I had this great idea (well, I thought it was a good one anyway) to build the maquette for the life-size on an armature that wouldn't need plumbing to hold it up. Hopefully, it might even stand on its own three feet (one foot's in the air in the pose the owner's chosen). I built the armature out of twisted aluminum wire as I normally do, but put the wires through a galvanized connector rather than a plumbing T since I planned on this one not being mounted to a working board. I thought the way I was making it would make it possible for me to lay it in my lap and work on the belly without any pipes in the way, so I could get the detail better.
I built the armature and shoved toothpicks in the connector (shown above) to keep the wires from wiggling, as I normally do with a plumbing T in my usual armature. Then I wrapped it all in black duct tape, which is not something I normally do, but I thought it might be a good thing to do this time (this keeps my fingers from being poked by the toothpicks while laying on the clay). After that, the wire was coated with Bondo so the legs wouldn't be as likely to bend as they usually are. I started adding clay that had been warmed in a crock pot used as a double boiler (clay inside a glass bowl sitting in water in the crock). That was all fine. (First photo below shows the Bondo-covered armature in the seat of my chair for contrast - and yeah, those are my legs and feet at the bottom of the picture, LOL.)
After covering the armature with clay (but nowhere near as much clay as it would be when it's finished), I tried standing the horse on its feet to see how sturdy the legs were. They weren't! Argh. I was hoping the Bondo would be a big help but it just didn't make them as strong as I thought it would.
Luckily, this is a Friesian and as such, he has thicker legs than something like an Arabian or Quarter Horse, for instance. So I built another armature with heavier wire which would be difficult to use on a horse with finer legs. I haven't put Bondo on it yet, but now I'm thinking it just won't work the way I want it to, so I may not Bondo it at all.
Shown at right is the horse I'm sculpting and the pose he'll be in. I printed the picture out at the size the bronze will be and arranged the wires on the picture to get the size and shape adjusted. From there, I put a wire between the front legs and between the hind legs to spread them the width they should be, keeping the wires high enough that they stayed inside the body. You can see those cross wires in the picture above (where the armature is covered in Bondo).
With only about 1/3 of the clay on it that it will have in total, I realized the weakness in my shoulders, arms and hands due to my shoulder surgery and long idleness while recovering is going to be a serious problem. The piece is so big (1/6.5 life-size of a 17 hand horse) and already so heavy, working with it in my lap or on a table is just not feasible at my current strength level. I probably wouldn't injure myself, but I'd certainly wear myself out a lot faster trying to move around a piece that heavy. So, this armature method won't be the one I use - this time. Perhaps in the future when I'm stronger, I'll try it again.
I've decided to try an armature method another friend told me about. It incorporates plumbing the way I normally use it, but also has a way of unscrewing the horse from the support post, then screwing a plumbing T on the bottom so I can hang it upside down and work on the bottom side of the belly without twisting myself like a pretzel to see under the piece. In this method, the horse is suspended in air - his feet aren't attached to the working surface the way they are in my normal armatures. I now have all the plumbing parts I need and a chain to hang from the ceiling. I just have to get my husband to hang the chain for me before I actually need to use it (probably next week).
I'm not looking forward to redoing the second armature I built yesterday (the one with the heavier wire) but I think it's in my own best interests due to the atrophy of my muscles while recovering from surgery to use an armature method that's self-supporting. I'm less likely to injure myself and more likely to be able to work longer hours if I don't have to lift that clay every time I want to move it. My sculpture stand spins around so I can sit in my chair and turn it to get to all sides. It's also the kind that cranks up and down rather than having to be lifted up like my old stand, so I don't have to worry about lifting the piece until I want it to hang from that chain upside-down. I should be able to lay it on its side to get it attached to the chain - at least until I get the detail on the horse's sides nearly finished, but by that time, the underside of the belly should be finished.
I think this method has a lot of promise. Keeping my fingers crossed that it works well for me! I'll post pics of the new armature - or perhaps the piece in progress - once I get it going (Friday, most likely).