Wood Pipe Foam Clay

Folks ask me how a bronze sculpture is created so I’m going describe the steps in this blog. So here we go.

I’ve already created the smaller version called a maquette which I will use to enlarge it to life-size version. It’s a process that’s been utilized by artists for hundreds of years. If not longer. There is an other method of enlarging a smaller sculpture to a larger one through digital enlargement. If I were making a sculpture like a bear with a dense base etc., it might work better but for horses with fine legs, necks, heads, and tails, I want the option to tweet the design. These things evolve, at least mine do. Digital enlargement saves time for artists but I find the front in time-saving doesn’t always work for me.

I use the same method of construction for a small sculpture or a large one. It’s wood, steel, pipe, foam and finally clay. I learned this very important part of making sculpture from the first foundry I cast my work at Bear Paw Bronze in Scottsdale, Arizona. Loren Phippen showed me how to make an all-purpose armature which I use to this day. For this life-size horse and rider I need big pieces of foam and pipe.


Construction Grade Foam Insulation

A trip to the lumber yard is in order for these projects. I need 4′ by 8′ sheets of construction grade insulation which isn’t styrofoam it’s a polyurethane foam. I can’t cut it with a heat knife (poison vapors) like I could with the white foam used in insulated coffee cups. I could use the styrofoam but it breaks into pieces and gets everywhere. Nasty stuff. And it doesn’t have the density of the construction insulation used in houses.

I’ll cut these pieces into the general shape of the subject I’m going to sculpt using serrated knives, wood saws, box cutters and rasps. I use power-sanders too, but that’s the final stage before I apply the clay. But first, I have to secure a steel pipe for support of the whole statue. This is plumbing pipe which comes in different sizes. For this statue the pipe is 1 1/4″ by 34″. I also need a T coupling for the top of the pipe which I’ll use to secure the horse’s rider. This is half the height of the horse from the ground to his wither. I will fasten another piece of pipe to this pipe after I get his body made so I can attach his legs . With these big pieces I prefer to make the sections first then assemble the whole thing when I start the clay application.


Steel Plumbing Pipe Flange

I use a plywood base to secure the pipe to, this piece is smaller than the eventual base I’ll use for the ease of moving it around and the relative light weight of the foam armature. And I use a table I can raise and lower making it easier on my back. I’ll be making the body of the horse first, fleshing out the shape by laminating the pieces of foam together. My goal is to get as close to the shape of the piece before I apply the clay.


Insulation Spray Foam Application

The large pieces of foam have to be attached to the support pipe. I do this by cutting out an indention on each piece so I can put the foam together with glue and spray insulation foam (which acts as a glue). I use bamboo skewers to secure the pieces together and duct tape to make sure everything stays in place until the foam sets up. After this first step, the lamination portion of the armature construction goes faster. But first I need to leave it overnight so I have a good base to build on. I can’t tolerate a flexible armature. This photograph shows the hole I cut in the foam sheet to insert more foam at the bottom of the interior pipe.