For the last 25 years, I have earned my living as a sculptor. Initially, I worked under three professional sculptors who imparted valuable lessons on managing a sculpture business. The remaining knowledge came through personal experiences, peer learning, and pre-planning. Each sculptor has his/her own pricing system depending on their own skill level and years of practice. But in general, we are all at the mercy of an extensive and expensive process of turning clay into bronze.
Sculpture is a costly business. It is often surprising to potential buyers with its high price tags. What many fail to grasp (through no fault of their own) is that creating bronze sculpture involves skilled craftsmen, ample space, expensive materials and equipment, as well as a proficient artist. All of which significantly raise the costs to making a bronze sculpture. Since we don’t simply dip our clay sculpture in bronze we have to go through all of the necessary steps of bronze casting that have evolved ever so slightly in the past 10,000 years.
Even when artists handle most of the bronze casting work themselves, expenses remain high. Whether for a unique one-of-a-kind bronze piece or a limited edition sculpture.
When approached for a new sculpture, I usually determine if the sculpture can be replicated as a limited edition or if it’s exclusive to a particular location or client. Unique sculptures tend to cost more due to the clay and mold-making expenses as one time fees. Conversely, sculptures that can be produced in multiples allow artists to mitigate the clay and mold costs by selling them in limited editions. Common limited edition themes include military, sports, nudes, famous portraits, and whimsical works. Unique sculptures are prevalent for politicians, businessmen, civic leaders, and private commissions.
Understanding the market is crucial when deciding between unique one-of-a-kind pieces and multiples. This topic could be a dedicated blog post in the future.
After discussing the subject matter and design, I typically create a 2D concept sketch following research on clothing, poses, and photo references for the client.
In some cases, buyers may not have a designated location for the sculpture. If not intended for private property, I suggest seeking a permanent location, often involving coordination with local government or public art selection committees. Once a location, cost, and design are approved, a purchase agreement is drawn between the collector and artist to outline the project details. I keep this simple, unless dealing with government entities that require more lawyer lingo.
Upon agreement, the clay sculpting commences. For larger monuments, small clay studies may start the process before the full-size version to work out some of the potential ‘bugs’ and to capture a particular feeling. These studies are seldom shown to clients but serve as foundational steps for the bigger monument. Sculpting on the full size begins by adjusting a life-size steel armature to match the subjects proportions, often based on the subject’s known measurements or pictures for accuracy. I typically spend 7-8 weeks on a life-size clay figure, divided evenly between the nude figure during the first month and clothing details on the second.
The methodical process I use stems from my studies at the Academy of Art University, which emphasized an understanding of human anatomy and figure construction.
Once a clay sculpture is approved, it progresses to the bronze casting phase. This intricate process involves numerous crucial steps, which I have outlined on my website under the section titled “Process” for those who wish to learn more. The bronze sculpture creation process is a complex and costly process due to its labor-intensive nature, the need for skilled artisans, various materials, significant equipment, and ample workspace.
…I will continue this conversation on a second blog post that continues to dig through the high cost of sculpture.