November 12, 2019

Down to the Wire: Armatures for Air Dry Clay

Down to the Wire: Armatures for Air Dry Clay

You've heard me talk about the importance of armatures in air dry clay sculptures in previous blog posts. An armature is the inner support system of a sculpture, and they are crucial to making strong and delicate forms in air dry clay. Since wire is one of the most common materials for armatures, I thought I'd give it some special attention.

The Wacky World of Wire

Choosing wire can be overwhelming: there are how many types of metals, a confusing form of measurement, and quality varies depending on what sort you buy. The being said, some types of wire are more suited to sculpting with air dry clay than others.

Wire armature for air dry clay

Let's look at the most common metal wires you'll encounter:

Aluminium - Aluminum armature wire is the best for sculpting: it’s easy to shape, yet solid. You may find "aluminium wire" in the hardware store, but head's up: this type of wire does not take to re-shaping very well and may snap if overbent. Wire designated as "armature" tends to be more flexible and can be re-shaped several times over. It's also why it's one of the priciest options.

Galvanized - Commonly found in the hardware store. It is generally cheaper than aluminium, but it's also a lot stiffer and difficult to shape. I recommend plastic coated gloves and pliers to work with this one.

Plastic-coated - This is a good budget-friendly option, and it's easy on the hands, though you can usually only find thinner wire. The biggest challenge is that paint does not adhere to it very well.

Brass - A good option when rigidity is required, however; the same thing that makes this wire strong, makes it quite inflexible and difficult to shape. Even something as high as 22 gauge (more on that below) can be tricky to work with. 

Copper - It is possible to use it for armatures as it is very malleable, but it's also quite expensive and oxidizes on the surface which can affect finishes.

Wire armature for air dry clay art sculpture

What in Good Gauges? Wire Thickness

In North America, wire thickness is generally measured in gauges (or AWG) - the higher the gauge the thinner the wire. It can also sometimes be shown as a fraction. In Europe, wire thickness is generally measured in millimeters.

When you're choosing the gauge of wire keep in mind that the purpose of the wire is to strengthen the overall structure. Know how much clay you're putting on the armature and whether it will be able to support it.

I use a range of wire thickness to suit various applications and sculpture sizes. For example, the sculpture below was made using 12 gauge wire.

Boston terrier dog sculpture from wire and clay by Susie Benes


Consider All Your Materials

Your choice of wire will depend on the type of sculpture material (air dry vs epoxy clay) and whether the wire will be left exposed (and/or painted). If you're working with Creative Paperclay you need to remember that it is water-based, and wires from copper or galvanized steel are more likely to oxidize in a noticeable way. 

If you're just experimenting, there's no need to buy expensive wires. An option like plastic-coated will help you build experience before moving on to more premium options.

Don't worry about getting the perfect materials - work with what you have and keep creating!


What's Next?

Make your own wire and clay animal sculpture

See an air dry sculpture from start to finish