DIY Instant Paper Mache

Edit, 10/25/09. This recipe doesn’t actually work, so I don’t suggest that you try it. When I first tried this recipe for DIY instant paper mache it worked well. Since then, whenever I combine all three ingredients the goop instantly turns into something resembling rubber, and it can’t be used.

Click here for a much better paper clay recipe that is amazingly strong. It uses joint compound, Elmer’s Glue (not wood glue) and toilet paper. It is a much better home-made product than the one shown in this old post, because, you know – it actually works. :)

I normally like to use the laminated type of papier mache – where you just tear strips of paper into pieces and attach them to a form using flour and water paste. However, many artists use paper pulp mixed with paste to make beautiful sculptures.

The traditional method of making this pulped paper is to soak paper (like newsprint) in water overnight and then press out as much water as you can. If the paper doesn’t separate out into little bits, some people boil it in water. Then a glue or paste is added, and it’s ready to use. I’ve never been very excited about it because it takes so long to dry, and I don’t usually want the texture that the pulp imposes on the piece. That’s just me, of course..

Art stores sell products that fix some of these problems by grinding the paper very fine and then mixing the powder with plaster. The powdered product is mixed with water just before use, it has a smooth texture, and it will set up stiff in just a few minutes. Sometimes, in fact, it sets up so quickly and becomes so hard that it’s difficult to finish a project fast enough.

A few days ago I threw together some left-over items from my latest home remodeling project, and I came up with what I’m calling DIY Instant Paper Mache. You probably won’t have some of these things on hand, and the paper itself comes in such a large package that it would keep many art students happy for a long time. However, if you’re doing some remodeling yourself or if you know anyone who is, you may be able to scrounge up the ingredients for some easy-to-make, super-cheap, and easy to use instant paper mache.

DIY Instant Paper Mache Ingredients
DIY Instant Paper Mache Ingredients

Step 1:

First, you need to gather your ingredients. You find these items at your local hardware store or building supply store – not the art store.

  • Joint Compound – it comes in several different size containers, and it’s fairly cheap. The container shown above is one gallon, and it cost about $8.00. If you have a big class, it is less expensive to buy it in the five-gallon containers. If it is very stiff when you open the container, you can add a little bit of water and stir it in. Joint compound is designed to easily cover the joints between large pieces of plaster board so you don’t see any seams on your wall. It isn’t plaster, but it does dry into a plaster-like finish that you can easily sand and paint.
  • Wood Glue – I use Titebond II because that’s what they sell at my local hardware store. A gallon costs about $14.00, but it lasts a very long time. You won’t need very much. In fact, you can leave it out completely if you want to, but the finished sculpture may not be as strong.
  • Cellulose Insulation – This is made from old newspapers, and it comes in a package about the size of a bale of hay. This package contains enough tiny bits of shredded paper to insulate 40 square feet of attic space – that’s a lot of paper – but it costs less than $10.00. In addition to the paper itself, it usually contains an anti-fungal ingredient. It’s also somewhat dusty or powdery. To keep the dust out of your lungs you should use a face mask if you intend to mix up a lot of this DIY paper mache.
DIY Instant Paper Mache, step 2
DIY Instant Paper Mache, step 2

Step 2:

If you’ve made up the traditional paper mache pulp before, it’s important to note that this recipe does not require you to soak the paper first. In fact, the product will firm up quickly (while still being soft enough to work) because the dry paper bits soak up the liquid from the glue and joint compound. As you see above, we’ll be using just a bit of cellulose insulation, in it’s dry form.

First, put some joint compound in your container. The glue and paper won’t add much volume, so use as much joint compound as you think you’ll need for your sculpture. Then add a bit of wood glue. You may need to experiment to see how much glue will work for your project. Too much wood glue will make the product very sticky (you’ll need to keep your fingers and tools wet to keep the paper mache from sticking to them). If you don’t use any glue at all the finished item will be easier to break. Play with it – this stuff is cheap!

Note: I used this recipe, with enough wood glue to color the product yellow, for the eyelashes on my paper mache giraffe.

DIY Instant Paper Mache, step 3
DIY Instant Paper Mache, step 3

Step 3:

Start adding your cellulose insulation bits just a little at a time. Mix well, and keep adding paper until you have the texture you like. The paper will begin to soak up the liquid in the joint compound and glue, so the more paper you add, the stiffer your instant paper mache will be while you work with it.

DIY Instant Paper Mache, Step 4
DIY Instant Paper Mache, Step 4

Step 4:

In the photo above I’ve mixed in my paper and the product is now stiffened enough to use for my little funny-face sculpture. If you want to make a more elaborate sculpture you will need an armature or form – and since this is really an experimental recipe, be sure to test it and play with it before using this recipe for any important projects!

DIY Paper Mache, Step 5
DIY Paper Mache, Step 5

Step 5:

If you’d like to test your new instant paper mache by making a little funny face, like the one shown at the top of this page, spread about 1/4 inch of the product on a plastic surface and start sculpting. I made my work surface by wrapping wide plastic tape over a scrap piece of cardboard. The paper mache won’t stick to it.

You can add bits of your instant paper mache to build up your form, but you should keep the depth under 1/2 inch so the paper mache can dry uniformly.

DIY Paper Mache, Step 6
DIY Paper Mache, Step 6

Step 6:

As you can see, I used my fingers and a table knife as my modeling tools.

The original sketch I used for this face actually came to me while sitting in the bathroom looking at the patterns on the vinyl tile. I’m sure that’s more info than you needed, but have you ever looked at a cloud or the texture on a wall or random patterns on a floor and suddenly you see a face or animal? If you look away and then look back again, you may not be able to find the image that seemed so clear just a few seconds ago.

If you have a sketch pad handy, try to copy the face or critter – you’ll come up with a drawing that is probably different than anything you’d normally do. That’s certainly the case with these faces.


I’ve been wanting to do some little faces for a long time, after reading Ode to the Human Face: Seeing/Molding the Human Face As Meditation.

Step 7:

Allow your little sculpture to dry naturally. I tried to rush mine by putting it on a radiator, and it started to crack around the little fellow’s nose. Once the piece is completely dry it will be very hard. However, you can soften it up again by soaking it in water. To protect it for permanent display you can use any paint. I’m experimenting with Kakishibu, a finish made in Japan from fermented persimmons. It is supposed to mellow and darken into beautiful brown tones over time.

And – the finished funny face, placed in a cheap frame (glass removed):

Finished Funny Face Made from DIY Instant Papier Mache
Finished Funny Face Made from DIY Instant Papier Mache

If you decide to experiment with DIY Instant Paper Mache, we’d all love to hear about it!

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17 Responses

  1. Steve
    Steve at |

    Hi Jonni,

    I have an unusual question, but it seems like if there is an answer this is where I’ll find it. I have a vague idea of trying to make paper mache forms, that can be used as a kind of disposable mold on which to build fibreglass structures. I was thinking that I might be able to use a paste-less, lightly pressed and dried, structure which could then absorb the resin and become part of the structure of the fibreglass object.

    So my question are:

    1) Is there a paste-less way of doing paper mache? And do you have any tips for how to do that?
    2) Is there a recommended way of creating the forms? I was thinking of panels made by sandwiching between wire screens held in frames.
    3) Is there any other advice or recommendations? I’m a complete n00b, and looking to do this more for the adventure of learning than anything else.

    Thanks for all your help, it’s much appreciated.

    Steve

    Reply
  2. Dave
    Dave at |

    Do you do anything to make the cellulose insulation finer before mixing it? I use pretty much the same recipe but the clay ends up with very small clumps which cause my surface to not be as smooth as I’d like. Other then that, I love how easy it is to make and use and how hard it dries.

    Reply
  3. Paul
    Paul at |

    Yes, great information thanks

    Reply
  4. Payal
    Payal at |

    Hi Jonni,
    Thanks for such a detailed post on pulp sculpture.
    Im new to this art form but have insanatly fallen in love with it.I ‘ve till now used only paper stripes and paste for my projects.but would love to try out something with paste……..I was wondering if making a sculpture using pulp is done on an Amateur or is it solid pulp(like clay sculpture).If solid pulp….does it ever dry.I would appreciate if you could guide me on this.
    Thanks.

    Reply
  5. Ileana
    Ileana at |

    Hey Jonni!

    I tried this bit you wrote on here and I wasn’t lucky: my newspaper cuts gave an unpolishable texture. At least as I look at it now, it’s not dry yet, it looks unpolishable.
    I will try again with wet paper. I think it would work better.
    Thank you for a wonderful peak into the world of artisanal occupations.

    Reply
  6. Sadie
    Sadie at |

    How would this do for outdoor projects? I’m looking for a recipe to build pots for plants and/or to use as a coating for nursery pots.

    Reply
  7. Mario
    Mario at |

    Wow, I love this work. I can remember working with paper-mache when I was little.

    I would like to make a vilacoraptor in real-life size.

    Reply
  8. Marissa
    Marissa at |

    I was wondering an approximate drying time for this wood glue/joint compound mixture. I started a project last night with it, and it is still moist… 18 hours later. It’s not for school or anything, so I’m not worried about time- maybe I added too much glue?
    Thanx

    Reply
  9. Linda
    Linda at |

    Happy to have found your site. You are way more informative (and funnier) than most sites and even most books.

    Reply
  10. dnr
    dnr at |

    This is great information. Just what i was looking for.

    Reply
  11. Anneliese
    Anneliese at |

    I like your craft and projects,very much.
    Thank you for being here.
    Being a beginner in Paper Mache,I miss the
    amount of ingredient’s needed for a small patch.
    (like how much-flour-water,glue and consistency) for a batch
    Best regards
    Anne

    Reply

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