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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3,559 Responses

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  1. Kate F
    Kate F at |

    I just discovered your site, and I’m very excited by all the good information, and creativity! I play the Olde English pipe ‘n’ tabor, and am going to use paper mache to make my traditional marionettes a la planchettes’ heads and hands. I’m very happy to have your recipes and advice. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. LeeAnn
    LeeAnn at |

    I wanted to make an update about the experiment I was going to do with DAP some time ago, regarding its content of the glue. I tried the formula with far less glue, and although it was a little less rubbery, it was brittle, and not something I’d want to use to sculpt. Additionally, it didn’t break up the toilet paper, the way the other joint compounds do. I suspect that the usual joint compound, being made of crushed rocks, has an abrasiveness, which helps break up the toilet paper into a much finer texture, which isn’t present in the DAP. So, I would say DAP is a no-go on many, many levels, not just regarding the glue content.

    Reply
  3. Chris
    Chris at |

    Hi Jonni,

    I am working on a project where I need stars similar to this http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/43100/43112/prism-dec11_43112_md.gif I’m hoping to get them quite accurate. Do you have any advice on forming paper mache pulp into more precise shapes and achieving square edges. I seem to be struggling with how accurately I can sculpt the shapes and the shrinkage as they dry.

    Reply
  4. Zia Barnes
    Zia Barnes at |

    Thank you so much for this recipe, planning on using this for a school DECA project. I’ve seen newspaper replace toilet paper in other recipes, is this applicable here?

    Reply
  5. Stasele
    Stasele at |

    Hello Jonni,
    I’m so glad to find your website! your advices are very helpful, but I still have a few questions.
    I want to make a big size paper mache head.
    Does this clay method would work for a project like this: http://www.ultimatepapermache.com/paper-mache-head-success ? I mean on standing armature? Because here, I see, you are using some other technique…
    I’m planing to make armature from plasticine as I just have a lot . Do you think it is good material and should I cover it with wax or something as well?

    Reply
  6. Micah Goettl
    Micah Goettl at |

    Can I use wood glue? I have Titebond 2 Premium Wood Glue. Would that work, rather than the Elmer’s Glue-All? I checked and the Titebond seems to be PVA.

    Reply
  7. Jeff Mitchell
    Jeff Mitchell at |

    Thank you!!!

    Reply
  8. Paul Stockley
    Paul Stockley at |

    Hi
    I found my mixer couldn’t cope with the mixture. Would suggest blending the wet pulp and water before adding the ingredients

    Reply
  9. Brian's Three Billy Goats Gruff
    Brian's Three Billy Goats Gruff at |

    Thanks so much for sharing your pm clay recipe. Here are our Halloween masks. We went as the “Three Billy Goats Gruff”.

    We sculpted the masks over a simple dollar store paper mask. We built the masks up thick, and I carefully heat dried the masks by placing them on a wire rack in the oven “after” bring the oven up to 200 degrees and then put them in. I kept them heated for a few hours. By the second day, they were dry enough to work with. I then added a think coat of joint compound to fill in the nooks and crannies. This layer dried hard and was easily sanded. Then is was paint, faux fur and a glue gun.

    I have have some great fun ideas for holiday decorations this year. Thanks again. (P.s. My little guy won a Halloween costum contest with his mask!)

    Reply
    1. Brian's Three Billy Goats Gruff
      Brian's Three Billy Goats Gruff at |

      Oops, here are the masks

      Reply
      1. John
        John at |

        I have a very very large mask I have made. it was made out of paper mache and then I put plater of paris on top of it so it could be used as a mold for future masks. (5 x larger than a face mask). Can I use the paper mache clay on the plaster mold to make another mask? I will spray pam on the mold but I’m not sure if the paper mache clay will stick to the mold or not? Is there another way you would suggest I do it so the clay will not stick to the plaster mold? Thank you so much. John

        Reply
  10. Three Billy Goats Gruff
    Three Billy Goats Gruff at |

    These are the three masks we made with the paper mâché clay. We went as the 3 billy goats gruff. (Our little guy even won a contest for most original costum)

    We sculpted them thick, oven fired them for 10 minutes in the oven at 200 on and off to speed dry them in 2 days. Then hand coated a thin layer of joint compound. It made for filling in little nooks and crannies and easy to sand. The rest is acrylic paint, faux fur and glue gunning. Thanks so much for sharing your recipe. I have all kinds of ideas for the upcoming holiday season.

    Reply
  11. Francine
    Francine at |

    Have you used paper clay in regular plaster ceramic molds? I’m wondering how that would work and if you have if there are any tips you could share. Thanks! I have also used your recipe before to make a Princess Mononoke mask for her cosplay

    Reply
  12. wim
    wim at |

    Hey,

    Just wanted to thank you for your instructables…
    Used your recipe for my Jack Skellington and many other creatures,… they really turned out great,….

    Sooooo much easier than some other recipes, didn’t have to think too much about it , made it and it worked sooo smooth. I used some concrete glue instead of Elmers glue (can’t find that in Belgium) but it also made it more weather resistant. Even tried to leave it outside, it molds but remains rock-hard,… so after glazing it, it seems to be pretty resistant to stay outside for longer periods.

    thanks again,… will be adding it to my toolbox of knowledge…. keep up the great work, loving it….

    Wim from Belgium

    Reply
  13. Mike
    Mike at |

    is mineral spirits the same thing as mineral oil

    Reply
  14. Circuit Calavera and Calacas | chibitronics

    […] basic paper clay, this air-drying papier-mâché clay recipe was used found online at this website:http://www.ultimatepapermache.com/paper-mache-clay, with some slight alterations to have higher paper pulp content for a more handmade, papery […]

  15. Princess
    Princess at |

    Hello, Jonni!

    I just wanted to say thanks for creating this recipe. I’ve used it a few times, but also just put together an Instructable using it. You can check it out here: http://www.instructables.com/id/Monster-Claws-with-Homemade-Paper-Clay/

    I made sure to redirect people here if they want more information and I hope you think it’s a good use of your wonderful medium. :)

    Reply
  16. Amanda
    Amanda at |

    Thank you Jonnie,
    You are extremely helpful and so timely with your replies!
    I am ecstatic to see the finished product… will post pictures here when it’s all done!
    Then I can venture on to the rest of your website and see what kind of sculptures I can make ;D

    Reply
  17. Nate
    Nate at |

    Jonni,
    I am working on a project for my wife. It is a sewing mannequin made from a plaster mold, but rather than fill the mold with foam I am looking at using a paper mache clay to create more of a shell. I am hoping it will give a smoother, more durable exterior. Do you have any advice on the thickness I should apply, any adjustments to the recipe, and about how much clay I should mix up to cover the hip, torso, and shoulder area?

    Reply
  18. Delphine
    Delphine at |

    Hi!
    Can we replace Linseed Oil or Mineral Oil with something else?

    Reply
  19. Amanda
    Amanda at |

    Jonnie,
    Thank you for your advice! These masks are actually not going to be directly on our faces…. mine will be attached to my face with wire hangers and the other will be worn as a helmet. http://www.instructables.com/id/Adam-and-Barbara-Maitland-Costumes-from-BeetleJuic/?ALLSTEPS As you’ll see, I need more of a workable material to add wrinkles and detail to our masks that the kind you suggested.
    I returned the DAP and got Proform Lite (Ultralite)(its all the had besides DAP)) Joint Compound….. I hope it will work! I currently can’t seem to find the previous stream of comments to see if it was mentioned.
    I also got some baby oil. The frames I am putting the mache clay on is very durable made from a lot of newspaper, cardboard and lots and lots of tape. I plan to make the clay as thin as I can but I am also relying on it to be like a strong glue to hold it all together for good!
    Is hot glue a bad idea (to attach the tongue, teeth and eyes) on this paper clay? I’m afraid it will melt. Will my joint compound work as far as you know?

    Reply
  20. The Making of a Monster | Shelf Talk

    […] Is it a dragon? A dinosaur? A sea monster? We’re not sure, and that’s okay. He’s made using both a standard paper ma?che?  recipe and paper ma?che?  clay, which we found out about through YouTube videos on the website Ultimate Paper Ma?che? . […]

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