How to Make an Elephant Armature

Written by susan dorling Google
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How to Make an Elephant Armature
The elephant is one of the most majestic creatures on Earth, and an ideal model for a paper mache clay sculpture. (elephant image by david purday from

An armature is the core or framework that provides support to an art medium such as paper mache clay or other claylike material to form a sculpture. Constructed of cardboard, foamboard or plywood and often reinforced with wire, the armature is the underlying key component of a compelling structure. The elephant is one of the most majestic creatures on Earth, and an ideal model; its incredible bulk, wrinkly skin, floppy ears and trunk lend an endearing touch of whimsy to its sculpture.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Pattern for elephant
  • Paper or card stock
  • Pencil
  • Cardboard, foam board or plywood
  • Foam (styrofoam)
  • Hot glue gun
  • Glue sticks
  • Newspaper or aluminium foil
  • Masking tape
  • Aluminium wire, half-soft
  • Cutting tool: carpet knife, Exacto knife or jigsaw

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  1. 1

    Refer to Jonni Good's book, "Making Animal Sculptures with Paper Mache Clay," for a pattern you can cut out, select a photo or drawing of the side view of an elephant, or draw your own on a piece of paper. Lay the picture onto a piece of paper. Divide the picture into different segments using a grid system: legs in sections of thigh, knee, calf and foot; torso sections of shoulder, midsection, rear-end and tail, head broken down into cheeks, eyebrow bone, forehead, muzzle, ears and trunk. Cut out all the pieces.

  2. 2

    Place each piece, one at a time, onto a piece of cardboard or foam board for a tabletop sculpture or plywood for a large indoor floor or garden sculpture. Transfer the pattern by tracing the outline of each piece with a pencil. Cut out the pieces with a jigsaw, carpet cutter or other cutting device, suitable for the material you are using.

  3. 3

    Prepare the pieces of the pattern into body groups. Assemble the pieces of the head. Pad it with crumpled newspaper or aluminium foil. Cover completely with masking tape. Assemble the trunk the same way.

  4. 4

    Assemble the leg and body pieces. Tuck foam spacers in between the front legs and glue with the hot glue gun. Repeat for the back legs. Refer to the original sketch or photo of the elephant to determine how thick the spacers need to be, and at which angle to place the pieces to replicate a dynamic lifelike posture. Reinforce the legs of large sculptures with wire.

  5. 5

    Assemble the tail using crumpled paper and masking tape. Attach the tail, head, ears and trunk to the armature with the hot glue gun. Twist and turn the body, legs and head into the perfect posture; and shape the tail, ears and trunk to finish the armature.

Tips and warnings

  • Refer to Jonni Good's book, "Making Animal Sculptures with Paper Mache Clay," for the recipe for paper mache clay.
  • Refer to Jonni Good's book for suggestions on how to create a grid system for sizing an elephant pattern.
  • For inspiration, peruse websites that feature traditional and abstract elephant sculptures made by established artists.
  • Traditional paper mache, polymer clay, paper clay, plaster and other art mediums can be used for elephant sculptures.
  • You may use hardware cloth or other flexible screening to make the base for the elephant sculpture's ears.
  • Apply gesso to the sculpture after it has dried completely. Paint with acrylic paint and varnish with gloss or matt acrylic sealer.

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