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Building Armatures for Polymer Clay Sculpture

armatures

Build the Skeleton Structure of your Sculptures

Armatures are vital to strong sculptures. Learn about different methods for building strong armatures. A strong armature can hold polymer clay in virtually any complicated or precarious position, even look like it's floating in air.

The Importance of Armatures

The Armature is the Skeleton of your Sculpture

A weak or insufficient armature can ruin an otherwise beautiful sculpture. Take your time and get the foundation of your sculpture right so it will last for years.

armatures

Basic Armature Making Tools

1: Wire cutters

2: Needle nose pliers

3: Dremel tool or drill

4: Hammer

5: First Aid Kit (I'm serious, wire is sharp you will cut yourself)

armatures

Armature Materials

This is a rundown of common material used to make armatures for polymer clay sculptures.

1: Aluminum armature wire

2: Floral wire

3: Fabric covered floral wire

4: Aluminum foil

5: Floral or Masking Tape

6: Sculpey Ultra-Light

7: Brass or steel rods

8: Apoxie Sculpt or other two-part sculpting epoxy

9: Super glue and/or 2-part epoxy glue

10: Wooden bases (craft plaques work well or you could cut your own from lumber)

Armature Supplies

Shop Safety

Safety First

Practice proper safety precautions when working with armature materials. Most importantly remember to wear safety glasses, especially when cutting wire or using power tools.

  • OSH Answers: Pliers and Wire Cutters
    What are some safety tips to know when using pliers and wire cutters?
  • Assembling a First Aid Kit
    You should make sure that you and your family are prepared to treat common symptoms, injuries, and emergencies. By planning ahead, you can create a well-stocked home first aid kit. Keep all of your supplies in one location so you know exactly where t
  • Dremel Tool Safety
    The Dremel is a multi-purpose tool that can be used for sanding, grinding, carving, engraving, cleaning, polishing, or cutting on a small scale. This tool is similar to the Die Grinder, but the Dremel is meant for more detailed or precise work

Armature Stands

Build extra supports for your sculptures.

Armature stands are used to give an extra support for a sculpture while you are working on it. They are relatively easy to build and there are many different designs depending on what your needs are.

Since the burning point of wood is much higher than the curing temperature of polymer clay you can put a sculpture in the oven while still mounted on the armature stand.

Typical materials and tools needed are:

1: Wooden plaque or cut piece of lumber.

2: Dowels or threaded steel rods

3: Dremel tool or drill

4: Various bits of hardware, wing nuts, bolts, screws, etc.

YouTube

Noadi's Armature Jig

I built this wire bending jig for making armatures a while back. It's made from a 8"x24" (20x61cm) piece of pine and lots of 1/8" (3.18mm) screws.

To make it I traced the male and female figure onto the board with a black marker in 1/6, 1/8, and 1/12 scale (these are the scales I use most often). Then I drew in the shape of the armatures adding screws to all the major joints where I wanted bends in the wire.

With this jig I can very quickly make consistently sized armatures.

To Make Your Own

Supplies

8"x18" Board (this is an approximate measurement, it can be a little smaller or bigger)

Drill with 1/8" bit

1/8" screws

Screwdriver

Permanent marker

Armature diagrams printed at 1/6, 1/8, and 1/12 scale

Sandpaper (optional)

Clear varnish (optional)

Instructions

1: Sand and varnish the board if desired. It will help keep the marker from bleeding into the wood and the jig will last longer.

2: Trace the armature diagrams onto the board.

3: Drill holes at all the major joints where the diagram shows the wire bending.

4: Insert screw into all the holes.

5: Make armatures!

Wire Armatures

Wire armatures are the simplest type of armature for a figure sculpture. Aluminum wire is twisted into the basic shape of a human, animal, or creature skeleton and attached to either an armature stand or a wooden base.

Make your Sculptures Fly

Or dance, do gymnastics, etc.

This technique for making a sculpture appear to be balanced or floating is a variation on the wire armatures. I've used it several times now, for my big sculpture "Odin's Runesong", for my in progress "Selkie Emerging" and "Fire Dancer" sculptures.

Article on Creating a Balancing Armature.

Why Bulk Up an Armature?

Bulking up armatures with aluminum foil or other materials helps reduce the amount of clay needed. It also helps reduce the chance of not curing thick clay all the way through.

armatures

Bulking Up a Wire Armature with Foil

Polymer clay more than 1/2 thick is difficult to cure properly, either the outside get over-baked and darkens or the inside doesn't cure completely and the sculpt can break down over time from the effects of still liquid polymer inside. For this reason and to reduce the amount of clay needed most polymer clay sculptors bulk up their armatures in the torso and head areas.

The simplest way to do this is just to wrap crumpled aluminum foil around the armature and secure it with tape, glue, or floral wire.

Lightweight Alternative to Aluminum Foil

If you need your sculpture to be extra light try using Sculpey Ultralight clay. It's a polymer clay that is so lightweight when cured that it can float in water.

  • Sculpture
    People have asked me how to make a clay sculpture, and it's something I really have to show you how to do in person. But, barring that, here's a photographic tutorial. Hopefully it'll have enough information to let you make your own sculptures.
  • Smellybugs Maquette Tutorial completed! - ConceptArt.org Forums
    Smellybugs Maquette Tutorial completed! 3D & SCULPTURE

Sound Off About Armatures

armatures

Foil Cores

Foil cores are tightly compressed balls of aluminum foil used as an armature. This techniques works best for sculptures with round or egg shaped bodies such as heads and animals like rabbits, mice, or my favorite: cuttlefish!

Making foil cores is fairly simple. Crumple aluminum foil up into the general shape you want then pack it in as tightly as possible, I use a hammer to get it really tight. To help the clay adhere better either wrap the core in floral or masking tape or cover it in PVA glue (that's white glue like elmer's or tacky glue) and allow it to dry before adding clay.

  • The Troll Polyzine May 2001
    Sculpting a troll face is not that difficult, mainly because the proportions don't have to be as accurate as when sculpting a human being. You can make funny faces and big noses, and they still look like that's what they were meant to be. The lesson
  • Elvenwork Tips and Techniques
    Over the years, Katherine has accumulated a wide array of techniques, some from constant experimentation with the medium, and some from interaction with the community of polymer clay artists. She devotes much of her time developing hands on classes f

Other Techniques

Other materials can also be used in armatures.

Epoxy: 2-Part sculpting epoxies such as Apoxie Sculpt and MagicSculpt set rock hard and can make for extremely sturdy armatures when used for bulking and securing wires together. The downside to epoxies are that they set quite quickly so you have a limited working time and is much heavier than alternatives such as foil, paperclay, or sculpey ultralight.

Paperclay: Used much the same as foil for bulking up an armature. Make sure to allow the paperclay to dry fully and apply PVA glue to it before adding polymer clay.

Sculpey Ultralight: A very lightweight porous polymer clay, sculpey ultralight makes for strong lightweight armatures when used for bulking or as a core. You must bake the ultralight armature before adding normal polymer clay.

Wire Mesh: Used as a support for thin structures such as fabric or fins. Wire Mesh is very flexible and easily shaped.

Removable Armature: Sometimes you want a hollow structure and a removable armature is the best way to achieve this. Good removable armatures are disolvable clays like cold porcelain or cornstarch based packing peanuts.

Sculpting Books

Leave a Note - Go ahead and and leave any comment or questions you have. If you like this lens please rate it up at the top of the page!

Corinne S Souza on October 10, 2018:

Thank you for sharing your tips.

GreenfireWiseWo on August 24, 2013:

Great ideas and information. Thank you.

MasterbuildRoof on June 15, 2013:

Wow, this is a mega hub! top marks for your research and writing skills about armatures. Thanks for the advice

centralplexus on March 06, 2013:

Very helpful tutorial, and well written! Thanks for all the valuable info you shared with us!

Tumblestar LM on November 30, 2012:

Thanks for the tips :D They've really helped with my sculptures. I enjoy reading your lenses on polymer clay.

Judith Nazarewicz from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on November 18, 2012:

Awesome lens with great ideas! Thanks :-)

anonymous on August 21, 2012:

Great lens! It gave me a few new ideas to try. Thanks.

imlifestyle on March 24, 2012:

Great job on this lens, very detailed... Thanks...

Rob Hemphill from Ireland on March 17, 2012:

Lovely work, you are indeed a talented lady.

Miha Gasper from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU on January 01, 2012:

Wow! I admire your work. Thumbs up!

kathysart on December 25, 2011:

Thanks for some great info! THUMB UP ANGEL BLESSED

earthybirthymum from Ontario, Canada on December 15, 2011:

Great Lense, amazing work!

seosmm on November 27, 2011:

Great ideas. Very detailed. Nice lens!

flycatcherrr on November 19, 2011:

That armature jig is very cool. I bet it's a real time-saver!

anonymous on October 20, 2011:

you find such cool articles on squidoo, 'thumbs up' for your creativity indeed.

mistyblue75605 lm on October 10, 2011:

Like all the info offered thanks....maybe I can do this!

GoldenClone on September 20, 2011:

Good like

RocklawnArts on August 22, 2011:

Very cool lens! Makes me want to build something. :)

Laniann on June 09, 2011:

I like your Armature Jig very much. Blessed by a Squid Anglel.

vermontmom on June 04, 2011:

Very cool. I can't believe what some can do with simple materials. Amazing!

Philippians468 on April 12, 2011:

love this art form! particularly enjoy sculpting! cheers

Kitty Levee on February 17, 2011:

Very cool art!

John Norman Stewart from Cottonwood, CA on December 15, 2010:

This is a very useful lens. I will be back.....

anonymous on December 08, 2010:

Thank you, I'm just starting to sculpt. This is perfect, thanks

Addy Bell on November 30, 2010:

I'm working on a sculpture project with a student (though we're using oven-bake clay, not polymer clay) and I realized I have no idea what I'm doing. This was very helpful.

irenemaria from Sweden on October 17, 2010:

I love all kinds of creating. Thanks for this. lens. In Swedish we say armatur about lamps.

anonymous on November 23, 2009:

Wonderful lens to visit. I picked up some very good ideas for a project.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge and talents.

Blessed by a Squid Angel today!

Best wishes,

Susie

anonymous on June 07, 2009:

Excellent Lens. 5*

Jimmie Quick from Memphis, TN, USA on May 16, 2009:

You're officially blessed!

CaseyStudio on May 03, 2009:

Very informative lens. Great!

micstudio on October 21, 2008:

Wow! I just started sculpting about a year ago and this information will definitely help me. Thank you so much for the hours I won't waste doing this wrong!

youhavegottobekidding on June 30, 2008:

A very Great and informative Lens. Can't waiot to try it tonight.

thank you Author.

beeobrien lm on June 28, 2008:

Wow, this is amazing. I think you must have made the definitive armature-making lens.

gods_grace_notes on June 24, 2008:

Love it... you're an engineer at heart!

Terrific lens,

Connie

: )

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