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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3,760 Comments

  • 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.

  • 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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