How to Build Dragon Skeletons: Armatures

One of the most daunting things for me when I first started making dragons nearly six years ago was the idea of an armature. It’s such a big serious-art word. Also, it seemed simply like a pain in the butt.

And, surprise surprise, when I first started doing armatures, they were a pain in the butt. I had dragons with drooping limbs, dragons falling over, and all manner of dragon chaos. There’s nothing more sad (to a dragon maker, at least) than making a beautiful critter only to have it be ruined when it tips over or moves out of place when it’s being baked. 🙁

Recently, I was forced to find a new way of doing armatures as I got more requests for standing dragons. So, here, I’ve decided to give you guys my tried and tested methods of making dragon skeletons. It does take a little bit of time, but it shouldn’t be too much more than an hour of work. You will have to make adjustments outside of the ones I mention here to get your armature to work, but that’s just the nature of the beast (or, in this case, dragon 🙂 ).

This is a basic armature for a dragon with four legs and one set of typical squarish wings.

Now, without further ado:

How to Build an Armature for Your Dragon

What You’ll Need:

  • Spool of wire (more on this in just a minute)
  • At least 1 pair of cutting pliers, needle-nose preferred. I’ve got a second pair shown here. Having another pair to manipulate the wire in a specific place can be useful, so I’d still recommend having a second pair even if you don’t use it. In the case of this armature, I didn’t have to use it.
  • Tin foil. I use regular foil, but any kind (heavy duty and such) should work. It may be easier to crush the slightly lighter foil, however.

That’s all you need! Now, onto the wire.

The Wire:

IMPORTANT: You DO NOT have to buy your armature wire at a fancy art store. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s often far more expensive for a smaller amount. This spool that I have here was about 164 feet (50 meters) for about $7, and no more than $10. I got it in the gardening section of the hardware store. I don’t remember the gauge, but the wire you use depends upon what you want to do. Stiffer wire should be used for larger sculptures, while lighter wire is better for smaller stuff. Since I mostly make small stuff, I go by a general rule of thumb: if you can bend it relatively easily with your fingers, but it still holds its shape very well afterwards, it should work.

Here’s a test you can use on your wire. In the store, you can try and bend the end. If you can’t move it with just your hands, it’s too thick. At home, twist or bend a small piece around itself like you would a wire tie around a vegetable bag at the grocery store. If you can do that without tools (or excessive force and painful fingers) and it stays twisted after, it’ll probably work just fine. Like this:

Now that your wire is all sorted, you can start on your armature.

Step 1-The “Spine”

Before you do anything else, you need to have a strong, continuous center wire for your armature. Cut the wire to the length you want your dragon to be, and then straighten it out as best you can. This straightening isn’t totally essential, but it does make it a little easier to get the wire the way you want it.

Keep in mind, this is the total span of the dragon, from nose to tail. Choose one end to be your nose, and one to be your tail. This will make it easier to keep your dragon parts straight, initially.

Now, it’s time to decide on the length of your dragon’s neck. Go from  your “nose” end of the wire until you reach what you think is a good neck length. At that point, make an upward bend, like so:

After that, make a second bend at the length you want the head to be:

Kinda looks like the beginnings of a Loch Ness monster, doesn’t it? 😀

Now you need to move the “tail” end of your wire. Make another bend at the length you want the tail, in a downwards direction opposite the neck.

The head of your dragon in this picture is on the right, and the tail is on the left.

The next part of this process was hard to get a picture of, and is a bit difficult to describe, so bear with me here. You’ve got to make your spine more naturally curved and flowing, otherwise your dragon will look much stiffer and more artificial. Add curve to the tail and the neck, and make bends at the base of the neck and the top of the tail.

This is also when you determine the semi-final stance of your dragon, so position your head and tail well. You can change the armature a little once it’s finished, but it can cause some problems with the foil arrangements, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

This is what I ended up with, as an example:

The neck is more snake-like, and the tail has a nice curve to it.

Step 2- Bulking out the Spine

The next thing we’ve got to do is add the basic body shape to the armature. While your final dragon will be bigger and rounder than this, it gives you a foundation to work off of.

First, take a sheet of tin foil and wrap it loosely around your dragon.

If it looks like your critter’s run into a giant shiny cloud, you’re doing it right:

Press your fingers evenly around the neck to crush the tinfoil down tightly. Make this surface round, like the final neck would be.

Now, crush down the body foil in the shape you want your dragon to be.

*IMPORTANT* If you’re only using a thin layer of clay to cover your armature (which I usually do because too thick the dragon doesn’t look right) this shape will determine roughly what your final product looks like.

If you want a deep-chested dragon, crush your foil more forwards on your dragon. If not, make it a more even body shape. I’d recommend that you make the main body slightly flattened; it’s easier to find space to stick the legs through that way.

Step 3- The Leg & Wing Wires

Now, you’ve got to cut the wire for the legs. Make a rough estimate of your leg length like this, and then cut a piece that is a little more that twice that length:

Repeat for the back leg.

This step determines how tall your dragon will stand.

For the wings, make another wire estimate and again, cut a length a little longer than double your estimated amount.

Don’t worry about any of these wires being too long; you can always cut them down. It is frustrating, however, when your leg wires are too short, so give yourself some space when cutting them.

At this point, straighten out your leg and wing wires. Unlike with the spine, it does make a big difference here. A bend or curve at the wrong place in the leg wire may keep your dragon from standing properly, and the wings may not look right.

Here’s a comparison shot. Left is not straightened, right is straightened:

Step 4- Attaching and Shaping the Wing & Leg Wires

There are three points (two for the legs, one for the wings) where you are going to have to poke a wire through the tinfoil body:

These are just roughly where you want your legs and wings to be for a good stance.

First, insert the front leg wire halfway through the front of the body and bend the wire on each side so the ends are pointing down.

They should look a bit like this. I find the easiest way to do this process is to put your thumb and forefinger on each end of the wire (just below the sharp tip) and pinch together, like you’re squashing a bug. At the same time, pinch the top of the legs to the body of the dragon. This will keep them still while you’re bending them into place. If the legs are held stiffly in place, great. If not, don’t worry. We’ll get to that later.

Pro Tip: Don’t just use use force to push the wire through the armature. This is a good way to a) cut your fingers and b) warp the spine of your dragon. Instead, spin the wire on one spot (like the way cartoon people do when they’re trying to start a fire with a twig on a log) until the sharp wire end cuts through the foil to the other side. If you do it this way, it should go through the foil fairly easily.

Add a bend at any place on the front legs where you want a joint. If the pose of your legs is identical, make the same bends on both sides:

This is the basic shape of your legs. Repeat this process (of attaching, bending, and then shaping the legs) with the back legs.

At this point, I usually trim off any excess wire on the feet, and test to see if the dragon can stand. It won’t be terribly steady, but you should be able to position it so that it stays upright. It takes a little bit of work, but it’s a good way to see if your legs are well shaped and if the feet touch the ground. In this picture, I’ve done a little trimming on both the tail and the feet.

In this picture, the tail is finally touching the ground. Your dragon’s tail is a great “fifth leg” and an easy way to get an extra support point. If you’re not used to making dragons and armatures, I’d recommend you use the tail support. Even though I’ve been doing this for a while, I still try and use the tail to support the dragon if I can!

Step 5 (Almost there!)- Bulking out & Securing the Legs

For each leg set on your dragon, take a piece of tin foil (smaller than the one you used for the body) and loosely fold it in half. Then, place it between the gap in the legs, like so:

Crumple and wrap this around the legs and the main body until the legs don’t move freely any more. Do this for both leg sets. It won’t look too different when it’s finished, but the dragon shouldn’t have any trouble standing at this point. Make sure to adjust the legs so all four feet are on the ground, and the dragon is standing the way you want it to.

Step 6 (Last one, promise!)- Attaching and Securing the Wings

Now, punch the wing wire halfway through the upper shoulder of the dragon, just behind the neck but above where you’ve attached the front leg.

Bend the end of the wires upwards, the same way as the legs.

Now, make a bend at where you want the joints to be. In this case, I just kept it at one bend at about neck-height.

To finish off the wings, repeat the folded-tinfoil addition that you did on the legs. Wrap it around the base of the wings and the body. I also like to add small bits of tinfoil to the corner joint I made. it makes it easier to attach the spines of the wing at a later date:

I also added some tinfoil to the head to give me more to build off of when I add clay to the dragon.

Finishing Touches (It isn’t *officially* another step, right?)

You can call your armature done right now if you wanted to. It should stand on its own with four feet on the ground and the limbs should all stay in place.

Here are a few things you may want to do/try before you declare your armature done:

  • Add more tinfoil. This will reduce the amount of clay you have to use, and gives you an even better base to work off of. Beware, though, that new pieces of tin foil don’t always like to stay in place. You may have trouble with your initial clay coat if not all of your tinfoil is properly secured.
  • Add small tinfoil pads to the feet to prevent the wires from poking through.
  • Make sure your your position is correct. Check your critter out from all angles to prevent unwanted leaning or instability.

And that’s it! You’ve got one dragon armature all ready to use! In the future (when I actually get around to making the rest of this dragon), I’ll try to remember to take pictures so I can show you guys how to get the best possible base clay coating.

In the meantime though, good luck with your armature, and happy dragoning!


Meet Petros…AKA, My Adventure with Stripes and Armatures

So this is Petros:

This stone dragon is from the book Jason and the Draconauts, by Paul Smith. It’s here on amazon if you want to check it out.

He was produced over many (4 or 5 I think?) days filled with frustration, experimentation, and occasional difficulties, but he came out so awesome.

This was the image I worked off of. (This image is used with the permission of Mr. Smith. Please ask him before you use it!)

This dragon is probably the biggest creature I’ve made out of clay since I started sculpting five years ago. It’s all thanks to a bit of experimentation.

Petros was the first dragon I’ve used a full armature on. This means he’s got a strong frame, built from tin foil and wire, inside of him as support. It goes throughout his entire body. Unfortunately, I lost most of my progress shots due to an unfortunate technical accident, so you can’t see the actual frame. But by sheer luck, a few work-in-progress pictures actually still exist:

The wings were added after I’d completely covered, smoothed, and shaped the main body.

I made that deep grey from scratch (Fun Fact: The weirdest thing that I’ve found out about using clay is that I’ve come to treasure black, grey, dark brown, and white more than most fun colors like neon green.) If I can recall, I believe I made the brown on him too.

Remember this guy from a little while back? I used the same sand-mixed clay technique for Petros too, to give him that nice stony look.

It’s hard to say what was the most difficult thing to do on this dragon. The smoothing certainly was tedious, and the interiors of Petros’ wings were delicate and finicky. But I’d have to say that it’s a tie between the stripes and the spines.I had to do the tail spines twice, but the stripes required a lot of focus. They involved taking a tiny piece of clay, adding it to the body, and then smearing while trying to control the shape and keep it from smudging too much.

Overall though, he was really fun to make. I’ve had mixed success with my standing dragons in the past (some have failed miserably while others have miraculously stayed standing), so it was nice to find a firm and consistent way to make my dragons stand. Imagine the possibilities for the future!

One more pic, because he’s just SO COOL!

I just love those bright green eyes, don’t you?

Let me know what you guys think, and have a great week!


Sandy Dragons and a Grumpy Tortoise

Sadly, I haven’t been able to make many dragons lately. I finally got to make a small round of critters a little while back, and I am SO happy with the results. I also got to play with some fun new materials, which are now going to become a regular part of my dragon making because I love them so much!

Behold: sand! I acquired some turquoise and grey colored sand, and when I mix it into the clay it produces a cool effect. The first one reminds me of cookies and cream ice cream; because he’s that specked off-white color and he looked great with brown accents.


The little red guy has turquoise sand mixed into his body, and the blue on him is two shades marbled together because I couldn’t decide which one I liked better. I love how playful he is. The spots took a while to do though, and I almost messed up the ones on his legs. (You can’t see the sand as distinctly in this one, as the turquoise sand has a lot more white flecks than expected, and it doesn’t show up as well in the red. But I still think it looks cool.)


I also got an opal-effect clay, which is a translucent white with large chunks of pretty glitter in it. I really like the way it looks with the lilac color I have. Isn’t she pretty? 😀


At the request of my brother, I created what I believe to be the most adorable tortoise I have ever made. He was supposed to look comical, and I thought that a grumpy face would be perfect.  The spots were a good new experience; I’ve never done anything like that before (these spots led to the red dragon’s spots). To make his shell so ridiculously huge, I put wads of tin foil inside it.IMG_9544


A few sea critters were produced too, as well as some mini potted plants. (The snake is a sea krait ( that is common in tropical Pacific waters, and is well-known in New Caledonia. They are really cute, supposedly quite gentle, but also really venomous.)



There was much fun involved in creating a nice array of mini French cheeses, wines, and breads.


And who doesn’t need a mini Batman?


You might’ve noticed: my photos are finally looking better. Yay! With the help of my Dad, I found a way to take pictures that look so much nicer than the ones before. The secret? Knex, white cloth,  and 2 folded pieces of paper. Take it outside into sunlight, and take pictures with a nice camera. I am thrilled with the results.


As a comparison: New (first) and old (second) shots of my two Arrow dragons. The difference is incredible.



That’s all for this round, and all for a while. I hope to restart sales soon, maybe around October or November, hopefully earlier. I’m going to try to finish the Zodiac dragons in time for Christmas.

Have a great day everyone!


Of Potatoes, Portals, Mardi Gras, and Random Things

So I got distracted.

I have 10 other dragons to make to finish my zodiac project and what do I do?

I make a teeny potato.


This is GLaDOS, a character from the games Portal and Portal 2. (The potato is hard to explain. It’s a very long story that make no sense if you haven’t played the games. I have developed a recent obsession with both games, and I highly recommend them. Definitely should be played in the proper order, of course.)

And these are some Portal earrings, also from the Portal and Portal 2 games. ( ) ( )


I also made Mardi Gras the dragon instead of doing any zodiac critters.


Isn’t that little face just adorable? I love the way he came out. Funny enough, his body was actually constructed several days before I added the final details, and on the day I did that, it was Mardi Gras. And I had absolutely no clue that I had made him on the holiday. I just named him Mardi Gras because he reminded me of the colors that they often use in the celebration. The purple is a bit lighter in real life. Sadly, he doesn’t stand on his own without looking slightly messed up, so he’s going to be living on the base.

Another distraction was a recent custom order that I received. Gumby and Pokey! I am very happy with they way they came out.


Also, the rare and wonderful Poshtopuses made an appearance.

Also a teeny random hat, and Bandit, the mini dragon.



Distractions are sometimes REALLY interesting, it seems.

Maybe I’ll actually get back to my big project, eventually.

But for now I think I needed the random.



The Zodiac Project

It’s not as sinister as it sounds, I promise. 🙂

I had an idea about making some dragons. So I’ve embarked on a journey to create all 12 zodiacs in dragon form. So far, I’ve got two done, Gemini and Scorpio.

Gemini was really interesting/difficult/irritating to make, actually. I had to make sure that every single piece was as identical as I could possible make it. Which is why they sat unfinished for three days.

Scorpio came out much smaller than I had indented, but I still think he is pretty cool. His tail is made of several balls of clay skewered onto a long, curved wire.

The pictures don’t show the true colors of these guys. The green is a very bright emerald, and the red has small sparkles in it.

I hope to finish the whole set of 12 at some point in the near future, but who knows. If I do end up finishing it, maybe I can do the Chinese zodiacs as well!


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Hello. Right now, the dragon sales are on pause. If you would like a dragon, you can still message me, and I can get one sent to you, with some time delay. I’ll let you know as soon as I can do more sales. (Sometime in the near future, I hope.)