Friday, February 20, 2015

Sculpting A Female Figure Sculpture in Clay post 1- Figure Armature

New sculpture piece in the works!
This will be a female figure sculpture in a standing pose, sculpted from a live nude model and using an internal armature with water based clay. I will be documenting the progress of the piece as it progress here on my blog.

What's an Armature??

Arma-whaaa? Well, armature is a fancy word to describe the setup used to support the clay while you are sculpting. In this case, its a basically a wire stick person, attached to an L-shaped metal pipe to support the weight of the clay.

This style allows me great flexibility- I can bend the metal to adjust the position of the figure at any point during the sculpting process. However, it also means that I will need to make a rubber mold of this figure to create a finished product (you cannot preserve the clay with the wire inside it). More on that later!

You can buy pre-made armatures at sculpture supply stores (online) but I find making your own is often more cost-effective and with greater options/quality control. Most of the materials can be found at your hardware/construction stores, with the exception of armature wire.

This is an example of a 24' figure armature with an L-shaped support from plumbing supplies.

Materials List: 

-plywood base (sized to fit your piece, this one is 16" square)
-wood runners under plywood base (creates room for you to grasp the board to carry it)
-plumbing supplies: floor flange, nipple (long pipe) elbow joint and t connector
- 1/4" aluminum armature wire (I like Tiranti from London as a supplier)
- small gauge aluminium wire to wrap (for the clay to grab onto)
- screws (to secure flange to board)
- figure template (not pictured)

(Note: It is important that the template you use to bend your wire figure is in correct proportion. I use a template that follows the Richer canon of human proportion.)


For this piece, I had already done some studies during the previous month. Sometimes I come up with the pose through working with the individual model, but this time I had a visual of what I was looking for. Usually the ideas begin with some very rough sketches.

I then spent one 2 hour session working with my model to create a small maquette (small scale quick-study sculpture) with the model of the pose I had in mind, using a mini-armature just like the one above. This maquette allows me to study the pose and decide if I will commit to it. It also can inform what will be needed when creating the final armature.

You will notice here that I am playing with adding some abstract elements to the figure, which still need to be explored and resolved. This will develop on the final piece.

Keep Reading: Sculpting A Female Figure Sculpture in Clay post 2: Setting the Pose

Want to learn how to sculpt? Check out Melanie's upcoming sculpting classes in Victoria BC here