Handbuilding Ceramic Sculpture

Q: How do you make armatures for handbuilding ceramic sculpture?

A: The key to making armatures for pottery figures, etc, is allowing for the shrinkage of the clay during hardening. For small pieces, a method I’ve used is to build a “skeleton” in heavy aluminum wire, then wrapping newspaper around the wire somewhat loosely, so the clay can contract without cracking. When the figure is set to leather-hard, cut the piece longitudinally to remove the armature, then score and use slip to rejoin the pieces.

Alternatively, you can build the skeleton out of a light wood like pine and leave it in through the firing process, when it burns out. For larger pieces, it is best to work in sections, joining the sections when they dry enough to handle without distortion. Having further to shrink, a larger piece will have a tendency to tear itself apart trying to contract against any unyielding internal structure.

by Andrew Werby