Friday, December 16, 2011

A is for Armature

This doll was made by author using Creative Paperclay and
following instructions in  book "Sculpting Dolls in Paperclay"

I'm often asked, "Which is the best armature to use for dolls?"    The answer is....there isn't one easy answer!  Which type of armature might work best for your project depends on many things, including whether you're making a doll or a figure, how big will it be, which clay are you using and how detailed do you want to make it.

For the purpose of this conversation, I will define "doll" as a figure with movable, posable parts, while a "figure" or "figurine" is modeled in a fixed-position.   Many of the armature styles used for figures are also used for some dolls.

Susanna Oroyan
The first part of the planning and design process is deciding what type of doll you will be making and what material will be used.   To paraphrase Susanna Oroyan in her great book Fantastic Figures**, the 4 basic doll types are the play doll (no armature), the flexible figure (has armature but usually not meant to be moved after the figure is completed), the fully jointed posable doll also known as BJD (hollow, ball-jointed doll), and the solid figurine (which is sculpted over a pre-positioned wire armature).

**I highly recommend Fantastic Figures: Ideas and Techniques Using the New Clays by Susanna Oroyan for anyone interested in sculpting dolls using air-dry clay.  Master dollmaker Oroyan is well-known for her other books on dollmaking but in this book she concentrates on dolls made from polymer and air-dry clays. She provides lengthy and detailed information on the clays themselves; on sculpting the head, hands, feet, and legs; on finishing and painting methods; and on constructing the body, clothes, hair, accessories, and more.

The size of the doll must also be considered when deciding what type of armature to use.   For example, the head for larger dolls will often be sculpted over a Styrofoam ball as armature.   For small dolls, a wadded-up ball of aluminum foil is often used (particularly for polymer clay figures).   Various gauge wire, depending on size of doll, is typically used to form the "skeleton" of the doll.  Each artist has their own favorite shape for torso area of armature.  Ready-made flexible plastic armatures are also available.  Many doll artists who create larger dolls (over 12") prefer a stuffed fabric body with clay head, arms & legs.

Maureen Carlson
Maureen Carlson, in her book, How to Make Clay Characters, doesn't use any kind of armature for her smaller figures (under 5" or so) other than a toothpick where needed for added strength.   For those slightly larger figures she uses armature wire padded with aluminum foil around the torso.

Using foil and other materials to fill in the torso not only saves on clay, it allows for better curing of the thinner layers (too thick clay can cause uneven curing).   I used this foil method when making Fetcher from air-dry Hearty Clay (see Fetcher WIP photos).  For Fetcher, I wrapped everything in floral tape before adding clay.

Styrofoam balls and sculpted foam is used as armature for the simple, folk-art style cold porcelain and air-dry clay figures such as this Strawberry Shortcake figure by Lilika.  A foam ball for the head plus 1 or 2 foam balls for body.  Some artists will also carve the entire shape from foam.  These cold porcelain figures are often modeled quite large.  Sizes vary as proportions are based on size of foam ball used for head, but I've seen many figures that are easily 2 feet tall.

Both the type of figure created by Maureen Carlson and the cold porcelain figures created by Lilika are pre-positioned and not flexible.

The doll shown at the top of the page is one I made following instructions in Robert McKinley's book Sculpting Dolls in Paperclay, another highly recommended and much sought-after book on dollmaking.  In this out-of-print book, McKinley demonstrates 2 dolls from start to finish using Creative Paperclay.  If you find this "collectible" book at a reasonable price, grab it!

The technique used by McKinley calls for a modified Styrofoam ball for head armature with a simple wire-armature inside a sewn fabric torso.  The fabric torso is tightly packed with batting and is quite firm.  Separate armatures are made for arms and legs from a combination of cardboard and papier-mache pulp (Celluclay or similar instant mache).  Creative Paperclay is applied over the cured papier-mache pulp for a finished surface and the finished pieces are glued to torso.  The McKinley dolls are flexible figures but not meant to be moved once the figure is completed.  His pattern results in a doll about 15" tall and the Creative Paperclay gives a  very fine, silky smooth finish to the doll.

The technique used by Hannie Sarris in her book Fairy Fantasy Dollmaking also uses a modified Styrofoam ball as head armature.  A complicated twisted wire armature is created from one long wire (2 3/4 yards for a doll about 17" tall).   Aluminum foil, compressed, fills in the torso area.  The foil is coated in a thin layer of clay, which is let dry before proceeding with additional layers.  Wire armatures are also used for her slim hands and fingers.   Sarris uses LaDoll clay for her detailed and delicate fixed-position figures.

The Fairy Fantasy book is another must have for anyone interested in detailed air-dry clay figures.  Hannie sadly passed away in 2010 and her book is sold out, but her website says another one may be published soon.

We've previously featured a few articles about creating and stringing a fully poseable BJD from air-dry clay...just select BJD from the Labels & Keywords in the sidebar to locate topics.

I hope this rather lengthy post answers your armature questions.   It's not a "how-to" tutorial for actually creating an armature....we'll post some of those soon.  In the meantime, look for some of the books I've mentioned, you'll find lots and lots of how-to information in them.

A word of caution....Styrofoam makes a great armature for air-dry clay figures but should NOT be heated in an oven (possible toxic fumes) and therefore is NOT recommended when baking polymer clay.

1 comment:

  1. Astrid (Rubydragon_63)December 17, 2011 at 7:01 AM

    Thank you so much for this lengthy explanation about armatures! It's really appreciated :)

    You mention that the website of Hannie Sarris says there is a new book coming in 2011. Unfortunately that all came to a halt when she passed away in May of last year. She published her own books and as far as I have found out, no new book (or re-print) is going to be published by her family... Finding one of her books on-line is very hard too, one has to be extremely lucky to bump into one of those for sale (I've been looking for some time myself now LOL)

    Going to check out the books that you mentioned and would like to suggest Katherine Dewey's "Creating lifelike figures in polymer clay". She uses foil-wrapped cores for her creations, with or without use of wire, but her explanation is very extensive and easy to follow :)

    Off to browse your blog to see what I've missed. Have a great weekend!


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