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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
Two more layers were added until the wing was complete.
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.
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.
A little more sanding smooth and shaping of the clay and finally I was happy. I think Michael is too.
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.
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.
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!