Building the ‘Sadako’ armature

It’s one thing building the armature for a third life-size maquette. It’s another thing building an armature for a four-fifths life-size sculpture, even though it is of a ten-year old girl. I am definitely out of my comfort zone. The armature needs to be able to support the weight of the clay without drooping or tipping. The clay must be able to cling to the armature. And the armature needs to be able to support the weight of the rubber during the mould-making process. A tall order. There isn’t the time to make too many mistakes. My model is off to Japan in July and the sculpture needs to be cast in July/August and unveiled in September. So I bring in the expertise of Andrew Brown, co-owner of the Sussex Sculpture Studios .

Half life-size sliding armature
Half life-size sliding armature

We agree that a purchased ‘half life-size’ sliding armature should be sufficient to give this small figure the back support it needs. I finally track one down in Northern Ireland (Scarva) and get it shipped over. I order ten metres of aluminium armature wire (6.3 mm) (from Tirantis). It’s all here – we can start.

Wood runners are attached underneath a large oblong ply board (45cm x 76cm). This will make it easier to pick up the sculpture/board.

Armature affixed to board
Armature affixed to board

At the end of the board the armature is attached with heavy-duty screws & washers.

Now for the calculations, so out comes my trusty calculator. I have a one-third size maquette and the life-size measurements of my model, but the sculpture is going to be four-fifths life-size. And of course the metal armature I am building from steel and wire – like a stick version of the model – has to be smaller than the four-fifths dimensions. Confused? My brain is aching. And Andrew is laughing at me.

Attaching the steel rod
Attaching the steel rod

I finally work out the length of steel rod I need for her back that would go from the outstretched metal arm of the sliding armature up into her head (middle of forehead).

This is cut and attached using ‘jubilee’ or ‘hose’ clips.

I then work out the lengths of 6.3 mm square armature wire needed for (a) two separate legs/feet going up into the hip (b) shoulders into torso (c) shoulders across to each arm and hand. These are cut to length – Andrew uses wire cutters but my wrists are too weak, so I put the wire in a vice and use a hacksaw. I then bend these pieces of wire into the correct shape before attaching.

Must admit, this is the bit I hate the most – attaching the pieces of armature wire, in the right place. You need to make up metal ties and find appropriate-sized jubilee clips.

Wire tie
Wire tie

Andrew makes up a wire tie for me to copy. Mine don’t quite look like his, but do the job. I’m told later that the important thing is that you can pop the wire tie around what you are binding and use pliers on both ends, turning in opposite directions to tighten. This will only make sense if you try it!

Attaching the wire armature lengths
Attaching the wire armature lengths

So I attach legs to the sliding armature, the shoulder/torso wire to the steel ‘spine’ and the shoulder/arm wire to the shoulder/torso wire. Best to just look at the photo.

Joining the arms
Joining the arms

Final step for the day is to position the arms so they are roughly in the right position. I use the maquette as reference. The hands are to be cupped together, to hold a ‘paper’ crane. So we join both arms at the hands.

Tomorrow I need to continue – need to add some more jubilee clips, add some wire under and along the arms, and make loops of softer wire and weave it over the legs and arms, so the clay won’t fall off. Then we will pack the torso/dress with polystyrene to save clay (more an issue of weight rather than saving money).

Fingers-crossed. Wish me luck.


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