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Today’s guest tutorial comes from our friend Jane Adamo. She’s previously shown us some of her sculptures on the Daily Sculptors page. In this post she takes us through the steps of creating a paper mache bison, using her lightweight armature method. I know this new method will be a huge help to those of us who want to make larger sculptures.
Thank you, Jane!!
Lightweight Armatures for Large Sculptures
© 2021 Jane Adamo
These armatures are big, hollow, and light, use a minimum of foil and newspaper fill, and always start with two balloons and a cereal box. My description may make it seem easy — and it is — but understand that everything is measured and scaled and, every step of the way, I am checking my source pictures, viewing the sculpture from every angle, and fixing mistakes…
I probably should have demo’d a fox because a fox body is almost exactly the shape of two balloons and a cardboard cylinder, but this wonderful guy from Lone Star Western Decor convinced me to do a more complicated figure to show that this method even works with a challenging shape. These techniques are all based on Jonni’s, so most of this you may already know!
Alternately, you can print a profile picture of the animal you want to make and draw in the balloon circles: skull, chest, and rear.
Open both ends of a cereal/cookie box and soften into a cylinder. Measure the diameter of the cylinder: that’s the diameter of your rear balloon: it will fit halfway inside the box. Everything scales to this hind balloon. Make your own cardboard calipers to measure balloons, courtesy of DaliLomoDIY !
CONSTRUCT THE BODY
Tape the chest and rear balloons to the ends of the cylinder.
Tape additional cardboard on the cylinder if you need extra shaping.
Cover this composite shape with a quick single “first draft” layer of strip mache. Strive to minimize wrinkles, but don’t worry too much about them: you’ll get it smoother later. Dry.
Cover with 3 layers of strip mache and dry.
1 HEAD 4 LEGS
Now, you’ll make 3 flat cardboard shapes: head, forefeet and hind feet. Outline the 3 pieces from the pattern on tracing paper. For this figure, I’m scaling up x 3. So mark off the tracing in 1” squares, then mark your corrugated board in 3” squares, scale up, and cut the pieces out (1 head, 2 fronts, 2 hinds).
I build up the legs and add a layer of strip mache, and dry, before I tape them on the body.
FINAL ASSEMBLY: HEAD, BODY, LEGS
Cut the dry skull ball in half and attach the halves to either side of the cardboard head.
Fasten the head to the body: slash the neck tabs, bend, and tape them to the chest ball.
Add the legs.
Fill out the figure and shape the details with newspaper and tape. Finish as you wish with strip mache or paper mache clay, and dry. Finish with skim coat of drywall joint compound (opt.), gesso, paint, and Varathane — DRYING thoroughly between each step!
Yes, I am CONSTANTLY studying my source photos, always checking all sides of the animal as I go, filling out, modeling, and correcting with balls of newspaper and tape (and sometimes a drywall saw…).
I SEARCH for close up photos for hooves, nose, horns; look at skeletal and muscle structure. I make eyeballs from pasted blue shop towels over foil balls. Ears are cut from cereal box cardboard. A realistic aardvark only needs 1 big balloon for the hollow armature!
- My favorite paste is Nana’s Paste, thick as pudding, credit to Christopher Dowie.
- After completing major sections of your sculpture, you can get a fresh perspective by slapping on one layer of newspaper strips and paste. Brush the form — however rough it may be — with thick paste, apply newspaper strips, brush with more paste, smooth with your hands. Dry. Continue modeling! For instance, after I tape down the neck tabs that attach the head to the body, I put on one fast layer of strip mache over the tabs, and dry.
ABOUT THE BISON PATTERN
Stay flexible to your own process and the vagaries of the weather and the medium materials. You may need to make some slashes or overlaps that aren’t indicated, soften cardboard to make it bend (to your will…), scrape in some score lines, slap on more masking tape, plug in more newspaper— make it work for you!
I believe that, in the end, you’ll find that the big chest balloon is too round on the sides. Simply cut an x or an * into the ribcage sides of the chest ball, and flatten a little. To keep the massive head in balance, tend to attach the front legs as far to the front as you aesthetically can, and you can make the front legs longer by adding a few more cardboard soles.