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How to Commission a Sculpture

Let's say your family, a church, or organization wants to commission of a work of sculpture, but you have no idea where to begin or how to proceed. Here I will describe the process that I use in my studio. I am happy to walk clients through the process step-by-step, even if you decide to work with another artist for the project. The first step is to have a general idea of what you want and how much you are willing to spend. Keep in mind that a sculpture is an original work of art that will last for millennia and the quality of the work depends on careful planning.

To Begin

First, I will work closely with the client to narrow down the final project: site design, scale, materials, and timeline and develop a budget. Once the client would like to move forward on a given project, I will first create an 18” scale model of the desired figure or image. Members of an arts committee from the church or organization will weigh in on the design and composition. Changes can easily be made at this scale. It is a collaborative process. Once the client approves of the design, the work on the final full-scale sculpture will commence upon signing a contract and receiving a 1/3 deposit. In the case of a portrait, I would meet with the subject, if available, three separate times to create the likeness in clay. A portrait generally does not need a scale model, unless it is a sculpture of the whole figure.

If the client is unable to agree to the terms of the commission, then the offer to purchase a finished plaster cast of the 18” scale model will be made. The cost will be determined by composition, complexity, and material. If the client commences with the commission, a cast of the scale model will be included in the final purchase price.

The option to make multiple casts in either plaster or bronze to sell as a fundraiser or as commemorative gifts will be available. Further costs will be determined by material and volume.

Sculpting the Carver’s Model

First, I will sculpt clay over a metal and wooden armature in my studio in Frederick, Maryland. I articulate every detail of the sculpture using my fingers and modeling tools. The time to create a finished sculpture varies on the complexity of the work, number of figures, and how many other projects are happening at the same time. Once the sculpture is finished in clay, I will seek approval from the client before beginning the next step. (Shown here working on the clay sculpture of St. Joseph, the Carpenter for Our Lady of Mercy.)

Casting the Carver’s Model

A casting crew will come to the studio to make a urethane mold of the clay sculpture. They will coat the entire piece in liquid rubber in order to make a negative impression. Then the clay is removed and recycled and the casting crew pours plaster of Paris into the mold and pulls a cast. Once the cast is finished, it will be cleaned and sealed with shellac. The final product is called the carver’s model. This process generally takes a few weeks.

The Final Material

There are two materials suitable for an outdoor sculpture that I generally employ: bronze and marble. They are both noble materials, used for millennia in sculpture. There are pros and cons of each material, as I will outline below. For indoor sculpture, a plaster cast can be a beautiful option that costs less, though it is not as durable.

Bronze is the most enduring material to use for an outdoor sculpture. It needs very little maintenance; in general it needs to be wiped down to be cleaned and waxed every year or second year. Archaeologists have uncovered bronze sculptures at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea that have remained intact for centuries. Bronze is less expensive than stone, takes less time to make, and since it is lighter it is easier to install. It is very beautiful and is generally the choice for outdoor statuary.

There is simply no more beautiful material for sculpture than white Italian marble. Marble has almost magical qualities and appears to radiate light from within. It can withstand the elements, though is somewhat more fragile than bronze. It is very low maintenance, as we can see all over Europe there are mar