Marble Sculpture Techniques

by Nora Zavalczki

Marble is a metamorphic rock made up of coarse grains of calcite, dolomite and serpentine minerals, and comes in various textures and colors, including white, green, purple, yellow, gray, pink, red and blue. Marble is used as a construction material and to make monuments and sculptures. The material is ideal for sculptures due to its softness, strength and resistance to heat and erosion. Sculptors prepare marble sculptures using the subtraction technique.

Preparing the Material

Even if marble comes in various colors, typically white marble is used for sculpting purposes. The white, translucent marble is free of impurities and easy to sculpt and carve. The artist gets a large block of marble and traces some guiding lines, or even sketches the shape of the sculpture, to guide him during the sculpting process. Certain artists use plastic templates to trace the design on marble.

The Technique

The technique of sculpting marble has been used since ancient times and is known as subtraction. Even though the tools have evolved, the subtraction technique remained the same. This technique involves removing excess material from the block of marble until the artist obtains the desired shape. In the initial stage, the sculptor removes large areas of excess material, while in the last stages, the artist carves into the marble to obtain fine details. During the entire process, the sculptor performs several measurements to ensure that the proportions of the sculpture are correct.

Marble Sculpting Tools

Sculptors use tools such chisels and mallets or hammers when executing a marble sculpture. These were the tools used in ancient times; however, they were refined over the years. Artists sculpt in stone using several types of chisels that come in handy at different points during the creation of the sculptural object. In the initial stages of the project, the sculptor uses a point chisel to remove large blocks of marble and create textures in more advanced stages. The artist uses tooth or claw chisels when giving shape to the sculpture. The sculptor employs flat chisels in the final stages to create details. There are several variations for each type of chisel. For instance, gouges, miter tools and bull-noses are variations of the flat chisel. The chisels come in different sizes, which are chosen according to the size of the sculpture.

Finishing the Sculpture

After the sculpture has the desired shape, the artist finishes it with another mineral known as emery. The emery has an abrasive surface that makes the sculpture smooth. To obtain a shiny marble sculpture, the artist polishes the piece with a softer stone. This gives the sculpture a patina finish. Marble can also be sealed using a technique called ganosis, but the sealer has to be reapplied periodically so that the sculpture preserves its shine.

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