Introduction: Making an Armature for a Clay Sculpture

About: I'm a sculptor from Brooklyn, NY. I have produced prototypes for statues and action-figures for 20 years for companies like Marvel, DC and others. I split my time between commercial art, personal art and tea…

Here is a list of tools and supplies you will need,

  • Armature wire (Aluminum wire 1/8 and 1/16 gauge wire)
  • 2 part epoxy putty (JB Weld or Loctite Brand)
  • Wire Clippers (Dykes)
  • Pliers (regular or needle nose)
  • Nuts and Bolts (10-32x1 / M4.8x25.4) or any size smaller than the .25" drill hole, length should be .75" or shorter
  • Washers SAE #10
  • Drill gun
  • 1/4" drill bit and 1/2" Forstner bit
  • Ruler (24")
  • Aluminum foil
  • Wooden base (atleast 6"x6"x.5")
  • Paper and Pencil (paper size I used was 13"x19")

Clay is optional as this tutorial will end at the Armature stage, part 2 will be the clay process.

Step 1: Drawing Your Figure Reference

Measure on the paper 16" long. Draw out a figure within the 16" height. This part is optional, you can print out a drawing from an internet search or use a photograph of a person. It's important to have some kind of reference available as we will be checking our armature proportions against the reference at various stages of construction. No need to have the full figure drawn out, half will do.

Step 2: Building the Legs of the Armature

Measure out a length of 24", then fold it over for another 24" length, or simply measure out 48" and fold it over. Put the first wire aside and make another as we will need two of these wires for the legs.

Step 3: Twisting the Wire Legs

Make a nice loop at the folded end of the wire, make sure your loop is big enough for the bolt to pass through, but not too big that head of the bolt will go through as well. I like to keep it nice and round, try not to use the pliers as the wire will get crimped, this will weaken the wire. Once you have a nice loop, gently hold the loop with the pliers (not too tight to avoid crimping) then use your other hand to twist the wire up to about 10". twisting the wire is harder than it looks and it takes practice, the more of an even twist the stronger the armature. Do this for both pieces of wire.

Step 4: Making a Foot and Hip

With your pliers grab the loop end of the wire and bend it 45 degrees, this will act as the foot and is how you will bolt the armature to the base. Once you have feet on both wires, grab about an 1" of the wrapped end and bend on side to the right and the other to the left. This bend will create a hip so that the legs are slightly spread apart, the width adjustment can come later when we pose the armature. Straighten the extra wire lengths on both pieces and prepare to join them.

Step 5: Joining the Wire Legs

This part can be a little tricky, but if executed correctly you can create a nice strong tie that may not even need the 2 part epoxy putty. Push both leg sections together and bend a wire from the opposite side to create a loop under the hip and over the 2 extra wires. Don't get frustrated, if you don't have a nice strong tie, take it apart, straighten the wire and do it again. If it's nice and tight, go ahead and wrap the 2 extra wires up as the spine.

Step 6: Reinforcing the Wire Spine

The spine should be nice and tight and now you can reinforce it with the remaining wire pieces, but don't go all the way up. You will use these extra pieces to tie down the wire for the arms.

Step 7: Wire for the Arms

This is a good time to check the proportions on your armature and straighten out the wires. Cut a new length of wire around 20" or so. This wire will be the shoulder and arms of the armature, we are using a separate piece that will be tied down with the extra wire from the legs. Make a loop at the center of the arm wire and slide it down one of the spine wires. Now continue twisting the spine wire up, this will tie down the arms nicely. Now take the additional wires and tie it up towards the shoulders of the arm wire, make sure not to make the should width too broad, I usually keep it on the narrow side and adjust the width later.

Step 8: Cutting the Extra Length

When you get a good wrap of the wire around the shoulders of the arm wire, go ahead and cut the extra length, I usually like to wrap the wire around at least twice before cutting. Make sure to check your armature against your reference drawing, bend the shoulders down making sure the armature is in the center of the drawing.

Step 9: Using the Extra Length for the Head

Go ahead and twist the rest of the spine wire up to the very ends of the wire. The spine wire may appear extra long, but rather than cutting the wire, loop the extra length to make a circle that can represent the head, we will stuff aluminum foil in the hole later. Check the length of wire for the arms and cut it down so that both sides have the same length. Don't cut the wire to the wrist, give yourself some room to loop the wire as the palm. We will use the smaller gauge wire to make fingers later.

Step 10: Looping the Wire for the Hands

Create a loop on either side of the armature and use your pliers to make the loop small. we don't want these loops to be too bulky, they will be in the way later when you start adding clay. The loop will act as the palm of the hand. Make sure to check your armature against your reference.

Step 11: Making Fingers

We are now moving into using the smaller gauge wire (1/16"). Cut a 3" long piece of wire and fold it in half, make 2 of these. These 2 pieces folded over will make 4 fingers. Put the wire pieces into the palm loops and tighten. It's more important to get them even than tight, we will use the putty to strengthen this area later.

Step 12: Adding the Thumb Wire

Cut another length of about 2" and loop the end around the arm wire where the wrist would be. Make sure the wire pieces are neat, go ahead and cut pieces for the other side, repeat the process.

Step 13: Using the Epoxy Putty

Open up the putty and cut a small amount off of the tube, half an inch of putty will do. the putty contains two parts that when activated and set become rock hard. The Tube already contains both parts of the material all you have to do is mix them together. Mix up the putty and when the color is uniform it is thoroughly mixed. Push the putty into the loop of the wires, make sure to get the putty around all the wire, but be careful not to bulk up the material too much. This Putty is super strong and a small amount will do. Besides big bulky palm might come back to haunt you later when you start adding clay.

Step 14: Puttying All the Joints

Use the extra putty to add to the other joints on the armature wire. The hip and chest area can use a little putty especially if your initial tie down wasn't that tight. Remember don't bulk up these areas with putty too much, it's harder to get rid of later. Once all the Puttying is done, put the armature aside so that the putty can set, JB weld takes about an hour, Loctite about 15 minutes.

Step 15: Preparing the Base

While we wait for the Putty to dry we can start setting up our base for the armature. Since we aren't sure what the final pose will be yet, let's go ahead and make a hole on the corner of the base. This will allow you to pose the armature and still have room on the rest of the base. You can always unscrew the armature and drill another hole later on base if necessary. Start with the flat hole drill bit (forstner). Drill about halfway into the base, then switch out to the 1/4" drill bit and drill all the way through the base. Be sure to move the base over to the edge of the table so you don't drill through the table.

Step 16: Screwing the Armature to the Base

the larger hole will be the bottom of the base. Drop a washer in and a bolt through. On the other side feed the bolt through the foot of the armature wire and add a washer and nut onto that. Use a screwdriver to tighten the bolt.

Step 17: Adjusting the Armature on the Base

If you managed to make the base pretty quickly you may still need to let the putty cure, If it took you a while the putty may be ready. touch the putty and check for hardness, if it is hard to the touch start adjusting the fingers of both hands. The fingers are most likely too long.

Step 18: Trimming the Fingers

Cut the fingers to their proper lengths. Use your own hand as reference for finger length.

Step 19: Posing Your Armature

Let's get some shape onto this armature. I find that adding an S curve to the spine and moving the head slightly forward makes a huge difference to the armature wire. Now it's up to you to give it a cool pose. If you are settled with a pose you may want to drill the second hole for the other leg and screw that one down as well.

Step 20: Aluminum Foil

Clay can be expensive and heavy so you can make up a lot of the bulk with aluminum foil. also if you plan on baking the clay the foil will be fine. You definitely want to add for the torso and head, thighs, calves, biceps and forearms are optional. Use the thinner gauge wire to tie the aluminum foil down and also wrapping the 1/8" wire with is will give some surface texture to the wire so that your clay doesn't just spin around the wire.

Step 21: Final Touches

The armature you just created is good for any clay sculpture or even a stop-motion puppet. A strong armature makes for an easier time sculpting. You can add an additional armature support with a rod that can connect to the base and plug into the back of the armature. This extra support can help if you are making a top heavy figure. I will add this as an additional tutorial at a later time.