Paper Mache Animals

Painting the Dragon – Finally!


Dragon HeadThe dragon is finally finished! I can’t believe how easy it was to find the right color of paint for the dragon at the Restore. Painting this fellow with artist’s acrylics would have cost a small fortune.

By the way, I learned this week that latex paint doesn’t actually have any latex in it – it’s really acrylic paint. I suppose that’s why I was able to add a bit of yellow acrylic paint to the orange latex to make a brighter orange, and it worked just fine. Now I can see why Dan Reeder uses latex paint. If you can’t find the right colors at the Restore, you can still get “sample” sizes at Lowe’s for just a few dollars. Now I know where I’m going to be shopping for my paint from now on.

Once again, I want to thank Jammed Joker – whoever you may be – for posting the drawing I used on the dragon. I hope you didn’t think I forgot about it – I’ve been thinking about your drawing for six months!

Next – some major experiments in creating garden art. I think we can change the paper mache clay recipe enough to make it less interesting to mice and bugs, and then use some space-age products to make it weatherproof. (Do people still use the term “space-age?”). I’ve got some ideas churning around in my head, and I can’t wait to get started.

See all of the videos showing how the paper mache clay dragon was made:

You may also like:

How I painted the Unicorn.Unicorn Pattern
Hyena Mask PatternHyena Mask Pattern
Life Sized Paper Mache Baby ElephantLife-Sized Baby Elephant

82 Comments

  • Hi Jonni,
    Wow, it had just occurred to me to buy paints at the hardware store, and I came across this post. I should have known that you beat me to it.
    I have another question: I like to varnish my pieces with a gloss finish. Is there a hardware store item that you use? A tiny bottle from the art supply store is horrifically expensive.

    • Hi Diana. I like the Minwax products, the ones that clean up with water. I think they make one with a gloss finish. You can find them in small containers in almost any hardware store in the U.S.

      • Thanks! I bought 5 pints of paint yesterday for $10.88 – they were having a $1.99 sale at Ace. Unbelievable. How much would 5 pints of paint cost in an art store?

        I’ve been thinking about gesso. Why not just use joint compound for gesso? (Perhaps thinned w/a bit of water.) At my local hw store they only have DAP, which you warned against, but maybe it would work as gesso. Perhaps if it were applied, dried, then sanded?

        Do you recommend any particular Minwax product? There are so many.

  • WHEW – I NEED A NAP – I GOT EXHAUSTED JUST THINKING ABOUT THE AMOUNT OF TIME AND EFFORT THAT WENT INTO THIS PROJECT!

  • Hi Jonni — I am in New Zealand, and just recently discovered your blog. I LOVE your dragon! Here in the little old antipodes, the movie of “The Hobbit” and the whole Middle Earth thing has become part of popular culture. My teenage daughter loves it! “The Desolation of Smaug” (Smaug is the name of the fearsome dragon in the story) is a wonderful movie, and many kids here are now nuts about dragons. We also have a large Chinese population here, who love dragons. I’m just a beginner, but would love to try making one. Your new recipe for doll heads looks brilliant. Now I need to find out what the glue is called here, joint compound etc etc etc . . . No brands like Elmers or whatever! Thanks for your inspiration!!

    • Hi Laura. I sure hope you’ll show us your dragon when it’s done. I haven’t seen the movie, but Smaug was a “guest” on the Colbert Report a few months back, and he looked quite fearsome!

      At the hardware store, ask for a “PVA” glue. It is usually white, and the brand won’t matter. The wallboard joint compound is called “joint finish” in Australia. That might work in New Zealand, too. If not, just tell the clerk at the hardware store that you’re looking for the pre-mixed stuff that’s used to cover the cracks between sheets of drywall (plaster board, sheet rock) when making new walls. They’ll know what you’re talking about, I’m sure.

      • Thanks so much for your helpful reply, Jonni. I feel like a movie star has written to me!! I’m just so in awe of your work. Anyway, here where I live there is a big children’s hospital, called Starship Hospital. If my dragon is successful, I think I’ll offer it to them. They have so many open spaces, waiting areas etc where they constantly need new things to distract the little ones from their pain and discomfort. They may just be interested.

        • What a great idea, Laura. You might contact them before you begin your project to see how much engineering you’ll need to do to make sure it’s stable, just in case a child climbs on him. I wanted to give my dragon to the local library, but I was too concerned about the balance on the thing – I should have built it on a base, but I didn’t. One thing I learned after I made my dragon is that you can stuff the inside and build out the forms with bubble wrap and those little air-filled pillows that are used for shipping. It would have cut down on the weight of my dragon by possibly 40 pounds or more.

  • Hi!
    I was wondering what would be the best way to cover a large FLAT area with paper mache? I am planning on making a free standing “open page book” as a decoration for a party . it will be about 4 ft by 5 ft . I was wondering if I should use full sheets of newspaper to get the smooth look vs torn strips??? would this be to large for trying the paper clay ??? what are your thoughts Jonni???
    thank you for any ideas.
    This will be my first paper project since grade school and I am very excited to try !!

    • Hi Renee. Flat areas are always challenging with paper mache, because you can get some warping as the mache dries. This happens because there’s usually a wet side and a dry side, and physics takes over. If the shapes are built over wire mesh, it seems to be a little easier to avoid the warping problem. If you use paper strips and paste, you definitely want to use the largest pieces you can, if only to make things go faster. If you don’t tear off the edges from the sheets, you will be able to see the hard edges, which might work really well for this sculpture. And yes, you could use the paper mache clay recipe if you prefer – the dragon is pretty darned big, and its skin is made out of pm clay. (I hope your sculpture doesn’t turn out to be quite as heavy!)

  • Hi Jonni!

    One of my clients, a pediatric dentist, would like to turn one of his offices in San Diego into a haunted house with a dentistry theme (rotten teeth, scary candy, etc). We’re looking for somebody in the area that could do a series of sculptures in paper mache. Would you be able to help?

    Feel free to call me at 858-537-9600.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Rita. I can’t help you out, but perhaps we have a reader or two who lives a bit closer to you. You might consider reposting your comment on the Daily Sculptors page, which has a lot more subscribers. There’s a link to it at the top of the page.

      Good luck!

  • Hello Jonni and greetings from Wales, UK.

    My wife is soon to get a new musical instrument called a liuto cantabile. It will be around 3 feet long with a bowl rather like a lute. A case for such an item will cost a ton and fashioning one from plywood would be a bout as tricky as making the instrument itself! So I was thinking about having a go with your excellent paper maché recipe.

    I’m thinking of carving the basic shape from large blocks of polystyrene glued together to form the basic armature and then laying the clay on to it. Then smoothing down as necessary, a coat or 2 of Gesso and then paint.

    Do you (or anyone else for that matter) have any advice for me?

    All help much appreciated.

    William. PS I made a small batch and did a trial run and it all seemed possible.

    • I had to Google that instrument – I’d never heard of it. Now that I see what it looks like I can see why a case would be so expensive. Your ideas sound like they should work just fine. You may want to add a layer of felt inside to make sure the instrument doesn’t get scratched. If you have a lid on the case, how will you fasten the two halves together?

      • Thank you so much for your comments, Jonni.

        I thought I might go for something like the design in the pic attached. What do you think?

        I’ve found that with your mixture, getting as much water out of the soaked toilet roll before mixing seems to be really important. My first trial where I didn’t take care over this took over a week to dry and even then it wasn’t very hard.

        Also, does one paint before Gesso or after?

        Thanks again, I’ll post the result (if it’s any good!)

        • You would put the gesso on as a primer, and then paint. The case in the photo is rather interesting – they had fun putting all those cartoons on it! I can’t see why it wouldn’t work for your case, too. And yes – we would love to see how it turns out.

          • Thank you, Jonni, last question…

            How thick would you think to make the case? The trial pieces I made seem extremely tough and there will be structural ribs inside to retain the shape. I was thinking 3-4 mm to keep the weight down; does that sound about right?

  • Love how the dragon turned out. I’m glad you chose the latex paint on top of cloth scales it really gives you a great skinn feel. That’s another reason Mr reeder and i use latex, all so works as a good sealer before i airbrush my art and clearcoat it.

  • My daughter is working on an elephant head for her high school Zoology project. She used your techniques and recipes. I will share with you after she paints it. Do you have to seal the paper mache before you paint it? What kind of paint? Its a large head so it will take quite a bit of paint probably. We just bought regular spray paint…will that work?

    • I don’t usually seal my sculptures before painting them, but it does help to use a primer or gesso before painting. That way, you have a nice white surface, and your paint looks nice. For a grey elephant that probably isn’t even needed, though. And sure – spray paint should work just fine. I can’t wait to see it.

  • Jonni, I just love the colors you chose for the dragon! The eyes are especially striking and impressive. Thanks for sharing such a great project 🙂

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