This page is a step-by-step for building a clay sculpture armature. Once this step is complete, the armature can be reused for almost any type of clay sculpture. If you already have the armature built, skip this step and go on to page two. This art project has helped many begin the art of clay sculpture, from being used for high school art projects to helping artists try out a new medium!
An illustration of the armature setup. The plywood (I use different sizes for different sculptures, in this case, a 15″ x 22″ board) has a hole cut in the center to accommodate the 1″ metal female adapter (a plumbing part which you can buy at any hardware store), which is attached with nails or screws to the bottom of the plywood.
The 1″ male PVC adapter is then threaded into the metal female adapter through the hole in the plywood base. The Amaco #5 Decorating Wheel is then attached, upside down, over the bottom of the metal adapter.
The base of the decorating wheel should completely cover the metal adapter and fit tight against the plywood base. Using screws that aren’t long enough to penetrate the top of the plywood, attach the decorating wheel securely to the plywood.
The Amaco No. 5 Decorating Wheel is perfect for this setup, but a different armature build could accommodate other banding wheels.
Place the top portion of the wheel onto the shaft of the bottom section. When you turn the armature over, it will now spin freely so that you can work on your sculpture from any angle.
A close-up of the male adapter threaded through the armature opening into the metal adapter below.
The last step in setting up the armature for this clay tutorial just requires some PVC sections! When the armature is finished, sections of 1″ pipe cut to fit the size of the sculpture will be used for the main support of the clay.
For ease of use, cut sections and have them ready for when you need to use them (my standard sizes are 9″, 10.5″, 12″, 13.5″, and 15″ – the 9″ is the size I will use for this clay tutorial).
I’ve not tested newspaper building with air dry clays, so be aware that clay shrinkage around a stiff object can break your finished sculpture. When attaching newspaper to your armature (next page), be sure the newspaper is soft and loosely placed – that way as the clay moisture soaks into the newspaper, it should allow the newspaper to meld and change shape with the drying clay when you’re finished.
This process of sculpting leaves some newspaper in the sculpture body for firing (on larger horse head sculptures, for example, the bottom opening is large enough so you can remove most of the newspaper. On figure sculptures, however, there is a greater chance of destroying the sculpture than there is of removing the newspaper with the sculpture intact).
The newspaper creates a reduction environment in the kiln, meaning reduced oxygen. Clay Tutorial Tip: If you’re going to fire glazes, don’t fire them with a sculpture that has newspaper, because it will alter/ruin some glaze colors.
Also, if you’re firing in an electric kiln, reduction environments can reduce the life of the elements in your kiln. The damage to the metal kiln parts can be somewhat alleviated by leaving the top peep hole open during the entire firing process. Removing as much newspaper as possible will also help alleviate some of the potential damage to the elements. Even though the life of the elements may be reduced, you’ll still get a good number of firings from the elements (if you take the precautions above, you may not even notice a reduced life span of the elements).
If you intend to fire in a community kiln, make sure they’ll fire a piece that contains newspaper.