Bobcat Sculpture

Paper Mache Clay

Several years ago I developed a new recipe for a sculptural material I call “paper mache clay.” This material is so easy to use and so easy to make that I now use it exclusively for all my paper mache sculptures. The recipe has now gone “viral” and is being used by artists all over the world.

It might be a bit more accurate to call this material “home-made air-dried cellulose-reinforced polymer clay,” but that’s way too hard to say (or type!), so for now, let’s just call it paper mache clay.

Make Animal Sculptures with Paper Mache ClayThe first video below shows how to make the paper mache clay, and the second video answers some common questions that I’ve received from readers since I first developed this recipe. Below the videos you’ll find the recipe written out, and a few comments about how it’s used. (This recipe is the basis for my book “Make Animal Sculptures with Paper Mache Clay.”)

 

 

 

I usually make mine fairly thin so it can be spread over an armature like frosting, by using less flour than the recipe calls for – but you can also make it thicker, with more flour, when you want more control over the modeling process. The clay dries extremely hard when applied in a very thin layer (1/8 to 1/4″ thick), and it seems to dry much faster than traditional paper mache pulp. (And it only takes about 5 minutes to make).

Paper Mache Clay on Snow Leopard Sculpture

Paper Mache Clay on Snow Leopard Sculpture

As you can see above, the clay can be modeled into fairly fine details. Using the clay for modeling feels much more intuitive than creating sculptures with paper strips and paste, and once the clay is dry it is a pleasure to paint.

The ingredients are inexpensive, and can be found at your local grocery store and hardware store. You will need:

  • Cheap toilet paper (measure the wet paper pulp, and use 1 1/4 cups – some rolls contain more paper than needed)
  • 1 cup Joint compound from the hardware store (get premixed “regular,” that comes in a plastic tub, not the dry powder form.) (Not sure what Joint compound is, or what it’s called in your country? click here.)
    Note:  The DAP brand does not work. All other brands will work just fine.
  • 3/4 cup Elmer’s Glue-all (PVA glue)
  • 1/2 cup White Flour
  • 2 tablespoons Linseed Oil or Mineral Oil (Linseed oil contains chemicals, so mineral oil is a better choice if you’re working with kids, or if you like to get your hands in the clay)

See the video below for details on making your clay. And if you try this recipe, please let us all know what you think of it–and also please share a photo of your finished work. We’d love to see how it comes out. (Can’t see the video? See the instructions printed below).

[Edit 2/12/2011 –  If you find that your clay seems “rubbery” instead of smooth and creamy, you may need to use a different brand of joint compound. They all make their products using different formulas. Most of them work, but if you find one that doesn’t, please let us know. ]

Making Your Paper Mache Clay

Tools:

You’ll also need a large bowl, (use one with high sides so you don’t splatter clay on your cupboards), an electric mixer, a measuring cup and a tablespoon measure. To keep t he finished clay from drying out, you’ll need an air-tight container. The recipe makes approximately 1 quart of paper mache clay.

Note about Toilet Paper:

Unfortunately, the people who make toilet paper don’t expect us to turn their product into great works of art, so they see no reason to include the kind of information that would make things a lot easier for us.

I use a brand called “Angel Soft,” in the “regular” 2-ply rolls. I buy it at my local Wal-Mart. Each roll contains approximately 1 1/4 cup of paper, which I measured by wetting the paper, squeezing out the water, and then firmly squishing it into a measuring cup.

Since brands differ so much, the first time you make this recipe you should take a few minutes to find out how much paper is in the first roll. Then adjust the recipe if your brand don’t contain about 1 1/4 cup of paper. Fortunately, this is not a chemistry experiment or rocket science – if your mixture contains a little more paper than mine, or a little less, your sculptures will still be stunning.

Step 1. Fill a high-sided bowl with warm water. Remove the toilet paper from the roll and throw it into the water. Push down on the paper to make sure all of it gets wet.

Step 2. Then pick up the paper and squeeze out as much water as you can. Pour the water out of the bowl and put your paper mass back in.

Step 3. You will want to break the paper into chunks about 1″ across. This will allow your mixer to move around the pieces and break them apart.

Step 4. Add all the ingredients to the bowl and mix, using an electric mixer. The mixer will pull the fibers of the toilet paper apart and turn it into pulp. Continue to mix for at least 3 minutes to make sure all the paper has been mixed in with the other ingredients. If you still see some lumps, use a fork or your fingers (with the mixer turned off!) to break them apart, and then mix some more.

Your paper mache clay is now ready to use. It will look a bit like cookie dough – but don’t eat it!

If you don’t plan to use your clay right away, place it in an airtight container to keep it from drying out. The clay should stay usable for 5 days or more, if you keep it covered. The recipe makes about 1 quart.

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4,198 Comments

  • hi I’m making a school project and I´m only allowed to make stuff out of recyclables so can´t use toilet paper but I would like to know if I could make paper Mache clay with newspapers.

    • Yes, you can soak the paper overnight and then tear it into little pieces before mixing the recipe. However, the other ingredients in the recipe aren’t recycled, so if your teacher wants the project to be totally recycled, will this work?

  • Hello from England. Thank you for this wonderful recipe I hope to make a stargazing hare with it. Sorry but just a quick question. You state not to use powdered filler but is there any reason not to make it up with water and then add it, as the texture would then be the same as ready-made. It is much cheaper here to buy in powdered form. Thank you, Sue.

    • Hi Sue. The two types of drywall joint compound aren’t quite the same, but I have heard that some people have tried using the bagged mixture, and they were happy with it. You can certainly experiment if you like. The bagged types are usually marked with a number that indicates how quickly they harden. When mixed with the other ingredients, this may not hold true – however, you’ll still want to try using the slowest product you can find, just in case. The pre-mixed version doesn’t contain plaster, so it stays workable for a long time when used in this recipe.

      If you do use the bagged joint compound, I hope you’ll let us know what you think of it.

      • Hi, thank you for such a quick reply. I will be using an all purpose filler as joint compound is expensive here. I think you are right in thinking powdered filler will harden quicker but for only one pound I will experiment and let you know. Regards Sue.

  • Hi Jonni!

    Quick question that has probably been answered, but I can’t sit through 60 pages of comments to find it: can you sand the dried clay surface for a smoother finish?

    Thanks!
    Jessica

  • Hi Jonni,

    I tried to send a couple of photos with my comment but I am not sure if you got my questions and the photos

    Could you tell me please if I should cover the sculpture with a plastic bag while it dries so it doesn’t crack?

    And could I add more layers of paper clay once the first layer is dry?

    Thank you so much for your help!

    • Hi Esther. Your images didn’t attach to your comments. There is a limit to how large they can be. Try to edit the images so they are less than 250k and try again.

      You don’t need to cover the sculpture with plastic. The paper mache clay needs air to dry. It does shrink a little as it dries, but this won’t cause cracks unless it’s applied over a solid armature. I usually apply it over an armature made with crumpled paper, which will give just a little when the paper mache clay contracts.

      You can add more layers of paper mache clay to dried paper mache. We do it all the time.

  • Hello 🙂 this stuff is pretty awesome to work with, haven’t tried your recipe yet but have made others. Yours will be next 🙂 I do have a question though – Why do you say to avoid DAP brand?

    • Because the DAP brand’s formula doesn’t work when combined with the other ingredients in the recipe. You end up with little rubber balls. DAP is a great brand when doing home repair work or building new walls. But it won’t work with this recipe.

  • Hi Jonni,
    Do you have a recipe that doesn’t include flour or corn starch? Where I live flour tends to come with weavels in it, so I really don’t want to be using it to make art work.

  • Can I mix or make up double or triple the paper mache reciepe for more product at one time
    Thanks
    Dale

    • Yes, you can do that, if your mixer has enough power so it won’t get burned out. The mixture is pretty stiff. Also, you won’t want to make up so much that you have to leave it in the bowl for a long time. There are organic ingredients in it, so mold will start to grow the longer it stays wet. However, if you’re working on something big, and perhaps you use a paint-mixing attachment on a heavy-duty drill, you’ll save a lot of time by doubling or tripling the recipe.

  • Hi Jonni, I’m getting my supplies together to make my first batch of paper mache clay. I went to my local hardware stores Lowe’s and Home Depot and they both only sell the Dap brand joint compound. Many versions of it too! Where do you buy yours and what brand should I look for?

    • Hi Katy. I get mine at the local Lowes. Ace Hardware has it too, I think, but the little lumber store near me only carries DAP. It’s a popular brand, but it really doesn’t work in this recipe. Are there any paint stores in town? Or you could try WalMart – their cheap stuff works with this recipe. Check the label, though – some house brands are made by DAP.

  • Hi Jonni, I have been following your work for a long time. Very impressive.
    My question is, I do not really understand the difference between paper mache clay and your paper clay recipe. Could you please explain the differences and different ways to us.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Pascale. I have only two recipes – one for paper mache clay, and one for air dry clay. They both use the same ingredients, but the air dry clay is smoother and less sticky. I use the original paper mache clay recipe on this page for most of my projects.

      Paper clay is a term used for several different products. I don’t use the term, though. Some paper clay is real pottery-type clay with paper added, and it needs to be fired in a kiln. There’s also Creative PaperClay, a commercial air dry clay that does not need to be fired, and it’s similar to my air dry clay recipe, although it may work even better for some projects. I’m too cheap to do a lot of experimenting with it.

      I have seen some online articles and youtube videos that use my paper mache clay recipe, but they call it paper clay (sometimes they give me credit, and sometimes they don’t).

      • Thank you, that clears it, yes, I meant the air dry clay (others on youtube indeed call it paper clay). I am going to make quite a big project (first time I make a bigger sculpture), about a meter. Working on the armature now. I am used to the paper strips, but what would you recommand, the paper mache clay or the air dried clay? I live in the Netherlands, and though we have had beautiful weather the last few days, rain can come in any time here. So I need something that dries the quickest.

        • I am sorry, just one more question, thank you so much for your generosity to share with everybody. I am afraid of shrinkage with the toiletpaper, someone recommanded silkpaper, do you have any experience with this kind of paper and how is the shrinkage for you?

        • Pascale, both recipes dry at the same rate, although the air dry clay gets stiff faster because of the corn starch. It’s also a little more difficult to work with, because it doesn’t always stick either to the substrate, or to itself. If you want to go faster, I’d recommend the original paper mache clay recipe. You can smooth it with the flat side of a damp knife. I believe the paper mache clay is also stronger, and with a sculpture this large, that might be a real benefit.

  • Hiya, firstly this recipe is terribly useful (especially for a student on a tight crafting budget) so just a general thank you for making it 😀
    I was just wondering if there were any viable substitutes for mineral/linseed oil? I don’t currently have either available…
    Thank you 🙂

  • Hey so me and some friends were wanting to make some paper mache masks, what would be the best way? To put the paper mache clay on our faces or to make a mold and then put it in that? Thank you for the amazing post!

    • You cannot put the paper mache clay on your faces. Paper mache takes at least 24 hours to dry, and the products in the recipe would pull all the moisture from your face. Please don’t even consider doing that!

      You can make a mold of your face using plaster cloth. Do a search on YouTube – there are quite a few very good videos showing safe ways to do that.

  • Dear Jonni,

    I would like to make a Captain America shield for a costume and I was thinking about using this recipe. Do you think that it would be OK to make something that big and flat. How heavy would it be about, it would be the size of a garbage can lid. Also I already have powdered joint compound at home, do you think I could prepare (make it the consistency of regular joint compound) the powdered joint compound before then mix it in? Sorry for the long comment!

    Thank you very much,
    Siena

    • Hi Siena. Yes, you can use this clay recipe for your shield. It will be very strong, but perhaps not as smooth as you would like it to be. It isn’t easy to sand. I don’t think it would be too heavy – about the same weight as the same size item made with plastic of the same thickness. I have not tried using powdered joint compound, but several readers have tried it, mixing water according to the package directions and then using it in this recipe. They say it works quite well.

      For a smoother mix, perhaps for a thin final layer on the shield, go to the paper mache recipes tab at the top and choose the air dry clay recipe. It uses the same ingredients, and isn’t quite as sticky, but it’s smoother. I think it might work well for this project.

  • BEST STUFF EVER!!!!! Thank you so very much for this recipe!!! This is all I’ll EVER use in the future!!!

    I started out with paper mache strips and paste. It was slow going. The clay went on twice as thick as the paste, and is very strong; this is GREAT because these will be weatherproofed and used in outdoor Halloween decorations, hopefully for years to come!!

  • Would it still work if I put the toilet paper through a paper shredder while it is dry, then added it to the water?

      • I haven’t tried feeding it through the shredder yet… so perhaps not 😉 I just thought it might be easier to pull apart once wet if the pieces were already small. If I try it, I’ll report back!

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