An armature is support for clay or any other material that you are using to make a sculpture. This technique is essential if you are creating a large and weighty sculpture. It is also an important technique if your sculpture has thin extensions, like arms, that need to be supported. Whether you are working in clay or plaster, or other mediums, armature support is one of the most basic and essential skills in learning sculpture. This article will outline the making of an armature for many different mediums and sizes of sculpture
Types of armatures
There are many ways to build an armature. One of the most basic armatures is simply a wooden pole or steel rod. By attaching a wooden rod onto a base of steel or wood, you create a support for the addition of clay or plaster. Take a piece of wood and drill a hole to a depth of about a quarter of an inch. Place the steel or wooden rod into the hole and glue it with epoxy of wood glue. This is the basis of an armature, albeit a very simple one. An even easier armature to create, and which I use in teaching young children the basics of sculpture, is an empty milk bottle or soda bottle. This, in itself, forms a support for a clay head or other sculptural object. There are many variations to these simple armatures, but more complex sculpture demands more complex armatures.
If you plan your sculpture to have extensions, for example arms and legs, a more complex process is needed. One of the best methods for small sculptures would be to use steel wire. Choose steel wire that is flexible enough to bend without a vice. Once again, glue the end of the wire, or nail it, to a piece of wood. Alternatively, if you have welding equipment, you can weld the wire to a steel base. The wire can then be shaped into the general position and stance of your envisaged sculpture.
An important point to remember when developing your armature is that it is like a skeleton for whatever object you intend to sculpt. It does not need to be exact, and the armature only needs to conform to a very basic shape relating to your final sculpture. Another important aspect that many beginners forget is that the armature must be considerably smaller than the final sculpture. Very often I find that students build armatures much to large. The clay or other material still has to be placed over the sculpture. This must be taken into account so that you do not find that your final sculpture is much larger than intended.
Joining metal and wood is the next step in making an armature. Wood can be glued or joined with nails or clamps to create your armature. It is very important that the armature is built to be strong and rigid. There is nothing worse than spending time making a complex armature, only to have it collapse when applying the clay or plaster. Clay and, especially, plaster can be very heavy even when creating a small sculpture.
For this reason, the best way to build your armature is by using a welding plant. These are relatively inexpensive items, but they do need a certain amount of training in order to be used correctly. A warning: do not use a welder or welding torch unless you have received training in its usage. You should also ensure that you have goggles or a welding helmet. Welding without the correct training and equipment can result in blindness and tragic accidents!!
Welding is however the best method for making armatures. Essentially, welding is simply the process of e using high electric voltages to melt and join steel and metals. It is a relatively simple process to create an armature when you can cut and weld section of steel together. Welded armatures, if correctly done, are durable and sold and should be able to support any material you like to work with.
A note on the sculpting mediums
Clay is the most common sculpting medium. Once you have constructed your armature you can begin applying clay and build up your sculpture. A useful way of building up your sculpture over an armature is to cut or roll the clay into strips about four inches wide, depending on the size of your sculpture. Apply these strips firmly to your armature and build up the object in rough before working on it.
Plaster is also a medium used to build sculpture over an armature. The method is slightly different here. As you might develop your sculpture over a long period of time, it is a good idea to prepare your armature so that will not rust. This also applies to clay sculptures that take a long time (more than a week to two) to develop. This preparation can be achieved by painting the armature with a thin coating of shellac or any commercial anti-rusting liquid. This is important as the plaster, or clay, can become discolored by rust and, more significantly, the chemicals in the rusting process may affect the casting of the sculpture.
Tips on armature building.
There are a number of handy things to know when building an armature for a large sculpture. Firstly, after the basic armature has been built, take some fine mesh wire and cover the armature tightly, making sure that the wire is firmly connected with the armature. The wire surface over the armature has a number of important functions. The first is that it provides an excellent grip for the plaster or clay that you are going to use.
Plaster will seep into the gaps in the wire and provide a solid grip that will strengthen the armature and the sculpture. Secondly, when working with medium to large sculptures, you may be surprised at the amount of raw material (clay or plaster) that is needed to build up the basic sculpture. Using a wire-mesh frame reduces the amount of material needed,
There are many practical variations to this technique of adding to the armature. One that I have found very useful is to place a cloth soaked in plaster over the wire mesh. This strengthens the armature and also proves a firm basis on which to develop your clay or plaster sculpture.There are many