Essential Sculpting Tools for Beginners
When you first start sculpting you probably won’t know yet what type of tools you will need or even what
type of sculpting you eventually want to specialize in. So in the beginning it’s a good idea to stock your
sculpting toolbox with a few basic tools that you can use to all the basic prep work that you will need to do you
in order to learn more about sculpting.
Having tools that are multi-functional will also help you learn because you won’t need to buy a new tool
for every new project. Here are ten essential items you need to have when you first take up sculpting.
Drawing pads and pencils
Because you will be doing a lot of concept sketching and figure drawing at first you can’t have too many
drawing pads and fine pencils. You should also keep some graph paper in your drawing kit so that you work on
learning how to sketch dimension.
You will also be making a lot of models and learning as much as you can about scale, so it is important
that you keep a lot of modeling clay on hand so that you can practice as much as you need to. Make sure that you
don’t get craft clay from the craft store because it won’t work the way you need it to work. Go to an art supply
store and get sculpting clay.
There are a lot of different kinds of chisels, but if you are just starting out then you really just need a
basic set of chisels. Often you can find sets of chisels that are made for beginners and have all the chisels that
you need to get started in the set. These beginner’s sets are usually not that expensive so you won’t need to spend
a lot of money. Chiseling is one skill that you will need for any type of sculpting so the earlier you start
practicing the better off you’ll be.
Any good art supply store will carry basic chisels, although you might need to find a store that sells high end
art supplies or a store that carries only sculpting supplies to find fancier or more specialized chisels.
A set of sharp knives such as X-ACTO knives is a must tool for any artist, but especially for a sculptor.
For modeling and casting you will find that having a set of basic X-ACTO or other sharp knives is really helpful.
You use the knives for cutting and scraping off excess material as you sculpt.
Even if you’re not going to specialize in making wire sculpture you should know how to work with wire.
Many sculptors use wire to make models of their ideas that will be turned into larger sculptures. Wire also comes
in handy to shape and keep together materials as you sculpt. Sculpting wire isn’t expensive, and you can use it for
a lot of things around the studio so it’s a good idea to keep at least a few rolls of basic sculpting wire on hand.
Plaster cast molds
Some of the most popular forms used in sculpture, like nudes, animals and other forms are available in pre-made
plaster casts that are great for practicing on. When you are first learning how to plaster
cast or sand cast you can use these molds to create basic shapes until you
get the hang of how to mix the material, how long it needs to set and so on. Once you have more experience you can
start creating your own molds.
To work with models you probably will need a different set of tools than what you use to make the
full-sized sculpture. When you are first starting out and setting up your own studio you can get away with buying a
simple all purpose set of modeling tools, but you will probably want to invest in more specialized modeling tools
as you get more experienced and start to make more sophisticated sculptures. Much like a set of chisels the tools
that you will need for working with clay models can be bought individually or in sets. You can almost never have
too many tools.
Wood carving tools
Even if you don’t think that you are going to end up doing a lot of wood carving you can learn a lot from
the wood carving technique. If you’re taking formal classes you will almost
certainly have to learn the basics of wood carving so you should pick up a basic set of wood carving tools and keep
those on hand.
Rubber mixing bowls
You will go through a lot of rubber mixing bowls because you will do a lot of mixing of clay, plaster,
sand and other materials when you are first learning how to sculpt. Since you will practicing a lot making models
and making basic sculptures and you don’t want to have to stop and clean out the bowls every time, it is a good
idea to have lots of these bowls around the studio. They aren’t very expensive so even if you are on a fairly tight
budget. Hence, you should be able to afford a bunch of them.
Sandpaper is a good abrasive to use for wood and stone carving and it also a lot of other practical uses in a studio environment.
Make sure that you keep several different strengths of sandpaper in stock all the time because you will use them
constantly for basic sculpting and especially for finishing work when your sculptures are done. Buy them in big
packages too so that you don’t run out at a crucial time.