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:Β  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 –Β  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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4,081 Comments

  • Hi Jonni,

    I am using your recipe for a project in my class, and the pmc does not stick to our armature. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very, very sticky, but sticks more to our hands than the armature. We tried first sticking it to tin foil, that didn’t work, so we paper taped the entire armature, and it still didn’t work. Can you let me know if you think I need to add more flour or glue?

    • Hi Beth. My first suggestion would be to not use your hands at all. It’s much easier to spread the paper mache clay if you use a knife. Or you can make a spreader with a plastic lid from a yogurt container, by cutting it to remove the edge. Using something other than your hands will remove a lot of frustration.

      I agree that the pm clay won’t stick to aluminum foil. Hardly anything does. But I’ve never had trouble getting it to stick to the masking tape, unless you try to add it to the bottom of something, and gravity pulls it off. Are you applying a thin layer, just 1/4 inch or less? If it’s sticking to your hands, I can’t imagine why it isn’t sticking to your masking tape. Maybe if you attach a photo to a comment, we can see the problem more clearly.

  • Hi Jonni,
    I am getting ready to make a paper mache urn for my Mother’s ashes. She requested her ashes to be put in the ocean and we don’t want to just toss them in as it is windy here. My sister’s and I thought paper mache would be a good option so that it would break down in water fairly quick. Can you tell me if your recipe will break down when wet. If not, I will be trying it for other projects, Thanks.

    • Hi Lavita. The products used in the pm clay are not organic. For instance, the white glue is a form of liquid plastic. The pm clay will soften, and would probably break down eventually, but critters might try to eat it first, and it’s really not intended for that. I would suggest that you use the traditional paper strips and paste. You won’t need many layers, and the soy-based inks on newspaper, the paper itself, and the flour and water paste will not harm the water or animals living in it.

  • I am planning to try paper mache again. I have the old type of dry paper mache I purchases many years ago. Can I use the paper mache instead of toilet paper to be able to use it up? Many years ago I made a 4 ft. girl with chicken wire and dry paper mache , it took so long to dry at that time. I got the package it is called Claycrete. I am sure you have heard of it. The only thing I did not like about it was not real smooth finish. What can I do to get the finish you were getting on your project?

    • HI June. I agree that Claycrete takes a long time to dry. I’m not sure why – maybe it’s because the texture almost requires that you apply it thickly. You might try using a knife dipped in a solution of white glue and water to smooth the surface of the Claycrete.

      I’m pretty sure that product includes plaster of Paris, but I could be wrong. If it hardens before it dries all the way through, it contains plaster. An addition of some drywall joint compound might help make the product smoother, but you’d need to experiment a little.

      You could also try using it as a substitute for the toilet paper in the paper mache clay recipe. However, you’ll need to mix it a lot to get it smooth. If you have some joint compound and glue in the house, try a really small batch and see what happens.

  • Hi Jonni
    I have been reading your posts and I hope you can help. I bought a life size sarcophagus statue made of paper mΓ’chΓ© and I’d like to restore it and repaint it. It has fine cracks on the face and some small holes and a burn on the front. What do you honk is the best way to repair it? Do you think your paper clay method would be suitable? Thank you any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Lauren. If your statue is an heirloom or antique, you’ll probably want to repair it with the same material they used to make it in the first place. Even if you just want to make it look new again, paper strips and paste will probably give you the smoothest results over those holes. For the cracks, you might be able to cover them more easily with the home-made gesso recipe.

  • I need to make huge poppy flowers.. can I make the clay and roll it with a roller so I get a thin petal? would it still be hard and strong and wont break easy? is it like a cloth that I can have with a few waves? thanks for your help!!

      • Hi Sandra. I haven’t tried doing anything like this. The paper mache clay recipe was developed as a material you could use in place of traditional paper strips and paste. It is quite strong, but it’s almost always used over an armature, which offers it support. I think the only way to know if it will do what you need it to do is to give it a try.

    • Hi Sandra, I have used Jonni’s smooth air dry clay in the manner you want because it is roll-able with a pastry roller. This clay is too sticky and sticks to the rolling pin. I don’t know how the smooth clay would do with large flowers but it was great with a smaller flower. I would try to roll some wire into the petal to help give it structure. I had rolled mine between 2 pieces of wax paper, then placed things under to make the waves you suggested. I let it dry for a few hours and then removed the wax paper. I was afraid that if I waited too long, the wax paper would not come off as easily. Good luck and make sure you share your results!

  • Hi Jonni,
    I just saw a youtube video of yours today. You put paper mache over a clay sculpt, can you do the same woth this & get detail?

    • Yes, but you will need to take the modeling clay out of the scultpture as soon as the paper mache clay is dry, just like you would when using traditional paper mache.

  • Hello,
    I was just wondering if I could mix your recipe together using, well, some sort of forked spatula. I don’t have an electric mixer and I probably won’t be using it afterwards if I bought one.
    Thanks.

    • Hi Matt. I haven’t tried it myself, but several readers have told me that it will work. You’ll need to mix for a long time, to make sure all the paper fibers are evenly distributed.

  • Hi, I am trying to figure out how to make a light weight evening purse out of polymer clay. I thought if I made the form out of paper mache … Then I could cover it with polymer cane slices and bake it and that would work.

    Can polymer clay stick to paper mache? And can I bake paper mache with polymer on it? Thanks much

    • Hi Lynn. I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m going to guess that it won’t stick. However, I could be wrong. Give it a try, and see what happens.

  • Hi Jonni,

    Not sure if this has already been asked, but would recycled toilet paper work? Or is the issue the amount of paper per roll as with any other toilet paper? (trying to re-use or recycle as much as I can).

    Cheers,

  • I really like the sound of this mix, but am wondering if it would be suitable for mask making? Do you think it would be durable enough to be used for performance masks that will be repeatedly put on and taken off?

    • Hi Jon. I made a few masks with the mixture, and they seemed quite strong, but they were not very comfortable. The mixture dries hard as plastic, and is difficult to sand nice and smooth, which is needed on the inside of a mask. You might be able to add a liner of felt, which would be a good idea anyway, and that would help. I haven’t tested them under extreme circumstances to see if they would break if dropped repeatedly. I would suggest trying it, make a few, and see what you think. Don’t use the boiled linseed oil if you make a masks with the recipe–use mineral oil or glycerine, instead.

  • Can I replace mineral or linseed oil with any other oil I happen to have? Would like, coconut carrier oil or olive oil work?

    • Hi Thara. Yes, I think that will work. Or you could just leave out the oil. The clay will have a slightly different feel, but it will still work just fine.

  • Why is it the dap joint compound doesn’t work? If you please, what qualities of the clay are different if you used a dap brand?

  • this is my little pig I made for a sample for a paper mache class for kids. I like your recipe very much. I wasn’t able to get it as smooth at yours appears to be. Im making a turtle too, ill send you when I’m done. Thanks.

  • I would like to know how breakable the finished product is. If dropped will the item shatter?
    Thank you.

  • Jonni, I LOVE your site πŸ™‚ I have been intending to try this recipe for some time and now that I have my crafting space set up, I’m going to do it. I make small paper sculptures – Christmas ornaments – that I paint. I’ve tried multiple things to smooth out some aspects (getting rid of lines where I’ve glued things together) and nothing else has worked, so I am going to try this.

    Here are some pictures of my work.

  • Hi Jonni, I love your artistry! I’m going to make your PM recipe tomorrow to cover a duct tape mannequin I made for a high school display. I have a few questions that I did not see answered in other comments.
    β€’ Will it stick directly to the slick duct tape?
    β€’ Will it ruin my hand mixer? Should I get a cheap one to do this?
    β€’ I want a dull slighly textured finish to mimic an astist’s clay. Can I leave out the linseed oil and apply it with a cake spatula to get that textured look? Thank you for all your wonder advice.

    • It should stick to the duct tape, but you’ll find you might want to do a thin layer first, let it dry then do a thicker 2nd.

      I doubled the recipe for my project using the raw linseed oil, and it didn’t really make that big of a difference with “stickiness”, it dries very hard and with a spatula, if you lay it flat and pull up a little (on the second coat) it stands, brush over it lightly and you’ll get that texture that you want.

      I used my hand mixer (thankfully it’s old) but you’ll definitely want to find a project one at a thrift store or a cheap one since the clay gets wrapped around the mixers and does go up inside.

      If you want the texture smoother, try a few layers of the gesso.

      Hope this helps

  • Hi Jonni,

    I will try to make a paper clay mixture but I didn’t understand what that “joint compound” is. I guess it consists of mainly gypsum. In wikipedia it says it’s a mixture use to fix dry walls. I found several different items in a local store, I will buy one. Is it a liquid or powder you are using in your mixtures? Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Gizem. If you live in the US, just go into your local building supply store or the paint department of WalMart, and ask for drywall joint compound. Get the pre-mixed kind that comes in a plastic tub, and do not buy the DAP brand. If you live in another country, tell the clerk that you need the pre-mixed material that is used to cover the cracks between sheets of plasterboard or drywall.

      • Hi Jonni,
        Thank you very much for your help. I live in Istanbul, I will do exactly what you said πŸ™‚

        You are such an inspiration! I can’t wait to see what I can do with paper mache. Last week I made 2 letters (you can find the picture) as a beginning to paper mache. I made them with a paper mache brand that I bought from a local store ( I’m still angry with myself for buying that) But this time I will make my own paper clay and try to make a sculpture perhaps a sitting elephant (if I can) πŸ™‚ I’m taking ceramic course for a while and I could make smaller ones with clay. But they are very fragile. Thats why I want to try paper clay. This time I will try to make bigger statues with paper clay.

  • Hi Jonnie,

    I have to make a life size cow for a school play. I made your recipe for the paper Mache recipe as posted. However I feel like it needs a hard shell coating to give it a little bit more texture. I need something quick and that will cover well bc he is huge. I’m running out of time. Is there a plaster mixture that I could use you think to make it harder? He will be moved around a lot on stage and needs to get tipped over at the end to show his death. Any helpful hints\tricks would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    • Hi Jen. You might do an experiment with the Monster Mud recipe. I think it’s one gallon of latex paint and one gallon of Drywall Joint Compound, the premixed kind. You mix up the goo and dip old sheets into it, and cover your armature with the sheets. I have not tried it myself, but I think it’s used by a lot of prop designers.

      The only way to keep plaster from cracking would be to use plaster cloth, I think. It would go on fast, but it would be expensive. Three or four thin layers of the original paper mache clay, perhaps with cheesecloth sandwiched in between, might also work.

      • Oh wow!! Thank you so much for the helpful hints. I will experiment and see what works!! Thank you so much for your help. Another quick question when you make your Gesso mixture after you apply it and it dries can you paint right on it or do you need to put a sealer over it first? Many thanks.

        • Hello ~ Can we see the finished product of the cow project? I’m working on a life size cow for a prop right now too…

          • Hi Jen. Your image didn’t come through, but I think it’s because the image plugin isn’t working correctly today. It should be working in a day or two, so I hope you’ll come back and try again. I’d love to see how your cow turned out.

      • You could go where they put casts on broken bones and ask for their cast offs. I had a cast put on and they threw a lot away. Doesn’t hurt to ask.

  • Hello Jonni,
    Thank you for the recipe. I wanted to ask if I can use a small food chopper instead of a mixer.
    I thought it won’t be a problem but wanted to check with you anyway.
    All the best,
    Defne

  • Thank you for all! I cannot find a calcium carbonate based filler in South Africa πŸ™ Will a polymer one do? It is the same consistency and dries to very hard.

      • Thank you so much, and, yes, I am going to try. Have already got the paper ready, and tomorrow for the rest. Will definitely let you know. Keep well.
        Marika (from Stellenbosch in SA)

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