Featured Paper Mache Animals Patterns

How to Make a Life-Sized Baby Elephant with Paper Mache


painting paper mache elephantThis life-sized baby elephant pattern continues to be the most popular project on this site, and it’s been seen by over a million people on YouTube!.

Even though this sculpture is big and I used a power saw to make the armature, Elsie was not difficult to make. It isn’t a complicated sculpture, just a big one. She was one of the first sculptures I ever made with an internal pattern, and now I almost never make a sculpture without one.

In fact, she was part of the inspiration that eventually led to the creation of my book – How to Make Animal Sculptures with Paper Mache Clay.


Download the pattern now for just $7.00:

Check out safely with PayPal. Use the pattern along with the video on this site to make your own baby elephant. The pattern also includes notes about the changes I might make if I made this sculpture again.


If you make a paper mache elephant of your own, I hope you’ll come back to the blog and show it off in the comments below. I would love to see how it turns out. To see just a few of the baby elephants that have been made by people with my pattern, click here. There are now baby elephants (and a few life-sized adult elephants, too!) keeping people company all over the world. I hope you’ll let me post your new baby elephant on that page, too. And to see how much fun a mother and son had when making their own baby elephant, click here.

You may also like:

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Life Sized Paper Mache Baby ElephantLife-Sized Baby Elephant

241 Comments

  • Dear Jonni
    This was so inspirational! Wow! Thank you and I hope I can match up with your inspiration with my 24 Cub Scouts. I came across the video when searching for inspiration on how to do a life size elephants head. With your video it has gave me a new direction and hope for the future.

    I intend on setting a scene for a scout competition called Feast of the Lanterns. My theme is the story of Ging gang goolie… It is an old tribe story of a chief, witch doctor and a elephant coming out of the jungle, through a mist and into a tribal village.

    If you have any more great ideas that would further help my inspiration to do well with my cubs at this competition. Please do not hesitate to contact us and advise me of the best course of action.

    Regards

    Ange x

  • Hello jonni:
    I have neen doing very simple paper mache recently and I really enjoy the caracter of it, it is as though paper mache were a happy medium. .. plus I loe anything that encourages recycling.
    Thank you very much for this tutorials and sharing them with the world, they are very inspirational.
    I live in Colombia and I will try your paper mache recipe, although I do not know quite well what is this compoundd you use. I will do some looking around. I will contact you if I cannot find it. I use in my recipe calcium carbonate, do you know if it is similar?
    Bye and regards from the beautiful countryside of Villa de Leyva, Colombia

    • Hello Mariana. Yes, calcium carbonate is the main ingredient in joint compound. If you can get some that’s very finely ground, you should be able to mix it with just enough water to make it the consistence of wet plaster, then use it as a substitute for the joint compound in the recipe. I say you “should” be able to do that — I’m going to experiment with this today, and I’ll let you know how my experiment turns out, so be sure to check back.

      Another reader suggested you could do the same thing with gypsum, and this is true, in theory. Unfortunately, the only gypsum available in my town is not ground fine enough, so the clay won’t mix well. The calcium or gypsum must be finely powdered in order to work.

  • Would a cardboard armature (i want to say frame, but that seems like the correct name) be just as efficient?

    • Yes, I think it would work, and it would be much lighter. You might want to reinforce your armature with wire or wood if you’re making a sculpture this big, especially if you think children might feel inclined to play on it.

  • I received some photos from Kemberlee, who made her own elephant using the instructions on this site. I asked if I could post them in these comments, and she said:

    “No problem! It was my first paper mache project since childhood though. 🙂 I used to sit on our porch in the summer and spend my time inventing art to do, at the top of the list was paper mache. Thank you so much for helping to rekindle my love for it! I’m currently making a tombstone and a few rocks for a local Easter production.”

    Great Job, Kemberlee!

  • Hello! Not being a whiz with the computer, I cannot find the post where I asked you for help! My 6 year old son wants to make his Reading Rainbow book ( about a turtle) out of paper mache. I made the base for him out of styrafoam circle ( for flowers) and used a balloon and masking tape to make the shell. I used a paper tube for the neck and another styrafoam ball for the head. We cover this with the flour and water mix and newspaper.

    I used the other half of the styrafoam circle for the lower body and paper tubes for the legs. Cover that with the same mix.

    my questions are…. This has to be handled a lot so should i have him cover the turtle with joint compond to make it smooth and sturdy or …? also can i place this in the oven to dry if I keep it under 200? Thanks for the help in advance!

    • Hi Brooke. I’m thinking that the balloon would expand in the oven, because that’s what air does when it heats up. It might pull your paper mache apart. But it might work. I have to admit that I just don’t have the answer to this question. The paper mache itself will be just fine in the oven – it’s just the balloon I’m worried about.

      The joint compound is plenty strong enough, if you cover it with another layer of paper mache. It would crack under pressure if you don’t cover it.

      • I am trying it right now so we will see if the balloon blows or not! So I should put joint compound on and then another layer of newspaper or should I use a different type of paper? If I could use another paper i thought about trying paper towel to give mr. turtle some texture or even the baby wipe idea…

        • I am not really getting the paper towel layer and am praying that I haven’t screwed this up since the book is due this Wednesday! I put on the joint compond baked it, sanded it, and then placed a layer of paper mache using paper towel. It seems strange not strong like the newspaper. Is this just me or does the paper towel layer always seem a little funky if you have never used it before?

          • I think it might depend on how much paste you put on the towel. The paper in paper towels is not as hard as newspaper, so you’ll definitely get a different feel. However, if you have plenty of paste on the paper, it should dry hard. The joint compound under the paper towel layer will soften slightly when the paste is added, but it should dry hard again. Since you have the joint compound on hand, you can make a final hard coat using a home-made gesso, using about 1 tablespoon of joint compound, about 1 teaspoon of white glue, and a dab of acrylic paint. It dries to a very hard coat, but it will cover some of the texture of your paper towel.

        • Actualy the paper towel layer looks really cool by itself since it is suppose to be a turtle. now that it is dry its good. Thanks for the help I will send you a pic when he is all done. Now I just have to figure out how to attach the top and bottom to the book…wish me luck!

          • Hi again. I’m glad the project is turning out well. And I hope your kids are having as much fun with it as you are!

            I just now set up the blog so you can ad an image to your comments. If you decide to do this and share your project with all of us, please make the image fairly small in your photo editing program so it won’t be too big to see on screen. I know we’d all like to see that turtle.

    • I cut the ears from a piece of expanded aluminum that I bought at the hardware store. I cut it extra long so some of it could be bent over the head and taped. Then the paper mache was applied over the extension and the ears, and the paper mache was also extended over the head to make a very firm attachment.

    • I formed the details with joint compound, and when it dried I covered it with a layer of paper mache. If I did this project again I would use the new paper mache clay recipe in place of the joint compound and the paper strips and paste. Then it could all be sculpted in one step.

  • thanks for your answers…they made sense. I just finished a Sandhill Crane and am working next on a couple of Ravens…my totem, so sayeth the Apache.

    Now I understand why you’ve so much material in regards to molding and thwarting it. I wondered often as I read your tutorials, and comments therein.. I’ve traveled much, and to Oregon. A beautiful state, although rainy?? We get a monsoon once a year, usually for a month in August.. and that’s about it…otherwise dry and beautiful. Surprisingly green, not as green as Oregon, but, I live on the bosque (river), so I’m in the thick of it.

    Thanks for your comments, always enjoy yours and the others.

    Dotti

  • I live on a remote ranch in southern New Mexico which is why your reference is so thrilling to me (no libraries in my area). I am a published author of Westerns. I live an acre off the old Santa Fe Trail formerly used by wagon trains. Now the iron horse chugs through daily in route, according to inscriptions on the boxes, to such exotic places as China and Japan (am vigilent to discover a car onward to Africa) etc., and a single-laned highway used pridominantly by motor cyclists (they are never the shooters… have proved to be a lovely sort). It’s the trophy hunters looking for the newly stocked gazelles (IBEX) in my area that are the problem…

    I read more of your site today. I have two questions… why eight layers of paper? I’ve read this from several artists. How is it determined 8 is the magic layerage. Secondly, I don’t understand the sculptclay method…considering it’s hardened in an oven.. Did you use this clay or the paper clay for the details on the pony? the latter makes sense, the former however I wonder how this works what with combustible materials? and considering the size of the project? Here, we have coke ovens (Native Americans cook in them outdoors), so there are options… wondering how you’re accommodating same in an average kitchen.

    Thanks,

    Dotti

    • Hi Dotti. Now you have my curiosity going – I’ll have to do some online research to see why they’re stocking gazelles in New Mexico. We have pronghorn antelope here, although I’ve never seen one.

      I added more layers of paper to the elephant than I normally do. With small sculptures built around a form, only two or three layers seem to be enough. I just keep adding layers until the dried papier mache won’t “give” when it’s touched. However, as you know, one’s art is always evolving. If I did the elephant today I’d use a wire frame instead of plywood, to make her lighter, and I’d use the new paper clay recipe for the skin because it’s so much faster and easier.

      I would love to have an outdoor oven, since the glue in the paper clay gives off a slight odor when heated, so my larger sculptures need to air dry. Sculptures made with flour and water paste and paper strips can bake in the oven (no higher than 200 F), so if they fit in the oven, you can quickly dry them, but you must check often to make sure the shape is not distorted by the heat. For larger works I’m thinking about building a solar oven or greenhouse, which would get quite hot here in eastern Oregon.

      The sculpey was used as a form under the paper mache layers on some sculptures, and then removed before finishing the work. Since the paper clay can be molded much more easily than strips of paper, I no longer use a plastic clay form for details. If you do use sculpey or any other plastic clay in your work, it must be “cooked” until hard, or removed. Otherwise, the oil in the clay will seep out through your paper layers, ruining your work.

      I hope I haven’t confused things too much. I’ll start work on my new book today – it will give detailed instructions for using the new paper clay, which could be used for any of the projects currently on this site in place of paper strips and paste.

  • I am making an African landscape and am thrilled I can accommodate it with animals as well. My only problem is I am in a remote area and have, as a result, shooters… this being the case, I had my husband weld a kinetic gorilla in which are cameras. I may not be able to save my sculptures from the poachers, but at least I can report them now. I use to have the real animals, but, alas, they were all shot and thus the sculptures, of which, I do myself and love…some are, thanks to my husband kinetic.. and thanks to you and your tutaleage, now, life-sized and sturdy..sincerest appreciation for helping my dream come true.

    [email protected]

  • My daughter is having a Murder Mystery Dinner for her B-Day and I am doing the elephant for the entrance to the Big Top Tent I am making. He is turning out very cute but I do not know how to attach his ears. Can you or anyone heop me?

    • Hi Nancy. I made my elephant’s ears out of the expanded aluminum, but you could use heavy paper or other material as well. Make sure you have lots of extra material at the bottom of the ear, so you can fold it back over the elephant’s head. Then cover the extensions well with paper and paste, and also run several layers of paper strips from the head onto the ear from both front and back. If the ear is too heavy you may need to use a heavy wire, like coat hanger wire, and bend it so it can go along the top of one ear, over the top of the head, and then over the top of the second ear. Tape it down with lots of masking tape and then cover it with several layers of paper strips and paste to make it strong.

      I hope this helps. Please let us see your elephant when it’s done! And I hope your daughter enjoys her birthday party.

  • Thank you so much for your tutorial. I work at a church and we use design elements for each sermon series…the next one is called “what elephant?” and is about questions we’re afraid to ask God (suffering, evil, unanswered prayer, etc.)…Anyway, we came up with the idea to put a large elephant in the room, made of paper mache, but weren’t sure of where to start. A coworker came across your website, and voila, here we are! We’ve got a few weeks and a crew of help, so we’ll see how it goes.

  • Great site, thank you 🙂
    My 6 year old son wants to build a model kangaroo for a class project so I am fairly sure that we will be spending a lot of time looking through your site for help.
    Thanks again
    Jo

    • I did my own informal tests, and my experience showed that raw paste is actually stronger than cooked, and way easier to make. I see you disagree, but you didn’t say why…

  • Dear Jonni=
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful little friend with us and sooo appreciative of the fact that you are so gracious to share your technique. Speaking of technique, I do have a couple of questions. I went to home depot and the only cellulose insulation they had was was called ‘Green Fiber’. The salesman that was assisting me told me that it would be necessary to wear good quality rubber gloves when applying the joint compound/insulation mixture, since there is a chemical in the insulation for the purpose of making the product fire retardant. Accordingly, it is necessary to wear a mask when sanding. I bought the book that is available for downloading on this site, and In reading what you have shared about other products, purity is pretty high up on your list as to not expose yourself to chemicals. So, what cellulose insulation do you use? Is there any chance that you may be in the Northwest?
    Look forward to your feedback!…Jennie

    • Hi Jennie. I bought my bale of cellulose insulation from my local hardware store. The brand-name is Cocoon 2, but I’m sure the brand your store sells is pretty much the same stuff. You definitely need to use a mask when you’re messing with the dry material, because it contains fungicides, too. I don’t bother with gloves when I apply it, because I use a knife, not my fingers – but you should pretend you didn’t hear me say that and go ahead and use the gloves.

      Actually, for the small amount of modeling that I used the product for on the elephant, you could just forget about adding the cellulose and just use the joint compound straight from the tub. If it’s put on too thick it will crack when it dries, but that doesn’t matter because you’ll be covering it with a protective layer of paper mache.

      I hope this helps. Please let us see your elephant if you make one!

  • Hi Jonni, Thanks for your kind remarks and encouragement.

    My head is buzzing with projects as I continue to explore the many nooks and grannies of this site…So many things to see and do….so little time! This site must be a project all its own!

    • Actually, this site is my excuse for making all these paper mache sculptures. None of the sculptures is finished until the blog post is done. Then it’s time to make something new!

  • Hi Jonni,

    Thank you for sharing your skill and artistry, a most inspiring site you have here and such clear and well photographed tutorials as well. The elephant sculpture and video are stunning!

    An interested in art related things has been life long but I never tried Paper Mache, until now! I wanted to make something for my back yard but little did I know weather proofing is an art and science all its own.

    I resurrected an old site set up to learn how to use the site tools for a friend that needed a quick web page for his business. It has been a while since I have used it but my first and on going Paper Mache efforts are recorded there …it is a work in progress.

    Thank you again for this great site and all your efforts here.

    Bob C.

    • Hi Bob. Thanks for sharing your paper mache tutorial on your website. We’ve had a lot of discussions about waterproofing paper mache on this site, so your project will be of great interest to readers, I’m sure. Your toadstool will certainly brighten up your yard! Good job.

  • Ah! I see there is a lot of life in Elsie’s pose! Such nice work. 🙂

    I’m now imagining different ways to joint an armature …. Hmmmm…… I bet my handy hubby could suggest some hardware solutions ….

    I’ll have to check out that marine varnish solution. How fun to populate our wild 12 acres with surprise animals appearing out of the tall grasses!

  • Hey Jonni. I’m downloading your video, which should take awhile, at my speeds. Meanwhile, I thought of something that might at least save your outdoor paper mache art from slugs. You can get copper tape at garden supply places that you could ring a base in, or even place in a pattern that surrounds it on … uh … concrete or whatever you’re setting it on. The slugs and snails won’t cross it. It can be quite attractive, too, of course. You might even figure out how to work it into future designs as an aesthetic element on the bottom. 🙂

    Wow. Hubby and I just watched your video. She came out just great. You must be so pleased that all that work paid off!

    With such a stiff armature, I was thinking about how you might get some organic flow into poses. It occurs to me that you could mold your paper a bit to suggest some curvature. For instance, on the trunk, one could make it undulate a little by packing on more at one side, then below that more on the other, and back. Does that make sense?

    Anyway. Great job!! Have you tested the marine varnish for outdoor safety? I’m very curious about that!
    Thanks, as always!

    • Hi Xan. I don’t think the slugs would really be interested in the sculpture after the paint and varnish went on. I just used the poor slimy creature as an excuse to keep my big baby inside, where I would see her more often (and there was that issue of the dog… I now pass her every time I go into the kitchen, and I find myself automatically patting her on her head. She’s good company.

      I haven’t tried the marine spar varnish myself, but another blogger did extensive experiments on waterproofing paper mache and found that it does work. You would want to re-apply the varnish every year or so, just like you would if you kept a boat in the water.

      I realized from your comment that I didn’t get a very good photo of the elephant’s trunk from the front. I did just as you suggested to get a bit of wiggle in the trunk. It would also have been possible to not use the particleboard on the trunk at all, and use the expanded aluminum for the armature. Then you could bend it any way you want.

      For smaller creatures, when I want something to move out of the plane of the armature I just whack off the head or whatever, and reattach it. I did this with the panda and the bulldog. You could also whack the body right down the middle if you wanted the backbone to bend. There are limitations to this sort of armature, but it does help me maintain the proportions. For something as large as the elephant, I felt the weight of the head required the support of a one-piece armature, so chopping off her head and reattaching it was not an option. However, one could cut the armature itself and then get the bend with piano hinges. If anyone comes up with a better idea, please let us know.

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