Paper Mache Recipes, Tips, Techniques, and Experiments

New Smoother Air-Dry Clay Recipe



Note: I recently uploaded a video showing a better way to measure your ingredients for the air-dry clay. You can see it here. And I recently published the book that I developed this recipe for – you can see it here.

Puppy doll head, in progressI’ve been working hard this week, developing methods for making the baby animal dolls that will appear in my next book. One thing I worked on was making a new recipe for the dolls that could be made smoother than the original paper mache clay. I tried a number of different versions, and all but one ended up in the trash. This one, though, really does what I wanted it to do.In fact, if you first smooth it with your finger and the glue mix, like I show in the video, let it dry, and then very lightly sand it with a very fine sandpaper, it really is as smooth as porcelain.

I dries really hard, though, like the original paper mache clay, so sanding does take some effort. If you look real closely at the photo of the puppy head I made for my doll book, you can see how smooth it is.Β  It works very much like air dry clay you can buy at the hobby store, (but lots cheaper, if you need more than one small batch). Let me know what you think.

Recipe for the new Air-Dry Clay:

1/2 cup wet toilet paper
1/2 cup Elmer’s glue (or any white PVA glue)
1/2 cup drywall joint compound (any brand except Dap)
1/2 cup corn starch
3 tablespoons mineral oil (baby oil)
1 cup all-purpose white flour, or as needed

Mixing instructions are in the video at the top of the page.



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251 Comments

  • English is not my first language and I’m not sure if I understood everything well. Joint compound is the gypsum-based stuff you use to fill the gaps between drywalls, is that right? Where I live you buy that stuff dry and mix it with water to a paste before you use it. It’s not especially made for drywalls, you also use it to fill holes in walls and similar things. I’m very unsure what to use.
    So when your recipe asks for 1/2 cup drywall joint compound, do you mean the dry stuff or a ready-to-use premixed paste?

    Sorry for my bad English, I hope it’s all understandable.

    • I now found the side with the translations in other languages. It says joint compound in German is Fugenmasse. But Fugenmasse isn’t used for drywalls, it’s used to fill the spaces between tiles. Fugenmasse is grouting compound, NOT drywall joint compound.

    • Hi Senga. Your English is perfect. And the recipe calls for the pre-mixed product, so you would need to add some water to your powdered product, mix it, and then measure out the right amount for the recipe. Slightly more complicated, but not much. πŸ˜‰

      • Aww, thank you, Jonni. πŸ™‚ Good to know my English is not that bad.

        That’s great, thank you so much for your help. I can get pre-mixed joint compound, but you can only buy 20 kg or more and it is pretty expensive, however the dry stuff is very cheap and keeps usable pretty much forever.

        If someone else asks you about the german term for drywall joint compound, there is more than one:
        Trockenbau-Spachtelmasse, FugenfΓΌller, Fugenspachtel or Gipsspachtel. I really learned a lot about compounds in the last days! πŸ˜€

        I’m SO looking forward for the projects I have planned with your air-dry clay! πŸ™‚

  • Hey, Jonni!

    Quick question:

    I didn’t watch the video because I read the recipe at work. I don’t get the best service there, so streaming wasn’t an option at the time. I was making a double recipe since my project is fairly large. So full cups instead of halves and 2 for every full cup. I dumped everything in, and my joint compound is a very thick, dense type. This, of course, didn’t go well. It ended up turning into little balls that would stick to each other, but they wouldn’t mix completely into one mass because they were way too dry.

    Of course, because I hadn’t watched the video, I added another cup of glue instead of joint compound because it was the wettest ingredient besides the oil. Of course, again, I hadn’t seen the video yet, so dummy me tried to mix in the glue that was supposed to save it with my mixer…I then barely saved my tool because the dough instantly started to thicken in what I assume was the proper manner. It literally started smoking before it was half mixed! XD Luckily the paper was mostly shredded in the crumble stage, so I was able to knead it by hand the rest of the way.

    It came out like a pizza/bread dough but with a slight tack. Is that about the right consistency? Now that I have seen the video, I noticed you said you add more joint compound instead of glue like I did…is there a reason for that specific ingredient, or did I accidentally discover another way to save the batch? I’m just hoping it doesn’t lead to sacrificing structural integrity since these will likely be 2 foot sections supporting moving parts on a prop.

    PS to the other readers: watch the video BEFORE you mix it! The flour is just to get the consistency right. If you add it with everything and don’t have dough hooks, you will either create dryer dough crumbles or have a broken mixer long before you have it mixed well. You will wind up folding it by hand like a colonial bread maker the whole time, and you might not be able to get the lumps out for a very long time!

    (This won’t do much good if they don’t see the comments too, but I figure the warning from my experience might help someone not used to mixing dough-like concoctions.)

    • Mathew, Is there any possibility that your joint compound was made by the DAP company? Your description of the little balls makes me think something is going on that really shouldn’t be happening. When the glue and DAP joint compound are mixed together, they turn info something resembling Flubber, and no amount of glue or more joint compound will help. It also thickens the mixture a lot, which may explain why the motor on your mixer overheated.

      But you are right about the flour. I usually add it last, after the paper is completely mixed in. Then I add the flour and corn starch to get the consistency I want. If you added too much in the beginning, I suppose that could result in the problems you described. If that’s what happened, it would be easier on your equipment if you mix up small batches of your already mixed recipe, and add more joint compound a little at a time.

      One last possibility – is it possible that you used more paper than you really needed, or that you squashed out more water than you needed to?

      And yes, the video is helpful. πŸ™‚ I hope you’ll also see the second video in this series, that gives you the gram measurements for the ingredients.

      • I used slightly more paper, more than likely. My rolls offer a little more than a cup–closer to 1 and 1/4. I probably also squished the paper too firmly because I was in a rush. The balls weren’t rubbery, but more like pieces of dough. They just wouldn’t stick together without pressure because they weren’t tacky/wet enough. I’m guessing they were clumps of the paper that picked up the ingredients but stayed separated.

        As soon as I added more glue, they insta-puffed and stuck together into a dough ball that bound the normal mixing ends. I really should invest in some dough hooks to avoid having to knead in flour by hand in the last step. I specifically avoided DAP, and have something in a blue lid bucket made by USG (I want to say that’s the brand, but I’ll have to make it home again to make sure). The compound is fluffy and sticky, but it is dense instead of being more liquid. It worked in the original recipe, so I’m thinking it was the timing and amount of flour vs moisture.

        • Just checked my bucket. It’s USG Sheetrock brand. It’s the dust control version where sanding is supposed to put less dust with harmful effects in the air. It seems to have worked in this once I balanced out the moisture levels, and it says you can thin it but to avoid overthinning. It works like a charm in all of the other recipes, but I guess I’ll have to remember to either add water or cut back on flour.

        • Yes, I think you’re right. If you have an electric drill and a paint stirring attachment, that works well with larger batches of the clay. I haven’t used it with this recipe, but I have used it with the original paper mache clay, and it does a good job of mixing in the paper without stressing the motor. Dough hooks work, too. πŸ™‚

          • I didn’t even think to try that! I might actually have one lying around somewhere…

            I absolutely love the texture of this dough/clay, though! I did some test spots on pieces made with the original clay, and it was smooth to the touch even before sanding. Now, I just have one more question. If it dries a bit in the container or while I’m actively working on it, can I just have a warm water bowl and dip my fingers in it to run over/knead in a little bit to perk it back up?

            I did this when sculpting with modeling clay, and it worked like a charm on that. Even clay that was almost dry could be smeared with small amounts of water until it went smoother (dryer clay likes to wrinkle on the surface if you try to do a touch up). I just don’t know if it works the same on this recipe. Thanks for the expedient and thoughtful responses!

            • Yes, that will work – but what I like to use is a mixture of half and half water and white glue. This makes it slick, so your fingers glide over the air dry clay much easier. I also use the same mixture to make sure the edges of individual pieces of the clay will stick to each other. That’s important, because it will shrink a little when it dries, and if the edges between pieces aren’t sticking together cracks will develop.

        • I haven’t tried it without the cornstarch, but the original paper mache clay is made without it, and it works just fine. I added the cornstarch because so many people told me that they didn’t like the stickiness of the original recipe. Go ahead and leave it out, as an experiment, and see what happens – and then let us know!

  • Hi Jonni
    Would I be able to store this in the fridge…I need to make a lot for an art week…
    Thanks
    Louise

    • Yes, you can do that. Make sure you cover it securely. A piece of plastic wrap pressed down against the clay in the container, and then a tight lid. You can even put it in the freezer, if you would have time to thaw it out again before working.

  • Hi Jonni:

    Can you apply the “New smoother Air Dry Clay” directly to the form without first using the paer strip and glue method?

    Thanks!

    • I have used it directly over plaster cloth and over masking tape. I have not tried it over a foil armature, but I think it would work because the clay would be pushed down into the crevices in the crumpled foil, which would hold it in place. But I’m just guessing, since I haven’t tried it. What kind of form are you intending to use?

  • Hi Jonni. Can i use this new air dry recipe to finish off my paper mache project. Can i apply it over the paper mache made with newspaper strips and the usual flour ,water and glue mixture?

    • Hi Ester. Yes, you can add the air dry clay to dried paper mache. It isn’t very sticky, so you might need to brush some glue onto the paper mache before pressing the clay onto it. It’s great for adding the details.

      • Hi Jonni,
        When i add the air dry clay to the dry paper mache how thick should it be. How much time is needed for the clay to dry completely (approximately)

        • I usually add no more than 1/8″ to 1/4″ at a time. This keeps the drying time at a minimum. You should be able to get a thin layer dry in 24 to 48 hours, if you put the item in front of a fan. It can feel dry on the surface, but still be damp underneath, so give it plenty of time.

  • Found this recipe the other day when I went back to look for the old one. It was perfect for my small sculpture I had started! Thank you so much, it’s a lot faster to use than plaster πŸ™‚

  • I love your videos please keep doing them .I am just a housewife retired c.n.a. I want to try to make a little foot dino from land before time my grandkids love the movie.do you have a video of one you made . Thank you.

  • Thank you so much for your wonderful blog. Have you ever experimented with paper clay leaving out the joint compound? Do you have a feeling for the benefits you get by add joint compound? Since I teach younger kids I would love to have a recipe without it…simple is always best when kids are around. Thanks again for your work and for sharing your skills, knowledge and experiments with us.

    • Hi Alexis. If you leave out the joint compound, you will have traditional paper pulp used by many paper mache artists. I like the smoothness and hardness I get with the addition of joint compound, but thousands of people use the more traditional recipe. Check out http://papiermache.co.uk/ for lots of great ideas.

      • Thank you for taking the time to respond. Now that you mention it, I have noticed that the dough without joint compound is a little lumpier than I would like. I appreciate your help. Thanks s again.

      • jonni- oh no! I watched the video only, ran out and got all the stuff and whipped up a batch- THEN I READ THE RECIPE! I used the DAP brand of joint compound! What’s going to happen now? Do I throw it out and start over? What’s wrong with DAP? Shucks πŸ™

          • Again, it depends. If your batch came out creamy, like it’s supposed to, you may have found the magic way of using DAP without issue – by changing the glue. If your batch worked out nicely, please let us know what brand of glue you used.

            • Sorry – I just went back and read your comment better. I just spent the day on a plane, and my brain is a little fuzzy. We have the brand – just let us know if it worked. πŸ™‚

        • If your recipe didn’t get rubbery, you’re fine. Sometimes, the Dap brand will turn into little rubber balls when it’s mixed with the glue. Sometimes it doesn’t. If it does, you can’t fix it, but if it doesn’t, you don’t have to worry about it. I think they may use different recipes in different factories, although I don’t really know if that’s true or not.

          I have noticed that it may stiffen up faster than usual, even if it doesn’t get rubbery. But it still seems to work. Let us know if your batch turned out OK, or not. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.

  • Hello
    I haven’t tried your clay yet, but it seems exactly what I need. I searched through like hundreds of pages to find it! πŸ™‚
    I’d really like to make some of your clay, but cornstarch is hard to find where I live. Can I use potato starch instead? If yes, do the measures stay the same?
    And I don’t know much about glues, but do you think I could use CR glue instead of PVA? I have a lot of CR, so I’d prefer to use it, not to buy another kind πŸ™‚

    • Hi Ania. I’m afraid I haven’t tried potato starch, but it would probably work. And I don’t know what CR glue is. The chemical reaction between the PVA glue and the calcium carbonate in the joint compound is what causes the home-made clay to get so hard when it dries. The only way to see if the same thing happens with your glue is to do some experiments, and see what happens.

  • Hi Jonni,

    Thanks for sharing your recipe. It has been very helpful.

    I’m just having issues with molds growing on some of my finish products. What could have caused it? Any tips on preventing it? I’m not sure if it was just a coincidence but this only happened when I switched to a different brand of joint compound.

    Thanks in advance and God bless!

    • Hi Winter. Your pieces shouldn’t get moldy if they were totally dry before you painted them, and if you sealed them with a good varnish. did those things happen? The change in joint compound brands shouldn’t make any difference – I think I’ve used them all (except the DAP brand, which doesn’t seem to work) and I haven’t seen any mold growing on anything.

      In the future, you can add some salt to the mixture, or add a few drops of oil of clove. Then be sure to dry the piece as fast as possible, in front of a fan, if possible. Use thin layers of clay so there won’t be any moisture hiding way inside the sculpture when the outside feels dry. And seal it really well so moisture can’t get in from the air.

      I hope this helps. If you’re already doing these things and still having problems, let us know and we’ll try to unravel the mystery.

      • Thanks for the quick reply Jonni!

        I actually don’t paint the pieces but only seal them with a Mod Podge waterbase sealer. Is this okay or should I use a different sealer?

        • Hi Winter. I’m not familiar with the Mod Podge products, but I know their regular product is a form of white glue, and is not waterproof. They do have an acrylic sealer, though, that probably would be waterproof.

          I think my suggestion would be to use something other than what you’re using now, since you’re having problems with mold. I don’t live in a particularly humid area (sort of, being in Minnesota, but not as bad as Louisiana…) and I have never had any problems with mold growing on pieces sealed with acrylic varnish. To be honest, I sometimes skip the varnish (I shouldn’t, I know…) but if the piece is painted with acrylic paint, and I don’t forget and leave it down in a musty old basement, it doesn’t get mold.

          The Krylon clear coat spray product is easy to use, and one can seems to go a long way. If you use several coats, it seams to seal a sculpture well enough for indoor display. You can find some at almost any hardware store. Or try using some matte acrylic varnish from the art store. Do one test, and see if it helps.

  • Can this be carved? I am wondering because I want to make a halloween jack-o-lantern that I can carve a face on after it dries. If it’s too hard when dry can holes be carved out while it’s drying?

    • You can drill holes in it, but to carve it you would need to use really thick layers. And I don’t know if it would dry fast enough if used that way – it could get moldy before it dries. It will dry hard, but may chip or crack when you go to make the holes. I think it would be a good idea to make a small batch and play around with it, to see if it will do what you want it to do. If you do that, please let us know the results of your tests!

      • Thanks so much for your response! I found some tutorials regarding paper mache pumpkins on youtube that recommend the paper strip method first, followed by the pm clay for surface texture and details. I’m still going to experiment with carving the clay, just not on this experiment (Halloween is fast approaching!) I’ll let you know what I discover. thanks again.

  • Can this be used for an Essential Oil Diffuser? As in can you add a drop or two of Essential oils to this after it dries! I am wanting to make an Essential Oil Diffuser necklace for myself. Do you think this will work and stay together well?

    Thank you.

  • Just wanted to say thank you for this AMAZING recipe! I saved so much money by using this clay versus buying a life size horse head model to display my horse tack for sale. Looks store bought and I loved how smooth it looked and the amount of detail you can render with it!
    Thank you!

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