In a few of the older sculpting tutorials on this site I briefly talked about using an armature for supporting the sculpture. From time to time I receive emails from some of the newer members of the sculpting community asking exactly what an armature or armature wire is. So for the newer members to the sculpting family I thought I would go ahead and put together a brief explanation on what an armature is and why it is needed.
Basically the armature makes up the support system of the sculpture. A good analogy is to think of an armature as the skeleton for your artwork. In the human body the skeletal system is designed to support and hold up the body. The armature basically has the same type of role for your sculpture.
Now keep in mind that not all polymer clay projects require an armature. For instance beads, tiles an a lot of the smaller polymer clay projects are great examples of where an armature is not needed. However that being said an armature is a must if you plan to create a larger sculpture or even a complicated piece like some of the examples that you will find on this site.
There are a variety of different ways to make armatures and they type of armature you need really depends on the design or type of scupture that you are creating. For now I am going to set aside the specifics on how to make an armature and will shift the focus of this article to the main ingredient for armatures….the wire.
What types of wire can be used for an armature?
An armature can be made out of anything really and some of my early polymer clay sculptures consisted of armatures that were made from wire coat hangers. The coat hangers worked great for supporting the sculpture but in all honestly bending and manipulating the wire into a shape that I wanted was a real challenge.
I have found that the best wire to use is the one that is specifically made for armatures. The wire that I am referring to is made out of aluminum, is light weight and also very pliable. Most hobby shops and online art stores sell armature wire in a variety of different gauges. I personally like to use the thickest wire possible that is not going to impact my sculpting. Remember that in a lot of cases you will most likely wrap the wire with aluminum foil which will also add additional support to your sculpture (in addition to minimizing the amount of clay used).
The good news about armature wire is that it really is inexpensive and does not add much to the overall cost of your artwork. If you are shopping online Dick Blick offers a great deal on their wire and you can see their current prices by clicking on the link below.