Information for the Art Investor

How to commission a new artwork

The opportunity to create a sculpture, to commission an entirely new work, is a unique occurrence. For most organisations, institutions and individuals this is an opportunity that will present itself only once in several generations.  This is a chance to create a symbol that refects and embodies your values, your mission and purpose; that considers your history and articulates your vision for the future.

The resultant artwork will remain as a public symbol for a community or organisation for many decades. Bronzes last for hundreds of years.

The two factors of longevity and creating a public statement – make the choice of sculptor and of style, a decision that must be made with care and consideration. This is best achieved through being well informed and closely involved on every level, throughout the creative process.

As a studio we are strongly committed to best practise in the Arts industries in Australia. When good outcomes are achieved by any of our colleagues it affects the positive reputation of our whole sector.   The following guidelines are intended to assist your organisation and community through the unique process of commissioning sculpture.

1: Choose a professional sculptor

You would not employ a plumber to fix a car engine. Post modernism in the artworld has seen a trendy shift toward employing painters, jewellers and ceramicists to produce large scale sculpture. Figurative sculpture in particular suffers when amateurs are employed for major projects.

Structural anatomy, the dynamics of gesture, the subtleties of expression, and multi-profiling, are areas that take many years of practise to refine to perfection. Skin is the surface contour of volume. A sculptor who can capture the sense of volume as well as the dynamic of movement will captivate the imagination of the viewer.

Like a classical musician who still practises scales – a good figure sculptor will produce dozens of figure studies each year that are never intended to be completed. This practise builds competence and expertise.

Sculptors whose main area of practise is abstract form rather than figurative work, often do not have enough figurative expertise and experience, to resolve sculpted figures on a large scale. If in doubt ask to see a back catalogue of the artists work – or visit their studio to observe the kind of sculpture they are producing.

Choose an artist who actively engages with your concepts and vision, who is prepared to negotiate, to communicate, and who has strong understanding of the human figure, of contemporary figurative sculpture across the world and of the dynamics of gesture.
(please refer to 3; stylistic considerations)

2. Why sculpture?

To use sculpture as an interpretive insight means the unfolding of the history, concerns and interests of the community, in an accessible visual format.
Sculpture captivates a different centre in the imaginative function of a child to the brightly coloured, moving image. Children will relate with warmth to sculpture while
they often will not glance twice at a painting. Touch-ability / tactile aspects are
important to children. Physical form in space evokes stability and assurance.
The evocative power of a sculpture is in the actual presence of a three dimensional form as it occupies space.
A still-point in the world, sculpture provides a point of reflection in a world that moves very rapidly. Sculpture’s capacity to convey messages is subtle but powerful. It is a subtle message, repeated over time.

3. Stylistic considerations


A figure sculpture is read at a distance and in a single glance. This first reading is all important. It carries the message, the emotional impact and the primary metaphor of the sculpture.  The message should be clear and unequivocal.
Movement and gesture in a work is the most complex part of a trained sculptor’s design work. Carefully executed, the movement will imply a continuousness, so that the viewer’s mind will automatically imagine the next moment, the next “filmic frame” of the sequence. This instinctive engagement is important to keeping the viewer interested enough to look at the sculpture longer, to explore the subject in more depth, at it’s captured still-point.
Reference; – war Memorial Washington, the image of the men putting up the flag. That compressed energy. We all know that at the next second it will click upright and into place. Already the image has captured our active imagination, before beginning to discuss the other layers of meaning like war/peace, communal effort, struggle, and its own specific history of time and place.

By contrast with this powerful work, in recent years I have encountered a lot of new sculpture that struggles to engage an audience. Work that stops at the skin and carries no further message. When a sculpture has nowhere to go in it’s next frame, the work becomes passive and the viewer is less engaged on the instinctive level.

Melodrama – where a work is staged at the end point of an extreme emotion, has the opposite effect. By overloading the emotional metaphor the work will become less real, it will ring hollow and the public will tend to dismiss or ignore it.

Embodied art: The classical tradition is to sculpt the figure completely before sculpting the clothes over the form. This technique gives a powerful articulation to the figure.
I deliberately work in the tradition of the old masters when sculpting the figure, no shortcuts. I work from life models for any larger sculptures. The body is hand sculpted precisely, as a completely unclad form, before any details of clothes are modelled into place. It may seem a strange thing to do, to spend time sculpting a figure, when all that shows after robing is the ankles, the hands and the face, but it is the only way to achieve a sense of veracity in a sculpture. Any small movement will change all sorts of details in a figure. For instance; stretch out your hand with palm upwards, then twist your upturned palm inwards, note how every muscle down your arm rolls with it. The elbow, even the shoulder will change.

The truth is that every one of us is a familiar expert on the human body. When something is not right with a figure we know without knowing, we read the subtleties of movement, of gesture, at a deeply instinctual level, and in a single glance. Gesture was our primal language, our first form of communication as a species, before the evolution of the spoken word. Gesture is so basic to communication that we still find ourselves waving our arms around for emphasis, even while talking on the phone.
To get the gesture right, the movement true, is the real work of the sculptor.

(References; Rodin’s Balzac. The powerful figure is completely shrouded in his robe but the solid form of the striding man is still apparent.)

4: Define the brief

The starting point I always use with communities of people is to ask you to sit down together and look at the core values, message and character that you are seeking to express through a sculptural portrait. These can be quite intangible or very specific ideas. Come up with a list. Any background reading, books and history will also contribute.

From there the artist and the committee can start to discuss the communication of these ideas through a sculpture. Some concepts might lead to the inclusion of more than one figure to resolve the message. Once you have an idea of what it is a work needs to express, it will naturally follow to discuss how large a statue needs to be. The options usually are;

The procedure for commissioning sculpture is a three stage process.

Stage one: Maquette:

The maquette is a half size or quarter size fully three dimensional sculpture proposal. It is at this stage that the committee and the artist can establish the parameters of the design. It is important to only accept three dimensional proposals for figurative sculpture, as computer generated images do not show every angle of a work, and do not expose the sculptor’s figurative modelling skills to scrutiny. Once a maquette has been approved and accepted by the commissioners it will be seen as the “blueprint” for the larger sculpture.

Stage two: Original

Using the maquette as a guide, the artist scales up to full size in clay. The sculpture must be resolved completely at this stage, incorporating all details and capturing the spirit of the commission.

Stage three: Moulding and casting

Moulding in silicone rubber captures every detail of the original sculpture. This mould is then used to duplicate the original into wax, which is subsequently used to cast the bronze in segments. Please see attached bronze casting notes for more detail.

5: Keep control over the process

Approvals should be sought by the artist from the committee/commissioner at each stage  in the development of a new sculpture:

On approval of the maquette and again on approval of the original sculpture, the committee should sign a statement allowing the sculptor to proceed to the next stage of production.

Once the rubber mould making process has commenced to duplicate the original, both the artist and the commissioner are committed to the outcome as seen (and approved) in the clay. No further alterations can be made without major expense (remoulding costs).

The rubber mould is pre-designed to incorporate both the sculptural details and the casting/assembling technique. It will exactly reproduce the bronze sculpture.

The commissioners and the artist should maintain a strong working relationship throughout. Allowing the commissioner access to the artists studios even while the work is in progress is important, conversely the artist should have one person who can be consulted at any stage during the creative process. The exchange of feedback and ideas should inform the sculpting of the original right throughout its development.

6: A Bronze will last 1000 years

I worked for the museum in the object conservation section for several years. I remember working on a small Egyptian bronze. So tiny it fitted in the palm of my hand. 4000 years old and still as perfect as the day it was cast.

Bronze casting for artworks is a highly specialised area of expertise.
The sculptor will usually choose a foundry, however businesses should ensure that the chosen foundry is appropriate to the project. Request the following details:

China and Indonesia; Bronze casting in China is cheaper than in Australia however their quality control for high-end art works is much lower. Copyright is difficult to maintain and illegal copies are often taken from moulds. The Chinese are still using leaded bronzes in most circumstances. Leaded bronze has toxic fumes in it’s molten state and toxic dust when working the metal. We started with these bronzes when we first started casting in 1992, upgrading to silicone bronze around 1995 when it became more available.

Due to the nature of leaded bronzes, drop outs (missing areas of detail) often occur during casting. Leaded bronzes weld inadequately – joins are fragile. The welded patches are different coloured bronze alloy to the leaded bronze casts so the sculpture weathers unevenly

Chinese casts are often too thin, further adding to drop-outs. Their finishing of details, where joins and patches are cut and ground back to match the original surface, is rough. On the occasions that Chinese foundries use silicone bronze alloys, they are often of inferior quality (from impure copper sources) and therefore have pitted surfaces. When you bring into consideration the working conditions of the Chinese workers in the highly toxic and dangerous environment of a foundry, lack of safety equipment, fume extractors or workers compensation for injury, it becomes a moral question as well as a financial one.

Read about the Lost-wax Bronze casting process with a detailed step by step guide;

Independance, Authenticity, Ingenuity