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Re: [teacherartexchange] wire frame for clay?


From: Marvin Bartel (marvinpb_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Tue Dec 09 2008 - 11:35:09 PST

>Diane Davis wrote:
>I have a middle school girl who wants to make a clay horse standing, with one foot up.Easy to draw, not so easy to make in clay. I suggested she needed a wire frame, as the horses legs are so delicate and the weight of the clay so heavy. Can she use a coat hanger? Or will it be too brittle in the kiln? Is there another way to make something heavy stand up on thin legs? Is there an inexpensive wire I can get at home depot?
Armatures are used for Plasticine (oil based modeling clay), but not for clay that dries, shrinks, and is fired. Plasticine is not a permanent materials, but is used when molds are to be made of the model. The final products are then cast from the molds.

As others have indicated, standard clay shrinks and cracks if the armature cannot shrink with it as the clay dries. We have a number of non-armature methods that can work quite well.

I make and high fire a lot of things on throw-away clay scaffolding that is individually designed to externally support parts that would otherwise be impossible to make and fire from clay. Each piece needs its own tailor made supports made of the same clay that the piece uses. Using this method, everything shrinks simultaneously during drying and during stoneware and porcelain firing. I toss all these supports when the pieces are finished.
During construction, a horse body can be supported on a chunky clay center post under the belly (not attached to the horse--lay paper between). Cradle the body on this fat post.

The one foot that is up could have another smaller support post made of the same clay. I would set the supports and the horse on a slab large enough to include the feet and legs. Making the supports from the same clay allows for uniform shrinkage. If the support post is too thick to safely fire it, I poke a bunch of vent holes in it with a coat hanger wire. Sometimes I fire the piece up-side-down, or on its side on a simple clay cradle or in a small mound of silica sand to support it gently during the first firing.

If the horse is thick, it needs to be hollow with a vent or solid and well vented with a hole pierced every half inch for firing. A wad of newspaper is often used as core for the body. This soft enough to allow shrinkage. Poke a pin hole in the bottom to vent it. Some make a hole big enough to pull the paper out when it is leather hard. After removing the paper, plug the hole with the piece that was cut out to make the hole. This is done to reduce smoke in the room during firing.

After bisque firing, remove the support post before glazing. However, if I am glaze firing to high temp stoneware or porcelain, it is still essential to support the body weight during glaze firing (legs get soft in a cone 10 firing). There would be an unglazed spot for the post under the belly. Cone 07 to 05 firings should be okay using the three legs to support the horse.

Another option is to forgo the glaze firing and use other finishes on the bisque horse. Our sculpture students often paint iron oxide on the bisque and then thoughtfully sponge it off to leave it darker in the low places. It can then be sealed with wax or a spray fix.

Sometimes when stuff is too heavy during assembly. I use wires that are attached to my ceiling. From the wires, I make a cloth sling that hold the weight of the sculpture while lighter weight attachments are hung from the main part. One of my clay teachers, Sheldon Carey, invented a wheel that could be inverted and raised up high enough so that he could make very tall pieces by pulling the clay down instead of raising it. Creativity is often the result of reversal thinking. Instead of fighting our materials, we change our thinking.

Good luck.


Marvin Bartel, Ed.D., Professor of Art Emeritus
Adjunct in Art Education
Goshen College, 1700 South Main, Goshen IN 46526
studio phone: 574-533-0171


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