vehicle prototype for an automotive company. It’s no easy skill, which is why talented sculptors are a valuable asset in the art and design world.

Sculptor Job Description

The day-to-day tasks of a sculptor will depend on some degree on how they’re employed. A sculptor working for an architecture firm, for example, will have somewhat different responsibilities than a sculptor working for a commercial art studio. 

That being said, a lot of what a sculptor does is the same regardless of an individual’s place of employment and includes a lot of the hands-on work that you would expect from someone in this field.

Tasks that a sculptor may engage in as part of their job include:

  • Sourcing and budgeting for tools and materials
  • Researching and planning designs
  • Collaborating on plans with design teams or commissioning clients
  • Hands-on sculpting, sometimes across multiple versions of one piece
  • Presenting and marketing finished projects

Sculptors take great pride in their work and, like most visual artists, work hard to protect and execute their vision. While sculptors who work for firms or commercial studios may not have quite as much autonomy on design as those who work independently, all sculptors are highly creative individuals with impressive skills that take many years of practice to develop.

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How to Become a Sculptor

michelangelo's david
Source:Wikimedia Commons
Familiarity with famous sculptures—like Michelangelo’s David, seen here—is a useful pursuit for any aspiring sculptor, even those who are more interested in industrial design over the fine arts.

Innate talent is a great thing to have as a sculptor, but education and experience can also take you far. Becoming a professional sculptor requires a lot of dedication, as well as a deep understanding of sculpting techniques. This isn’t a career someone can just jump into on a whim, so if it’s something that you are truly interested in, you’ll want to have at least a general plan for the path that you might take to make it happen.

Education and Degree Requirements

Some specific sculpting jobs may require a Bachelor of Arts (BA), a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), or even a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA), but no one is checking your school records if you’re looking to become a fine artist who creates pieces for galleries or collectors. Still, even if it’s not required, an art degree can be valuable for an aspiring sculptor, educating on not just techniques but also the history—and potential future—of the art form. A formal education is also a way to try out sculpting with various types of materials and discover what medium you prefer.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of getting an art degree to become a sculptor is that it can open up the door to opportunities that may not be available otherwise, such as internships, mentorships, and apprenticeships. However, many sculptors take the non-traditional route into the trade and choose to establish themselves through experience and practice rather than a degree. This can be supplemented with free and paid resources, including online courses in traditional sculpting and digital sculpting, depending on interests.

Gaining Sculpting Experience

The best way to learn anything is by actually doing it, and that is particularly true in the arts. So if you want to sculpt for a living, the best thing that you can do is, well, sculpt. Practicing on your own is one way to do it, but even more beneficial is working alongside an experienced sculptor who can offer guidance, insight, and mentorship that won’t be available if you try to do it all on your own. Certain skills that you will want to work on developing include sketching, molding, and casting, noting that the specific techniques you need to be familiar with will differ based on the sculpting materials you are working with.

Keep in mind that if a type of sculpting job requires a degree (for example, a job as a product design sculptor), then it may be difficult to snag those experience-driven gigs without getting the educational background first. It’s not impossible to work your way there through other means—especially if you can build a robust portfolio—but it’s something to consider as you think ahead to the future.

How Much Does a Sculptor Make?

The average sculptor salary in the U.S. is $53,713, according to Glassdoor. This is referring to corporate sculpting jobs, however, so it may not be accurate for freelance sculptors and those working as more general fine artists.

Various factors that will impact how much a sculptor makes include location, skill level, experience, and employer. Likewise, salaries tend to be higher for digital sculptors than traditional sculptors. If you want to make the most money possible as a sculptor, finding a marketable niche will be key—as will bringing the experience (and possibly the education, depending on the role) to the table to ensure that you stand out against the competition.

Types of Sculptor Jobs

In order to become a sculptor, it helps to know where sculptors work and what types of jobs might be available to you. Different types of sculptors have different career paths and responsibilities, so figure out what appeals most to you and decide on next steps from there. Here are some options.

Working in Industrial Design

Manufacturing companies large and small work with sculptors to conceive of new product or building designs and create prototypes in the research and development phase. These sculptors work alongside industrial design teams to bring these new ideas to life and often must adhere to strict timelines and budgets. 

The specific type of sculpting required varies; however, there is certainly growing demand for individuals who can produce high-quality digital models, which are cheaper and easier to modify than models made out of physical materials.

Creating Sculptures on Commission

Sculptors who like working directly with clients can find a fulfilling career making commission-based pieces for events, commercial spaces, and personal collections. This includes those who create custom pieces for art enthusiasts, as well as those who create ice sculptures for weddings and galas or large-scale glass sculptures for hotels and restaurants. The commissioned sculptor usually collaborates with their client on the general vision for the piece, with the exact level of artistic freedom outlined in advance in a contract. They can work on a freelance basis or as part of a commercial studio.

Pursuing a Career as a Freelance Sculptor

Freelance sculptors fall into many camps. There are those who work on a contract basis doing the sorts of jobs listed above, and there are also independent sculpting artists who create and sell original works through galleries, art fairs, and online stores. Because selling artwork can be an inconsistent way to make a living, many freelance sculptors do both, engaging in industrial or commissioned work while also pursuing a more fine art focus on the side. Some of the benefits to freelancing as a sculptor include control over the clients and projects you take on, though a lack of guaranteed salary can be a struggle for some.

Becoming a sculptor is one way to celebrate a love for the sculpting art form, but it’s not the only way. There are many other related jobs in the fine arts for those with a passion for sculpture, and broadening your scope may be useful for entering the field, even as you simultaneously pursue some of the more conventional sculptor jobs noted in the previous section.

Here are some of the related jobs and careers that someone with an interest in sculpting could consider:

  • Fine arts teacher: Share your talent for sculpting with others as an educator at the elementary, secondary, or collegiate level or as an art teacher at a community center. Knowledge of not just technique but also sculpting history is essential and, depending on the class, you may also be required to teach other mediums in addition to sculpture.
  • Gallery worker: Working in an art gallery is more than just a sales job. Gallery workers need to have extensive knowledge about the art forms they are presenting and be able to guide buyers on purchases. Many are also tasked with signing artists to the space and sourcing pieces for collectors.
  • Exhibition designer: These are designers who work with museums and galleries to curate exhibitions for public display—usually around a collective theme. Exhibitions are as much about telling a story as they are arranging pieces in a pleasant manner, and it’s the designer’s job to balance both of these necessities and create displays that are both stunning to look at and indicative of a larger message.

Other potential paths for a sculptor include working in set design for plays, TV, or films; or working in interior and home design. 

With so many ways to go with a sculpting career, start by developing your skills and then see where the road takes you. You might be surprised to discover where you end up when you follow your interests and the opportunities that are presented to you. Remember, too, that you can always create—and potentially sell—original sculptures while engaging in other jobs, so establishing a career in a related (or even non-related) field never has to mean giving up on your dream.

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Written By

Laura Mueller

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