The Assignment

For this assignment we are creating a subtractive sculpture. The following requirements are outlined for this assignment:

  • The sculpture must be able to stand on its own
  • The sculpture has decoration/something to look at on all sides
  • The sculpture has projections and recessions
  • This is an open topic artwork; as long as your idea is PG13/school appropriate is is fair game.


The following are terms that we need to know before we can start the project.  Some of these relate to tools we will be using, while others are concepts.

  • Plaster: a mixture of lime, sand, and water that hardens to a stone-like substance.
  • Files: a tool with a roughened surface for scraping or smoothing objects.
  • Rasp: a coarse file or similar metal tool with a roughened surface for scraping, filing, or rubbing down objects.
    • A big file.
    • Ours rasps are also called surform shavers.
  • Picks: a tool with a sharp pointed in for incising lines, scraping, and gouging
  • Loops: a tool thin ribbon of metal attached to a handle, used for scraping and gouging.
  • Additive Sculpture: a process where the artist can continuously build up material. He or she can also remove material to make corrections.


  • Subtractive Sculpture: a process where the artist can only remove material to reveal the form or make corrections.

Michelangelo, Saint Matthew

  • Wasting: a process where the artist removes the big chunks of unwanted stone.


Two Ways to Visualize the Sculpture

Block Method: Visualizing the objects as a solid block, a rectangular shape, within the stone. You cut straight back through the stone during the wasting process.

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Cylindrical Method: Visualizing the object as a cylinder. Material is removed from all sides at the same time during the wasting process.

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Common Problems with Carving

  • Providing support for a standing figure
  • Low relief vs. high relief
  • Visualizing depth
  • As things get thinner, they get more fragile
  • Work from general to specific

Step 1:  The Sketch
Your sketch is the first part of the assignment. Your sketch should show two distinct and different views of your object. This can be front and side, front and top, or whatever combination best works for your object.

This can be a very frustrating stage. It is not unusual for students to have a hard time visualizing an object from more than one view. It is necessary however, as this is the planning phase. It is better for you to struggle with this now than to wait until you start carving.

Step 2:  Transferring the Sketch

You want to draw the sketch onto the block as large as possible.  Honestly, the larger the better, as it means less work and a more secure form.

I recommend that for most students you want to use the block method.  Draw your figure from one angle (profile or front view).

Step 3:  Wasting

Once you create your sketch you want to begin wasting–removing the big blocks of unwanted stone.  For most students I recommend the block method.

Start by creating an outline or halo around your initial sketch that is bigger than you want your statue to be.  Then proceed to start cutting back and through the stone, creating a blocky shape.  It is akin to pushing a cookie cutter into dough, you are “pushing” the shape into the stone.

To make something project, you have to carve around that object, not the object itself.  In the example below, we see the dogs tail not because it was carved, but because the material around the tail was removed, revealing the form.

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Below is a video of a man carving a hand from a block of wood.  The materials and tools are different from what we are doing in class, but the process of working from general to specific is the same.

Step 4:  Detail Work

The last and final step is to add in detail work.  Using a variety of picks and sandpaper you need to go through and round off edges, create any textures you want, and add small details like eyes.

Keep in mind that as the material gets thinner, it gets more fragile, and can handle less and less pressure.  Keep a light touch with your tools so that you do not accidentally snap or break something you wanted to keep.

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