Custom Bronze Sculpture 101

Just like any trade or profession, the world of bronze figurative sculpture is full of terms and concepts that are new to most of our clients. Below are a few words, phrases and concepts that will help to get you up to speed so that you can speak the language.


The word “maquette” (pronounced “mock-ette” in the US), is one of those strange vestiges of the historical past of figurative sculpture. It is simply the French word for “scale model”. Typically on a life-sized or larger bronze commission, a sculptor will create a maquette so that you the client will know exactly what you can expect to see in the larger, finished monument. This maquette shouldn’t be any less than 1/3rd the scale of the final monument. For example, a life size sculpture should have a 24 inch tall maquette. Any sculptor with sufficient training will include the cost of creating the maquette in the cost of your monument. This is both for their protection and yours. It is much easier to act on a suggestion at 1/3rd scale than it is at full size!


An armature is the rigid structure inside a maquette or a full sized sculpture. On a simple standing figure, the armature often looks much like a primitive skeleton. The structure gets more complicated on larger or more complex statues. When a maquette is created the armature is usually flexible aluminum wire, and on a large sculpture the armature should be welded steel to support the weight of the clay.

Life-and-a-half, or life-and-a-quarter

These two phrases simply refer to the scale of the final statue. Typically, for an outdoor monument, the smallest scale that is appropriate is life and a quarter, or 125% of life-size. The reason for this is that it seems we humans have an inflated sense of ourselves! A life sized statue placed under the big blue sky seems small, and that is the last thing you want if you are honoring someone. Even on a small plinth a life-sized statue seems strangely diminutive. Life and a half (or 150%) and larger scales are typically referred to as “heroic scale”. At this scale an adult male would be 9 feet tall. This is the right scale for a centrally located sculpture that is to be the focal point of a park or common area. You would be amazed how much smaller a 12 foot tall statue looks when it is out under the vast sky. A well trained sculptor can easily tell you what scale will achieve the feeling that you desire.

Pointing up

Pointing up is the phrase that refers to the actual process of transferring measurements from the maquette to the full size sculpture. This phrase is most often used in stone carving, as many sculptors today skip the maquette process entirely. We firmly believe that a well thought-out maquette makes for a better monumental sculpture, and always include it in our pricing. Pointing up can be done in many ways. Our preferred method is using a 3-D pantograph.

3-D Pantograph

The best method for pointing up is a 3-D pantograph. This is a manual device that uses geometric principles to transfer points from maquette to full size model. A pantograph is one of those beautifully simple machines that can only have been designed hundreds of years ago. In fact, many of Auguste Rodin’s large scale sculptures were pointed up, or “enlarged” using a similar machine. We operate 2 pantographs in our studio. The largest is capable of enlarging up to a 12 foot tall figure in one piece. To see a short video of one of our pantographs in action, here is a timelapse video of the partial creation of a 16 foot tall monument that we created. Larger sculptures are either pointed up in 2 pieces, or laser scanned… what is laser scanning you ask?

Laser scanning

Laser scanning is a new technology that began to make its way into the fine art bronze industry in the early 1990’s. It is the process of using a laser to take thousands and thousands of measurements of of the surface of a maquette and then create a 3D image in a computer.

That image, or file, can then be enlarged to almost infinite size. Once the final size is decided on, the file is sent to a Computer Numeric Controlled Router, or a CNC machine. It is then cut out of large blocks of urethane foam. The number of sections depends on the size of the monument.

But, remember, just like blowing up an iphone photo, at some point the quality of the large version will start to suffer. The scale of the maquette that is being scanned should still be large enough that the final monument will be a success. It is silly to enlarge a 12 inch sculpture directly to a 12 foot tall sculpture. They are, and have to be, distinctly separate pieces of art. What works at 12 inches rarely works at 12 feet. The other limitation of laser scanning is that it creates the final sculpture from the outside in. The router cuts the foam out to the finished surface, but the cutting bits that the router uses aren’t small enough to exactly replicate the maquette, so there is lots of finishing that needs to be done. Additionally the carved foam is not an aesthetically pleasing surface, so many times a thin layer of clay is sprayed on the foam so that the sculptor can give it that “clay sculpture look” A sculptor must be very careful that this “shortcut” process is used effectively, and does not negatively affect that final monument.


Every bronze figurative monument begins with a master, usually clay. This is the work that the sculptor creates. Once it is finished, in order for the bronze casting process to begin, a multi-piece rubber mold must be made.

This is a very expensive and technically demanding process, and the quality of the mold directly affects the quality of the finished bronze. The mold maker will brush on multiple coats of silicone or polyurethane rubber (the mold maker’s preference determines which). After the rubber is between ¼ and ½ inches thick, a rigid mother mold is made on top of the rubber.

Mother mold

A mother mold is a rigid shell that exactly follows the contours of the rubber mold. The rubber is there to capture the fine detail of the sculpture and to follow curves and contours, but it has no shape. If you drop it on the floor it will lay there like a wet towel. That is why we need a mother mold. A mother mold can be made of any rigid, durable material, and each has their drawbacks and pluses. Some are expensive, some are cheap; some are toxic, some aren’t; some are easy to use, some are very challenging. The preference of the mold maker will hold sway here, there is no difference for the client, provided that the mold maker is skilled with whatever material they have chosen.

Lost wax or Circe perdu

Lost wax is the method of bronze casting most commonly used for figurative sculpture. (Circe perdue is the french phrase) In this method, molten wax is poured into the mold, producing a hollow wax copy of the sculpture. For a life size statue there will be as many as 10 mold sections and a corresponding wax casting for each mold section that comprise the entire figure. After the wax is created, the foundry adds wax channels called gates and sprues that will allow the wax to escape, and then allow for the molten metal to get in. They also add a big funnel for the molten metal to be poured into, called a pouring cup. Next the wax is dipped in a material called ceramic shell. This is a ceramic liquid and a silica sand that, over the course of multiple layers, covers the wax with a thick, fireproof and heatproof shell. After this is completed and entirely dry, it’s time for casting. On the casting day, the ceramic shell pieces are placed in an oven that quickly gets to the liquid temperature of the wax, melting the wax out and leaving behind an empty, hollow form. Next, the glowing hot shells are moved from the oven to a sand pit, placed with pouring cup facing up. Then, when the bronze is molten, it is picked up in a big pot called a crucible, and molten metal is poured into the ceramic shells. These pieces are allowed to cool, then they are sandblasted to remove all of the ceramic shell. After this the sprues and gates are cut off with grinders, and the foundry sets about to welding all of the pieces back together to create a big statue.


Chasing is the process of taking all of the pieces and reassembling them into a finished sculpture. The pieces are welded together, then the welds are sanded down and the foundry workers use hand tools and air tools to texture the weld seams to match the texture of the clay. A good indication of a subpar sculpture is being able to pick out the weld seams. If you can see where the pieces were welded back together, someone didn’t know what they were doing, and they certainly weren’t going to guarantee that statue for 100 years!

Silicone Bronze

Silicone bronze is the family of bronze alloys that are the gold standard for fine art bronze foundries. The properties of silicon bronze make it both an ideal metal to work with when creating bronze sculptures, as well as the most long lasting and durable metal for any public artwork that will live its entire life out under the sun, wind and rain.


The standard first protective layer for an outdoor bronze monument is a synthetic lacquer. There are many different lacquers and most are very similar in effect which is a long-term, durable finish that protects the bronze from the effects of the weather. But… everything is relative, and long-term only really means long-term if you do annual maintenance on your sculpture.

Paste wax

Paste wax is the second protective layer on your bronze statue. This is a hard wax like Johnson’s paste wax (yellow can) or Trewax brand. Wax should be applied at least once every year to protect the lacquer and bronze finish and to rejuvenate the appearance of the monument.

Now you are an expert!

Questions to Ask when Commissioning a Sculpture

The top 10 questions to ask before you spend tens of thousands of dollars on a custom bronze sculpture (and one bonus question!).

Now is not the time to say “I don’t know much about art”. YES YOU DO!!!

If you’re like most of our clients, this is the first, and possibly last, time you will need to commission a one-of-a-kind custom bronze statue. You might say something like “I don’t know much about art”. The truth is that you know almost everything that you need to know to choose the highest quality sculptor your budget will allow.

Use this document as a guide to making the daunting task of creating a monument that will be around for hundreds of years a bit less stressful. First, find a few sculptor’s websites and look closely at the images.  What do you see?  Do the faces look like real people?  Now look closely at a real person’s face who is near you.  It is an incredibly complex form, full of concave and convex volumes, subtle lines that were formed from decades of smiles and frowns. Does your sculptor’s work respect and honor the beauty of the human form? Don’t settle for “kind-of”. You don’t have to! Every human head and body is unique, and if you choose a skilled sculptor, your statue will be as well.

These days a lot of people can create a bronze sculpture that vaguely resembles a human being, but it takes a highly trained artist to develop a composition that will end up being a timeless piece of art.  Forever is too long to purchase anything less than the best your art budget will allow.

1. Will your sculptor give you the contact info of their last 3 clients?

Many of these 10 questions will speak to the skill and the artistry of the sculptor. This one, though,  is mostly about good business practices, i.e. meeting deadlines and clear communication.

Typically when you are creating a large public monument, there will be an unveiling event.  Events mean hard deadlines with no room for error. Does your sculptor have a history of setting realistic timelines and then meeting them without excuses? Does your sculptor communicate consistently and effectively? A large sculpture can take from 7 months to more than a year to complete depending on the size. Your sculptor should keep you in the loop the entire course of the project. The past clients will key you into how well a sculptor handles the project management aspect of public art pieces. Testimonials are great, but you deserve to work with a sculptor who leaves all of their clients thrilled about the relationship and resulting artwork, not just the few who give a quote for their website.

2. Can you personally visit the studio of your chosen sculptor?

If you are within a 3 hour drive of you sculptor’s studio, this is a no brainer.  Being inside the studio of the creator that will bring your sculpture to life will give you priceless information about the quality of the sculpture you will receive. If you are a plane ride away, it might seem extravagant. However, you are probably planning on spending tens of thousands of dollars for a bronze statue that your Great-Great-Great-Great Grandchildren will be able to see.  A plane ticket is cheap insurance to make sure you are getting the quality you deserve.

3. Will your artwork include a figure in motion?

Capturing motion that is full of life in a bronze sculpture is a very tricky endeavor. The difference between a stiff and lifeless bronze figure and dynamic, inspiring artwork is obvious when you see them side by side.  Either a sculptor is capable of translating bronze into life, or they aren’t. Those that aren’t capable will still be happy to sell you a bronze figure, but it won’t be a piece of art your community can cherish for hundreds of years. Your community is spending tens of thousands of dollars either way – make sure you see sculptures that your artist has created that feel full of life.

4. Does your sculpture include a likeness of a specific person?

If so, it is imperative that you look closely at the artist’s skill at capturing the spirit of the person that you are memorializing.  A likeness does not just simply copy a photograph, or put the eyes the correct distance apart. A skilled sculptor will view dozens and dozens of photos, trying to tease out the personality of the person.  They will conduct personal interviews of those close to the subject. Typically a portrait artist will blend many aspects of different photos to arrive at a likeness that, for whatever reason, makes the people who know say “ That’s him!” or “Oh my, she’s standing right there”. Quite often, when a close relative views a portrait crafted by a highly skilled portraitist, the result is spontaneous tears.  Don’t settle for less. The bronze statue will be here long after we are all gone.

5. Does your sculptor work closely with an experienced Fine Art Foundry?

The craft of figurative sculpture and the craft of bronze casting each require enormous dedication and intense practice to achieve mastery. They are very different disciplines and require very different skill sets.  Rarely are the best sculptors also the best founders, and vise-versa.  True, having a small in-house foundry can give the illusion of a lower cost, but someone still has to pay the welder!  Experienced fine art foundries  often handle all of the casting of dozens or more full time sculptors.  There is quite a bit more baked-in learning  and mastery when you are casting metal Every. Single. Day.  To create the best monument, sculptors should sculpt and foundries should cast.

6. Will your sculptor educate you on the regular maintenance of bronze sculpture and develop a specific maintenance schedule for your work of art?

Maintenance for an outdoor bronze sculpture is fairly simple as long as it’s maintained on a regular basis and that the nuances of your statue have been thought out and explained by the artist that create the piece. (Here is a link to our maintenance recommendations.){Link to our A QUICK AND EASY GUIDE TO CARING FOR OUTDOOR BRONZE SCULPTURES article}

7. Does your sculptor’s foundry use the highest quality silicon bronze for casting?

Our foundry uses #873 Everdur Bronze ingots. This silicon bronze alloy is 95% copper, 4% Silicon, and 1% Manganese.  The high copper content, as well as the specific properties of the silicon and manganese in combination, make it the gold standard for bronze casting today.  It is a great alloy for the foundry to work with, which means better quality castings, and it stands up incredibly well to the elements, which means it will be around, and pleasing to look at for centuries. It is far, far, far, superior to the multitude of cheap bronze alloys that have a lower copper content. Often, especially overseas, metals that are much cheaper than copper are substituted to save money. This is an incredibly short sighted choice, and a sign that you won’t be happy days, months, or years down the road.

8. Does your sculptor’s contract limit the number of suggestions or revisions that you as a client may request?

When a sculptor is offering you a rock bottom price, he is likely assuming that you will be perfectly happy with everything on the first viewing of the finished clay.  But what if you, the customer paying for a timeless work of art, see something that needs addressing, or something about the sculpture that just doesn’t work for you?  Many sculptors will contractually limit the number of “revisions” a client can request.  You are investing in a timeless piece of fine art, and generations to come will judge the success or failure of the project. You deserve the respect and peace of mind that comes with a sculptor who doesn’t consider the sculpture complete until you are satisfied.

9. Do you like him or her?

I know that this seems like a somewhat silly question.  The relationship between a client and a sculptor must be better than cordial.  After all, you as a client are asking this person to use their skill to capture something very special to you and near to your heart.  This isn’t just a purchase order,  this is a timeless piece of fine art. It is nearly impossible to capture the vision of someone who you don’t share at least a passing friendship with.  There is just too much empathy involved in successfully seeing a client’s vision and then bringing it into the world for the project to be just a transaction. Additionally, the stereotype of artists who take themselves too seriously or assume their vision is most important is all too often true. A truly gifted sculptor will see your project as a collaboration.  A good sculptor should listen to you and your committee’s ideas and concerns, and act on those that are appropriate and improve the concept, and push back a bit when his or her expertise says otherwise.  After all, you hired the sculptor for their skills, and they agreed to help bring your vision to life.  Harry Truman said, “It is amazing what you can get accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.” A good sculptor should make you look good.

10. Did you ask about Timelines, Deadlines and Testimonials?

This last question isn’t for your sculptor, it is for your sculptor’s past clients.  CALL THEM! The insight they can give you will be worth its weight in gold if it helps direct you to the right sculptor. Bronze statues, if done correctly, take a long time.  It isn’t unusual for a monumental bronze to take over a year to complete, and every next step depends on the one before.  One missed deadline at the beginning of a project can have cascading effects down the line. So the question is, does your sculptor set clear, realistic deadlines and then meet them?  It always amazes me how common it is for people to promise one thing and then deliver something far different.

Setting realistic project milestones and communicating to the client the steps that will require their approval before continuing (like approving a maquette, etc) is perhaps the most important non-sculptural part of a successful statue project. Spending 30 minutes on the phone with three of the sculptor’s past clients is time incredibly well spent.  A statue can only be a timeless work of art if it gets completed! And no one likes the sour taste of a rescheduled unveiling day.

11. Will your sculptor assist with installation, technical drawings, and making sure it doesn’t fall over?

What a travesty to spend hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars on a bronze monument and then just plop it on the ground with hardly any consideration for the site. There are two major issues here to consider.  First, aesthetics.  There is an enormous difference between a statue bolted down to a sidewalk and a statue that was designed to fit in a space that was designed to accept it.  The difference is, quite often, just intention and a deliberate discussion about the site.  Sometimes it involves extra costs to prepare the site or the addition of a pedestal element, sometimes it just requires a trained sculptor to ask a few good questions.

The second consideration has considerably higher stakes.  It is insufficient to simply drill holes in a sidewalk, squeeze in some epoxy and set the statue down.  Sure, if the sidewalk was poured correctly, it might work, but in reality there needs to be a footer that has been designed and stamped by a certified engineer.  We always provide detailed installation instructions for site prep and statue installation, and I am personally present for all installations.  I want to make sure that our clients are happy and that the statue is installed the way it was intended.

Hopefully this has helped you wrap your brain around the process of creating a unique, one-of-a-kind work of art.  It is pretty common for this to be a new experience for our customers. The important thing is to take your time and do some quality research.  After all, it’s not rocket science… but it is fine art!

If there is anything we can do to help, please let us know.  We are happy to talk about your project, and we want you to find the right sculptor for your, so don’t expect any sales pressure from us. As you may have noticed, we love talking sculpture!

A Quick and Easy Guide to Caring for Outdoor Bronze Sculptures

It’s rough out there. One of the biggest issues when placing anything outside for a long period of time is how it will respond to the elements. This is, of course, doubly important when the thing you are putting outside is a valuable, one-of-a-kind work of art. If you walk around any large city in the United States for long enough you will come across a piece of public art that looks a bit worse for the wear. The unfortunate reality is, like many things in life, regular maintenance is cheap and easy, but if you neglect it, the resulting damage is expensive and difficult to repair. The following is an easy to follow program for that applies specifically to outdoor bronze statues created by E. S. Schubert Sculpture Studios. The information and steps included should also apply to most other bronze statues, however (and I have bolded this for a reason!) the application of paste waxes WILL change the character of the patina. If you are at all uncertain about what you are dealing with, first try to reach out to the sculptor who created your sculpture. If you can’t get ahold of your sculpture’s creator, send us an email and we will help you out.

For the long term protection of our one-of-a-kind outdoor bronze statues we recommend a twice-annual application of paste wax. Applying paste wax has three major benefits. First, the wax restores the luster of the patina, making the sculpture look as good as the day it was installed. Second, the paste wax is an incredibly durable protectant against the elements. And third, it is very easy to apply paste wax and anyone with a passing knowledge of how to use a paint brush and a cotton rag can be taught how in about 5 minutes. At the bottom of this article, you will find a list of all of the supplies (other than water!) needed to completely clean your bronze statue.

Some Background

The color that you probably think of when you think “bronze” isn’t really the actual color of the metal. Just after the metal has been cast, and all of the shell and scale has been sandblasted clean, the pieces of bronze are very similar to the shiny yellow-gold color of brass. What you know of as “bronze” is actually an intentional chemical reaction called a patina. The patina functions as both a protective coating for the bare metal beneath and a way to beautify and enrich the sculpture.

After the patina has been applied, the sculpture is rinsed and the patina chemicals are neutralized. Once the statue is completely dry, an acrylic lacquer is sprayed onto the surface of the bronze. The lacquer is a very durable, UV stabilized coating. Finally, on top of this layer is applied a coat of paste wax. The paste wax adds an additional layer of protection, deepens the richness of the patina, and creates the nice satin luster of a quality bronze sculpture. It is this layer of paste wax that will be the first to succumb to the elements, but that is ok, because it is very easy to replace. If you keep replacing it, the lacquer coating will always stay in perfect condition.

Here’s How

Every six months or so, usually in the early fall and then again in the mid to late spring, a coat of wax should be applied. You should choose a warm day, but not a very hot day. In the morning, as the sun has warmed the surface of the statue, rinse the statue from top to bottom, not attempting to blast off any dirt, but just a gentle flow of water across the surface of the bronze. This is probably a good time to mention don’t ever use a pressure washer! It is entirely unnecessary and could possibly damage the patina. In many cases just a gentle rinsing will be enough to clean the surface of the statue. However, if there is visible accumulation of dust, dirt, bird poop, etc, a neutral or non-ionic detergent (examples below) will be needed, along with a soft, plastic bristled scrub brush. (Examples below) . After the sculpture has been pre-rinsed, mix the detergent as recommended in a large bucket. Then, using a brush with soft plastic bristles, dip the brush into the detergent and go to it from top to bottom with a gentle scrubbing action. Larger areas of the sculpture will go very quickly, with one or two scrubs being enough to loosen the dirt on the surface. If there are narrow crevices, a toothbrush is a good choice. After the entire sculpture has been washed from top to bottom, give it a good rinsing, and make sure all of the detergent has been washed off. As you do this, if you see any areas that are allowing water to pool, blow or wipe the water out, as they will take longer to dry. If you like, you can gently towel dry the sculpture to speed up the process.

Now… wait. It should take an hour or two for the water to dry and for the sun to warm the surface of the bronze again. Make sure that the sculpture is very dry and warm to the touch again. Water trapped under a layer of wax can cause fogging and other weird things. Better to just wait a bit more. Once this has happened, you are ready to wax.

All of our sculptures are patina-ed with a traditional dark brown patina. It is our opinion that this traditional finish is the highest quality, most durable, and does the best at honoring the tradition of public bronze figurative sculpture. Because of this, our recommended paste wax is Johnson’s Paste Wax. Johnson’s Paste Wax typically helps to enrich and slightly darken the patina. This is exactly what we want for our bronze. The regular application of this wax helps to retain the depth of the patina. If you have a bronze that was not created by our studio, you may not want to use Johnson’s Paste Wax. You may want to use Trewax brand on a cool day, as this process typically does not darken patinas as much as Johnson’s.. HOWEVER, you should check with the sculptor who created it to be sure. (If for some reason you can’t get ahold of the original sculptor, snap a picture of it and send us an email. We will be happy to help talk you through the right solution.)

Now that the sculpture is clean, dry and warm to the touch, it is time to start waxing. First you will need a new, clean two inch wide chip brush. A chip brush is a cheap, natural bristle brush that is perfect for this use. Before you dip the brush in the wax, take some masking tape and wrap it around the metal ferulle that attaches the bristles to the handle. The reason for this is that the metal can easily scratch the bronze when you are pushing the wax into the deep crevices of the sculpture, and the masking tape stops this from happening. Make sure the masking tape extends ⅙-⅛ of an inch past the bottom of the ferrule to cover the bottom edge of the metal as well. Now it is time to wax the sculpture!

Beginning at the top, load the brush with wax by brushing across the top of the wax in the can. Make sure you don’t have big clumps on the brush, as we want to put as even a coat as possible on the statue. Now just gently brush the wax on to the statue. Depending on the texture of the bronze, you may have to experiment with different techniques to find the best way to apply the wax, for example, on deeply textured areas, sometimes a stippling of the brush works better than brushing. Work your way from top to bottom, always working off of the last edge. Basically what that means is that you don’t want to do a section here, and a section there. Start in one spot and move around the sculpture and down to the bottom.

After the entire sculpture has been waxed, let the wax dry and harden. Once the wax has completely dried it is time to buff out the bronze. Using a clean, dry cotton towel, rub the surface of the bronze in a circular motion just as if you were waxing a car. Wax on, wax off! You will get the hang of this pretty quickly, as the surface will go from a dull haze to a beautiful satin shine. When you do this you are both making the sculpture more beautiful, and protecting it. Buffing compresses the wax making a stronger barrier against the elements.

Now, You’re Done! Unless…

If you would like to you may put another coat of wax on and buff it out again. This will provide more protection than just one coat. Three coats is overkill, but two is fine. However, to put it in perspective, if you consistently put one coat of paste wax on every 6 months, you are doing better than 99% of bronze statue owners. So be proud of your contribution to the culture of our Great Great Great Grandchildren.

I hope this has been helpful. Oddly enough, I think that writing it down makes it seem more complicated than it actually is, so don’t fret! If you have any questions, or if anything is unclear, send us an email or give us a call. We are happy to help you preserve your bronze monument so that it stands for the next 500 years!

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