Paper Mache Animal Sculptures – Some Basic Tips

I just completed a paper mache goat kid. It’s a study for a larger sculpture I hope to do this summer. I thought it would be a good subject to use to discuss the leg bones, and how they affect the finished sculpture.

The Importance of Leg Bones…

If you find a photo of an animal you want to sculpt, but it isn’t in the right position for your project, just keep the following guidelines in mind. As long as you get the proportions right and remember how the leg bones are attached to the spine, you can position your animal any way you like.

Remember:

  • The front legs begin at the spine and float over the chest.
  • The back legs also begin at the spine, but there is no rib cage separating them. The legs will come together at the back, creating the butt crack (there must be a more polite way to say that…).

The legs really begin with the shoulder and hip bones, which cause bumps to show on the finished sculpture. The bumps show at the top of the shoulder and hip bones, where they attach to the spine, and there’s another bump where the first leg bone is attached to the shoulder and hip bones. Take a look at the next photo to see what I mean.

I’ve labeled the joints on this kid as though she was human. It makes it easier for me to remember the way the joints bend.

Leg Bones for Animal Sculptures
Leg Bones for Animal Sculptures

Note: This newborn baby goat has a pronounced curve of the spine, at the back. Most animals have a straighter spine from the shoulders to the tail, but it does vary from species to the next.

Some general guidelines:

  • The elbow and knee joints are often on a line with the bottom of the chest.
  • Humans have very short bones from the heel to our toes (our feet) and from our wrist joints to our fingers (our hands). That tends to confuse us when we look at animal legs, because we think of the hoof or paw as the equivalent of our feet and hands, but that is not correct. For instance, this goat kid appears to have a knee on her front leg because it bends in the same direction as our own knee. However, this is really a joint that corresponds to our wrist.
  • The placement of the legs can  set the overall character of the piece – playful, restful, frightened, etc. When you’re making a paper mache sculpture of an animal, it’s worth taking extra time to get the posture and proportions right before you lay on your first layer of paper and paste.

If you know how the bones fold at the joints, you can use this knowledge of very basic anatomy to build a sculpture of any animal that has four limbs.

That includes mammals, birds, reptiles, whales – and even humans.

In fact, I often forget exactly how bird wings fold up, so I simply fold up my own “wings” to remind myself which joints bend in which direction. We are all related, and nature repeats patterns that work.

How to Use This Info on Other Animals:

  • If you were to  stretch out the neck a little, you’d have an okapi. Stretch the neck a lot, and make the front legs longer, and you would have a giraffe.
  • If you made the legs much shorter, and stretched out the body, you’d have a dachshund.
  • Stand the creature up on its hind legs and fold up the front legs, and you’d have a bird.
  • Leave the animal on it’s hind legs, extend the tail to the ground, and make the front legs a lot shorter, and you’d have a kangaroo.
  • Give the animal fins instead of feet and merge the back legs together to form a tail, and you’d have a whale.

I thought about doing this with our baby goat in Photoshop, just to show you that it really works – but I think your imagination can do this much faster and better than I can.

This Even Helps With Imaginary Animals

Imaginary or mythical animals almost always have a basic form of a real animal, or perhaps two or three real animals glued together – like a Griffin made from a lion and an eagle. Some mythical animals, like dragons, have too many limbs. Usually the extra limbs are wings.

Even though mythical animals don’t follow the basic patterns that nature designed, you can still create realistic-looking creatures as long as most of the critter looks the way we expect animals to look. Knowing how their legs (and wings) would be attached to their spine allows you to build a believable, (but totally unreal) animal, from scratch.

So – have fun bending those joints and positioning the legs on your next paper mache animal sculpture!

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42 Responses

  1. Roger
    Roger at |

    Back side

    Reply
  2. Roger
    Roger at |

    Hello Jonni Hope you and all the artist on this site had a great Holiday Seasons.
    Wishing everyone a very good and successful New Year. Here is the latest sculpture just finished it last week .

    Reply
  3. Laura
    Laura at |

    butt crack = gluteal cleft ;)

    Reply
  4. Roger
    Roger at |

    I started doing art in 1997 with water colors and have worked my way to mixed media.I work with bleeding tissue paper .(its’ called Spectra Bleeding Tissue paper .Dick Blicks carries it )The paper has a vegtable dye in it and when moistened it runs and mixes to create different colors and images .I then create art from the images that I find on the support.I’ve been wanting to do sculptures for awhile but i didn’t want to get into the clay thing .I thought i would try my hand at Paper machie.I’ve made a few bowls and boxes now i’am working on a Blue heron in flight.
    Jonni,Do you have any info about how to get the proportins right from a photo
    I’ve been using the grid method to get the size that i want but not sure about the thickness of some parts of the Heron. THANKS for creating this site it’s really a neat site

    Reply
    1. Roger L Huffenberger
      Roger L Huffenberger at |

      Hopefully the heron will show up

      Reply
  5. Jelina
    Jelina at |

    Hi! I really love your work! And I wanna make the goat kid, it’s so cute! But do you have a pattern from the goat kid? Like the horse pattern.
    Or didn’t you use a pattern? Then how did you do it?

    Please let me know! I really wanna make it (once I’ve finished my exams)

    Grtz Jelina

    Reply
  6. Allison Doumith
    Allison Doumith at |

    Hi Jonni,
    I’m 13 years old and I LOVE your work. I have an art project to draw/make 5 different animals and one of them is a goat. I was wondering if you can do a tutorial on the goat kid you did at the top please? The project is due in 3 weeks latest. I know that is a lot to ask in such a short time. If you cannot do a tutorial can you just explain to me here how to make the base (out of what materials), the head and the feet.

    Thanks,
    Allison

    Reply
  7. ERIKA LOMELI
    ERIKA LOMELI at |

    HI, I WANTED TO KNOW IF YOU CAN HELP US WITH SOME IDEAS. MY SON IS IN KINDERGARTEN. HE HAS TO MAKE A SCULPTURE OF AN ORANGUTAN. BIGGER THAN A SOFTBALL BUT SMALLER THAN A BASKETBALL AND WE CAN USE ANYTHING WE WANT TO MAKE IT. I’M THINKING OF A PAPER MACHE SCULPTURE. WE HAD FOUND A SOCK MONKEY BUT THAT’S ALOT OF NEEDLE WORK FOR HIM. CAN YOU PLEASE GIVE ME INSTRUCTIONS TO HELP HIM. I WOULD BE FOREVER GREATFUL.

    Reply
  8. Aimen
    Aimen at |

    Hey jonni can you pleas help me with making the horse sculpture, can you please add the design for it the one you later draw on the cardboard please because my mom’s birthday is coming up and i need to give her the best present she could ever get!

    Reply
  9. AJ JOMAA
    AJ JOMAA at |

    i love the pig help me make it jonni and yeah

    Reply
  10. Susan
    Susan at |

    how do you get the paper mache so smooth?

    Reply
  11. naz
    naz at |

    i was wondering if you used one balloon or two for the body of the animal, like this one or any other small sheep/goat/dog/cat etc…thank you, helping my kids to make a goat sculpture!

    Reply
  12. Annika
    Annika at |

    hi Jonni! how do you make a horse sculpture like the last one on your book – make animal sculptures with paper mache clay. Thanks hope you can respond to it quickly!

    Reply
  13. jordan
    jordan at |

    how do u make a medusa face with paper mache got stuck there plz reply as soon as possible cause doin it on monday thanks very much!

    JORDAN
    X X X

    Reply
  14. Maggie
    Maggie at |

    Hi Jonni, I am a 12 year old girl, I am animal crazy! I love art and creativity. I am on my way making your horse but I need the help from my dad so I’ll have to wait a while. I love dogs so much I would do anything to have one. Do you know how to make a simple, quick, artistic life looking dog? I know it’s a lot to ask but my family is very busy so if I want to make it I’m going to have to make it myself with no help. i can’t do all wood cutting or anything too hard. Don’t go to too much trouble because it’s just something fun I’d like to do. I had a look at the dashound you made and it looks just like my dog, but i think it may be a bit hard. my mum is also a teacher and she wants to do paper mache at school, she teaches grade 6 or 7 kids so maybe a dog she could do as well.

    From Maggie

    P.S. I love your work.

    Reply
  15. Carol
    Carol at |

    My daughter wants to sculpt the bald eagle for her school project. I have never done anything of the sort to even begin to know how to help her w/this. We have purchased styrofoam items and paper mache. Can you tell me where to begin and if you think these items can work in making this sculpture? A quick response is needed and much appreciated. If you could also suggest a website to reference? Thank you for any information you may have to offer.

    Reply
  16. Shirlee
    Shirlee at |

    I really like the paper mache pig, and I was wondering if your could try to make a panda with instruction so my little cousins and I could make one. They love doing paper mache art and wish to try to make a panda. Thank you for your time.
    -Shirlee

    Reply
  17. Doreen
    Doreen at |

    My daughter is one of those young girls that adores horses, and I mean horses of every shape and size, color, breed, well you get the idea. Is it possible that you could do a horse statue with instructions so that she and I could do it together. She is 11 years old and we together just finished a paper mache volcano project. I could not believe how much fun it was. She wants her room decorated old timey western and I thought this would be perfect. please let me know if it’s something that you could do. Thank You for your’re time. Doreen

    Reply

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