Super Light Armature for Large Figures! Plus Free Bison Pattern.

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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.

SCALING UP

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.

Using balloons for large animal armature.

Tape additional cardboard on the cylinder if you need extra shaping.

Taping the balloon armature together

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 armature with layer of paper mache

SKULL BALLOON

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).

Creating the armature pattern to size
Bison head pattern
Bison leg patterns

I build up the legs and add a layer of strip mache, and dry, before I tape them on the body.

Bison legs after padding

FINAL ASSEMBLY: HEAD, BODY, LEGS

Cut the dry skull ball in half and attach the halves to either side of the cardboard head.

Balls for the bison's head

Fasten the head to the body: slash the neck tabs, bend, and tape them to the chest ball.

Bison head construction

Add the legs.

Adding legs to the bison sculpture

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!

Finished paper mache bison
Finished bison sculpture.
Paper mache bison
Paper mache bison head.

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!

Hax!

  • 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.

11 thoughts on “Super Light Armature for Large Figures! Plus Free Bison Pattern.”

    • The bison finished at two feet long. I have a rough formula that seems to work itself out: if your biggest balloon is 9″, your figure will probably wind up being two feet long. If your biggest balloon is 12″, your figure will probably end up being a yard long.

      Reply
      • It looks great. I guess you could use beach balls to go bigger. I found a good way of layering quickly was to use shredded paper with hot cornstarch paste.

        Reply
        • Sabrina! Need deets! Recipe!

          Also, the beach ball can be preserved: as long as you don’t cover up the nozzle, you can deflate it and pull it out to use again!

          Reply
          • I just dipped dry shredded paper into a bowl of hot starch glue. I never measured anything but it’s like custard but made with water. Mix a quantity of starch powder (or cornstarch) with cold water to a paste. Gradually add near boiling water while stirring. You want it thick but not too thick… Dip handfuls of shredded paper in. Squeeze out excess and use it.
            Dry toilet paper mixed with same starch and kneaded thoroughly is good for fine details.

            Reply
  1. Bonjour et merci pour ce tutoriel. C’est toujours très intĂ©ressant de dĂ©couvrir la technique des autres, cela nous fait souvent progresser.
    Hello and thank you for this tutorial. It is always very interesting to discover the technique of others, it often makes us progress.

    Reply
    • You are so right! I love detailed, step-by-step, real time tutorials. Even the way other artists handle the paper, or the scissors can teach you TONS! And then you can build on that to create new ways. And share them!

      Reply
  2. Really nice pattern and look. Seems too much for me but maybe someday. Practicing is the key. Gotta start somewhere.

    Reply
  3. this is AWESOME! I could use this procedure for the colt I got from you a long time ago and haven’t done yet!!!!!

    Reply
  4. Hello; Jonni,

    I used to love it when my mother would do her paintings or any other crafts
    that she was doing. I guess that is how I got so interested in it.

    Your friend did a wonderful job on this Bison.
    Love your work.
    Keep up the great work.

    Lori

    Reply

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