Torso sculpture – consideration of anatomy and armature

I was approached to run a course on modelling the torso in clay. I try to keep away from armature use wherever possible just because of the freedom it removes from the sculptor. We must remember that modelling from life is just that – training the eyes to see with greater perception, but resulting in studies of the human form, rather than “sculpture”. It is an essential harvesting exercise for the sculptor that feels they draw upon or use the human form in their creative work.

The consideration of anatomy needs be handled carefully for the sculptor. A basic understanding of how the fixed volumes of the chest and pelvis move with the spine is useful to aid observation, but beyond that, contemplating a sculptural build considering skeleton and muscle can only rely on the generic rather than the real. The living figure in front of you offers everything you need and an observed build will have more essence and life than a knowledge-based, measured build which might be necessary for the statue makers.

The torso observed from a standing figure necessarily sits in space as it has no supporting forms below the upper leg.

Thus the need to see a developing sculpture in the round is balanced against holding modelled material up off the ground. The first images above are quick sketches in clay, wax and plasticine, leading on to seated or reclining poses which need a minimum of armature by the nature of the studies which either hold comparatively little mass, or use the baseboard to prevent the sculptural material slumping with gravity.

An easy route for modelling the standing torso is to place the clay (i.e. building from the upper thigh) directly onto the base board, with a minimal support. But this does not allow for the viewing of the work in clear, free space. The route below keeps clay up off the base board and thus permits rigorous observation in space, allowing the observer to perceive which forms should be considered in the study. It is a relatively simple method of retaining the original for firing through the removal of loose horizontal dowels from a vertical pole in order to permit removal of a hollowed form – the outer centimetre of the work. In these photos below, the work is emerging up to about half life-size.

Moulding and casting are technician’s jobs which sculptors need to understand and have practised. But beyond this, sculptors need to decide whether it is more important to do this rather than spending time on their own creative development. As well as taking off the pressure off the sculptor to get involved in moulding work, having a means to fire clay ‘fixes’ the original sculpting material in a process which is also cheaper and easier for the sculptor.

More detailed instruction is captured on film; this is not comprehensively edited but may be of use for those intending to pursue a similar approach.

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