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: buy any brand except DAP. The DAP brand does not work.
  • 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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3,802 Comments

  • I loved your videos and am anxious to try your recipe. What type of wire do you use for armatures? I’d love to see a photo of your armature before the you apply pm clay. Thanks

    • Hi Lynn. There are tons of videos and tutorials on this site that show how I make my armatures. For larger pieces, I normally make armatures with crumpled paper or foil, and for smaller sculptures, like the ones in my tiny dogs book, I use a simple armature with aluminum armature wire covered with foil. Click on the Paper Mache Tutorials tab at the top of the page to find some good examples, or check out my books – they’re over there on the right-hand side of the page. :)

  • Hi Jonni,
    Big fan of your work here. You inspired me last year to start creating again with clay. I have a question for you as I have developed an allergy to flour. Is there another ingredient that I can use in place of the flour in PM clay recipe? I want to be able to create again but I can only work with the current recipe for a day or two then I have to take a month long break which is not conducive to actually finishing projects. Thanks in advance for any suggestions you may have!

    Kind regards,
    Socalsgrl

    • Hi Socalsgrl. You can try substituting corn starch in place of the flour. You’ll need to do some experimenting for the exact proportions, because I think the corn starch is more absorbent than wheat flour, and it may continue absorbing after the recipe is mixed up, making it thicker than you intended. But I’m just guessing about the last part. Play around with it – there has to be a way to get you creating again!

    • This pm clay dries hard as a rock, and I’ve dropped it on concrete and it didn’t crack. However, really thin pieces that don’t have a supporting armature underneath will crack if mishandled (I’ve had to repair a few ears because my cat knocks things off shelves). I would say it’s one of the more durable sculpting materials, but I wouldn’t want to make toys with it.

      I hope that helps.

      • Thanks for answering my question. Would you say that your air dry clay recipe is as durable as the paper mache clay recipe? The one attribute of the air dry clay that I like is that it’s smoother.

        • Larry, I have a feeling that the air dry clay recipe is not as strong as the original paper mache clay recipe, but I have not actually tested it in any way that would let me know for sure. I make that guess because there’s less paper in the air dry clay recipe, and the “active ingredients,” the glue and the drywall joint compound, are somewhat diluted by adding more flour and corn starch.

          I normally use the air dry clay on top of something else. It works great over plaster cloth, and over the shop towel mache. If you brush on a glue and water mixture first, it should also work well as a top layer over dried paper mache clay.

          If you happen to do some actual tests to compare the strength of the two recipes, I hope you’ll share the results.

  • Thank you for your website. I can’t wait to try the paper mache clay recipe. Do you know how well it’ll do outside?

    • Yes, I know for sure that it won’t do well outside, at all! Not for any length of time, anyway. If you just need a short-term holiday decoration, you can give it a few coats of a good marine varnish. If it rains, the paper mache clay will soften, but it will harden up again when you bring it back indoors to dry out. If you need a garden sculpture that will stay outside all the time, you need a different material.

    • The cellulose insulation contains boron, for fire and fungus control. Because of that, it makes the mixture really weird when it’s mixed into Elmer’s Glue and drywall joint compound. However, if you wanted to make a more traditional paper pulp using just the cellulose insulation and some sort of paste, it should work just fine. It will usually have little bits of plastic from shredded window envelopes, but one bale would give you enough paper to last for years. I did want very badly to be able to use it with the paper mache clay recipe, but it just doesn’t work. Although – someone did say one time that they found a brand that does work. I have tried several, with no luck.

      • Thanks Jonni. I’m not to much worried about making it super smooth. I mean it is for halloween stuff so I guess the imperfections are perfection in this case.

        Thanks again Jonni. You’ve been a big huge help.

        • Hi Joey,

          Look up Drachenfang on youtube. He does PM pumpkins and has a way to weather proof them (I believe he goes over it in the last few videos of the paper mache pumpkin series). He also uses Cellulose insulation in his recipe which is an adaptation of Jonni’s original recipe. I also use the stuff for halloween projects. I can tell you that the cellulose is good for bulking but it also makes the project a bit heavier. Jonni’s recipe I have actually molded over a plastic measuring cup and let dry to test it out. The strength and durability of the material is amazing! It was partially flexible (I had made an extremely thin layer) and very strong. It took a lot of bending and pressure and messing with it to actually get it to rip, crack, tear. I would definitely still run your own tests so that you can see for yourself what the material is capable of but this stuff is amazing from a sculptors stand point. I hope that this helps. Good luck on the prop building and have fun this season!

          Socalsgrl

  • Hello, ill be using this recipe for sculpting my halloween pirates this year. My question is, once im done and its dried, is it going to be ok sitting in my yard for the month of October?

  • Hi Jonnie, Your work is wonderful and you have inspired me to create. I am going to try the Jonnieclay but I would
    d like to try it with the ceramic clay mixture. Could you please tell me how much to add to the standard p clay recipe, please.
    My family is working on self ie heads as our Summer project once finished I will share pics no matter how bad they are.;)

    • Hi Angela. I used about 1/4 cup of dried stoneware clay added to the recipe. The reason I added the clay was to make it smoother, but now when I need something to be smooth I use the newer air dry clay recipe instead. It isn’t as strong as the original paper mache clay recipe on this page, so I always put it over either shop towel mache or plaster cloth. Or I just do the shop towel mache by itself, if I don’t need more details, like I did with the green witch mask and the portrait mask. I mention this because the paper mache clay dries so hard that any minor bump on the inside of the mask has to be sanded out or it will be really uncomfortable to wear – and it’s so hard that sanding is really difficult. The shop towel mache method gives you a much more comfortable mask that’s smooth on the inside, and it’s lighter and more flexible. That’s how I made all the masks in my book.

      Have fun! And I can’t wait to see how your masks turn out.

  • Just wanted to say thanks for the info. Your videos are very good – clear and easy to understand. Thanks so much!

    • It looks great! I love the spots. And the nice detail in the ears is really effective. I hope you’ll be making more dogs soon – and that you had fun making this one!

  • My first paper mache dog. I got my clay to wet by forgetting to bring all the water out of the toilet paper so he has a layer of DAS paperclay to smooth him out. I didn’t have tissue paper to use like the racoon tutorial but I had mulberry bark paper. That really did give him more texture. I’m not 100% happy with him but learning a new technique is a journey

    • Hi Stephanie. We would love to see your paper mache dog, but if you tried to upload an image it didn’t work. Your image is probably too big. You can edit the photo with this free online tool: http://www.picresize.com/#

      Some people have also told us that the blog doesn’t like to upload photos from iPhones, although I don’t know why. The mulberry bark paper sounds really interesting – I do hope you try again, because I’d really like to see how it looks.

  • Hi! Here’s my first dog. I got my paper mache clay at little too wet. I think I forgot to squeeze the water out of the toilet paper so my dog has a layer of DAS paperclay over him to smooth him out. I modified your painting technique from the raccoon and used washi between paint layers. That really did help the texture. His coat didn’t look as flat. I’m not 100% happy with him but doing new things is a journey!

  • Hey,
    How heavy is the clay once dry? Is it suitable for a mask or is it too heavy? Also how long will it take to dry approx? You say its fast drying, but will you also have time to work with it to form fine details. Would covering it with cling wrap slow the drying process down?

    • Hi Rose. I don’t personally like to use the pm clay by itself for a mask, mostly because it dries really hard. The reason that matters is that you may have some points or bumps on the inside of the mask that are difficult to sand smooth, and the mask could be irritating. However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible – just make it slightly larger than the face, and use foam strips to hold it away from the face. Be sure to avoid using boiled linseed oil for anything that will be in such close contact with the face or skin, because it contains chemicals. Mineral oil would be much better.

      You can keep working the clay until it dries, so yes – covering it with plastic will greatly extend the working time. If the layer is thin, you should be able to dry it within two days.

      When making masks and either the paper mache clay or air dry clay recipes, my preference is to use plaster cloth as the bottom layer, and then a very, very thin layer (paper thin) of the clay on top of the plaster cloth. This creates a very light, strong mask, but you can get very fine details. This is how the gorilla mask was made, and it’s still one of my favorites. I hope to do another demonstration of this process soon.

  • Hello, can joint compound be substituted with spackling compound (the paste)? They both have very similar uses.

    • I don’t know if it works or not, because I haven’t tried it. If you have some on hand, try making a small batch and see what happens. And please let us know!

  • Question: You suggest using concrete for outdoors. Do you substitute concrete mix in place of the flour ect. mix. Making full size mannican for yard art, with 1/2 inch hardware wire for support. Plan to overcoat project with fiberglass mat and resin to resist weather. Will this work, and still remain relatively light weight?

    • Hi Ronny. I have never used fiberglass to make a sculpture, but it sounds like you’re on the right track. I do have a book about fiberglass sculpture on my book shelves, but I never actually tried making anything using their techniques. You might want to see if your local library can find you a copy since you’re making such a large sculpture. Or you might be able to get some advice from a local boat-builder. They work with fiberglass all the time. The only thing I do know about the resin is that it isn’t safe to work in an enclosed space – and since I’m a chicken at heart, that’s why I never tried it.

    • Hi Char. The clay is actually supposed to be sticky, so it will adhere to an armature. It’s a substitute for the traditional paper strips and paste. You can reduce the stickiness by adding corn starch, which will also thicken it and make it a little better for getting fine details. It won’t work on its own, though, without an armature, because it won’t hold itself up, and a thick layer will take too long to dry.

  • I’m anxious to get started on this method. Thank you for the inspiration.
    My question is, once the paper mache clay is dried, ready for painting, can I sand it to create a smooth finish?
    Thank you

    • You can sand it, if you wear a mask so you don’t breath the dust. However, it dries really hard, and sanding isn’t easy. You can smooth it when it’s still wet by wetting your fingers or knife with a mixture of Elmer’s glue and water. The mixture is slick, and helps fingers and tools slide over the pm clay without causing it to ‘drag,’ and it’s easier to get it smooth that way. Since it isn’t fun to have your hands covered in glue, you’ll want to wear some disposable gloves to do this.

  • Hi, Jonni,

    I’m getting ready to begin my first PM sculpture, and I’m thinking dragon. I picture one in flight. We’ll see how it comes out. I was looking for recipes, and I was lucky enough to find your site. Wonderful. Can’t wait to get started.

    My comment is that you are very generous with your ideas. I am sooooo grateful to know that there are people out there who see the whole world as a classroom (no walls). I have taught off and on for years (adults only), and I’m thrilled to find someone who gives us all the benefit of her expertise. Thank you. Thank you! for sharing with the community. Love it.

  • Jonni, I would be mosaicing my paper mache when done. How waterproof is the paper mache and if not do you have any suggestions for making it waterproof so that the mosaic can be left outside?

    • I have never found a product that will work to waterproof a paper-based sculpture. I suggest using cement instead.

  • Hi, Jonni

    Can I substitute a vegetable oil for the minteral/linseed oil?

    Beautiful work and instructions – thanks for sharing!

  • Hi Jonni, I have been making paper sculptures the old-fashioned way. I have been using tape and glue. Although I love the sculptures my next project requires more detail for facial features. My sculptures have been created with recycling newspaper. Do you have a recipe for using newspaper instead of toilet paper or can I use newspaper for the same recipe and can I discard the flour? My concern for using flour is introducing mould as I have not yet had a problem the way I currently sculptor.

    I absolutely love your creations

    Kind Regards
    Melanie

    • Hi Melanie. You can use newspaper in this recipe. Many people do. You’ll need to soak the paper longer, and you might also want to run it through the blender, with lots of water, to break up the paper into fine bits. If you live in a very humid environment, you can add salt or clove oil to slow down mold, and dry your pieces in front of a fan.

      • Hi Jonni
        Been following your progress for many years now. I am not sure if this helps but I featured your website in my post today. It includes how i break down my newspaper, but more it is about recipe discovery, and how invention/experimentation is essential.
        I am always surprised when I finally do something after thinking about it for a long time, and it works out.

        I am sometimes just blown away how our sculpting materials are so much more than just that. Not to get mystical here, but when we work with this stuff we literally eat breathe and sleep with this stuff. It is on our skin in our clothes, we breath in the ingredients and cannot stop thinking how it feels in our hands. Our subconscious is always inventing new ways to support our creations (the weight, or strength needed, or armature etc) It is a new concept to me that I can literally use any material that makes sense to do the job that it is needed to do. It feels sort of metaphysical, or meditative. The post is here: http://craftygirlme1.ipage.com/?p=1233

        • Thanks for the link, Victoria. Your article is very interesting, and it’s given me a lot to think about.

  • Hello! Thanks for your generosity of knowledge! A few questions-
    – is this sculpture clay technique good for mask making or sculptures only?
    – how many face sized masks would the above proportions make?
    -what do you recommend using for a mold if an actual plaster mold is not available? (These will likely be decorative, not worn) what do you use for a mold if the masks are larger than life size?
    – what kind of paint do you use?

    Thank you!!

    • Hi Lian. I’ve never measured the amount of pm clay it would take to make a mask, so I can’t answer that question. I have tried using the pm clay in silicone molds, and I didn’t like the results. You get pits and dips because of the paper in the clay. However, we did have a guest post by a mask maker who uses plaster molds and the shop towel mache that I happen to prefer for masks. You can see his guest post here. Scroll down past the part about the computer modeling to see how he makes and uses his plaster molds.

      And I use acrylic paint, but you can probably use any type of paint that you could use on paper.

  • Very exciting and I’m anxious to try. I don’t have an electric mixer. Do you think it will mix up okay in my (25 year old) Cuisinart food processor?

  • Hello, I have been enjoying your site. We are getting ready for our vbs at church and I am trying to make a large tree. So far in my thinking I am going to use a old wooden coat rack for the base. Add chicken wire for size and shape. What I am confused on should I use paper mâché strips with flour and water, or the paper clay to cover the trunk and branches? Should I use any kind of butcher paper over the chicken wire first then add the clay or is this a slower process to do? I guess I am looking for a sturdy, fairly fast construction. Any help I would love, Ty Jonni.

    • Hi Sandra. I think the fastest way to go would be to use large sheets of newspaper and paste over your chicken wire. If the hexagonal pattern is too evident, you might be able to hide the pattern by using brown paper bag paper for the first layer or two. If you want to add texture for bark, you could add a thin layer of the paper mache clay over the dried paper strips and paste. Long thin shapes, like bird legs and tree branches, are much easier to cover with the strips wound around them, rather than the pm clay. But the pm clay is great for textures are larger areas like tree trunks. It will fall through the chicken wire, so a base of paper strips or masking tape would be needed.

      Good luck with your project – and be sure to let us see it when it’s done.

      • TY Jonni for your quick response back. I am excited to start this project and pray I’m not getting in over my head with it, lol. I will use paper wrapped and taped around the wire first, then add sheets of paper with flour/ water paste. Using the clay sounds like a great idea for making more detail in the trunk of the tree or making vines wrapped around it. Still not for sure what kind of greenery to use for the leaves, if anyone has any ideas please share. I want it to look as real as possible.

        • Sandra, it sounds like you and Holly are doing very similar projects. I hope she’ll upload a photo so we can see how her tree came out – and I also hope she’s watching for responses, because she’d be the one to ask about your leaves. I like the idea of using green burlap.

  • welldone sir, can i use for a project that would be placed out side under the sun,rain, what is the duration,would it last long,am a fine art student from Nigeria

    • No, the paper mache will not survive outside. The first rain will destroy it. I recommend using cement outside.

      • Hi Jonni, I was wondering if this clay would hold up outside if it was painted? I am looking for a way to make a fake rock for a yard game for vacation bible school (just a decoration). It needs to hold up for one week. Do you think that spray paint would keep it from deteriorating? Also, would the hot sun melt it, or harden it?

        • No, this clay is not waterproof. I have tried several different ways to seal it, and it has never worked. However, if you don’t leave your sculpture out in the rain, it should do just fine. A coat of good varnish from the paint store, like Minwax or Verathane, should even keep it dry in light rain.

          Heat from the sun should have no affect, if you make sure the rock is completely dry before painting it.

  • Thank you for all the wonderful information on your website – your work is amazing.
    Thank you also for the paper mache clay recipe. I’ve been doing papier mache for some years using pulped toilet paper, but was getting a bit frustrated when adding detail, only to find when it dries, due to shrinkage, it’s all gone. This paper mache clay recipe is brilliant as you can get detail straight away without having to add more layers later (lots of layers sometimes) – I won’t be going back to using the old recipe again.
    Here’s an elephant that I made with it.
    I live in the UK and the products that I use for your recipe are normal PVA glue and All Purpose Ready Mixed Filler from a hardware store here called Wickes. It works really well and give the cookie dough texture that you mention.
    Thanks again.

    • I’m glad you’re enjoying the site and the recipes, Nicky. Your elephant is beautiful. Thanks for showing him to us – and for the info about the products in the UK that work for you. (And you have a great site, too, by the way).

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