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

Get a fast start on your next paper mache project or hand-made gift with Jonni’s easy downloadable patterns for masks, animal sculptures and faux trophy mounts. The patterns help you create a beautiful work of art, even if you’ve never sculpted anything before.

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:

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

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

  1. Have you done a deer? If so could you share the pattern?
    Your work is awesome – maybe I can do half as good.


  2. So, can you clarify…..First foil over model, covered by a few layers of duct tape. Remove taped form. fill with crumpled paper and rebar. Then apply paper strips with PM glue mixture directly over duct tape…this is the part I’m trying to make sure I get right??? Then apply PM clay over strips?

  3. Oh and one more question.. what do you do to your daughter’s hair? doesn’t it get tangled all over to the tape?

  4. I saw this post and I tried to make one just the other day. I succeeded in making the body and legs so far but I have some difficulty in making the hands. I’m wondering if you can explain to me how you make the fingers? I also saw your other post about making poseable hand but when i try it out it became a complete failure. And for the foam, what kind of foam do you mean? Thanks if you take time to answer all these questions 🙂

    • I’m not sure if Michael is still watching this post, so I’ll try to come up with an answer for you. I’ve never actually tried this, but I have heard that some people use latex gloves for hands, and fill them with something so they can pose them. I think that sounds like a great idea. I believe that Michael used the kind of foam that you get at the hardware store – it is sprayed into cracks in houses to seal them. You have to be really careful with the stuff, because it will stick to anything, and there is no product that will get it off once it dries. It’s fun to play with, though.

      • Wow thank you, that information really helps a lot, I didn’t even think about using latex gloves before. I still didn’t have a clue of the foam but I guess I can use some other materials. Anyways if I filled the armature with paper mâché pulp will it be okay?

        • That depends on how thickly the paper mache pulp was applied. Paper tends to hold on to water, so it takes a long time to dry. If the pulp has access to air or if air is moving, it should be fine. Let us know how it turns out.

          • Sure, I’m going to start the project by tomorrow. thank you very much for your helpful tips since I really needs it.

          • Is it okay to leave the tape sculpture just the way it is and not filling them with anything? I do filled mine with armature made from pipes but no paper or foam

            • Will you be covering the tape with paper mache? If you do, and if the paper mache is strong enough, it should hold up without the foam. I’ve never used foam myself, but I can see how it might be useful in this particular project.

  5. I managed to do the head alright. Now i’m having problems with the clay itself…after two batches, my mixer broke. And the mixture is especially sticky and sort of difficult to apply onto my figure. not to mention I didn’t buy enough linseed oil and elmer’s glue, and now I am out. How essential are those two ingredients?

  6. I have a question about this process. When you taped up your daughter, was she just standing normally in a relaxed position? Or did you tape her up in the position you wanted the figure to be in?

    • I don’t know how Michael did it, but if I tried this I’d try to have the model hold the pose I wanted for the final sculpture. It feels like that would be a lot easier. But if you just had her stand in a relaxed position, you would be able to play around with the pose later, so I’m not sure which one would work best. Hopefully, Michael is still watching this page and he’ll give us some advice.

      • Thanks for the response, Jonni. I’ll do my best to model the pose, but it’ll be a difficult one to hold for a long time. I was wondering about the head as well…is it best to put straws in the nose for the person to breathe when covering the face? What do you think?

        • You definitely don’t want to cover her nose and mouth. If you’re putting duct tape on the face or anywhere there’s hair (I guess that’s everywhere, really) there will have to be something between the skin and the tape. I use aluminum foil when I make my mask forms on my face, but you have to be careful to not get stabbed by the pointy edges and ridges, especially around the eyes.

          • Sure, I’m going to start the project by tomorrow. thank you very much for your helpful tips since I really needs it.

  7. Question, why do u need the chicken wire when you already formed the armature with masking tape?

    Great job, by the way. =)

  8. Hi,
    I tried your papier mache clay today and I really liked the way it worked.
    I was unable to borrow a mixer with the bread hook attachments and so it was a hand operation. I broke the TP into little pieces as I watched TV last night. It soaked overnight in warm water. I’m glad I did.
    When I mix up another batch by hand, I plan on adding a drop of food coloring (or paint) within the different ingredients to give me a clue when the mixture is thoroughly mixed. I got this idea from the very yellow linseed oil. Although helpful, it was such a small amount that it spun the idea of more clue with a bit of coloring.
    Thanks for your web site with all the excellent information.

  9. Wish I saw this before I started XD
    ..if I had a sculpture sitting in my kitchen.. I’d freak out XD
    My work (which is seated beside me…) already freaks me out every night!

  10. I painted her dress red and coated it with spar varnish, all her skin was covered in clippings of 1940’s magazines i got off of ebay, pictures of iconic 30-40’s stuff. the only part that really looks human on her is her eyes and her lips were red, the rest was more of a Wheres waldo of black and white pictures. i have a finished pic of her some where ill try to find it, if not ill go down and get a pic of her in the shop where shes parked.

  11. Thanks! Ill try to find some pics of it finished (im horrible at following up when its done) I’m still trying to master Jonni’s fantastic painting proccess, ive got unpainted projects all over the place 😛
    If you have any questions about the pinup id be happy to try and answer em.

  12. Wow! It’s the only thing I can say when I see your work!
    It’s really fantastic how you made the sculptures look so realistic!
    Keep on doing that, it’s really fantastic!

Leave a Comment

Heads up! You are attempting to upload an invalid image. If saved, this image will not display with your comment.

Heads up! You are attempting to upload a file that's too large. Please try a smaller file smaller than 250KB.

Note that images greater than 250KB will not be uploaded.