Guest Post – Making an Armature for a Paper Mache Figure Sculpture

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Today’s guest post was sent in by Michael Jacobson, in response to Hannah’s questions about making a figure sculpture our of paper mache. I don’t mind admitting that I wasn’t much help to Hannah, so I was very happy when Michael offered to help out. So, without further ado, here’s Michael:

Make a Life-Sized Paper Mache Figure Sculpture

© 2011 Michael Jacobson

‘Ive done a few human size pieces that worked out pretty well. I’ll tell you how I did mine — maybe it will help.

The first piece was a 1940s pin up for a local barber shop, and the owner wanted it as realistic as possible. So after some research I decided to take duct tape and literally tape up my older daughter as an armature. I didn’t want the sculpture any larger than her so I used paper towels (a single layer) under the few layers of duct tape.

Armature After Adding Chicken Wire, Foam and Rebar
Armature After Adding Chicken Wire, Foam and Rebar

I did this in 3 steps, first the torso then the upper body and finally her head. Each time i cut the finished piece off of her in a straight line up her back so it came off like a suit. Then I taped the seam up with a single layer of duct tape. This gave me my skin.

I then went to Home Depot and got some chicken wire, the smallest Rebar they had, and some simple window foam. I formed separate pieces roughly the size of all the body components, arms, legs chest etc. and placed them inside the body through the seam in the back.  (The reason I taped it up in the first place was so that I could put the whole thing together and see how it looked. I use this seam for all insertions). The chicken wire doesn’t have to be exact, it just offers some extra strength around the Rebar and paper.

Duct Tape Armature for a Figure Sculpture
The Duct Tape Armature

Once I had the wire in (again roughly, I didn’t make perfectly shaped wire armatures), I then packed the body with crumpled paper in all the open spaces on the outside of the wire. After that I placed my Rebar inside the wire (it was already cut and bent into shape as the model was sitting) and packed more paper and some wire around the Rebar.

After this it actually looked freakishly realistic, enough so that it scared people who walked into the room BUT the whole piece was kinda loosey goosy, so this is where the foam comes in. I was pretty liberal with the foam thing — it filled the small places like wrinkles and fingers etc… this sat for several days because when enclosed inside the tape it takes forever to dry.

Figure Sculpture After During Process of Covering With Paper Mache Clay
Figure Sculpture After During Process of Covering With Paper Mache Clay

After it was done I finally had a good armature to lay my paper strips on. Then after that lots of Paper mache clay. (See Michael applying the clay in the photo at the top of this post).

Hope this helps. This method is kind of reverse of how you do most pieces as I did the skin first. But it worked well and she’s got a home in a barber shop.

Figure Sculpture After Covering With Paper Mache Clay
Figure Sculpture After Covering With Paper Mache Clay

Thanks Michael! Here’s another figure , a zombie, that Michael made using the same methods.

Michae's Zombie Sculpture
Michae’s Zombie Sculpture

46 thoughts on “Guest Post – Making an Armature for a Paper Mache Figure Sculpture”

  1. Here is my armature of Charle Chaplin.
    Feet are doing a dance but still his famous pose
    1915s style. I’m using Foil over a wood support
    The arms are adjustable so fat.
    Almost ready for air dry clay.

  2. This is my lizard I made using chicken wire and PMC, the chicken wire gave the support I needed . I also made a Neanderthal bust made from PMC and foam but I can’t find the picture to post

    • It looks like he rolled up some damp paper, and when it dried he covered it with paper mache. This is a really old post, and I doubt that the author is still watching it for comments.

  3. I have looked to see how the head was done but I must be missing the process, can someone please point me in the right direction? Thank you!

    • Hi Kelli. This was a guest post, and the author probably isn’t watching it for comments any more. However, he does mention that he included the head when he was taping up his daughter. I would be very cautious about doing that, because encasing someone in plastic doesn’t sound like a great idea. He must have left air holes to make sure she could breathe. There are some good videos on YouTube about making head molds using alginate – it’s a bit more expensive, but it will be a perfect match for the individual. You still have to be really careful to let the person breathe, though. 😉


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