Life Size Figure Sculpture




Do you love sculpture? Want to know how to make an awesome, award winning work of art? I'm going to walk you through this piece I made for an introduction to sculpture class at Santa Clara University.

Step 1: Figure Out What You Want to Make!

Think long and hard. What do you like to look at? What will you not grow tired of making after 50+ hours? I love the human figure. Great artists throughout history have used the human figure for inspiration. You can look at great pieces for inspiration. Anything from Henry Moore's semi-abstracted sculptures, to Rodin's more muscular beauties. What ever you do get out there and look at stuff.

I know that I love figure drawing. I decided I wanted to make a three dimensional figure drawing, using wire and steel rod as a substitute for line. The figure that I chose to recreate was a photo of a dancer performing Martha Graham's legendary choreography Lamentation. My mother studied the Graham technique, and I figured I could use this sculpture project as an opportunity to make a birthday present for her.

Now that you have an image to go off of, it is time to start makin' stuff!

Step 2: Make a Maquette!

Making a small version of your final product will save you a lot of time and energy. I was able to learn a lot from my maquette and use those principle when I was working on the full scale sculpture. This itty bitty dancer is only about 7 inches tall. I used a brazing technique, you can check out this great tutorial on youtube for more information on that. I used a small propane torch set up with brazing rod and flux.

For this model I started with the legs. The wire is very malleable so I just bent it with pliers. I would highly recommend sketching first. I would include my sketches but I left that sketch book in California, maybe I will add them when I go back in a few weeks. I made a base of the thighs and then added two calves. My method for this was to capture the front and side profile. You can experiment with how many and how few lines you do. One thing I did notice was that when working small with brazing, the entire sculpture heats up quickly causing your joints to collapse.

I have included pictures at various steps for this small maquette. I didn't realize I would be making an intractable so forgive me for the limited frames.

For the dancer's garment I used panty hose. I doubled them over so they would hold the shape of the body better. They were lying around the workshop (not quite sure why, but then again whose shop doesn't have an array of suspect objects around?).

I made a little stool for her out of some fancy shmancy wood. I think the design of the bench compliments Graham's time period.

Step 3: Now Just Make the F@*king Thing

Again I can not emphasize enough how important it is to sketch what you want to make first. Once you have a plan for the lines you want to make draw it out full size on butcher paper. As soon as you have the lines drawn out full size bend your metal to match your line.

I used quarter inch cold rolled steel round stock for this project. I cut it using a bolt cutter and bent it using a jig similar to this photo I pulled off the internet. In this photo the steel was clearly heated using a torch and then bent. For this project I was able to bend all of the lines with out heating the metal. If you are comfortable with an oxyacetylene rig, go for it! You can definitely get more precise bends using heat, but not necessary for this project. I changed up the design from the maquette here and there but thats all part of the learning curve.

I used a mig welder to tack weld the whole piece together. But remember be careful! I leaned into one of the welds and lit my shirt on fire. I used different sized rods for the hands and feet so that I could play with more gestural lines. I also grinder down on some of my spottier welds. This was my first time welding so I think I may have grinded on all of them.

Step 4: Spray Paint That Figure!

I just used black spray paint to seal and finish this steel piece. I liked the neutrality of it and that it reminded me of a drawing. You can use any number of techniques for finishing steel. There are some great instructables on here to teach you how. I found Laral's rust instructable to be particularly awesome on another project. Make sure you use some paper to protect the ground.

Step 5: Don't Forget a Stool and Garment.

I designed this kind of cool mod stool for the dancer to sit on. It was fun making something more functional. It is a steel base that added a simple wood top to. For the garment I bought some stretchy gymnastics fabric. It was originally a beige color but I dyed it using one blue and one purple packet of dye to get an indigo color, following the RIT dye instructions on the box.

Step 6: Appreciate Your Finished Product

Here it is! Enter it into some shows, show it off. I entered this into our annual end of the year student show, where it one best in show, as well as another student show and the "Figures and Faces" show at the Pacific Art League in Palo Alto.

Step 7: Other Fun Sculptures

Now think of all the other fun things you can make using this technique. Following a very similar method I made a life size construction worker, an 18 inch reclining nude, and three gigantic beer cans all about three and a half feet tall.

Maker Olympics Contest 2016

Runner Up in the
Maker Olympics Contest 2016

Metal Contest 2016

Participated in the
Metal Contest 2016



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    7 Discussions


    2 years ago

    These are probably the coolest thing I have seen on this site! great job!! I will try to make something too but it will in no way be as amazing as yours!


    2 years ago

    animal shapes , do you also make


    2 years ago

    This is a beautiful piece! I'd love to see the concept sketches if you get the opportunity to upload them later.

    inspecter gadget

    2 years ago

    Cool! This is not a negative comment at all but it looks like one of those Harry Potter Dementor spirits.... It is a very creative piece indeed!