January 07, 2024

Starting with Sculpture: Art Mediums for Sculpting from Home

Starting with Sculpture: Art Mediums for Sculpting from Home

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As artists, we should always be on our toes, ready to dive into the pool of creativity in all aspects of our lives. This includes the choice of materials we use in our art. I've found, and perhaps you will too, that the freedom we yearn for in our creative process often stems from the materials we choose to work with.

In the following blog post, you'll find a smorgasbord of mediums that might fit right into your home-based studio. Of course, cost and safety are significant considerations. Some materials might unleash fumes needing good ventilation, a luxury that not all home studios can afford or want.

Now, this list isn't exhaustive far from it. But consider it a good place to start. I've  sprinkled in a few artist names and book suggestions that have inspired me and might inspire you as well, to breathe life into these mediums.

Note: these are arranged alphabetically.

Air dry clay

This one should come as no surprise to those familiar with my blog. Air dry clay is in my opinion the perfect medium for sculpting from home, especially for beginners. There's a myriad of types and brands out there, and the fun is in experimenting with different ones to see which resonates with your creative spirit. While you might not be able to craft functional ware (like a cute coffee mug), the possibilities for sculpture are only as limited as your imagination. An artist whose work with air dry clay continually inspires me is Forest Rogers.

Obviously, my blog is a good resource for learning to sculpt in air dry clay. 😉

sculpting in clay
Sculpting in clay (both ceramic and air dry) are good options for home sculptors.

Ceramic clay

Bet you didn't see this one coming! Contrary to what you might think, ceramics can indeed be made from the comfort of your home. Sure, there are some safety considerations—you need to control the dust from dry clay and avoid clogging your drains—but beyond that, it's a free playing field. Even if you don't have a kiln, don't fret. I've found ways to make it work, like joining a local pottery club or taking classes at the rec center. If you want it, you can make it happen.

Fabric

Often overlooked, fabrics offer a unique medium to create sculptures. Soft fabrics like felt are currently experiencing a resurgence. But if you want something a little sturdier, try a resin-based fabric hardener like Paverpol to craft rigid, weather-proof sculptures that can even brave the great outdoors! For a shot of inspiration, look to Karine Jollet, who creates incredible soft sculptures.

Epoxy clay

This medium is for those of us who love a bit of a timed challenge. This type of clay doesn’t dry but rather cures due to a chemical reaction, setting a timer on your sculpting process. Its strength is its forte, but the limited color options mean you'll often need to paint your sculptures. It is similar to air dry clay, but is generally stronger, and also usually more expensive (See Apoxie Sculpt). If you're intrigued, take a look at the work of Akishi Ueda for inspiration.

mixed media sculpture of a woman's head

Can't pick one medium? Mix and match.

Mixed Media

You don't need a specific medium, just mix and match the objects you find and make. I have used found or altered objects in conjunction with my air dry clay sculptures. The benefit here is that you may be able make used of the items you have on hand and don't need to purchase as much. Artist Lisa Kokin creates wild mixed media pieces that might spark a fire in you.

Modelling clay

I remember when I first started sculpting at home, I used modelling clay extensively (something like NSP by Chavant). Why? It’s reusable and never dries out, letting me experiment and develop my techniques in a cost-effective way. It also allowed me to take creative leaps without the fear of "ruining" anything. This medium is more of a tool as the results are not permanent and can’t generally be sold as finished pieces.

Papier-mùché (paper mache)

I am not referring to your elementary school craft project. For robust sculptures, try diluting wood glue with water: The resulting paste dries rock hard. I loved Elmer's Art Paste until they discontinued it. If I do go back to papier mache I'll probably try to use methyl cellulose powder. I've also heard that folks use wallpaper paste, though I have no experience in that myself. For more, check out the book “Papier Mache Design: Advanced Techniques" by Monique Roberts.

papier mache sculpture of fishPapier mache sculpture is a very good option for a home sculptor. Photo by anoldent.

Polymer clay

Like air dry clay, polymer clay offers a range of brands, but it differs in that it requires baking to cure. Its vibrant colors are a bonus if painting isn't your thing. However, the cost often necessitates smaller art pieces. You can make it more affordable by buying certain colours (like this Super Sculpey beige) and painting it. Stephanie Kilgast's work provides inspiration here.

Wire

A staple in many air-dry clay projects, wire also stands as a distinct medium for sculptures. Its storage-friendly nature and minimal mess make it a perfect choice for home studios. Mix it with paper or fabric for more complexity or let it shine on its own. Check out Elizabeth Berrien's work if you need a nudge in the right direction.

Wood/stone

Last but not least, these traditional materials can indeed be utilized in small-scale home creations. Tools for carving basswood and soapstone can be pricey, so I'd recommend taking a class at a local rec centre or woodworking studio before investing heavily. One money-saving method of learning subtractive sculpting like wood or stone is to use plaster of Paris. You can pour it into empty milk jugs or other containers, let it cure, and then carve it. If you need inspiration, Japanese netsuke offers a treasure trove of miniature carvings made from various materials.

Japanese netuske carvingsNetsuke can be made from materials such as ivory, wood and ceramics. Photos by Andrew Wilds/Hopkins Collection

Remember, these are just the starting points. The beauty of art is its boundlessness. Don't feel restrained by this list. If it works for you and your space, go for it! Sculpting at home is all about creativity—not just in your art, but also in your choice of materials and how they complement your chosen space. The challenges might seem daunting, but remember, one of the perks of a home studio is that you're never too far from your creative retreat. Any spare moment can be transformed into an art session.

I hope you find your perfect medium and, in it, the joy and fulfillment of creating something truly unique.


What's Next?

Explore the best air dry clays for artists

Discover how you can make ceramic sculptures at home without a kiln

Learn more about the different types of wire artists use