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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3,707 Responses

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  1. Alondra
    Alondra at |

    Hello there I’m a teacher from Mexico and I want to make a paper mache dragon for my preschool students, Is it okay to use Glycerin or Mineral Oil instead of boiled Linseed oil?
    I really appreciate your work you are a very talented lady, God Bless.

    Reply
  2. Chanel
    Chanel at |

    Hello! I must say, this recipe looks ingenious! But I must ask, is the clay lightweight once dried? I would like to use it for a mask, possibly, that I would wear for a while, and maybe some other embellishments on a costume.

    Reply
  3. Lauri
    Lauri at |

    I used your Air-Dry Paper Mache Clay recipe for a mosaic sculpture substrate. Along with a bowling ball. I used Weldbond for the glue. It worked beautifully. Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Lauri
    Lauri at |

    I recently used your Air Dry Paper Mache Clay to make the substrate for a mosaic sculpture called “Oscar”. I used Weldbond as the glue in the recipe. It worked beautifully. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  5. Kathleen
    Kathleen at |

    Maybe you’ve answered this already but I cannot read nearly 4,000 comments (wow!). I’m interested in Warren’s recipe but it shows like this on my computer:

    Warren says:
    Jonni, I have had some success with the cement paper clay mix which is:
    • 1.75 CUPS CEMENT
    • Â 1 CUP JOINT COMPOUND
    • ¾ CUP PVA
    • 1 TOILET ROLL

    I need to know how much joint compound and how much PVA. That wierd “A” is not helping me out/haha.

    Thank you Jonni if you know the answer.

    PS I buy the powdered joint compound as it’s super cheap and just add my own water. Much more economical !

    Thank you!!!!!

    Reply
  6. hazel
    hazel at |

    Hi I tried to comment, but I can’t see it and in case it didn’t send I’ll repeat it.

    Do you think this would be good for cosplay props, such as bits of armor (that’s not supposed to look like metal for this character), a shield, a mask.
    What does it look like dry, but raw, unpainted? Also is it heavy?

    Thanks for sharing the recipe :)

    Reply
    1. hazel
      hazel at |

      one more question, in the 2nd video you explain how to get a smoother surface while working on the project – is it too hard or brittle to sand?

      Reply
  7. hazel
    hazel at |

    Hi, I’m looking for something to sculpt props for cosplay – a mask, shield, a few pieces of armor. Do you think it would be good for this? Is it light or heavy when dry? and also I was wondering what does it look like dry and unpainted – is it shiny or matt?

    Reply
    1. hazel
      hazel at |

      ohh, I see now, sorry for repeating myself.

      Reply
  8. alison
    alison at |

    Hi Jonni I’m watching in the UK. Instead of linseed oil can I use vegetable oil and is there something I can add to prevent moulding of the paper clay?

    Reply
  9. Kim Jones
    Kim Jones at |

    Do you know if this would be biodegradeable? I am looking to make some attractive biodegradeable urn/planters, similar to the BIOS Urn product. Those sell for over $100, and I am looking for something that I can make and give to family members at a funeral. Weird, I know. Thanks, for whatever information you can provide.

    Reply
  10. Teresa Loman
    Teresa Loman at |

    Oh my gosh!!! Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve acquired a paper mache dressform in desperate need of repair.

    Slowly I’ve been clearing out my mother’s over-stuffed house so that she can enjoy sewing once again. Last week, I brought home a 50s era paper mache dress form that had recently been left with my mother. Since she already has a nice dressform, I convinced her it should go home with me. The dressform had adorned the front of a boat cruising around Lake Michigan up until last summer so you can imagine the condition. She’s a little miss-shapely.

    Thank you so much for this recipe. I’ll upload a picture when she’s all fixed up.

    Reply
  11. Di
    Di at |

    Another question. I have a paper mâché deer head (purchased) that is flat on the back side. I want to make a mold then use that mold to make more paper mâché deer heads. What is the best product to use for the mold, a latex rubber – and how do I keep that from sticking to the paper mâché mold. Will I then be able to use the paper mâché clay for casting inside that mold? Thanks.

    Reply
  12. Mathew
    Mathew at |

    When this is dry, is it sandable to get a smooth surface to paint without imperfections?

    Reply
  13. diane
    diane at |

    Hi, I have a ceramic elephant head and a resin or plastic rhino head that I would like to make a mold of, then pull that mold off and make paper mache. What do you suggest for an inexpensive mold compound. I have been on the smooth on and composimold websites but the products seems very expensive. measurements are

    elephant 14x9x5″D and
    rhino9x6x13″ D
    thanks for any imput and your tutorials are very good.

    Reply
  14. Kathy Moussa
    Kathy Moussa at |

    I am very interested in your paper clay, would Pollyfiller Advanced work as I have been unable to find Joint compound in Turkey.

    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Kathy Moussa
      Kathy Moussa at |

      Hi Jonni,
      Thank you for your quick response. I meant to write Polyfilla, sorry for the mistake.
      Pollyfilla is made up of calcium carbonate, so probably won’t work. I will keep looking but in the meantime make the clay you suggested.
      regards Kathy

      Reply
  15. Sandra
    Sandra at |

    Hello Jonni,

    I`m watching from Germany and I like your stunning sculptures a lot .
    I bought a joint compound which strongly smells of solvent. I`m wondering if this is only in Germany, or does the american joint compound also stink chemically?
    thx

    Reply
  16. kathleen gerber
    kathleen gerber at |

    Thank you for posting this ! It is perfect for a school project on which im working :)

    Reply
  17. Ana
    Ana at |

    I need to make a platypus hat. Is this medium very heavy when dry? Thank you!

    Reply
  18. Larry R. Vetter
    Larry R. Vetter at |

    I accidentally stumbled on your website…. you are a very talented lady…I watched your video on making paper mache clay & decided to give it a try…’it works great’…here’s is my first…. ’12” high Knights Templar’

    Reply
  19. Susan Rose
    Susan Rose at |

    I am making a large sign with a 3D sculpture on a 4’x6′ wood board. I have stapled wire cloth ( like fine chicken wire) onto the board and formed my shape. I then covered the wire with several layers of pm ( four & water) using newspaper strips. Can I cover this with the pm clay? That would save me some time from doing more layers of strips. I want it to be hard and strong. I am concerned that it may not dry on the inside since it is pm to the board.
    Thanks for your help!
    Susan

    Reply

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