Wire Sculpture Art Techniques

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Bending and twisting. Braiding and wrapping. All are ways to work creatively with wire. In this lesson, explore several techniques used to make wire sculpture art.

What Is Wire Sculpture Art?

Art can be made from many things, and they don't have to be traditional art materials like paint or paper. Some artists make elaborate, detailed sculptures from a simple material like wire.

Wire is long thin, flexible strands of metal usually made by a process of heating and stretching. Wire is used in many industries, including electronics, and it can be purchased in any hardware store. It comes in a single strand or several strands twisted together. Wire is made of different metals like aluminum, bronze, copper or steel and has different gauges. A gauge is the thickness of the wire's diameter. The larger the gauge, the thinner the wire (yes, the larger the number of gauge, the smaller the thickness of the wire!)

Wire has many uses in art. You can even use it to make wire sculpture art, art in which three-dimensional forms are shaped or assembled from wire or wire mesh. Using wire in art isn't new. In fact, thousands of years ago, the Egyptians used wire to make jewelry. But the first artist who brought wire sculpture art to people's attention was Alexander Calder (1898 - 1976), who made a series of wire sculptures in the 1920s after he'd used wire to experiment with jewelry making. A more contemporary wire artist is Elizabeth Berrien (1950 - ). She makes fabulous wire animal sculptures with techniques adapted from textile processes like weaving and knitting. She's a pioneer of wire art and is a good source of inspiration.

Example of wire animal sculptures in an outdoor setting in London
wire animal sculptures

Now let's look at some techniques for making wire sculpture art.

Tools For Making Wire Sculpture Art

Wire is a very versatile medium for artwork. It can be braided, twisted, tied, wrapped, and wound around other wires, or woven into a loose or tight mesh. Sculptors use it to create small delicate works or large installations that can take up whole rooms. Some artists also make wire sculptures for outdoor spaces.

You don't need many materials to make wire sculpture art, but there are a few basic guidelines you should follow. Unless you want to wrestle with strong stiff wire, choose a type of soft, pliable wire. A good choice is armature wire, a soft flexible aluminum wire made for use in art. It comes in many sizes and thicknesses, can be easily worked by hand, and you can find it at art supply or hobby stores.

Now you'll need some tools, including wire cutters and several kinds of pliers like long-nose pliers. Wire cutters are handheld with a sharp short double blade specifically for cutting many gauges of wire. Pliers are handheld tools that allow you to pull, bend and twist wire more tightly than could be done by hand alone. You should also have safety glasses, because a cut end of a long wire could swing and injure an eye. You might also want to use gloves for a better grip.

Example of a long-nose pliers for bending and twisting wire

Techniques For Making Wire Sculpture Art

Now you're ready to begin sculpting.

One of the easiest ways to make a wire sculpture is to create an outline of an object. Wire has a very linear quality that can give the impression of a pencil or pen drawing translated into three dimensions. Taking a long piece of wire, bend it into the basic shape of, say a model car. Think about the car from all sides and shape your form accordingly. You can cut smaller pieces of wire to reinforce the bottom and outline the top, and make details like doors and headlights. Use your fingers or the long-nose pliers to help attach those onto your main form by twisting their ends to wrap around the main wire. It takes some practice to get the shape the way you want it, and you have to be careful so that you don't squish the sections of the sculpture you've already created. Remember, if you're using armature wire, it's soft and easily bendable. You might want to use wire of several gauges, smaller gauge for the body and larger gauge for details. This creates interesting variations in the size of the line.

Wire sculpture of a car made by the outline method
wire car made with outlines

Another, more challenging way to create wire sculpture art is by using many repeated loops of wire to form a three-dimensional surface. Think about a shape like an hourglass or an egg. Now, take your wire and make a series of parallel loops that run in a horizontal direction, varying them by size to create the dimensions of a rounded object. You might need to connect small wires in a few places to hold the shape together, and you might want to hang it from a point at the top when you're done. This method creates what almost looks like a shell of continuous line that forms the object's shape.

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