The Sculpture Process

The Shona Sculpture Gallery has worked closely with sculptors in Zimbabwe for many years, and we are experts in the techniques and materials used in Shona sculpture.

Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture – basic sculpture process

The process of creating a sculpture from hard serpentine stone requires not only technical skill but also the artistic talent to create genuine and original art. The sculptors are inspired by the form, colour and texture of the raw¬†stone, and say that they wait patiently for it to speak to them…

sketching with charcoal onto raw stone
When inspiration strikes, the artist will sketch out the rough shape with charcoal…
shaping the raw stone with a punch
…and then use a punch to strip away the extraneous rock and reveal the sculpture within…
smoothing the surface with a chasing hammer
A chasing hammer with a row of little teeth removes more of the rough texture
grinding the surface smooth
Smooth surfaces are created using a grinder (when there’s power)…
chiselling the sculpture smooth
…or a file when there isn’t! A chisel is the tool for the job for any bits that the grinder can’t access.
a rasp works into a tight corner
Fine details are worked with smaller files, punch hammers and other specialised tools
washing the sculpture with sandpaper
Once the shaping is complete, the sculpture is washed smooth with wet and dry sandpaper, going from coarse grades through to very fine. This arduous process is often delegated!
applying wax with a blowtorch
Polishing is the final touch: first the stone is heated using a paraffin blowtorch or an open fire, then layers of clear wax are applied
shining the wax polish
When the stone has cooled, but is not yet cold, the artist buffs up the waxed area with a soft cloth to create the shine and give depth of colour

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Related links:

Shona sculpture movement – Zimbabwe’s art history

Types of stone commonly used by the best Zimbabwean artists

Common themes in Zimbabwean sculpture

Shona spirit beliefs and how they inspire Zimbabwean sculpture

Life as a sculptor – comments and insight from Zimbabwean artists

Care and repair – helpful guidance on looking after your sculpture