Use of Armature in Jewelry Design — Legitimate, or Not?
While I occasionally use armatures in my beadwork projects, I have a psychological aversion to them as somehow contaminating my beadwork, making it less pure, taking the sacred and making it profane. I think what I viscerally react to is how often, the way people use the armatures, makes the piece look more crafty or less finished.
Nevertheless, when you need your beadwork to hold a shape, what other things can you resort to?
What kinds of experiences do you have with armatures? What kinds of materials have you used, and which to you like to use best?
How do you marry the beadwork with the armature? Camouflage?
Armature is used to create and preserve shape within a piece. It is a type of “skeleton” or internal structure.
Your goals, as a bead artist and jewelry designer, are to select an appropriate material and size of the armature, so that it does not compete or detract from your finished piece. You do not want your piece to look or feel “crafty.” You want it to look and feel artistic and well-designed. You do not want your piece to feel weak, or somehow insufficient, given the wearer’s and the viewer’s expectations.
You do not want the essence of the armature’s materials in any way to work against the essence of the material(s) your beads are made of. Usually, but not always, this means hiding the armature inside the piece.
In making your selection of armature, you need to understand the design-relationships between those sections of the piece requiring armature, and why they require it.
One reason is to create or preserve a Shape. In Autumn’s End (pictured), Kathleen Lynam wanted to turn the somewhat soft, floppy and flimsy Ndebele tube into a solid, 3-dimensional tube which maintained a consistence 3-D s cylindrical shape.
A second reason to use an armature is to Pose. In Autumn’s End, she wanted the Ndebele tube to make a circle around a person’s wrist, and, once there, stay in form and place. Thus, our armature needs some degree of flexibility, but at the same time, it must be able to hold the pose, as well.
A third reason has to do with Action. She was concerned with Action, when a part of her piece had to be animated in some way. This is somewhat important with Autumn’s End, in that our wearer will have to pull open and push closed on the wristlet, to get it on and off, and to position it comfortably on the wrist..
There are many types of materials bead artists and jewelry designers use to make armatures. Sometimes this involves stuffing with cotton or fiber fill. It might involve using tin foil. Othertimes, we might use a toothpick, dowel, straw, tubing, wire, or metal rod. We can also create the armature using glue or floor wax to create a solid or stiffened structure. We can also create our armature from sculpted clay, like polymer clay or metal clay or plastic wood.
Given the shape and pose requirements of Autumn’s End, her choices came down to plastic aquarium tubing, a thick-gauge wire, or plumber’s solder. The tubing would not have met her “pose” and “action” requirements anywhere near as well as the solder does. Nor would a thick gauge wire.
In this piece, she used the idea of “Armature” in a secondary way. She painted the flowers and leaves with acrylic floor wax. This stiffened the threads — what would be considered the canvas of the piece — so that these threads, too, turned into a type of armature preserving “shape” and “pose”.
Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:
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