How to Build a Wire Armature for a Clay Sculpture

Written by lauren vork
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While some smaller, more compact clay sculptures are sturdy enough to stand on their own if made of clay alone, a more precarious or complicated sculpture design often requires a wire armature. Wire armatures act as a sort of skeleton, giving support to the clay during the building process and once the structure is complete. To design a clay armature for your sculpture, you must consider structural and artistic factors.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Craft wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Tin snips
  • Wooden base or craft plaque
  • Staple gun
  • Epoxy

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  1. 1

    Determine how thick your wire should be for the sculpture you want to create (or for the different parts of it if your sculpture has fine detail). This can be difficult to judge without experience, so experiment with different gauges of wire (or thick wire made from strands of thin wire twisted together) and the clay you'll be working with to start to get a feel for what will work. Play around with the two, testing them by hanging differently shaped clay pieces over basic wire shapes (such as arched curves) to see how much weight makes the wire bend. Err on the side of using wire that's thicker than you need.

  2. 2

    Figure out the structural needs of your sculpture. Draw a quick sketch of the sculpture you want to create, or just picture it in your mind. Imagine what it might look like if it had a skeleton; observe any area where the clay would be likely to sag or fall if unsupported. If it helps, build a smaller, rougher mock-up of the sculpture from clay alone and observe which points on the sculpture are the least stable (you can even give it a shake or two to see which bits fall off).

  3. 3

    Create a primary, bare structure of wire, like a basic spine for the form you're making. Use needle-nosed pliers or Vise Grips (depending on how thick your wire is) to bend the wire into the fundamental shape needed to support the largest structures of the sculpture. If possible, use just one long piece of wire for this. Most likely, this will start with the "feet" (or base) of the sculpture and reach up to the top.

  4. 4

    Add ribs (these are structural devices, not necessarily ribs like those in an skeleton). Make loops attached to the central spine structure at points where your design is going to extend outward with a large amount of mass, especially if those areas jut out from the rest of the sculpture's shape. Attach these pieces by wrapping both ends of the rib piece around the spine piece at least three times. If the sculpture's shape demands it, bend some of these loops into oblong or even angular shapes. If any of the ribs you make seem too large to hold up on their own, attach another piece of wire stretching from the spine piece to the outside of the rib through the rib's centre.

  5. 5

    Mount the armature. Attach the "feet" or base of the armature to a plaque or piece of plywood using a staple gun. Position the gun so that the staples straddle the wire when attached. Use at least one staple for every inch of wire that touches the wood.

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