Equine Sculpture by Mel Miller


The first step to creating your own original sculpture is making the armature. The following pictures detail how to make an armature for a small horse. The procedure is slightly different for horses larger than approximately 5 inches tall. You can see the beginnings of a large scale sculpture in Jasmine's photo journal.

To get started, you'll need some wire (thin enough to accommodate the horse's legs, but strong enough not to break or bend during use), and a good pair of pliers with wire cutters (or a separate wire cutter).

Begin by cutting three long lengths of wire. For these slightly larger than Stablemate scale horses, I used pieces about 4 feet long. Bundle up the three pieces, position your pliers at the center, and bend the wires in half. The next part is a bit tricky; the pieces must be twisted together. Keep the pliers in the bent portion of the wire to use as a brace, and with a little patience twist the wire pieces around each other for several turns. When you have an adequate length twisted up (about 5 inches), splay out the two sections of wire at the top so that they run perpendicular to the twisted "post". Grab the loose wire ends and the top of the post and tighten the twisted wires by turning the top around like a corkscrew.

The last step is to splay out the base loops to give the clay base something extra to hold on to.

The final wire assembly.

Flared base loops - notice how they all are arranged in a different plane compared with each other. This helps to prevent loosening and twisting of the armature during sculpting.

The next process is the most important in the accuracy of the final sculpture. If the measurements are off - even slightly - pieces of the wire will stick out of the sculpture or worse - will be too short. You will have to remove clay and creatively twist and kink the wire to shorten, or add new wire to extend it which is really asking for trouble!.

Begin by separating the pieces of wire at one end. These will be the back legs and tail. At this scale, the wires for the hips won't need to be pulled apart much, so exercise restraint! Using a sharpie marker, mark two points on the outside wires (one on each) - these represent the horse's hips. From these points, bend the wire down slightly, to create the angle of the pelvis. When bending the wire, use the pliers to grab it at a spot just behind of the bend, and then use your free hand to actually adjust the wire. Bending this way creates a more crisp, accurate bend, unlike using the pliers alone to make the bend.

Measuring from the marked point of the hip, make another mark further down the wire for the length of the pelvis. (Horse measurements for practice will be provided at a later date.) This measurement should be marked slightly shorter than the actual measurement taken, as the tape used to measure the horse had to travel around the muscles of the haunches, and does not precisely reflect the length of the hip. Compensating for the long measurement (by making the length shorter on the armature) will prevent the wires from sticking out the back of the hips on your sculpture.

Bend the wire back on itself, as tight as you can make it, making sure the measurement mark for the back of the hip is at the center of the bend. Then, with the pliers, grab this "nubbin" and bend it so that it is parallel to the ground. (In this instance, it is fine - in fact, easiest - to use only the pliers to bend the wire.) This finishes off the pelvis.

The next bend you can guestimate. Find the spot on the pelvis that corresponds with the joint of the pelvis and femur. It is about 2/3 of the length of the hip back from the point of the hip. Again grabbing the back nubbin with your pliers, use your free hand to pull the loose end of the wire down at the appropriate angle for your horse in the standing position. Always start with a standing square armature so that you can easily spot problems with proportion. You will move the armature into position in the next stage.

Now, measure from the joint of the femur and pelvis down the wire to find your femur length. This measurement ends at the middle of the joint of the femur and tibia (gaskin), so that you can bend the wire at the right spot, just as the horse's leg would bend. Once the gaskin/tibia has been bent backwards, measure for the length of the gaskin (which will again run from the middle of the femur/tibia joint to the middle of the tibia/hock joint). Bend the wire perpindicular to the ground at the hock joint, and make another measurement from the middle of the hock to the middle of the pastern joint. Bend the pastern forward. For now, the hoof will stay in line with the pastern. You can cut the excess wire off at this point, and repeat for the other hind leg.

While bending the other hind leg, make careful measurements, and compare it with the proportions on the completed hind leg. This is the stage to get everything precisely arranged to prevent screwy things happening later. When the second hind leg is bent, using the pliers, grab the nubbins (one at a time), and bend them slightly towards the center of the horse's body. Look at a picture of the pelvis from the top to get an idea of how far to bend these parts in. Finally, straighten out the lower hind leg from the back, keeping it in the same plane as the turned in nubbins. Horses with straight forward facing hind legs (as so often described as ideal in conformation books), have considerably more difficulty moving around than horses with correct, slightly angled out hind legs. The reason for this is the fact that the hind leg, as it travels forward, must be able to slide out and around the barrel. A horse with hind legs that shoot straight down and point forward from the hip won't be able to freely use his legs since they'll be stopped up by his body.

Now you can move on to the front end. Measuring from the point of the hip forward, find the top of the withers, and mark it on the center (neck) wire. Using this point as a guide, you can slightly pull apart the side wires to begin making the shoulders. Don't pull the wires too far apart, as the shoulders get quite narrow at the top, and you don't want any wires sticking out. From the marked withers spot, bend a shoulder/scapula down at the appropriate angle for the horse.

When the shoulder has been bent, measure out its length, and bend the wire back for the arm/humerous. Measure for the length of the humerous, and then bend down, perpendicular to the ground for the lower leg. The measurement for the humerous/arm will seem short, but that is because the lower leg is again bending down from the joint, which is farther forward than the actual back of the arm and forearm (elbow). From the joint of the arm and and forearm, measure down to and mark the middle of the knee, and from that point (no bending required there), measure down to the middle of the pastern joint. Bend that forward, and cut off the excess. Repeat for the other leg, double checking for even measurements between the two legs as before.

After both front legs have been bent, look at the armature from the top and front, and tilt the scapula wire outwards slightly so that they are wider at the points of the shoulders. From the arm and forearm joint, bend the rest of the lower legs slightly back to the center of the horse, and then straight down from the knees. The neck can now be measured and cut. I make a very general guestimate of the neck at this point, and make a more precise measurement later in the process when I have the rest of the body fleshed in more. Due to the s-curve nature of the neck, it is quite difficult to accurately predict the proper measurement in these early stages, and I find it easier to use the roughed in shoulder as a landmark when it comes time to start the neck.

The basic armature. Notice that the neck is too long - I will shorten it when I am more sure of the proper measurement.

From the top, the armature should be as symmetrical as you can make it. Picture on the right showing the measured marks, and the wire being bent as closely as possible to each.