Paper Mache Recipes, Tips, Techniques, and Experiments

Paper Mache Animal Sculptures – Some Basic Tips

Paper Mache Baby Goat

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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About the author

Jonni Good

I'm a sculptor, author, gardener, and grandma. When I'm not catering to the needs of my obnoxious cat, I make videos, create stuff, and play around with paper mache. I'm also the author of several highly-rated books on paper mache. You'll find them in the sidebar, and on amazon.com

49 Comments

  • Hi Jonni – I have just discovered you and think you are amazing! I was recently inspired to begin some creations of my own after years of pottering around with various materials. I am now in the mist of making a fairytale castle and also have a small Stag and a Ram on the go!! Wish me luck! However I just can’t resist your baby lamb and want one of my own – do you have a pattern for it at all?

    Ps your website is an absolute gem.
    Many Thanks, Nicky (U.K)

  • For a panther with a hissing mouth, how would you suggest the teeth be done? I was thinking clay and hot glue? I have tried several times to upload a pic so you could see the mouth but it won’t work. Plus it would be nice if you had a Q&A section on the site since my question really doesn’t fit in any category. Thanks for the awesome ideas and wonderful tutorials!

    • Hi Brooke. I tried putting up a Q&A page once, using a special plugin, and spammers found it fast. I had to take it down. I don’t think teeth were on the list, though. 😉

      Dan Reeder uses polymer clay for his dragon and monster teeth, and I think he uses hot glue to stick them in. If he does it that way, it’s got to be right. In fact, if you click on that link, you can see dragon teeth on the front cover of his book.

  • Hello Jonni! I wish there was a Q&A section of your site because I am not sure under what to ask my question. How would you suggest I add big boys teeth? I was thinking clay and hot glue? Hopefully the pic will upload

    • And by the way, if you’re trying to post a photo and it won’t upload, it’s probably too big. Please edit the photo and try again. I’d really like to see your panther.

  • 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 .

      • Its made from Jonni paper clay. I also used some watercolor &brown wrapping paper .I glued the brown bleeding tissue paper to the watercolor & brown wrapping paper. Then cut out the different feather shapes and glued them to the sculpture .Then finished it off with acrylic finish.

  • 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

    • Hi Roger. I hope you’ll let us see your heron when it’s done. That’s one of my favorite birds. The proportion question is difficult, especially for me, a self-taught sculptor. I suggest that you find as many photos from as many angles as you can, and keep them close as you work. Using a pattern inside the sculpture really helps me, but that only gives you one silhouette. For all other sides and angles, you need to “draw” with your material. There are tools that sculptors use for creating realistic portraits and other sculptures, but I have no experience with them.

        • I used a wire frame and wrapped it with strips of news paper with glue then
          used your paper clay to finish out .The wings are made of water color paper .To finish I used brown bleeding tissue paper to get the wood carving affect or a bronze affect. For the final finish I use mod pod gloss. I like to use a pieces of natural wood when possible for a stand .

          • Yes I plan on doing a lot more. I find it a lot of fun .I used your paper clay recipe but changed it from toilet paper to junk mail . I like to recycle as much as possible. Soak the paper in water over night if I forget about it some times it’s longer any way I dump the water off and pulverize the paper then add the other stuff. I’ve entered a recycle show here where I live its in November will let you know how I come out and show you the pieces

  • 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

    • Hi Jelina. I didn’t use a pattern – I just wadded up paper in the general shapes and taped them together. It’s a bit more spontaneous than using a pattern, but you have a bit less control over the final shape. In other words, you don’t always end up with exactly the shape you first had in mind, but that can be a good thing. That’s how I made the paper mache frog – although the goat kid doesn’t need the wire inside his legs because his legs are thicker than a frog’s, and the paper itself is strong enough to hold him up after adding the tape and paper mache.

  • 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

    • I think the easiest thing to do is use a cardboard pattern inside the armature, which is filled out with crumpled paper and masking tape. You can see the basic technique in the tutorial about the echidna. That way, you draw the goat on the cardboard, and after assembling all the pieces, you know the basic shape of your sculpture right from the start.

  • 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.

    • Wow – an orangutan sculpture project for a child in kindergarten. Did the teacher give any suggestions at all?

      OK, here’s how I would do it. Think red ape – and don’t get too hung up on details. Get a plastic bag, like the kind you bring home from the grocery store, and fill it with some crumpled paper or old rags. Tie off the top, and then squish it and wind some tape around the neck, about 1/3 of the way down, to make a head on top and a belly on the bottom.

      Now we need some long skinny arms and legs – the easiest thing would probably be taking newspaper and twisting it into fat ropes, and then covering the sausage-shaped crumpled paper with masking tape. (This is a bit tricky to do by yourself, so he might need you to hold the paper down while he wraps the tape).

      Now tape the arms on to the body at the shoulders, using tons of masking tape. Do the same with the legs at the hips. Your son might want to bend up the ends of the legs to make feet. Cover the whole shebang with more masking tape, and then cover with three or four layers of paper mache – the raw flour and water paste recipe will work just fine. Let is sit in a warm place for two or three days and allow it to dry completely – it might be necessary to turn it a few times so all sides get dry. Then paint it red, add some eyes and a big smile, and you’re good to go. Ears would be nice, too.

      It sounds kind of fun, actually – be sure to show us how it turns out.

      • My son is very excited to do this. He loves this idea. He is my third child to do a sculpture in kindergarten. One of my girls did a fruit bat, the other did a flamingo. The teachers just tell them to use anything they like. The fruit bat was made out of styrofoam (body) the wings were a fuzzy fabric and pipe cleaners. The flamingo…..well we cheated a little. We bought a plastic flamingo and added feathers for a more realistic texture. These kindergarteners at this school also have to do a written report along with their sculpture. My daughter who did the flamingo struggled to do the report and we had little time to do the sculpture. I will surely update you on my sons project when he’s finished. thank you so much. You’re very sweet.

  • 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!

    • Susan, lately I’ve been using the paper mache clay almost elusively, because it’s easy to get smooth or texture it the way you like. I have also used joint compound to smooth paper mache made from strips and paste, although it needs to be protected by one final layer of paper mache. Then you can sand the paper mache when it dries. You can also use gesso over the dry paper mache, and sand it to get a porcelain-smooth finish. Lots of options.

  • 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!

    • Hi Naz. I never use balloons for any of my sculptures. I know people like to use them because it’s a ready-made shape, but I find it easier to make my own shapes with crumpled paper and masking tape. And the paper armatures don’t bounce around the room… :)

      You might want to watch the videos I made of the projects in my book, which give you the general idea of how I build my sculptures. You can find the first one here.

  • 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!

    • Hi Annika. The full instructions are in my book. That’s the most advanced project in the book, so it wouldn’t be appropriate as a project here on the blog. And besides, there are too many photos for a blog post. Your librarian might be able to get a copy of the book for you.

      • hi jonni! thanks for the reply. i did ask the librarian and i did go and look it up in the public library but I could’t find it… its just that I probably wont be doing any more paper mache after the horse so I dont really want to buy the book. Do you have any suggestions on what I should do?

  • 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

    • Hi Jordan. You could use the basic methods I used to make the orangutan mask, and then add the snakes around her head. I think I’d use ropes for the snakes, and stiffen them with wire. Then after you have her “hair” arranged, cover them with one or two layers of paper mache, let the whole thing dry, and paint.

      Hope this helps.

  • 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.

    • Hi Maggie. The dachshund in my new book is an advanced project, but it builds on an idea that actually makes it easier to make life-like animal sculptures. That idea is the cardboard pattern inside the armature, which helps you get the proportions right.

      To make a dog sculpture that looks like your dog, draw a side view of your pet on a piece of cardboard in the same size you want your sculpture. Cut out the body and then cut the leg pieces separately. Pad them with crumpled paper and masking tape, and cover the armature with paper mache. Think of your first one as a “practice” sculpture, so you can learn the process without feeling like it has to come out perfectly. Good luck!

  • 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.

    • Hi Carol. I think I would start by doing a Google image search for bald eagles. An eagle at rest (without wings outspread) would be the easiest. You could sculpt the eagle using your styrofoam, and then cover it with paper strips and paste. Or you could make the eagle out of crumpled paper and masking tape, like I did when I made my Emperor penguin family. I used the paper mache clay instead of paper strips and paste, but the traditional method should work just fine.

      I hope this helps,
      Jonni

  • 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

  • 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

    • Hi Doreen. A paper mache horse sculpture sounds like fun, but I’ve never really done a horse. I’m willing to give it a try, if you don’t mind watching me struggle along. I’ll look for some inspiring photos and get started today.

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