Introduction: Aluminum Foil and Foil Tape Sculpture Techniques

About: I'm a refugee from Los Angeles, living in backwoods Puerto Rico for about 35 years now and loving it. I built my own home from discarded nylon fishnet and cement.

This aluminum foil and foil tape sculpture technique is one I haven't come across before. I wish I had learned this back in high school. Aluminum foil can be wadded up and shaped easily into light weight sculptures. Put a skin of aluminum foil tape over them and they become remarkably stiff and strong. Sculptures can use iron wire armatures, if strength is needed.

If you hammer the foil to compress it as much as you can, it can make a very dense shell. In a strong mold, one that can withstand light hammering it should be possible to make a lot of things people need, and art projects as well.

I wish that the making of art would enter the daily lives of more people. This is an easy sculpture medium to work with. It is also very light weight, so finished projects can be hung from overhead for display or to get them out of the way.

Depending on how it weathers, it might withstand outdoor use. Parabolic reflectors come to mind. I'm still figuring it out.

In this instructable you will see a variety (mostly unfinished) of projects done with this technique; puppet heads, architectural models, tool handle repair, embossed textures, and other things. It is an easy and versatile technique. Try it; you'll like it.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

If you plan to do a wire frame armature with iron wire you will need wire and pliers for cutting and bending it. To work with the foil and tape, you need scissors to cut the foil tape and a light hammer for tapping down the foil to make it firmer.

The foil tape comes with a paper backing that you have to peel off the sticky side of the tape. I hang the roll of tape from overhead so I can reel it off easily. Peel up the end of the foil layer and cut it with the scissors, not the paper along with it. You avoid having to start a new peel-up for each piece of tape you use, ending up with a long ribbon of paper.

After putting down a layer of tape, you should go over it with something to press the tape down. One of my favourite tools for this is an old, ratty paint brush with bristles that are curly from abuse. It has low friction and distributes pressure pretty evenly. Wood sculpture tools work well, too.

Hot melt glue is useful, too, sometimes.

Step 2: Mannequin

This project was made over my own body with six layers of foil tape and the help of two friends. I used a sacrificial T-shirt between the tape and my body. The cloth folds in the shirt were taken in by rolling and taping them to the shirt. Part lines were drawn on the T-shirt with a Sharpie. Tape was applied up to the line on front and back, but not crossing the line. When finished, it was easy to cut the cloth part lines with scissors. The front and back halves were then rejoined with more tape. A stiffening ring of aluminum foil and tape was added to the inside of the waist, neck, and arm holes to stiffen them.

The mannequin was needed to make a CD mosaic costume to go along with a CD mask I made. Hot melt glue and yarn hold the upside-down pieces together during construction of the shirt. When removed the beautiful colors of the CD mosaic can be seen. A later instructable may cover it in more detail.

Step 3: Model Trees

I need some mini-trees for some puppet film making sets I am working on. This is a cool way to make them.

Twist a bunch of galvanised iron wires together to make the trunk. As branches go out to the side, the main bundle is divided and each section of the bundle is twisted together to make the branches. New wires can be added on when needed. As the bundles divide, the diameter of the branches reduces as they do on real trees.

At this point, the leaves are just wire squiggles. Possibly I will dip them in glue and stick on leaves later.

Step 4: Puppet Heads

(Photo puppet heads)

These are two early puppet head experiments for hand puppets. They use tightly condensed foil over a plastic sleeve, which keeps the finger hole open. Now, I prefer to make the finger holes out of carpet material, with the carpet hair facing in toward the finger. The grip on the finger is more snug, and more comfortable than the plastic sleeves are.

I haven't figured out which paints I want to use on the aluminum. A visitor used artist acrylics the other day, and they seemed to stick OK.

Hot melt glue sticks well to the foil. Add-on shapes and plugs to fill holes can be hot melt glued in place and then have the joint lapped by tape. The joint is pretty strong.

Where a little of the form needs to be removed, often all it takes is a few taps of the hammer to compress the foil more -- and another layer of tape to hide the micro-wrinkles you just made.

Step 5: Wireframe Sculptures

Iron wire is sometimes needed in armatures for its strength.

The dome is an architectural model I am working on. The wire frame supports a skin of duct tape, which together make a reusable mold for making removable aluminum domed shells. I will probably leave the aluminum shell in place until I finish my photography needs for it. Then I will remove it, in sections if necessary, to make more aluminum shells using the same wire frame mold.

To make this dome shape, I started with a 4 ft. diameter circle of plywood with snug holes for holding the ends of the medium size wire, which stuck through the bottom a few inches. I supported it in such a way that I could leave the wire ends straight. Later, suspending it from overhead, a few taps from a hammer knocked the plywood off the wire ends. The ends were then bent inward at 90 degrees to make a strengthening rib around the rim.

I joined the intersections of main wires by wrapping them a few times with waxed thread (the kind used with a leather stitching awl) and locking the thread in place with a dab of hot melt glue. No knot tying -- just wrapping and glue. It's a lot faster, easier, and neater.

Pieces of the finer diameter wire weave in and out of the grid of larger wires, as in basket weaving. The form gets stronger with each added wire. When I had to struggle too much to put in new wires, I stopped. The ends of the fine wires are just bent around the larger wires to lock onto them. Make sure the cut wire tips are safely tucked inward.

This wire grid technique, without the foil layer is a good way for showing lay-out relationships in architectural models, because of its transparency.

Step 6: Foil Shells From Molds

This is a cement half-head mold I use to make light-weight foil cores for inside some of my sculpture busts. As an experiment, I hammered a lot of foil into a dense shell and was very surprised at how rigid it became when covered with the tape.

Step 7: Odds and Ends

These two photos are of a machete handle repair and a texture experiment.

The wooden machete handle was split and loosing pieces. The missing pieces were filled in with wadded and hammered foil. Everything was covered with tape. It has been working out fine.

The texture experiment was just a multiple layer of foil hammered over some organic material and fishnet. I'll probably use this technique for getting ground textures in puppet photography sets.