Archangel Wings

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Archangel Wings

Our good friend Sarah Manchester agreed to show us how she created the beautiful wings on her Archangel sculpture. Thank you, Sarah!

©2020 Sarah Manchester

Archangel Wings Made with Paper Mache and Paper Mache Clay

Jonni has asked me to share with you how I made the wings for my Archangel sculptures. Michael is still in progress but Raphael is complete apart from the paint work and the method is the same for each.

Raphael and Michael will be a complimentary pair of angels. Not identical but with similarities. The wings will not be identical either but they began life the same size and shape. As with all my projects, different elements develop from a very basic idea. I just like to go with the flow and never restrict myself to an original design or idea. Rather I use it as a starting point. I like to really become absorbed in a project and allow it to dictate to me. I am often surprised at the turns sculptures take. This is very much the case with my sculpture of Raphael. I am delighted with the wings. Here is how they were made.

I drew the basic wing shape onto paper, paying particular attention to the upper curve, and used it as a template to bend 3mm garden wire to make four identical pieces. I didn’t join the two ends together, but left them about an inch apart . I then wired each end separately to the body armature. This gave each wing double the support than would have been achieved if I had wired the ends together. Eventually, the armature would have to support the weight of layers of feathers and I thought this method would offer a more stable fixing.

Sketch for Angel Wing sculpture

Once the wings were wired to the body, I added the ‘feathers’ using thinner 1.2mm garden wire and supported where wires crossed each other with little strips of masking tape. The thinner wire made it easy to adjust the shape of each ‘feather’ until I was satisfied with how the wings looked. I had great fun bending and twisting the wires trying to add movement to each feather.

Armature for Archangel sculpture
Basic Raphael wing and body armature

The next stage in the wings’ progress was a layer of newspaper strips and wallpaper paste front and back. I pasted the strips directly onto the wire armature. Just one layer either side was sufficient to provide enough support for the thin layer of Jonni’s clay recipe which was the next stage.

The thin layer of paper dried overnight and remained flexible enough for me to bend the wings into a curve creating volume and movement. I should also point out here that I left enough wire protruding from the body to enable the wings to be moved out of the way when I was working on the head and body. I hadn’t decided on the final position of the wings in relation to the arms either so it was useful to be able to move the wings around as the design developed.

Adding paper mache to the wings

A very important thing to do is to stand some distance away from the piece and have a good look at it.

It is easier to see faults or things I just don’t like from a distance. I am lucky in that I work in my sun-lounge and can see the piece through the glass door from my kitchen. This enables me to stand well back . It is an invaluable practice to get into the habit of.

I did this once the wings were papered and decided the shape wasn’t quite right in places. I went back with scissors and wire cutters in hand and made my adjustments. I could cut through some of the thinner feather wires without risking anything because the paper held everything together so I removed a few wires and cut away the paper to refine the shape. Mainly creating more space between some of the feathers.

Paper mache on angel wings
This picture shows the papered wings before I attacked them with scissors and wire cutters.

The next picture shows the wings after shaping and with the thin coat of paper clay over the paper. This stiffened the wings into their final shape and provided a strong, firm surface upon which to layer the feathers. You can clearly see the difference between the two.

Before covering with clay, the tips were further tweaked into shape creating more movement. I wanted to try to convey a feeling of the wings shimmering, the tips moving.

As you can see, I had decided, after looking long and hard from a distance, that I wanted the arms to be emerging from the wings as opposed to being completely separate so I pinned the hands to the wings from the back into the hand using a staple gun and horseshoe staples. I taped the hands until the layer of clay was dry.

Angel wings after shaping

The next stage was really fun. Should I make individual feathers? Should I give the impression of feathers marking them into the soft clay once it was on the wings? Do I want feathers at all? Looking at the shape of the wings, and the illusion of movement, I decided I didn’t want feather shapes at all. Certainly not feather detail with quills and lines.

Raphael had developed into something I hadn’t imagined at the beginning and was rather ‘Deco’ and smooth. The wings had taken on a rather flame-like quality too so I decided to run with this.

I made a batch of smooth air dry clay and rolled it out as thin as I could between sheets of clingfilm. I coated the wings front and back with it, pressing it on having pasted each one with a coat of PVA glue to help it stick. My plan was to create a smooth single piece over each wing but, of course, the sheets of clay started to tear apart so I ended up having to smooth joins and tears with a wet paintbrush. Having said that, the clay went on in fairly large pieces.

The next two layers were added using the wetter paper clay recipe. I could swirl it on and shape it as I went sometimes adding, sometimes taking away. I tried to smooth it as I went along but I did have to some sanding in the end to get it as smooth as possible. The final layer at the top line was made using the smooth air dry clay again. I cut the shapes with a sharp craft knife in a strip from thinly rolled clay, positioned them along the top edges and then trimmed as necessary with a craft knife. This happened over the course of a week, allowing each layer to dry before the next was added and sanding as I went.

Angel wing details added

I was originally intending to do the same to the back of the wings and had the design been ‘feathers’, I probably would have done. As it turned out, I rather liked the idea of smooth wings on the back. I made a feature of how the wings emerged from the body and really liked the effect. It was something that had troubled me for some time.

Joining the wings on without hiding the join with feathers was an interesting problem to be solved. I love how I achieved it by merging them into the neck muscles at the top and into the back below. It looks interesting and in keeping with the overall design. It was done using the smooth clay, although the wetter paper clay would have worked equally well. The smooth clay blends into anything very well just using water. I used it to fill holes and dips, to smooth rough edges and build up tips. It really is very versatile. I love it.

To finish, all the edges were sanded smooth and flat with the help of a Dremel multi tool. I could have done it all by hand but the Dremel makes light work of it all. Dust mask and goggles are essential!

The back of the angel wings

The following picture shows the lovely curve of the wings created after the layer of paper strips and before the first thin coat of paper clay.

Angel wings from the edge

Michael developed slightly differently.

His wings started off exactly the same as Raphael’s . The same template was used to create the wire framework and this was covered with a layer of paper strips front and back then coated with a thin layer of original clay recipe. I decided upon feathers for Michael’s wings. The silky smooth air-dry clay was rolled out thinly between sheets of cling-film and the individual feathers were cut out with a craft knife and stuck onto the dried clay layer with PVA glue. At first, I made the feathers with a central ridge, rolling the clay outwards from the middle top and bottom.

Michael the Archangel's Wings

I wasn’t quite happy with the effect and when I came to work out the positioning of the next layer of feathers, realised it wasn’t going to work. All change! I sanded off the central ridge and added s trip at the top of each feather to create a ridge higher up each one.

Archangel Michael's Wings, Step 2

A second layer of feathers was then added and placed on top of the first. I much preferred this effect. I added an extra feather to fill in the large gap near the bottom of the wing, supporting it from the back with a piece of plastic chopping mat taped to the back of the wing with masking tape (such useful stuff).

Sculpting wings on the archangel.

Two more layers were added until the wing was complete.

Adding detail to the angel's wings.

The wings were not yet fixed to the body but the wires were bare and moveable. The weight of the clay feather layers had pulled the wings down too low. It was time to fix them properly. I manipulated the wires at the back to get them as flat against the body as possible and taped the wing tips together then surrounded the wires with silky smooth air dry clay, blending it into the body and left it to dry for a few days.

Holding the angel's wings in place.

While I was waiting for it to dry, I kept looking at the wings from the distance of my kitchen and I decided I didn’t like the extra feathers I had added after all. There were a few other tips I didn’t like the position of too. Luckily, due to a damp spell in the weather, the clay wasn’t yet quite dry on the wings and I was able to bend a few tips until I was happy. A couple cracked in the process, but they were easily repaired with a smudge of clay. I cut out the extra feathers, one each side. I much preferred the space between the feathers that doing this created. There is always a little trial and error involved to get the look right in any sculpture. That’s what I have found anyway. Never be afraid to try things out and scrap them if necessary.

Angel wing detail
Angel wing detail

A little more sanding smooth and shaping of the clay and finally I was happy. I think Michael is too.

The angel's wings after sanding.

The wings are blended into the body slightly differently to Raphael and as you can see, I have left the back of the feathers plain again. I rather like the effect.

Angel wings from the back

They are pictured together below. Similar but different. Both created from the same pattern and method up to the point of adding the silky smooth air-dry clay layers. Michael’s are even more curved than Raphael’s. As if he is in the process of wrapping them around the defeated Satan. I found it very interesting how the shape could be manipulated so late in the process. The clay remains flexible enough until absolutely dry. That’s very useful and one of the bonuses of using this particular medium.

Two archangel sculptures

I hope you have enjoyed reading this post. Please do not hesitate if you would like to ask me any questions. I’m more than happy to oblige. Thanks, again, to Jonni for this wonderful website. We all get so much from it. Happy paper mache crafting everyone!

22 thoughts on “Archangel Wings”

  1. Sarah,

    Superbe sculpture, il me tarde d’essayer de marcher sur vos traces avec une composition se rapprochant de la vôtre…
    Merci pour ce fabuleux partage!
    Tous mes vœux et ondes positives pour le rétablissement de votre mari
    Hâte d’admirer vos prochaines œuvres
    A très bientôt

  2. Sara
    Your work is fabulous. I recently made a 3 ft ice cream cone for a display and made it with paper mache and paper clay. How big is your archangel? Did you use some kind of weight in the bottom?
    I look forward to seeing more of your work.
    Gloria Wilkinson

  3. You are a master sculptor! What great and imaginative and well planned execution. You know, there are quite a few more archangels, will you do more after Michael? I am curious as to where you got the idea and also where your beautiful sculptures will reside? Thanks for sharing your process and for remembering to take progress pics. I always get so caught up that I forget!

    • Thanks Eileen. I would love to do all the Archangels. They would make a wonderful display wouldn’t they? The problem is time. After Michael, I am going to make a church-style statue of the Grail-Bearer/ Mary Magdalene, a request from my Husband. That will take priority for now.
      I’ve wanted to do Michael for years but only now had time. Raphael entered the equation when my husband became ill. In my research, I discovered these two are often depicted together and indeed, Michael is also a healer. The main reason for wanting to do Michael is the triumph of good over evil. He is very important to us. The idea for their form just developed in my imagination I suppose. I’m not sure where they will reside yet but it will come to me.
      I know what you mean about remembering to take pics. I keep forgetting myself. It is important to just go with the flow when working. i usually take a picture at the end of the day’s work but by then, several stages can be missed!

  4. Thank you. I, also, want to do wings. (I’ve had photos of angels on my wall for years now.) At times I get the impression artists have an afternoon and a few hours and do these incredible sculptures to fill the time. Most everything I make takes a long time. What I want to say is all the hard work, preparation, creativity, and results that you show here. Not only is the sculpture amazing, we can see how long and passionate you were in the process. Thank you very much. I hope to put your technique to work in the near future. Beautifully done.

    • Thankyou Rex. Everything I do seems to take a long time too. Certainly longer than I anticipate. It doesn’t matter though. The creative process is just so rewarding isn’t it? I look forward to seeing your wings. A pair of wings would make a lovely wall ornament just on their own. Or even one wing. How about a winged elephant? 🙂

      • I like that. Winged elephants. A neighbor got a winged pig for Mother’s Day. I told her it may come up missing one day. (I walk their dog.) Your work here is most exceptional. Thanks.

  5. Wow, perfect timing. I’m actually working on a goddess sculpture & wanted going to add wings. Have been mulling over how I was going to do so….

    I’ll be using some of these techniques in addition to my own to finish my sculpture ? Thanks so much for sharing this ?

    • SJT,
      Perfect technique for goddess wings. I look forward to seeing the finished work. If you have any questions in the process, don’t hesitate to ask.

    • Thanks Gloria, Good question. I should have put the measurements in the post. The wing span is 22″/56cmand base to tip is 33″/84cm. The base is plaster with some shingle added for extra weight. Did you see the picture of the whole sculpture on the Daily Sculptor’s page? I give a bit more detail of the process there.

  6. Sarah,
    Your Archangel is just exceptional. I love the lines. Thank you so much for sharing your process. I create a lot of birds and have done lots of experimenting to make the wings thinner. Your pasting paper strips directly on the wire armature is genius.

    You mentioned “soft clay”. What kind of soft clay do you use? I use Apoxie Sculpt but that can have some weight to it depending on the size of the project.

    Thanks so much.

    • Kelly,
      I only used Jonni’s clay recipes for this sculpture. Both the original paper clay recipe and the smooth air dry clay recipe. They really are brilliant. The smooth air dry is perfect for the wings and is what I shall use for Michael’s feathers. When I said soft clay, I meant before it had hardened. It is best to leave it a little while to firm up and then it is easily marked with sculpting tools and can be further smoothed with a damp paintbrush. It sets very hard and could be sanded even thinner if you wished to create very delicate bird wings.


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