Monday, June 13, 2016

Kerrie's Tip: All About Armatures

Creative Paperclay is one of my favorite mediums for modelling figurative free-standing sculpture. Like many artists, I almost always use an armature to give my figures support. I've experimented with many different types of armatures during my clay journey, so I've put together this guide to lend some tips to getting started with armatures for figurative sculpting.

Armature Wire

When selecting a type of armature wire, it's important to consider the properties of the wire and type of sculpting material you're using. Creative Paperclay is an air dry waterbase clay. (While I am familiar with various processes used to accelerate the drying time of Paperclay, I am a staunch believer in allowing the clay to dry naturally when using any type of armature. Safety first!)

Aluminum wire: My preferred choice for Paperclay sculptures. It's easy to bend and does not rust, making it an ideal choice for wet clay. 

Galvanized steel and craft wire: Readily available. While they are prone to rusting, they can still make usable armatures for waterbase clays if they're coated with a protective skin to prevent direct contact with the clay.

Copper tubing, bamboo skewers, toothpicks, and chenille stems (pipe cleaners): While not "wire", I've had a lot of success with these things as armatures. 

Bulking Up

With the armature wire "skeleton" built, I next focus my attention to the type of material I want to use to bulk up my sculpture.

Creative Paperclay:  Yes, you can build a solid sculpture using nothing more than Paperclay. To prevent cracking in a solid sculpture, you'll want to build your sculpture up in thin layers (no more than 1/4 - 1/2" thick), allowing each layer to dry completely before moving on to the next layer. Another way to use Paperclay to bulk up a sculpture is to create strips of Paperclay and allow them to dry completely. Once dry, use the strips as supports within your sculpture.

Air: A hollow sculpture is very lightweight, uses very little material, and can be used as a container (think piggy bank!) This method is probably unsuitable for anything large or complex.

Newspaper: Lightweight, readily available, and inexpensive, newspaper is a great bulking up material for Paperclay sculptures. But because it deteriorates when wet, you'll want to coat it with a protective skin to prevent direct contact with the clay.

Plastic bags: Like newspaper, plastic bags are lightweight, readily available and inexpensive. But unlike newspaper, it won't deteriorate when wet.

Aluminum foil: My preferred choice for Paperclay sculptures. Foil can be easily compressed and shaped, it is non-corrosive, and Paperclay sticks beautifully to all the little grooves and wrinkles.

Foam (styrofoam, spray foam, upholstery foam): Another lightweight material, foam is very easy to shape as an armature. Paperclay can be tricky to add to different foams, so I usually add a layer of aluminum foil to the foam before adding Paperclay.

Old plastic: Plastic containers, water bottles, plastic cutlery, plastic hangers, medicine bottles... etc. I make it a priority to try to reuse as much recyclable plastic as possible in my sculptures. It's a great way to bulk up my pieces for free while making me feel good about helping to protect our environment.

Protective Skin

The protective skin I keep mentioning is the layer between any material that deteriorates with water and the Paperclay itself. My favorite skins include: aluminum foil, aluminum tape, masking tape, and floral tape. Chenille stems (pipe cleaners) are fun to use sometimes because the wire is already coated, and the chenille already bulks up the wire a bit. Chenille stems are great armatures for chubby fingers.

What is your favorite armature material? Do you use something I didn't mention here? Let me know in the comments!


About Kerrie
I am a mixed media sculptor working primary in clay. Though clay is my passion, at the core, I'm simply a maker, a builder, a creator. Making things makes me happy.

I make videos about making things and post them on my channel KerrieLee:DreamUp on YouTube and on my website