Creating Wire Sculptures

I’ve been making wire fairies for about 5 years now. The following description was written at about year 1.
I now make fairies out of multiple different grades of stainless wire and have learned so much more, that I fully intend to share by way of videos and more explicit and helpful materials. Until I’ve had a chance to produce the new material, I’ll reuse this material from the original website, as the fundamentals have not changed and it is still essentially the same process.

wire sculptures

Stage 1: Design

The process starts with a visit to the installation site, where you consider possibilities. In this example the we wanted a fairy in the tree looking like to had been spotted and was escaping. Due to nature of the tree, we played with idea of having it flying, with a single point of contact to the tree where a bracket could take the weight and be hidden by the tree trunk.


Sculptures are 3 dimensional and can only really be appreciated in 3D. Your two eyes produce depth perception and as you move around a sculpture your mind creates a 3D model and an experience which can not transmitted in drawings or photos making it difficult to judge if the pose in the sketch will work in 3D.

So having decided on a pose, the sketch is converted into a scale model (including the bracket) so we can turn it around and manipulate it so it achieves the desired results from all angles.


Stage 2: Skeleton

The first part of the skeleton is the mounting bracket. The mounting bracket is normally a solid steel rod extending from one of the limbs. In this example the arm touching the tree will be extended and wrapped around the tree. A finished 3ft 6in fairy weighs around 10 kg. To support 10Kg sticking out horizontally from the tree requires a heavy duty bracket


Attention to detail at this stage is very important. Its would seem like its okay to be a bit rough now, buts it’s amazing how inaccuracies at this stage seem to haunt you later.

Lengths of the twisted wire are cut and bent to match the fairy size. The length of the arms and legs are left a few inches too long, so the adjustments to the hand and foot positions can be made to match the build later. Then using some loose wire the main limbs are strapped together to form the basic shape.


metal art
statues and sculptures

Stage 3: Heart of Stone

Everyone of these sculptures is unique and created to be a special piece of art for the clients.
Plus I wanted to add something as a maker’s mark which hopefully becomes a trademark of my work. That’s when I came up with idea of burying something inside the sculpture. A stone heart seemed the perfect idea to make it extra special, romantic even, as well as providing a trademark. A suitable heart shaped pebble is selected and engraved with the owners name(s) or any other message you might want to come up with.

Obviously due to the size of stone, the message will have to be short.

The stone heart is then placed in the location of a human heart inside the skeleton before the flesh (so to speak) starts to be added. I always take a photo so the owner(s) can see the heart and have the evidence to back up the story when it becomes a talking point with their friends and family. For those non romantics who just want a sculpture, it not compulsory to have it engraved and you don’t have to tell anyone.

Wire Art
Garden Fairies

Stage 4: Flesh

The final detail you can achieve is directly related to the gauge (diameter) of the wire used. My early attempts were all made from 3mm galvanised mild steel fence wire, which is pretty tough to work with. Having learned that lesson, I now use 3 different gauges of wire:

  • 3mm for the skeleton and main muscle bulk
  • 2.5mm for the muscles
  • 2mm for the skin (detail)

I have attempted to use smaller wire in the the muscles to get more detail, but it didn’t work for the scale of sculptures I make. It would not hold it’s form at this scale. Also one of the early mistakes I made was to simply build up the limb size around the central skeleton. The trick is to not attempt to go straight for the end shape, but to build up muscles as if it were a real body. E.g. The shin bone is very close to the skin, so only add muscle at the back where the calf muscle is, then add the skin (thinner wire) later.

The photos shows the skeleton starting to flesh out with only the 3mm wire at this stage

Garden Sculpture
Stage 4a Flesh

Stage 5: Hands and Feet

The hands and feet are made from 2.5mm wire and wrapped with 2mm wire. Since I make a lot of the same size, I’ve made a template by drilling holes in the bench and bending the wire around nails pushed in to the holes. Its just as easy to bend it freehand, you simply have to gauge the size of the fingers and toes to the scale you’re working at. Bend the fingers or toes into tight bends and complete the loop to hold the shape of a hand or foot.

Hands can be right or left by turning them over as the connecting wire protruded from the end. Feet are only right OR left as the ankle wire sticks out perpendicular to the sole of the foot. Be careful not to make two left feet.

The photos shows the skeleton starting to flesh out with only the 3mm wire at this stage

Stage 5b Flesh
Metal Sculpture

Stage 6: Adding Hands and Feet to the Skeleton

The body is generally fleshed up enough to appreciate the overall shape, before adding the hands and feet. Being able to appreciate the shape allows you to gauge the actually position better. At the point you want to add the hand or foot, unwind the end of the skeleton twist to create a spider.

Don’t rely on measurements too much. It might be the perfect text book body proportion and just look wrong. Go with what looks right.

Then position the hand or foot and wind the extending wire from the hand or foot around the arm of leg. Stand back and have a look and adjust the position until you’re happy with it. Now you can add more wire to secure it to the body and flesh it out.

Fairy Art
Wire Sculptures

Stage 7: Fleshing Out

This stage takes all the time. Work around the whole body adding flesh evenly, so you keep the proportions balanced.

Don’t cross any hollow or ceviche with a wire. Always push them through the body before the gap or you’ll end up adding more and more wire in the very areas that don’t want any. Try to remember to add where a body’s muscles are and build it up like that. Don’t just try to add wire where the gaps are.

Wear Goggles!
The end of the wire whips about when your poking them through and always tend to hit you end-on and would blind you instantly.

Fantasy Fairies
Fantasy Wire

Stage 8: Adding Detail

People looking at any art will be drawn to key details which will stick in the memory. Apart from trying hard to get the proportions of a human body right, I try to add some details which will stick.

Don’t go overboard with detail. My early attempts had faces with eyes and ears which looked horrifyingly scary likes some sort of zombie skulls.

Details that work include: The tendons from the skull to the collarbone, which allow the eye to follow the neck and show which way the figure is facing. The belly button, which creates a focal point in the middle of a large panel of otherwise flat tangled wire.

Sculpture Techniques
Fairy Figures

Stage 9: The Hat

The frame of the hat is a single coil of wire looped six times and tied at one end. A suitable area of chicken mesh is cut out to warp the hat. Don’t worry too much about the shape. It all gets folded inside to make the overall effect more opaque.

Twist the excess wire into a point and add a curl to make it look more organic.

Wrap the mesh around the frame and tuck the excess inside. Use gloves as the ends of the mesh are very sharp.
Position the hat on the fairy and secure, by pushing a wire right through the head.

Fairy Sculpture
Stage 9b adding detail

Stage 10: Making the Wings

The whole four wing frame is a single piece of 3mm wire. Leave enough sticking out to thread through the fairy and around to its back again. Cut out chicken mesh panels about 1 inch larger than the frames.

Wrap the 1 inch overlap over the frame. Using a very thin wire, sew the mesh panels onto the frames.

Thread 2mm wire in and out of the mesh in patterns to create panels like a dragonfly wing. Go around and trim any sharp edges from the mesh.

Stage 10a Making the Wings
Stage 10b Making the Wings

Stage 11: Attaching the Wings

Tap a hole through the chest with a screwdriver or wedge. Thread the ends of the wing frame wires through the hole.

Don’t bend the wings into the finished shape until you have it in the location, as transporting it will only bend them out of shape.

Use a G clamp to push the wings hard up against the back of the fairy. Bend the excess wire over the shoulders of the fairy and wind the ends back around the wing frames. Add a twist to the loose wire to take out any slack.

Stage 11a Attaching the Wings
Stage 11b Attaching the Wings

Stage 12: Installation

Install the fairy (in this case screw the bracket to the tree). Bend the wings to form the best frame for the fairy.

Have a drink to celebrate!

Enjoy forever knowing your name is engraved on its heart.

Stage 12a Installation
Stage 12b Installation

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