Ceramic: Fisherman With a Trap - Straw Armature

About: Liked to draw and paint when I was growing up. Switched to carving and sculpture in my twenties. Work in wood, stone / marble, plaster, and ceramic clay.

I made a ceramic sculpture of a lobster fisherman backing up traps to place them on the island.

I tried a straw armature and it worked quite well. Thought I would share the methods I used.

Step 1: The Armature

Since this figure will be standing and have a trap on his back, I need to support the clay until it dries. Once the clay sets up it should support its own weight.

I use measurements to determine the body proportions. Got the tape measure out and used my own leg and arm lengths, etc. The figure would be standing about 8 inches high if he were not bent over.

Straws form the armature and they are joined together using a small hot glue gun. It is important not to use too much glue as this will make an empty space at the joints when it burns away during the firing process.

The body is a larger straw that will fit a small wood dowel inside. I wasn't sure this main body straw would support the weight. Inserting a small dowel in a straw gave strength, but still allowed for the shrinking of the clay when it dries.

I drilled a small hole in this dowel before inserting it into the straw. The longer dowel, that will support the figure, has a screw embedded in the end. I screw this into the body dowel and support the other end with a piece of wood that has a slot in it to accommodate the dowel. Screws hold it firmly in place. It needs to be strong enough to hold up the weight of the clay figure.

When the figure is ready. I can simply unscrew the supporting dowel and patch up the hole in his chest.

When the armature is complete I make a cardboard base. This will create an empty space under the base so it won't be too thick. Too thin won't be strong enough and too thick gives a high risk of exploding in the kiln.

When moisture converts to steam it expands in volume by about 1100 times and the sudden pressure inside the clay can result in heart sinking little pop sound in the early stages of firing. I avoid this by not having really thick areas of clay unless it is really necessary, drying the sculpt thoroughly and using a slow rise in temperature in the kiln settings.

This figure will have empty cavities inside when finished and there are no pinholes to relieve air pressure or let smoke escape. I have fired many things with air cavities and some are filled with paper or whatever, and never had one explode from expanding air.

Step 2: Adding Clay to Form the Base and Figure

Everything is ready and I add clay to form the base. I like to use paper clay for this type of sculpture. It is available from ceramic supply places or you can make your own. It is a low fire white clay with a high talc body.

The base is pressed very firmly down in place to make a more or less uniform surface that is well compacted.

Once the base is finished, I add clay to the armature to form the legs, body, arms, and head. This is just a block in step and I do not worry about getting exact dimensions just yet. I just want an approximate shape and a little extra clay is better from my point of view.

The clay is quite moist so I can work it easily and join the pieces to each other easily. You can make a simple joining slip by adding water to some clay. As the clay is set aside until the next working period, it will begin to lose moisture from inside and set up enough to support a lot of its own weight.

This part of the instructable, making the armature, is what most people are interested in, I think. For those who like video, here is one showing the process up to this point. Now, on to finish the piece.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ts1jcCbKIwI

Step 3: Making the Trap

I had a silicone mold of a lobster trap already made up. Using it saved a lot of time in the making of this figure.

First I pressed clay firmly into the mold, trying for a fairly uniform thickness. Then it is set aside to dry to about a leather hard state.

Once it is removed from the mold I can clean up any seam lines and cut the spaces out between the laths. Cutting the holes adds to the realism of the trap. A small sharp knife and a needle tool worked well for this step.

Step 4: Put the Trap on His Back

I used a joining slip of paper clay and spent a fair amount of time positioning the trap and using the arm to help hold it in place.

I left it in place for a while to set up and began to work on the rest of the figure.

Step 5: Trim and Shape the Figure

This is just a refining step but it is where I try to get a feel for position and proportions. This step will have a lot of effect on the final look of the sculpture and it the last chance to make any small changes.

Step 6: Details to the Boots, Pants and Shirt

I made a bottom for the trap using strips of clay and attached it, being careful not to put too much pressure on the figure.

And then begins the work of putting in the details.

We wore "hip boots" for this work. We would have to wade out into the water to get the trap. I show them rolled down for easier walking.

Step 7: Adding the Buoy and Trap Line

The trap line and buoy will provide extra support to the figure and make the whole structure stronger.

I wanted to show the shaping and sculpting the rope. Using yarn to string it across open space proved useful. The yarn was soaked in thin clay slurry. When it firmed up more clay could be added and the details of rope put in.

I finished all the detail work and removed the supporting dowel last. by then the figure could easily support itself.

Step 8: Glaze, Fire in the Kiln and Hope It Survives.

I almost always use a single firing approach for the sculpture. I paint the underglaze on the green clay after it is dry. Cover with a clear coat and fire.

I bought a programmable controller off eBay and use that to do a controlled firing. It is very rare for me to have anything break or crack now.

I decided to attach the work to a wood base. I used to only make these in wood and it seemed to look a little better.

Hope you enjoyed this. Thanks for viewing.
Clifton

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