Paper Mache Recipes, Tips, Techniques, and Experiments

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 the recipe has now gone “viral” and is being used by artists all over the world. The video above is an update, just to give you a better idea about how to actually use the clay. The original video is below, and if you scroll down you’ll find the recipe in written form, as well.

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.”)

Since the book came out, I’ve received many questions about the materials used in the paper mache clay, and I answered many of them on this page.

How to Use Your Paper Mache Clay

I usually make mine fairly thin by using less flour than the recipe calls for, so it can be spread over an armature like frosting,  – but you can also add more flour to make it thicker 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. Even with a thin layer, you’ll need to give it plenty of time to dry, just like regular paper strips and paste.

Paper Mache Clay on Snow Leopard Sculpture

Paper Mache Clay Made Thick Enough for Modeling Details

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.

If you need an even smoother material, try my Silky-Smooth Air Dry Clay. You still need an armature for the air dry clay, but there’s less paper in the recipe so it dries smoother and it’s easier to sand.


Baby Giraffe Print

 

If you like animal art, check out Jonni’s new Baby Giraffe print. It will make you smile.

 


The Recipe for Paper Mache Clay

Drywall Joint CompoundThe 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 as instructed in the video, and use 1 1/4 cups – some rolls contain more paper than needed)
  • 1 cup Drywall Joint compound from the hardware store or Walmart. (Get premixed “regular,” that comes in a plastic tub, not the dry powder form.)
    Note:  The DAP brand does not work. It will turn your pm clay into a rubbery mess. All other brands will work just fine.
  • 1/2 cup White Flour
  • 2 tablespoons Mineral Oil or Linseed Oil. I now recommend Mineral Oil (Baby Oil) because it’s easier to find, and it’s safer to use if kids are helping with your project. Can’t find either one? Just leave it out. The recipe works just fine without it.

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).

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. They change things sometimes, so you’ll still want to measure the wet paper. And if you find a brand that’s cheaper, go ahead and buy it – the brand doesn’t matter at all.

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.

Important note:

I’m often asked if it’s possible to waterproof a sculpture made with this recipe, so the sculpture can be left outside. I’ve tried a lot of products to see if I could find one that would work, and they have all failed miserably. This recipe is intended for use inside only.

For outdoor sculptures, I recommend the use of epoxy clay. Watch this video to see how I made a made of a squirrel sculpture that has been sitting outside in Minnesota weather for a year now, including unrelenting weeks of rain and -30° winter temps, and it’s still doing just fine.

 



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Life Sized Paper Mache Baby ElephantLife-Sized Baby Elephant

4,514 Comments

  • Do you have to use the joint compound to make the clay? I don’t have any on hand but have tons of spackle. Will that work as a substitute? Was wondering if you had done that particular experiment already. Thanks!

    • I have not used spackle. I know it’s similar in composition to joint compound, but I don’t know how it will react with the glue. I suspect you will know shortly, and we would love to hear how it turns out!

      • I ended up using a patching plaster (gypsum) from a dry mix instead of the spackle. This answers your UK problem. Just follow the directions on the package to mix with water and then your directions. My finished product looks just like your picture and felt just like Sculpey clay (if you have ever used that product). I’m going to get joint compound after the snow clears and make more to see the difference and check if I have a preference.

        • Thanks, Jennifer. It sounds like your clay is a bit firmer than the one that I get when I use joint compound. Do you like the way it works, when using it on your sculpture? I hope you’ll let us know how your project turns out.

    • Did you ever use the spackle? I would love to know how the formula work out. I am hoping you got a firmer clay because that is the texture I love to work with. Thanks

      • I haven’t experimented with it myself yet. But you can buy spackle in rather small containers, so it shouldn’t be expensive to give it a try. My huge garden project is hogging all my time right now, so I’ll let you all do the research – but please let us know if it works.

  • Jonni

    I am wondering whether the linseed oil you use is boiled or raw. They have both types at my local hardware store and I’m not sure which one to use.

    Jacquie

    • The kind I use is boiled linseed oil, but only because it’s the only kind our small hardware store carries. The raw linseed oil should work just fine, but I haven’t tried it.

  • Hi Jonni,
    This morning I got the sudden urge to make paper mache bangles (thick, chunky bracelets). After searching google all day with no luck, I stumbled upon your amazing detailed and informative site. It has inspired me to attempt other sculptures and decorations as well. I am also very excited about your “paper mache clay” and I plan to use it instead of the conventional paper mache. Your creations are gorgeous, and your advice is the greatest. I just have one question, can i used duct tape or electrical tape instead of masking tape? Thank you so much, and I can’t wait to get started!

  • I am so excited. Can’t wait to make this. Starting fresh tomorrow morning.. Thank you so much. Love to try new recipes …Will post pic when I make my bunnies…Sounds like an easy and cheap recipe for PM clay but looks like and seems like its something I am interested in. Have you use this recipe in any molds??

    • I have tried the recipe in molds, and it tends to trap air underneath so it doesn’t come out with a smooth surface and details get lost. If you experiment, let us know how it turns out.

  • My 4th grader is doing a school project that requires construction of an adobe and brick building. A friend recommended paper mache compound to create the look over heavy cardboard. Do you think the clay or traditional paste would work best? And what could be added to give the structure a greyish brown color?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Jennifer. The clay recipe would be easiest, because you’d just build cardboard buildings and then “plaster” them with the clay. When they dry hard, they would look very much like adobe. You can find iron oxide and other natural pigments at the hardware store, sold as cement colorants. Or you could color the clay with acrylic or tempera paints.

      However, the ingredients in the clay and the dried pigments from the hardware store should not be eaten, so your students must all treat the materials with respect. As their teacher, do you think they’re old enough to use art materials that are not non-toxic? I don’t spend much time around kids, so I could use some advice about this particular safety issue. But, as long as the kids know you can’t eat the clay even though it looks like cookie dough, they should be fine.

  • Do you form up your creation like normal – with the newspaper and masking tape and then just layer this on the outside?

    • Yes, exactly! I’ll try to put together a short video soon to explain this more clearly. Basically, the clay replaces the paper strips and paste.

  • Hi,

    I’m reading your suggestions in UK and I’m wondering what
    “Jointing Compound” is? What would it normally be used for?
    Is it a powder? paste? liquid?
    Please advise.
    Thank you,
    Sally

    • I think this product is called Joint Filler in the UK. A reader is now experimenting with joint filler that she purchased in your country, and has promised to let me know how it turns out. My only concern is that the product available in my local Oregon hardware store contains Calcium Carbonate, while the product specs I found for a UK product contained another form of calcium called gypsum. These are very similar, but I don’t know if it will react the same way with the glue and form a nice smooth clay. If you (or anybody) tries joint filler with this recipe, please let me know how it turns out. It should be smooth, and should not form lumps.

      Note to anyone who lives in any country other than the US — If you figure out what joint compound is called in your country, please let us all know!

      Oh – and to finish answering your question, the product comes in a plastic tub, and looks a bit like plaster than has already been mixed with water. So-not a paste, exactly, and not a powder or liquid, either…

  • Hello Jonni, thanks so much for your wonderful review of my book “Papier Mache Design”. I’ve just looked at your ‘papier mache clay’ and am impressed! I will be using it as well for certain projects I will have on the go soon, thank you! I haven’t read through all the comments here on this page yet, but I’m looking forward to what people have to say about your recipe. I’m sure they are having a lot of fun with it!

    Thanks for picking up my book and letting the rest of the world out there know what lies between the pages.

    Cheers,
    Monique Robert

  • Hi- I was wondering about the dry time. I realize different sized sculptures would have different times, but do you have a rough guideline? ( If it was already mentioned, I missed it) And thanks for this recipe, my son has a project for school and didn’t seem keen about it until we found your clay site. -Thanks, Heidi

    • Hello, Heidi. I haven’t done any real scientific studies, but a thin layer — 1/8 to 1/4″ thick, should dry in two days if you put it in a warm spot. It will feel dry on the outside before it’s fully cured on the inside, so give it plenty of time. It will dry fastest if you put it over a heat register — but be sure you don”t put it too close to an electric heater because of the fire danger. When you push on any part of the sculpture there should be no “give” at all. If you build up extra clay for details, those areas may take longer to dry.

      You also need to consider the fact that you need to stop applying the clay when you no longer have a dry spot to hang on to. Then you need to put the piece in a warm spot until the clay hardens enough, then finish covering the rest of the piece. You can usually hold the clay safely long before it’s completely dry,

      If you add a very thin second layer, in order to add a texture, for instance, the second layer will usually dry faster than the first layer did.

      Hope this helps, and that your son enjoys his project. You didn’t mention his age, so I’ll just remind you the clay is not edible. 🙂 And I also hope you’ll let us see his sculpture when it’s done.

    • Hello jonni
      Before finding your videos I wanted to try making clay. The first video I seen didn’t say what kind or brand of joint compound. So my issue is I bought DAP wall board joint compound. So now that I seen your videos I see I can’t use it ? Or is there a way I can use it.

      • Hi Jessica. Was that first video one that I made? If so, I need to go back and add the DAP info to the description.

        As for DAP, some of it works and some doesn’t. I think they have more than one manufacturing plant, and they may use slightly different formulas. Since you already have some on hand, there’s an easy way to test it. Mix about a tablespoon of your Elmer’s Glue All with a tablespoon of your joint compound. If it isn’t going to work you’ll find out quickly, because it will get rubbery and you wouldn’t be able to spread it. If it does work, it should have a texture like mayonnaise. I hope the container you bought is one of the good ones. If not, the best place to find non-DAP joint compound is often at WalMart in their paint department.

  • Hi! I was wondering, do you use the traditional method as a base? Do you use paper mache for the body, and just use the clay for fine details, or do you use the clay for an entire project?

    • I use a crumpled-paper and masking tape form under the clay. The paper mache clay is very strong, so no paper strips and paste are needed. See the frog and butterfly posts show how this is done. I hope to have more tutorials up soon, but my book project is keeping me busy at the moment.

    • Hi Elizabeth. I have not tried any paper except toilet paper. The toilet paper is especially engineered to disintigrate as soon as it gets wet, so it won’t clog the sewer lines. Telephone book paper is probably designed to hold up to some abuse. You would probably need to soak it overnight or boil it, like traditional paper mache pulp recipes require, and even then I doubt you could get it very smooth.

      Even though you won’t get recycling brownie points if you use a roll of toilet paper, you can still claim your sculptures are made partially from recycled paper if you use old newspapers (or telephone book paper) for the inside forms. And one roll of toilet paper will make a quart of clay, which is enough to cover a 12″ long animal sculpture with a layer 1/8″ thick. So it really isn’t very expensive.

      All that said, if you do some experimenting with other types of paper, please let us know how it turns out.

      • thanks, jonni, for the quick reply.
        i am heading to the store now to get the rest of my supplies for your clay and
        i’m also going to experiment with the telephone book paper and will let you know the results.
        tks, elizabeth

  • Hi Jonni..thank you so much for the prompt answer to my question and the great site which gives us an affordable way to stave off cabin fever!

  • Hi..I was trying get the instructions on how to make the paper mache clay recipe but I’m on dial-up, high speed isn’t avalailable in my area, and it wouldn’t download. It timed out. would it be possible to post brief written instructions? Thank you so much

    • Hi Alice. I should have thought of that. I’ll post a printed version of the instructions below the video so everyone can see it. Thanks for the heads-up.

  • Hi, I have been following your site for some time now and wanted to thank you for inroducing me to a media which actually produces the results I envision! Over the years I have tried many different forms of art and craft and none have ever really turned out how I had hoped until I found your site! I have finally found an inexpensive way to sculpt in my own living room!
    Your paper clay recipe; can you tell me what the Linseed oil is for and if it is a vital or optional part of the recipe?
    Thanks again,
    Jo

    • Hi Jo. I’m glad you like the site. The first time I read your comment I thought you said you had found a way to “sculpt your own living room.” I have an excuse, other than being dyslexic — I recently ran across a French website created by someone who really does just that. He calls his method of making papier mache furniture the “Schmulb” method. Check it out.

      OK – back to what you were really talking about…

      No, you don’t have to use the linseed oil, but I do suggest that you try it at least once. It does make the clay a little easier to work with, and it changes the texture or “feel” of the clay a little. You can get a tiny bottle at the art store, or buy the less expensive kind from the hardware store. A pint will last a long time. And, like all the ingredients in the clay recipe, you want to keep the container out of reach of children.

      • Jonni, Love this idea! I am a middle school art teacher 6-8 grade, and would like to try this with my 8th grade students (ages 12-13). I noticed you recommend keeping this material out of the reach of children. Any concerns for this age group? Thanks so much!

        • Hi Deborah. Your kids should be old enough to know that they aren’t supposed to eat their art supplies. That’s the only reason why I warn against using the clay with small kids. The clay looks a bit like cookie dough when it’s still in the bowl, and some younger kids might be tempted to taste. At the age of your students, they should be well over that phase.

          Enjoy!

  • Hello,
    We are working on a full-sized scaled sculpture of the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. We are making the structure out of chicken wire. I was wondering if the clay would mesh well and stick to the chicken wire. We may just do a few layers of the regular paper mache recipe then use the clay over the paper for the molded look. I liked your use of the carpenter’s glue with tint after sanding the paper. Any ideas or suggestions you would like to share? Thank you!

    • What a great project! The holes in chicken wire would be too large for the clay, but 1/4″ hardware cloth would work. So would your idea of putting on at least one layer of paper strips and paste, to give the clay something to hold on to. Lately I’ve been using joint compound thinned with Elmer’s Glue-All and a bit of acrylic paint for a home-made gesso in place of the colored glue, but if you’re looking for a slicker look, the tinted glue is nice. Also, if this is a project you’re doing with kids, remember that the paper mache clay is not edible. (I know they wouldn’t eat it, of course, but it does look a little like cookie dough…)

      I sure hope you’ll take some photos as you build your caterpillar, and share them with us.

  • Hi, Found your website today and it is fascinating and very informative! I was beginning to wonder if there was a papier maché website that took the craft seriously, after trawling through horrible twee objects and ‘projects to get you started’ on some other sites. However, I do have a fairly crucial question for you. I assume you are in the States. I am in France, with fairly easy access to UK products, and I have never heard of Elmer’s Glue-All. Please can you tell me the technical details – what is the base – is it PVA or what? so that I can find the equivalent here or in the UK? Then I can let you know what it’s called over here, in case anyone else asks.
    I used to do a fair amount of papier maché years ago, and decided to start again this year (one of my New Year Resolutions!)
    I love the sound of the clay recipe, and it would be ideal for the sort of projects I have in mind.
    Many thanks for such a good website.
    Mags

    • Hi Mags. Yes. Elmers Glue-All is a PVA glue, as I know (from one of your other comments) you’ve already discovered. But not all PVA glues act the same, so I suggest that you buy a small bottle of glue that you find in your local store, and see what happens. At my local WalMart, the “right” glue for the clay is found in the children”s craft section (and by the gallon at the hardware store).

      I definitely hope you’ll let us know which brand works there in France. And if anyone else lives in a country other than the US, please chime in and tell us which glue works best. Also, do they call joint compound “joint compound” in other countries? Also, when you’re done with your first project, please share it with us!

  • Wow, this is really neat, I will be trying this out. I am just beginning Dan the paper mache man’s lessons, and this stuff should be amazing for adding detail.
    How long does it remain usable, and how do you store it (if possible)
    Greg

    • I agree — Dan’s latest book has some really good ideas for creating forms and shapes, which can be used with any style, not just monsters. It would be fun to see what Dan would do with this stuff. I’m sure it would be imaginative.

      I’ve kept the clay in a covered plastic container for up to a week, and it’s still easy to spread and model. As I mentioned in the video, the clay is not edible — and that seems to apply to fungi as well as people. I have not seen any mold appear on the clay, no matter how long it’s kept in the container, and it doesn’t sour the way flour paste does in a day or two. But still, I don’t suggest making up more than one quart (one recipe) at a time. That way you always have some fresh clay for your work.

  • Can I substitute carpenter’s glue for the Elmer white glue?

    I have a lot of it lying around…

    Thank you for the recipe!

    • Kat, I’m very glad you asked that! So far, I’ve experimented with three different glues. Two worked, and one was a miserable failure.

      Elmer’s Glue-All is the glue I use most of the time, and it works really well.

      Titebond II, a weatherproof premium wood glue, is also excellent, and gives a nice smooth feel to the clay, although it’s yellow instead of white. (I was hoping it would make the clay waterproof, but it doesn’t). Since Elmer’s Glue-All is a lot less expensive, I don’t see a strong reason to use Titebond II unless you already have some in your garage.

      Elmer’s Carpenter’s Wood Glue did not work. The clay isn’t smooth and creamy, and it sort of “curdles.” The glue doesn’t seem to mix at all with the small amount of water that’s left in the toilet paper, and it bonds with the joint compound in an odd way. Don’t try it — I already did, and I know you won’t be happy with the result.

      I was surprised to discover that Elmer’s carpenters glue doesn’t work well (and disappointed — I bought a gallon of the stuff). Since the carpenter’s glue is based on polyvinyl acetate, just like the other two glues mentioned, I thought it would work as well. At my age I should know better than make assumptions.

      All that said, if you have some other brands of glue hanging around and you’d like to experiment with them, go ahead and give them a try. And be sure to let us all know how your clay turns out. But before doing that, make up at least one batch with the Elmer’s Glue-All (you only need 6 fl oz for a quart of clay) so you’ll know what the clay is “supposed” to be like.

  • VERY nice.. I will use this to construct an armor. Of course, I will have to apply a layer of sealant. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

    If you provide your email in your tips, I will happily deliver pictures of my process.

    Thanks!

    JR

    PS.. really.. tHANKS!

    • Hi Johnny. I’d love to see your project, including photos taken to show how your armor is made from start to finish. You can use the email shown on my contact page. Please edit your photos into a small size if you’d like me to share them in a blog post.

      If you intend to take your finished creation outside in the rain you’ll need to use marine (spar) varnish on the outside. If you don’t intend to let it get wet, a water-based Verathane or poylurethane should work just fine, or stick with the matte acrylic varnish from the art store.

    • I have used your recipe to make a fantastic head and shoulder bust of a woman. But doesn’t the linseed oil in the recipe eventually break down the toilet paper over time? Please reply as I would continue using your recipe but not sure if I should.

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