Monday, 1 July 2013


There seem to be as many ways of making an armature as there are sculptors, and I have tried several different ways without really forming a view on a favourite, other than it being dictated by the eventual form of the sculpt. Here I discuss the approaches I've tried.

Jeweller's Aluminium Wire
One of the first places I looked for help on how to start sculpting, was
StormTheCastle on YouTube. Will has a particular approach to forming armatures, and I went to Hobbycraft to grab a load of different types of wire. I started with yellow anodised aluminium wire for making jewellery, which was easy to handle and shape but actually nowhere near robust enough to stand up to a lot of the pushing and pulling that goes with sculpting (well, in my hands anyway). 
I tried 0.6mm diameter wire, which worked reasonably well (see The Woodsman) but is really far too flexible. 0.4mm aluminium wire I find occasionally useful, as when braided this is quite robust but still fine enough to use inside arms, for example. Here's an aluminium armature:

Copper Wire
Copper wire is a bit more robust, whilst remaining easy to shape, and I still use it occasionally. Even 0.8mm diameter wire is a little soft, particularly for fiddly bits of sculpting. Here's another armature, made the same way as I normally do, this time with the anatomical landmarks indicated in black.

Steel Wire
My current normal armature material is steel gardening wire, with the green plastic sheathing stripped off. Although this needs rougher handling to get into shape, it is robust and doesn't move when I work on it, which is particularly helpful when trying to get the armature's pose correct. Aragorn Marks recommends steel wire in his Miniature Mentor tutorial, which is why I tried it. This worked especially well for my elephant men, as the trunk did not move at all, despite how much I was working the putty.

Whole Body and Part Body Armatures
I mostly create one part armatures, with all four (six) limbs, as I find this easiest to visualise when checking proportions, posing the armature, and coming to lay down the muscle layer of putty.
Some sculptors like to build the armature up by gluing/soldering/epoxy-ing spine and arms (e.g. Heresy, Ebob) whilst others prefer to have an arm-less armature (e.g. Aragorn Marks, Ramon Laan). The advantage that part body armatures like this have is the ease with which the torso can be finished.
I've tried both ways, but prefer the easier way by building a whole body armature. 

More to come in due course...

I love elephants!

As elephants are my favourite mammal, it seemed logical to have a go at sculpting one or two of them. 

Elephant One

Without having a clear idea of scale, I made a large-ish stripped steel wire armature, and built the body up with Green Stuff. I made tusks from Green Stuff and dried, before building the head up with Fimo (1:1 MixQuick). Small antiqued glass beads formed the eyes. One I baked the head I was very happy, particularly with the trunk, and sculpted the rest of the body from Fimo (1:1 MixQuick). This took a bit more work, with lots of sanding and replacing with ProCreate, until I was reasonably happy. The flexure lines on his skin haven't worked very well, despite trying to stick to nature, so I will treat them more like human flexure lines than pachydermal. I ummed and ahhed about manipulatory appendages, particularly how anthropomorphic I wanted him to look, before settling on what you see, made from ProCreate. The idea is that - eventually - he will wield weapons or other instruments in each hand. 

Overall, very happy with Elephant One. He stands 35mm tall, 27mm to the eyes, and I think very much in proportion. His trotters are buried in the base, not least because I became lazy and didn't finish them off properly.

Elephant Two
I made a batch of stripped steel wire armatures, using StormTheCastle approaches to including a tail, for some more Loxodonta. This elephant's head is very different from the last, despite being made in the same way, although again I am very pleased with it. Unfortunately, his legs are too short, so he might have to be mounted on something other than his legs, when finally finished. His body is Green Stuff and the head is Fimo again, over Green Stuff. The back of his head could do with some improvement work, as the flexure lines aren't great and the overall shape is too uneven to be natural.

The Mummy Returns

The Mummy
Obviously when considering zombies, one considers the others of the Undead, so I thought a good old mummy would be fun to play with. Around a stripped steel wire armature I built a Green Stuff shape, filled in the gap between the legs with Fimo and considered how to do bandages. I decided to roll very thin cylinders of Green Stuff, flatten it between two sheets of wet baking paper, and wind the resulting thin, narrow strip around the sculpt. I then aged and ragged these with a plain probe. When set, I used some ProCreate to build bits of rotting flesh into gaps. I then noticed that I'd put what looked more like the front face of the mummy onto what was the back of the armature, so s/he is lurching good and proper (quite by accident). I think it's a she as I've ended up with a bit of a bust under the bandages.

Haven't not recovered yet from the hand sculpting traumas of the Blue Horrors, I  opted to leave the manipulatory appendages quite plain. The right arm terminates at the elbow (or near enough) whilst the left ended up with some sort of huge ProCreate paddle, which just looked silly. After painting, sanding, painting, scalpel slicing, sanding and painting, I cut the whole thing off and put an axe head on instead. This looks better, and after some sanding, I made some extra bandages from ProCreate to "hold" the axe head in place. Green Stuff made better bandages. Mummy stands a whit under 34mm top to bottom.

Tentacles and Tongues

An urge to make something with lots of tentacles came upon me, so I started with a plain length of steel wire, put a bit of Green Stuff on it and made some tentacles from Fimo (1:1 MixQuick). I then shaped a mouth and a tongue, and used a Derwent embossing tool to play with the grabbing tentacle. I tried to fashion a sort of lure above the mouth, from Fimo, but without an armature it eventually snapped off. Humph. I slapped a bit of paint on to see how it would look, with a darker wash, but haven't got around to painting it properly. My aim is to dot on some chromatophores to make it look more squid-like, although there aren't enough appendages. Squidley stands 26mm tall.

The Woodsman

I found an old jeweller's aluminium wire armature at the bottom of the box, so decided to try to make a sculpt more close to 28mm than I have previously. I used ProCreate for the initial forming layer, then Fimo (1:1 MixQuick) to build the rest. The eyes were made from very small ProCreate balls. His head ended up being unfeasibly large, and the very poor expression led me to adapt the sculpt to make it look like it had been carved from wood. I took off the initial rear part of his cranium and replaced it with ProCreate to put more carve markings in (a grain, mostly). Following the Undead theme, he's got tools rather than manipulatory appendages. Again my usual splat-and-splash paint job. He ended up being 32mm top to bottom, 30mm feet to eyes.

Bursting Tissues
I had a very large stripped steel wire armature, and decided to experiment with making some different tissue types, from ProCreate, Green Stuff and Fimo. The left leg is Fimo, the right leg is Green Stuff,the torso and spine are Fimo with ProCreate tentacles and skin. The mask is ProCreate, and I have now added a band around the back to make it more mask-like. No idea how to paint him or finish him off; he's still in my sculpt block just washed with black to highlight edges and cavities. 

Any suggestions?