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Building Armatures for Polymer Clay Sculpture

Updated on February 24, 2017

Build the Skeleton Structure of your Sculptures

Armatures are vital to strong sculptures. Learn about different methods for building strong armatures. A strong armature can hold polymer clay in virtually any complicated or precarious position, even look like it's floating in air.

The Importance of Armatures

The Armature is the Skeleton of your Sculpture

A weak or insufficient armature can ruin an otherwise beautiful sculpture. Take your time and get the foundation of your sculpture right so it will last for years.

Basic Armature Making Tools

1: Wire cutters

2: Needle nose pliers

3: Dremel tool or drill

4: Hammer

5: First Aid Kit (I'm serious, wire is sharp you will cut yourself)

Armature Materials

This is a rundown of common material used to make armatures for polymer clay sculptures.

1: Aluminum armature wire

2: Floral wire

3: Fabric covered floral wire

4: Aluminum foil

5: Floral or Masking Tape

6: Sculpey Ultra-Light

7: Brass or steel rods

8: Apoxie Sculpt or other two-part sculpting epoxy

9: Super glue and/or 2-part epoxy glue

10: Wooden bases (craft plaques work well or you could cut your own from lumber)

Shop Safety

Safety First

Practice proper safety precautions when working with armature materials. Most importantly remember to wear safety glasses, especially when cutting wire or using power tools.

Armature Stands

Build extra supports for your sculptures.

Armature stands are used to give an extra support for a sculpture while you are working on it. They are relatively easy to build and there are many different designs depending on what your needs are.

Since the burning point of wood is much higher than the curing temperature of polymer clay you can put a sculpture in the oven while still mounted on the armature stand.

Typical materials and tools needed are:

1: Wooden plaque or cut piece of lumber.

2: Dowels or threaded steel rods

3: Dremel tool or drill

4: Various bits of hardware, wing nuts, bolts, screws, etc.

YouTube

Noadi's Armature Jig

I built this wire bending jig for making armatures a while back. It's made from a 8"x24" (20x61cm) piece of pine and lots of 1/8" (3.18mm) screws.

To make it I traced the male and female figure onto the board with a black marker in 1/6, 1/8, and 1/12 scale (these are the scales I use most often). Then I drew in the shape of the armatures adding screws to all the major joints where I wanted bends in the wire.

With this jig I can very quickly make consistently sized armatures.

To Make Your Own

Supplies

8"x18" Board (this is an approximate measurement, it can be a little smaller or bigger)

Drill with 1/8" bit

1/8" screws

Screwdriver

Permanent marker

Armature diagrams printed at 1/6, 1/8, and 1/12 scale

Sandpaper (optional)

Clear varnish (optional)

Instructions

1: Sand and varnish the board if desired. It will help keep the marker from bleeding into the wood and the jig will last longer.

2: Trace the armature diagrams onto the board.

3: Drill holes at all the major joints where the diagram shows the wire bending.

4: Insert screw into all the holes.

5: Make armatures!

Wire Armatures

Wire armatures are the simplest type of armature for a figure sculpture. Aluminum wire is twisted into the basic shape of a human, animal, or creature skeleton and attached to either an armature stand or a wooden base.

Make your Sculptures Fly

Or dance, do gymnastics, etc.

This technique for making a sculpture appear to be balanced or floating is a variation on the wire armatures. I've used it several times now, for my big sculpture "Odin's Runesong", for my in progress "Selkie Emerging" and "Fire Dancer" sculptures.

Article on Creating a Balancing Armature.

Why Bulk Up an Armature?

Bulking up armatures with aluminum foil or other materials helps reduce the amount of clay needed. It also helps reduce the chance of not curing thick clay all the way through.

Bulking Up a Wire Armature with Foil

Polymer clay more than 1/2 thick is difficult to cure properly, either the outside get over-baked and darkens or the inside doesn't cure completely and the sculpt can break down over time from the effects of still liquid polymer inside. For this reason and to reduce the amount of clay needed most polymer clay sculptors bulk up their armatures in the torso and head areas.

The simplest way to do this is just to wrap crumpled aluminum foil around the armature and secure it with tape, glue, or floral wire.

Lightweight Alternative to Aluminum Foil

If you need your sculpture to be extra light try using Sculpey Ultralight clay. It's a polymer clay that is so lightweight when cured that it can float in water.

Sound Off About Armatures

What technique do you use most often?

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Foil Cores

Foil cores are tightly compressed balls of aluminum foil used as an armature. This techniques works best for sculptures with round or egg shaped bodies such as heads and animals like rabbits, mice, or my favorite: cuttlefish!

Making foil cores is fairly simple. Crumple aluminum foil up into the general shape you want then pack it in as tightly as possible, I use a hammer to get it really tight. To help the clay adhere better either wrap the core in floral or masking tape or cover it in PVA glue (that's white glue like elmer's or tacky glue) and allow it to dry before adding clay.

Other Techniques

Other materials can also be used in armatures.

Epoxy: 2-Part sculpting epoxies such as Apoxie Sculpt and MagicSculpt set rock hard and can make for extremely sturdy armatures when used for bulking and securing wires together. The downside to epoxies are that they set quite quickly so you have a limited working time and is much heavier than alternatives such as foil, paperclay, or sculpey ultralight.

Paperclay: Used much the same as foil for bulking up an armature. Make sure to allow the paperclay to dry fully and apply PVA glue to it before adding polymer clay.

Sculpey Ultralight: A very lightweight porous polymer clay, sculpey ultralight makes for strong lightweight armatures when used for bulking or as a core. You must bake the ultralight armature before adding normal polymer clay.

Wire Mesh: Used as a support for thin structures such as fabric or fins. Wire Mesh is very flexible and easily shaped.

Removable Armature: Sometimes you want a hollow structure and a removable armature is the best way to achieve this. Good removable armatures are disolvable clays like cold porcelain or cornstarch based packing peanuts.

Leave a Note - Go ahead and and leave any comment or questions you have. If you like this lens please rate it up at the top of the page!

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    • profile image

      gods_grace_notes 8 years ago

      Love it... you're an engineer at heart!

      Terrific lens,

      Connie

      : )

    • beeobrien lm profile image

      beeobrien lm 8 years ago

      Wow, this is amazing. I think you must have made the definitive armature-making lens.

    • profile image

      youhavegottobekidding 8 years ago

      A very Great and informative Lens. Can't waiot to try it tonight.

      thank you Author.

    • profile image

      micstudio 8 years ago

      Wow! I just started sculpting about a year ago and this information will definitely help me. Thank you so much for the hours I won't waste doing this wrong!

    • CaseyStudio profile image

      CaseyStudio 7 years ago

      Very informative lens. Great!

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 7 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      You're officially blessed!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Wonderful lens to visit. I picked up some very good ideas for a project.

      Thank you for sharing your knowledge and talents.

      Blessed by a Squid Angel today!

      Best wishes,

      Susie

    • mariaamoroso profile image

      irenemaria 6 years ago from Sweden

      I love all kinds of creating. Thanks for this. lens. In Swedish we say armatur about lamps.

    • Addy Bell profile image

      Addy Bell 6 years ago

      I'm working on a sculpture project with a student (though we're using oven-bake clay, not polymer clay) and I realized I have no idea what I'm doing. This was very helpful.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Thank you, I'm just starting to sculpt. This is perfect, thanks

    • jnstewart profile image

      John Norman Stewart 6 years ago from Cottonwood, CA

      This is a very useful lens. I will be back.....

    • Kitty Levee profile image

      Kitty Levee 6 years ago

      Very cool art!

    • Philippians468 profile image

      Philippians468 5 years ago

      love this art form! particularly enjoy sculpting! cheers

    • Laniann profile image

      Laniann 5 years ago

      I like your Armature Jig very much. Blessed by a Squid Anglel.

    • profile image

      RocklawnArts 5 years ago

      Very cool lens! Makes me want to build something. :)

    • GoldenClone profile image

      GoldenClone 5 years ago

      Good like

    • mistyblue75605 lm profile image

      mistyblue75605 lm 5 years ago

      Like all the info offered thanks....maybe I can do this!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      you find such cool articles on squidoo, 'thumbs up' for your creativity indeed.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      That armature jig is very cool. I bet it's a real time-saver!

    • profile image

      seosmm 5 years ago

      Great ideas. Very detailed. Nice lens!

    • earthybirthymum profile image

      earthybirthymum 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great Lense, amazing work!

    • kathysart profile image

      kathysart 5 years ago

      Thanks for some great info! THUMB UP ANGEL BLESSED

    • mihgasper profile image

      Miha Gasper 5 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

      Wow! I admire your work. Thumbs up!

    • rob-hemphill profile image

      Rob Hemphill 5 years ago from Ireland

      Lovely work, you are indeed a talented lady.

    • imlifestyle profile image

      imlifestyle 5 years ago

      Great job on this lens, very detailed... Thanks...

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great lens! It gave me a few new ideas to try. Thanks.

    • Judith Nazarewicz profile image

      Judith Nazarewicz 4 years ago from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

      Awesome lens with great ideas! Thanks :-)

    • Tumblestar LM profile image

      Tumblestar LM 4 years ago

      Thanks for the tips :D They've really helped with my sculptures. I enjoy reading your lenses on polymer clay.

    • centralplexus profile image

      centralplexus 4 years ago

      Very helpful tutorial, and well written! Thanks for all the valuable info you shared with us!

    • MasterbuildRoof profile image

      MasterbuildRoof 3 years ago

      Wow, this is a mega hub! top marks for your research and writing skills about armatures. Thanks for the advice

    • GreenfireWiseWo profile image

      GreenfireWiseWo 3 years ago

      Great ideas and information. Thank you.

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