Monday, January 3, 2011

SATYR (Armature Day 1)

 Welcome back to those of you who are followers and thanks for joining us to all those who are just taking a look. I wanted to give you a look forward at where we are going so some of the preparation steps may make more sense. I hope to answer some of the "why" issues with this sculpture as we addressed many of the "how" issues in Tristan and Isolde. For those of you looking for a "how to sculpt" tutorial, you may find some helpful info in my previous post of Tristan and Isolde in the December 2010 Archive.


Sculpture must be interesting from all sides. Our goal is to engage the viewer so he or she will want to come closer to see the detail and view the work from many angles.

The idea here is to design a piece which catches the eye from a distance and draws the viewer into the sculpture. At doll shows, you have about 30 seconds to catch the client's attention as he or she walks through rows of beautiful artwork. You need something to grab the attention. A piece like this will make a great centerpiece for a display or an eye catching front page for a website.

These days I try to capture more movement and freedom in my artwork. I hope this piece does that for you as well.

This is the finished armature for the Satyr and Nymph. Each figure is about 11" tall if standing. the goal of this piece is to sculpt a figure which seems to hover in midair. The satyr is merely the support and counter balance for the nymph. (The sculpting base for this and many of my pieces is a block of aluminum which has various sized holes drilled into it to accept the different sized rods and tubes of the armatures. A large piece of wood works just as well.)
Please note here that the two figures balance each other over the foot which touches the base. This is one of the reasons he is leaning back away from her. The other is that it adds more movement and interest to the story.

Each figure starts with a basic wire armature made of 14 gauge steel wire.  This wire is strong enough to support a stand-alone figure without any rods or tubes. The upper and lower parts of the armature are held together with foil tape. (More details can be found in the Tristan and Isolde blog. or in my book, The Human Figure in Clay)
As usual, I use a skull made of polymer clay with the white Mt. Jade beads set into it and cured before sculpting. The pose is set by comparing the armature to the drawing. It helps to have a drawing done to the final size to make this easier.
 The only support for this piece will be a 3/16" brass rod which runs from the base, through the satyr and into the armature of the nymph.
the rod is bent with a pair of pliers and a lot of hand strength. You may need a large burly man for this or a table top vise to help you.
Care must be taken to bend brass in only one direction. If you bend it back, it will tend to snap off. A steel rod will work as well and give you the ability to correct bends if you have to re-bend the rod. Steel will not break as easily with multiple bends.
As you look at the side view of the finished armature down this page, keep in mind how the figure lays in one plane. The rod need not bend front to back very much to make it's journey. This also keeps the figure from turning in the base later on as all the weight is centered in the same plane as well.
The rod is curved and bent to fit to the shape of the body with a 1/2" post sticking out the foot to set into the base and about 4" extra running out the arm to fit into the arm of the nymph.
The satyr will simply be built around this support so all we need to do is secure the satyr armature to the rod with foil tape.
I know some of you will be disappointed but we are not going to solder any of this sculpture's armature. We need not solder because the figures can be shipped without the removal of any limbs. On a larger sculpture, the limbs may need to break off to ship so the armature gets more complex. (remember, I promised a simple sculpt!)
 The bulk of the body is filled with foil and all metal surfaces are covered with tape to keep the clay clean.
See how complicated the pose looks from the front...
... and the back. The twist of the body around the rod give the illusion of great "activity" in the pose. We want to create a spiral from the head, around the spine, to the feet. The viewer will want to follow this spiral from top to bottom and will walk all around the piece to view each side. This is total engagement, this is what we want our art to do.
Now, note how flat the underlying structure is where our support runs through the figure. This keeps the weight centered over the support post of the foot and will limit our structural stress in the finished piece.
We will rely on the clay to add more twist to the figure.

Tomorrow we will build the female armature.
Have agreat day!


  1. Awesome Mark, this is wonderful work. I love to watch the progress. You have simplified in writing your very complex work, an easy way to follow! Thanks for the lessons!


  2. You always make this seem so simple!

    Can you offer tips on how to "see" or determine where the central support should be, or how to balance the sculpt? I know I've had to re-do many poses in order to get them to balance correctly (I like mine to be unsupported and balance on their own with no pegs). I guess what I'm saying is that you've plenty of experience in this style of armature - so you already know and understand what needs to be done. I'm sure I'm not the only one who looked at that drawing and couldn't quite puzzle out where the main support beams needed to be...

    Did any of that make sense, or should I have my coffee and try again? LOL

    Thanks Mark!

  3. Thank you for sharing all this, Mark. I am absolutely a novice but have always loved sculpted dolls and would like to do some smaller, simple pieces. I reviewed your previous tutorial, am eager to follow along with this one...and, at some point, take the plunge.

  4. I can FEEL the movement in this piece. It's dancing without acually moving...AMAZING!
    This is the most difficult part for me.
    I love to watch you work.
    Thank you for this gift Mark.

  5. wow... this satyr is AWESOME !!!!!!!!!!!!! if i only could i would watch him on my desk all day,every day !!!!!I looove him !!! he is like taken out of my imagination while READING Chronicles of Narnia, thats how i see them !!! he is totally awesome !!! And thank you for sharing the whole process with us, how wonderful of you.

  6. This looks like fun and your satyr is ... wow, don't know what to say... I lOVE it! How much extra rod length did you leave between their hands?

    I found some Baby Prosculpt and you are right.. it is easier to work with once it is conditioned and has much more body than the Prosculpt Light which I used now and then.

    Thanks, Mark.. gonna go hunt down a burley man with strong hands in the neighborhood.... LOL!! Only kidding... I have a pipe bender and hoping that will help.

  7. Now this is what I'm talking about. Simple enough that even I might be able to finally create something that's floating in air! I love this piece, Mark, and the potential the armature design has for creating other pieces as well. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!

  8. Your work makes me weep! The pure beauty reverberates in me...even the armatures movement flow is...just wonderful.
    so glad I found you!

  9. This is wonderful! I sculpt my heads very different and they take me forever to finish, for a 10 inch figure how big is your skull?


  10. I absolutely love your work and am in awe at how generously you share advice and tips with us. I am amazed, humbled and inspired beyond belief. And this piece is going to be a mindblower; I feel like a kid at Christmas... just can't wait to see it done. Thank you so much!!

  11. Fantastic! You have a wonderful grasp of the male form and how the muscles should look in movement. Any suggestions on how I may learn this?


  12. Your sculptures are amazing. I hope one day my figures would be as wonderful as yours.

    Thank you for sharing your sculpting process with us.


  13. Thank you all. Lots of good questions here. Okay, the easy ones first. The skull used here is about 1 1/2" high. I'm using a proportion of eight heads high for the figure from top to bottom. The skull for a 10" figure would be about 1 1/4" using this proportion.
    KayC, I know from your site on Deviant Art that you are married. You have a male figure at home so all you need to do is observe him in the poses you want to create. I strongly believe that 90% of art is being able to "see" what you want to recreate. Watch people of all ages, sexes, races, and occupations. You will be amazed by what the body movement can tell you about their lives, injuries, and occupations.
    Bev, I will address your questions in the next blog. thanks for making me work at this! :)

  14. i wish you were in my country :)