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:  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 –  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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4,125 Comments

  • Hi Jonni I live in South Africa and are so exited about your site. Thank you for dealing all your experience. I would like to make bowls , say to put rusks or cookies in just for something special when I have somebody over for tea. Want to paint or modge podge something nice on it to make it special. Will you please help me suggesting what you will use to make something like that. The paper mache clay or cold porcelain clay. I think of rolling it out like dough and mold it around, say a bowl that I have and let it dry then.

  • Hi Jonni! Thank you so much for your very informative website and tutorials. I am working with a local theater company for kids and we are gearing up to perform Disney’s Lion King. Not having done this show before many of our props and costumes need to be made. I decided to be brave after watching your videos and do paper mache headdresses. First I used WED clay for the mold. Next plaster strips and finally paper mache. I am on my 4th coat of gesso, but I have lost some of the “fine details” I made originally with all these steps. Is this homemade clay recipe the best for adding definitions? Here’s the clay mold I completed and the details I would like to add back in…

  • Hi Jonni,

    You helped me a year ago with some masks I was making for a ballet performance. I was happy with how they turned out! I am now making some snake headpieces that meander around the head with the tail and snake head ending up at the dancer’s forehead. They are made with cording that I threaded wire into. I was thinking of using your clay recipe to give it more structure and a good painting surface. The headpieces are fitted to the dancer’s head, but may get moved slightly while attaching to their head prior to performance. Do you think the clay can hold up to that or would it break apart? I will try to send a picture of the snake as well as the masks from last year. Thanks!!

    • Hi Dawnn. The paper mache clay dries really hard, and isn’t very flexible. It could crack, or it could prevent the headpieces from moving enough for them to fit. You would need to do an experimental piece to find out for sure. We would love to see both the snake and the masks from last year!

  • I promise this is my last question, but I wanted you to see the progress we have made so far on our bear and see if you had any tips for us on a project this large.

    • Did you try to upload a photo? If you did, it didn’t come through, perhaps because the file size was too big. I hope you’ll edit it to make it smaller, and try again.

      • I’ll try attaching the photo again. The whole surface is covered with tape. I’m curious what you would suggest to do next, and if we should use the old fashioned strips and paste or if we should use your recipe with joint compound. I’m not sure if you can tell in the picture, but the bear is life size.

        • LeeAnn, your bear armature is wonderful! You do have some options for finishing it, and it’s really up to you. The newspaper and paste work well, and create a strong skin if you add enough layers (perhaps about eight). It’s the least expensive option, but it takes a little more time than the paper mache clay. You can also make some fur patterns in the paper mache clay, which could be nice. However, you could make more subtle fur textures using gesso over the paper strips and paste, after they’re completely dry.

          I made my baby elephant, which is only slightly smaller than your bear, using the paper strips and paste. If I did her again, I would probably use the pm clay, just because it goes on faster and dries just as quickly if you use a very thin coat, about 18″ to 1/4″, and put the damp sculpture in front of a fan to dry. If you’d like to see a large sculpture being covered with the pm clay, you can watch this video about my dragon.

          One last option, just to complicate things only slightly. If you would like to get really fine details for the nose and eyes, you could use the air dry clay recipe (almost the same ingredients as the pm clay, but smoother), or you could use apoxy clay. You would need to use a mixture of glue and water over the dried paper mache before adding the air dry clay, to make sure it sticks. It will work over both paper strips and pm clay. The epoxy clay will give you the finest details, but is rather expensive. (It’s fun to play with, though. 😉 )

          • I watched the video and will watch again G for reference. Thank you so much for all of your help.

  • Since I live in a small town and shopping is a distance, I’d like to order the glue in gallon size from Amazon, but can’t seem to find the right product.

  • Jonni, I’m working on a life size paper mache bear for my classroom. The recipe calls for Linseed or Mineral Oil, the video mentions glycerine and in one of the comments above you mention that the recipe works fine without the oil. I’d like to be able to use the paste with kids, so the idea of leaving out the oil appeals to me. Can you give me some insight.

    I’m also having trouble finding the Elmer’s Glue-All in gallon size. I keep seeing words like, repositionable, and indoor use and new stronger formula. I want to be sure I get the right glue. I’d appreciate any suggestions.

    My bear is almost formed and I’ll be ready to start “icing” soon.

    • Hi LeeAnn. The oil makes the pm clay feel slightly smoother as you apply it, but I can’t see any difference in the final product, after it’s dry, if you leave it out. You really don’t need it.

      This sounds like a great project. I hope we get to see it when it’s done.

    • The ingredient in joint compound that makes it work when combined with PVA glue is calcium carbonate (also known as powdered marble or chalk). You could experiment with adding some of the powder to your glue, along with water and the other ingredients, but I haven’t tried it myself and don’t have a recipe worked out. Joint compound is not available in all countries, but it is available in most places.

      • I should also say that you can do an online search for “paper mache pulp.” Most traditional recipes don’t call for the joint compound. They’re not usually as smooth or as easy to use, but they work. This site has a lot of tutorials for more traditional methods and recipes.

      • Heey,
        I have a few questions. Does this clay air dry and if so how long does it take? Also can you sand the clay once it is dry ?

        • Yes, it air dries. The amount of time it takes to dry depends on how thickly you apply it to your armature, how humid it is where you live, the temperature of the air, and whether or not you have the piece sitting in front of a fan. I recommend 1/8″ to start with. You can build up more after the first layer is dry. The fan definitely speeds up the drying time.

  • Hi Jonni! Is there any way I could use this clay by itself? I would like to make a mask and I was curious as to whether or not the clay would peel off of any surface after it dries. Thanks!

    • Yes, you can put the clay over a plastic form, and if the form is flexible you should be able to remove it. I have made a few masks using the paper mache clay by itself, and I wasn’t excited about the results. The masks were heavier than I like, and it was difficult to get the back side smooth. The pm clay dries as hard as plastic, and it isn’t easy to sand. If you do try it, make sure you don’t put the linseed oil in the mixture, because of the chemicals. Use mineral oil instead, or just leave out the oil. The recipe works just fine without it.

      • I suppose I should also point you to a few videos that show you how I prefer to make masks. Here, and here. Or look under the Paper Mache Tutorials tab at the top of the page and select paper mache masks.

  • Hi Jonni, could you please tell me why you recommend not touching the clay? I’m looking for a casting recipe that is lightweight and easy to make at home. I plan on casting hands so I’d have to leave on my hands until it stiffens. Just curious if this is safe on hands.
    Cheers

    • Elisa, using the pm clay on your hands would be a bad idea for a lot of reasons. It’s really sticky, it’s made with materials that were designed for the construction industry, and it takes at least 24 hours to dry. If you were able to keep your hands immobile long enough, you’d have to break the clay shell to get it off. It shrinks when it dries, and it dries as hard as plastic. I strongly recommend using something else. The best product for making castings is alginate. It’s fast, it’s safe, and it will give you a perfect mold of your hands.

  • Is it possible to use newspaper? I realize that newspaper will not thave the same soft clay like texture as newspaper but I’m hoping to make a cellulose type of pulp using recycled material to place inside a mould like you would cement. Having a similar type texture and look of cement.

    • Yes, many people use newspaper. You just need to soak it longer so the fibers come apart. The ink will turn the newspaper a nice concrete color, so this would work really well.

  • Hi, I am planning to make a pinata for a graduation party. You mention in your video that it dries very hard. Since it will be primarily young men hitting the pinata, I would like to make it relatively hard to break open. Would the paper mache clay work for this purpose?

    • Hi Rosemarie. I’ve been asked about that before, but I’ve never tried it. The pm clay dries almost to the point of feeling like plastic, and I’m worried that it will shatter when hit. I’m not sure that would be safe, since the shards would fly, and could hit someone in the eye. I think it would be better to use the traditional paper strips and paste, and just use more layers to make it harder to break.

  • Yes I use acrylic gesso, just the cheap one from overflow…think is Monte marte brand… Got the tip online said you could paint anything that you wanted to cover with clay eg alfoil, Styrofoam, wire, even plastic toys…works really well.

  • Hey Jonni I forgot to mention my tree is made out of chicken wire and newspaper strips covered in pva. Will the clay stick to the newspaper? Thank you very much for your time.

  • Hey there, I am currently building a paper Mache tree about 8 foot tall. I was wondering if it is possible to make the clay a runnier consistency and then to use strong toilet paper to soak it up so I can put it in layers on the branches. I am worried that the clay might fall off the underside of some of them? What do you think. Also what a fantastic discovery it’s a brilliant medium thank you for sharing it with us ?

    • Hi Mia. The recipe usually comes out in an easily spreadable consistency, unless you add more flour. I think I used more flour in the photo at the top. Just add small amounts of flour at a time until you get it the way you want it. If you use a thin layer, it will probably stick to the underside of your branches. Gravity will take over if you add too much. The pm clay can be fairly heavy in thicker layers, so make sure the tree won’t fall over from the extra weight. And yes, the clay will stick to the newspaper, especially if you don’t add too much flour.

      I hope you’ll let us see your tree when it’s done.

      • Hi…I agree this clay is amazing…I paint whatever I want the clay to stick to (eg alfoil sculptures) with gesso paint. This helps the clay to stick heaps better.

        • Wow – I never thought of doing that with aluminum foil. It would be so much easier (and cheaper!) than covering the foil with masking tape, like I do. Do you use the acrylic gesso for this? Any particular brand?

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