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,ย  – 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, so it dries smoother, and it’s easier to sand.

The Recipe for Paper Mache Clay

Drywall Joint CompoundThe ingredientsย  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:ย  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.



You may also like:

How I painted the Unicorn.Unicorn Pattern
Hyena Mask PatternHyena Mask Pattern
Life Sized Paper Mache Baby ElephantLife-Sized Baby Elephant

4,454 Comments

  • Hi, Love your idea for paper mache clay – only I’m in Australia and have no idea of what joint compound is – I would really like to try this recipe so can you explain joint compound to me so I can try and get something here to match it. Thanks

    • Hi Chris. According to one of our readers, joint compound is called “joint filler” in Australia. That’s actually a more descriptive term – I don’t know why we don’t call it that here in the states.

    • Hey Chris, I live in New Zealand and it’s called ready mix all purpose compound. The stuff I got is by GIB and is called GIB Promix All Purpose. I haven’t tried it yet, but when I went to Mitre 10, I asked for gib mud, “You know…the stuff you use with tape to cover/fill the seam between gib boards.” They lead me right to it. Hope this helps. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • 2 questions:
    Is this a heavy clay or is it still light? I’m thinking of making christmas ball ornaments for an artificial tree and wondering how heavy it dries ๐Ÿ™‚

    And do you have a facebook page?
    Thanks!!

    • Hmm – I’ve received several questions lately about how heavy the paper mache clay is, and I don’t have a good answer for you. It rather depends on how thickly you apply the clay. If you put it over some Styrofoam balls and apply it in a thin (1/8″ or so) layer, your tree shouldn’t fall down.

      I do have a facebook page, but I almost never visit so I’m sure there are questions out there that haven’t been answered. I also get comments on my YouTube videos, and I have a really hard time keeping up.

      • Thank you!! Hope you have a blessed week ๐Ÿ™‚ I will be sharing your page with my crafty and artist friends ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Hi from the Cayman Islands! I am so glad I found your web site. I will be testing Clay your recipe this weekend along with my kids.
    Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Hi – your Owl is amazing and I can’t wait to see the finished results. I would like to make your paper clay recipe, however as I live in the UK I am unsure what the joint compound is. Can you tell me the ingredients of this product so that I can find a comparison. Many thanks!

    • Hi Dawn. We did collect the names used for some of the products in other countries. You can find it by scrolling down just a bit on this page. I don’t think we’ve got a brand name for the Elmer’s glue substitute in the UK, but any PVA glue should work. Good luck.

      And I’ll try to finish that owl in the next day or two. I got sidetracked by the new coloring book I just finished and sent off to the printers. When I get so close to getting a project done, I just can’t put it down for anything – even a snowy owl. But now I’ll have time to finish her.

  • I’ve been long planning [&finally getting around to] making a hollow, life-sized “statue” by paper mache-ing a boy [with help from his sister]. I thought i could “mummy wrap him” and body temperature plus a fan and a couple hair dryers could aid in the drying process. Once dry, i plan to cut along the backs of the limbs, etc to let him shed his “exoskeleton.” [Of course i would allow nostril holes and a mouth slit while encasing my eager volunteer.]

    I imagine different poses, depending on the season. Now, it’d be a challenge, after mending the removal cuts and making a base, to make some wings for an angel.

    What material would you recommend for making the “exoskeleton” ???

    • Other people have also suggested the idea of applying paper mache directly to a real person, in order to make a life-like shape. I try to discourage it, since the paper mache will take a very long time to dry if you put on enough layers to get a stiff “skin” that won’t be distorted when you take it off. I don’t know about the boy you have in mind, but standing in one position without moving for 48 hours or more would be a challenge for anyone. And I’m not entirely sure what sort of chemicals they put in newspaper…

      Besides, if you heat up the paper and paste enough to cause it to dry faster, you could be heating up the person inside, too. Sorry, but to me it just doesn’t sound like a very good idea.

      You might want to check out the dressmaker’s website that one of our readers found. It shows how to make a shape around a real person, which can then be made permanent with paper mache after the shape has been removed from the model. You can find it here.

  • Thanks for you quick reply. I have both the glue and the joint compound as I am going to try another batch of your paper clay recipe.

    Dennise

  • I want to “plaster” a dollhouse which is made with plywood. Would papier mache clay adhere to the plywood? I am trying to replicate a timber frame Tudor style house with the straw and clay stuccoed surface between the timbers. Thanks. Edith

    • I think the clay would stick, and if you put on a very thin layer you should be able to get the texture you want. However, it may be easier to use the home-made gesso recipe that I like to use – two parts joint compound and one part white glue. This will stick, for sure, and it can be textured in the same way that you would texture a wall. Or try just plain joint compound…. I’ve never tried doing any of this myself (except on real walls, of course), so do some experiments to see what works best.

      • Jonni, would this home-made gesso that calls for joint compound be the premade compound? I am finding some cracking in my figures and am looking to find something that I have already to use. I did purchase a bottle of gesso, but it is acrylic paint consistancy.

        • Yes, I use the kind that’s already mixed. You can often quart-sized containers at the hardware store. The gallon size costs less than five dollars in our local store.

      • I want to keep the “stucco” as lightweight as possible. That’s why I wondered about the clay. Would the gesso e as light over the entire house, do you think? And thanks for getting back to me.

        • I’m not sure which would be lighter. I think the joint compound alone or the gesso would be slightly easier to spread thinly. But getting exactly the texture you want could be easier with the clay, which can be spread thinly if you’re careful. As far as weight goes, it’s probably about the same. A few experiments might help.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your papier mache recipe, this is exactly what I’m looking for and I can’t wait to experiment with it! I’ve used clay for over 30 years and have become sensitive to the dust and have developed an allergy to it.
    I’m very excited to get started and would like to thank you for all your information,
    Kind regards, Irene (The Hague, Netherlands)

  • Hi
    How much coverage is obtained from each recipe. Am looking to make a fake rock for school performance – about 3ft X 4ft and just wondered how much clay I would need to make. Sounds great by the way!
    Sallie

    • Oh dear – this sounds like one of those story problems we used to get in math class. Or would it be geometry? The amount you need will depend on the thickness you apply, and the total surface area. I’m not smart enough to figure it out with any accuracy, but I can guess that you’ll need at least four quarts. One recipe makes about a quart. I suggest you make just one recipe at a time, and then make more if you run out.

  • Hi!
    I am going to be making fairy houses for my daughters for Christmas & I am intrigued by the paper mache clay. Is it cut-able? I want to have relatively thin walls & be able to have a movable door and window cutouts. Do you think the clay would work in this application or should I stick to traditional paper mache?

    Thanks!

    • Hi Erika. The dried clay can be cut, but not easily. It would be easier to form your houses out of cardboard, cut the doors and windows where you want them, and then add a thin layer of paper mache clay. That way you’d have strong walls, and you wouldn’t need to cut through the clay.

  • Thanks so much for this recipe. I did try it yesterday, however I didn’t actually measure the amount of tissue I had when I squeezed out the water. I must have missed that when I watched the video. My clay was more like paste, so I kept adding additional flour to get a clay consistancy. I think it is now unusable due to the amount of flour I added and may mold. I will try another batch today and I will actually measure the tissue. Should it be “packed” into the measuring cup (like when you bake with brown sugar)?
    Thanks!

  • Hello there. i found your papier mache clay recipe and video tutorial very useful. However I am watching from the UK and whilst I guess that your Elmers glue -all white glue is the same as our PVA white glue I am stumped as to what a cup of jointing compound might be. Any ideas, what is it made of… Yours Rod Lupton

    • Hi Rod. Other readers have suggested that it’s called “joint filler” in the UK. It’s contains gypsum or calcium carbonate, and fills the cracks between plasterboard on new walls.

  • Hi, I am fairly new at paper mache and am taking on a good sized project for my first official paper mache endeavor. My parents own a clock shop (the House of Clocks, in Morgantown Indiana) and I have been wanting to use paper mache to create some window displays for the shop. I am working on some snow covered, trees for a winter window. The trees will look like the tree carvings found on some of the cuckoo clocks. I am going to create the trees first, and if I have time I am going to attempt to make two, large nutcrackers, one for each window. Each nutcracker will be standing is the snow forest while holding a clock.

    I think your paper mache clay will work great for the trees. It will allow me to carve into the branches to give them that Black Forest, hand-carved look.

    Thanks!

  • Hi Jonni,
    I am thinking about using your recipe to make bowls. Do you think I should put some type of finish on them when I am done decorating due to the comments made about the joint compound and the linseed oil? Any advice you can give will be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Brenda. You will want to put a finish on your bowls to protect them. The clay recipe contains several items that make it non-edible – but since you can’t really wash a paper mache bowl, I assume you’ll be using them for decorations, not for food. That would be true if you were using traditional paper strips and paste, as well, since you really can’t know what chemicals they use to produce the paper, and water will ruin them.

      So, yes – use a protective finish, as I suggest for any paper mache sculpture. But don’t use the bowls for food.

  • derrrr sorry just read all the answers on the compound. my hubby is a plasrerer so im sure he’ll sort me out. Thanks.

  • Hi Jonni,
    Love your website and ideas. I would like to try a small project to see how well I do.
    Is it possible to use a more common household oil (canola? olive? peanut?) rather than linseed? Please forgive me if you have answered this question in other posts.
    thanks for your response. Cynthia

    • Vegetable oils won’t work, because they aren’t drying oils. However, you can either leave out the linseed oil, or replace it with an equal amount of glycerin. The glycerin is non-toxic, and gives the clay a nice “feel.”

  • Jonni,
    Looks like, in your video, that the joint compound is already wet when you add it. I bought some that is a powder. Do I just mix it up per instructions and then add it as a wet ingredient to the papier mache mix, or add it as a powder? Can’t wait to try it out! Thanks for the recipe.
    Deb

    • Hi Deb. The recipe does use pre-mixed joint compound, so go ahead and mix yours according to the package directions. Then follow the rest of the recipe. It should work out just fine.

  • First, I love your website! It’s very inspiring.

    After getting all the things to make paper mache clay this morning, I noticed that joint compound and linseed oil are covered in warning labels because of being hazardous. My only concerned is my two dogs.

    Do you think its safe to have these two items in a small apartment with two pets?

    • You’ll want to keep the lid on the joint compound, because dogs seem to be attracted to the calcium. And don’t feed any of the linseed oil to your pets. ๐Ÿ™‚

      These are products made for the construction industry, so they weren’t intended to be used by artists. Please use your best judgment about whether or not you feel comfortable with these products. But remember that linseed oil has been used by artists for hundreds of years, and joint compound is currently hiding on your walls, just under the paint. Just don’t sand anything, including paper mache clay, without a mask, and don’t leave the clay out where someone or something could mistake it for cookie dough. Then decide for yourself if you think they’re safe.

  • Hi Jonni,
    I would love to make a lifesize (5 footish) stork. I do baby photography and would like to use it as a prop. Any suggestions on a pattern or how to start such a project? I am familiar with paper mache and have used your recipe which I love…but have never tackled any project this large.

    • Hi Shioban.
      You could make a stork pretty much the same way I’m making my owl, except that you’ll need to create nice sturdy legs. I think that rebar would be perfect for stork legs. You’ll also need to put something heavy at the bottom, perhaps embed the bottom of your stork’s leg in cement or sand. That way, it wouldn’t be likely to fall over.

      I’d love to see your stork when it’s done – I think this is a great idea!

      • Thank you Jonni, Now I’m off to the computer to find a good stork photo to use as a pattern. Will keep you posted on this project. Hugs,
        Shioban ๐Ÿ™‚

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