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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3,557 Responses

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  1. Michelle
    Michelle at |

    Wow! Thanks for the recipe for your paper mache clay. Just what I was looking for. Now, how am I going to sleep with all these sculpting projects swirling around inside my head? lol
    Stay inspired!
    Michelle

    Reply
  2. Judy
    Judy at |

    Thanks Jonni……couldn’t have done it without that great paper mache recipe you offered. :o)

    Reply
  3. Judy
    Judy at |

    His name is Nagol which is the baby’s name Logan spelled backwards. :o)

    Reply
  4. Judy
    Judy at |

    Full view of my paper mache giraffe. Measure a little over 6 feet tall.

    Paper Mache Giraffe

    Reply
  5. Judy
    Judy at |

    Completed my paper mache giraffe! Love the way he turned out. Thanks Jonni for the wonderful clay recipe!

    Paper Mache Giraffe

    Paper Mache Giraffe

    Reply
  6. Timothy Welsh
    Timothy Welsh at |

    Hello Jonni!

    Thank you so much for this Paper Mache Clay. I love it! While a dream to work with, my first batch was a little lumpier than I liked. I wanted to share with you the simple solution I used to fix my problem.

    I simply added a step while wetting the toilet paper. Instead of submerging it all at once and instantly wringing it out, I added it slowly to a bucket of warm water. I had separated the toilet paper into many strips about two arms length each. In the bucket I had about 3/4 of a gallon of warm water. With my left hand I operated my hand-held (wand) blender, moving it with an up and down motion. With my right hand I added each strip of toilet paper. Never adding a new strip until the first was suitably eviscerated. This created a slurry of … well … paper water.

    I strained the slurrey into my colander which I lined with a few layers of cheese cloth. Using a similarly sized bowl I pressed out a majority of the water and ripped the pulp into tiny bits.

    I mixed the Wall Compound, Glue, and flour first with the mixer and slowly added the paper bits one at a time. It came out PERFECTLY!

    Not a lump to be found. Mind you, my way takes about a hundred times as long as your method. I suppose it’s a good thing I like spending my time this way.

    All I have to do now is buy a bucket, stick blender, mixer, collander, and mixing bowl for my kitchen. I lose so many Kitchen Appliances this way!

    Oh, and a note for anybody new at this … NEVER rinse off any of this mixture into a sink with a Garbage Disposal. I’m not the smartest man. And now I’m a stupid artist with one strange sounding garbage disposal.

    Thank you for being!

    Sincerely,

    Tim

    Reply
  7. Chanell Gautreaux
    Chanell Gautreaux at |

    Great stuff! You’ve taken paper mache to a high level!

    Reply
  8. Clarisa
    Clarisa at |

    Hello Jonni,

    First off, I’d like to thank you for a great tutorial on making paper mache clay. It truly beats the classic ‘paper and glue’ especially when durability becomes an added advantage to sculpting.

    I’d like you to know that I’d be implementing your method in making a life-sized prop for a cosplay (costume play) event which I’ll be participating this December. I’ve included a picture of the character and his weapon for better visual.

    My plan is to make the base/foundation out of polystyrene foam then cover it up with the classic paper mache before adding clay to make it sturdier. But I do have a few questions with regards to your clay recipe:-

    1) For the joint compound, you mentioned to get “regular” instead of “fast set” or “light”. Where I come from, joint compound is generally known as putty sealer and it only comes in two forms i.e. powder or paste. There’re no specifications as to whether it’s regular, fast set or light. Which would you recommend me getting?

    2) I’ve read in various sites that homemade clay (especially those made with flour) have really short shelf life and are prone to mould built-up. When I read through your comments, I noted that using wallpaper paste or chalk (calcium carbonate) instead of flour could expand the shelf life of the paper mache clay while clove oil, Borax (sodium borate) and bleach (sodium hypochlorite) could eliminate mould build-up. Where I live, getting a hand at wallpaper paste or chalk is pretty costly and I’d like to keep this project within my budget. So that would leave me to eliminating the build-up of mould since the process of making the prop would take a while. What I’d like to know is, if I were to use clove oil, Borax or bleach, what amount would be sufficient for your paper mache clay recipe? When should I add the anti-fungal agents, is it while I’m mixing all the ingredients or after I’m done mixing the ingredients? By the way, salt (sodium chloride) acts as a preservative and it could prevent growth of fungi. Have you ever experiment your clay with salt before? For your info, I live in a tropically humid country so it helps to gather enough details before I start on my project.

    3) I noted that you mentioned it’s not necessary to use linseed oil in this recipe if we haven’t any. May I know what the function of the linseed oil is?

    Thanking you in advance and sorry for the lengthy post.

    Sincerely,
    Clarisa

    Reply
  9. Magda
    Magda at |

    Hi. It is may first creations with paper mache. Here I have used your paper mache clay recipe :-)

    Reply
  10. Judy
    Judy at |

    Picture before the paper mache.

    Reply
  11. Judy
    Judy at |

    Hi Jonni….thought I’d post a few pictures of work in progress. Here is the giraffe in the works. :o)

    Paper Mache Giraffe

    Reply
  12. James
    James at |

    Hi! I really enjoyed your site a lot. I have been searching the web for about 3 hours now looking for a good clay recipe. I found yours and loved it. I have a question though. Is the joint compound really necessary? I live in like the middle of no-where and town is far away. So do I need it to make good clay? I plan on making a bead pendant for my mom on her birthday. So please answer when you get the chance. Thank you in advance. =)

    Reply
  13. Judy
    Judy at |

    Hi Jonni….I’ve finished applying 3 layers of paper mache over a chicken wired giraffe sculpture which has dried completely before each application. Do I apply some type of primer before adding clay to it for the facial features or will the clay stick to the dried paper mache? And also……do we need to wet the surface before applying the clay so that it will stick together nicely as we do with paper clay? I’m loving the way he’s turning out so far. :o)

    Reply
  14. sarah
    sarah at |

    Hi Jonni, I’m really enjoying your site. Your really onto something with the clay, perhaps if you play with the recipe so it lasts longer you could actually patent this stuff, it seems cheaper than clay. I was wondering what is the purpose of the linseed oil, and if anyone had suggested alternatives since I am embarrassingly too broke to get the linseed oil at the moment.

    Reply
  15. Celia
    Celia at |

    Thanks so much for your reply. The wood is perfectly natural with nothing on it at all so I think this will work. However, I think your suggestion to try a small one first is a good one. Thanks again!

    Reply
  16. Becky Forand
    Becky Forand at |

    AMAZING i’m going to try this out on a hen and golden retriever sized cow for the musical Into The Woods originally i was going to use fabric or paper mache for the cow… we are going to make the frame of the it with chicken wire so it could be hallow and easy to move around do you think it would work with the Paper Mache Clay? i would probably have to cover the chicken wire with a layer of masking tape or something so the clay doesn’t go through huh? maybe we could do a layer of fabric then use the clay to give it better texture… hm well i’ll book mark this page so i can let you know how it works out in the end!

    Reply
  17. Celia
    Celia at |

    Hi. I am interested in taking unpainted, unfinished wooden picture frames from the craft store and sculpting paper mache things like starfish, etc and attaching them to the wood. I could cover the wood with a layer of the paper mache clay then mold the starfish directly into/onto the layer but am wondering if any of this will actually stick to the wood. I would then paint the whole piece. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much! (The surface area of the wood where the paper mache would go is about 1 3/4″ wide and perfectly flat)

    Reply
  18. Alex
    Alex at |

    Dear Jonni, i am in high school in Australia and m doing a sculpture using you paper mache clay. I would like to know if there is an austrailian product like Elmers all glue… i have never heard of it before so i presume it is only american… is it like a PVA glue or is it a wood glue?
    and also what is the joint compound supposed to be used for, so that i could find some
    sorry if you have to repeat yourself, Alex

    Reply
  19. Collin
    Collin at |

    I love your site! You have done a great job here.
    I stumbled onto your site a few weeks ago and got inspired to give it a try. This was our first project using your Paper Mache Clay Recipe.

    Reply
  20. Beth
    Beth at |

    Thanks for the great site and this recipe. It got me back into experimenting with paper mache techniques and I’m having a ball.

    I make the clay using a bucket and mud mixer attachment for my drill. (The mud mixer attachment was ~$5 at Home Depot which was cheaper than buying a studio-only kitchen mixer.) Also, I start with just the dry toilet paper and then add water as I need (which eliminates my needing to squeeze it out later.)

    In my last batch, I used chalk (calcium carbonate) instead of flour. I ended up using twice as much chalk, trying to get the texture right … but the cool thing, and what I wanted I wanted to share … is that the mix hasn’t gone ‘bad’ yet.

    I made this batch on 4/16, and normally my batches lasted less than a week. This batch, however, is still going strong, with no signs of spoilage (no mold, no growth, no stink.)

    Yay … and thought you’d want to know.

    Have you played with adding things other than flour?

    – b

    Reply
  21. Hananh Stewart
    Hananh Stewart at |

    Hiya Jonni

    I am thinking on using paper mache clay for my toad puppet’s head – for creating those lovely warts and defined eyebrow ridges :D.
    I was just wondering how long it takes for the paper mache clay to dry. Do I need to put it in a kiln?

    Thank you

    Hannah

    Reply
  22. Judy
    Judy at |

    thanks Jonni…….This is going to be my first grandchild, so I want to make his jungle theme room look it’s best. :o) I’m visiting my daughter so I still have a month before I head back home. Hope I get it completed in time. Will show pics when I’m done. :o)

    Reply
  23. Judy
    Judy at |

    Hi…..Stumbled across this site and love what you do with your paperclay recipe! I am currently working on creating a 6 ft tall giraffe for my first grandchild’s room. I’ve created the sculpture out of chicken wire…..almost done. :o) I thought I’d cover it with paper mache using newspaper and using the clay to fill in gaps and facial features. Hope this works out for me. I think it’ll be some time before I get it completed but hope to finish within a month! :o) Thanks so much for the clay recipe…..can’t wait to try it.

    Judy

    Reply
  24. addie khalar
    addie khalar at |

    jonni
    hi again! i am using your clay and teaching it to a class of 6-12 year olds. and i am so excited for them to enjoy it as well!! thanks for sharing this once again i can’t thank you enough.
    on a side note we have finally got into our house and am starting to get in to the art community here by teaching community art classes as there are no art classes provided through the school, in reference to your earlier postings. i will be teaching an after school program for highschoolers as well …
    just had to share.
    take care.. and i will post some pictures of the kids in action!!

    Reply
  25. humoti
    humoti at |

    My project is to make an almost street wide “Flying Eagle using 3 poles to hold it it up and as light as possible.
    The Eagle head that is 3ft wide with it’s mouth open showing the tongue. This my first Eagle and I would like to know the simplest way to craft the head shape before I use the “clay”.

    Reply
  26. Matthew O'Connor
    Matthew O'Connor at |

    have you tried mixing Durham’s rock hard water putty in your clay mixture? I have used this material just with water but I am looking for structural strength and this might be a replacement for the joint compound…?
    Could the rock hard putty be used as a paper mache agent instead of the water, paper and flower mix? added just one of the pics of my costume- head is paper mache!!

    Reply
  27. Cynthia Devening
    Cynthia Devening at |

    Hi Jonni,

    I have a question. I was trying to make some pendants with the clay doing one side, letting it dry and flipping over to cover the other side. The problem is the sides aren’t melding together because one side being dry before the other. The pendants were probably about as thick as your butterfly project, but you don’t seem to have that problem. What am I doing wrong? I believe I will try and string them and just cover them in one go unless you have a better idea?

    Thanks,

    Cynthia Devening

    Reply
  28. Joolz Yonge
    Joolz Yonge at |

    Hi Jonni,

    I wanted to thank you for this simple and affordable recipe. I am a middle school art teacher and I am trying this out with my basic2 class. We are working on alebrijes. I knew we wouldn’t be able to do traditional wood carving but I didn’t want to use strip and paste because most inexperienced young artists tend to have limited success with creating smooth surfaces with it.

    So far the kids have just gotten their armatures started but I have a few that will be ready for clay tomorrow. I think I’m as excited as they are! If you’d like I would be glad to send pictures and the lesson plan for other teachers who stumble upon your site in their research.

    Reply
  29. Donna
    Donna at |

    Hi Jonni

    Am enjoying your website. Did a papier mache years ago and am anxious to try it out again. My question to you is will flour possibly mold? I live in a very humid environment, so I thought maybe I should use wallpaper paste instead? or is my concern unfounded? Thanks.

    Reply
  30. rachael
    rachael at |

    Hi
    Great site. Your paper mache recipe is similar to my own so I thought I’d chime in & say that I’ve used several different kinds of paper shredded junk mail, newspaper etc. and it works out fine.
    I also use clove oil to avoid any mold problems.
    rachael

    Reply
  31. Jeffrey
    Jeffrey at |

    Hey Jonnie,

    I just wanted to say that you have a wonderful website and that I will definitely use the paper mache clay for any future projects. However, I have a question. Do you have to use joint compound or is it optional? Thanks a lot.

    Reply
  32. amy
    amy at |

    Hello
    just wanted to compliment you- your blog is one of the best artist resources I have come across in a long time! I am a painter, but was researching for my mother, who has never sculpted but wants to create a large scale giraffe. Your blog is fabulous, filled with good information and suggestions to try, and your art is beautiful as well. You are now definitely a “Favorite”!
    Thanks for all you’re doing,
    amy

    Reply
  33. amber
    amber at |

    hi jonni, my 6 year old is making a sculpture of a maryland blue crab. i found your recipe for paper mache- it sounds fun to work with. will you please suggest the material, if any, he should use for the inside of his sculpture. he is a beginner and very excited about this project. thank you. amber

    Reply
  34. Carmen
    Carmen at |

    Hi,

    Well, that is good to know, but my box actually had a plastic bag of already mixed, so I didn’t have to worry so much. But good to know I could have mixed it. I just didn’t know since I hadnt bought it before,

    Thanks so much,
    Carmen

    Reply
  35. Carmen Needham
    Carmen Needham at |

    I bought the boiled this time, but I bought a box of ready mix of the joint compound, was that right or should I have bought the tub that looks like it is already mixed up? I just didn’t think about it at first.

    Reply
    1. Carmen Needham
      Carmen Needham at |

      It looks like I needed the tub when I watch your video- I see a tub.

      Reply
  36. Carmen Needham
    Carmen Needham at |

    I was wondering about the Linseed oil. There are things about raw and “boiled” linseed oil. From what I gather it seems that the “boiled” linseed oil would be the one desired for this? Just making sure before I try it.
    Thanks,
    Carmen

    Reply
  37. Laughing Hyena
    Laughing Hyena at |

    I have a question for you since Thurston James’s excellent book, The Prop Builder’s Molding and Casting Handbook, doesn’t talk about Joint compound:
    How well does it do in molds? (Latex and Silicone?)
    Will it stick to the mold? Does the Linseed Oil have a chance of eating away at a mold from multiple uses? Will I need to use soap, petroleum jelly, or wax (as in the case of a plaster mold with paper mache) to make it not stick?

    I’m interested because I’ve been on a paper mache mask making kick and I’m planning on making molds to make copies of some of the masks. That way I won’t have to re-build the structure over again with newspaper and tape or clay over a plaster face. Yep, water-based clay works as a blank just like wood for making masks. Just let it dry all the way through like paper mache. Once dry, you have to dig out the clay from the shell. You can’t do very detailed shapes or marks on the clay since the strips and layers cover it up. But it does get the basic shape needed (snouts, noses, brows).

    Reply
  38. Ann
    Ann at |

    Is there another oil besides linseed that can be substituted? I realize you said it would dry without it, but I want to do it right the first time I try it.

    Reply
  39. Lorbot » Papier Maché Zombie Bunny Progress Shots

    [...] maché sculpture project using a homemade papier maché clay and joint compound for texture. I still need to finish his claws so you won’t see the wire [...]

  40. Debie Lyons
    Debie Lyons at |

    Hi I have just found your site by accident and I would love to havea go Jonni but I live in the Uk and I was wondering what joint compound actually is please?

    Thank you so much.

    Debie x

    Reply
  41. julie
    julie at |

    Is the linseed oil necessary, I am helping my six year old make a jackrabbit for school we stuffed plastic bags and used masking tape to shape the body, than I thought we could cover it with the clay, although I have all the ingredients but the linseed oil. Will it still work?
    Thanks for your help
    Julie

    Reply
  42. Gabby
    Gabby at |

    Hi just a quick question, what is joint compound that you use in your paper mache clay? I’m from Australia so I wonder if it might be under a different name here, what is it used for?

    Thanks.

    Reply
  43. Eunice Kahlke
    Eunice Kahlke at |

    Hi Jonni,

    Here is a photo of my Paper clay object. I call “Lean on me” and is 16 inches tall. After sanding it; I primed it and spray painted it in a granite look. I love it!
    Thanks for the recipe!
    Eunice

    Reply
  44. Roxanne
    Roxanne at |

    Dear Jonni,
    When I came upon your clay, my roommate was so happy (I had left old smelly rotten paper mache mix in the room for days & I hadn’t noticed). I too, was also happy- so much that I created a heart (after a few butterfly lessons)!

    http://www.rxnn.net/word/create/heart/

    Also, I didn’t have linseed oil when making it- does it make a big difference to the clay?

    Reply
  45. Lynn
    Lynn at |

    Thanks for the recipe. I tried it out tonight. Mixed by hand because don’t have a hand mixer, but it worked out okay I think. Waiting for it to dry now. Great instructions!

    Reply
  46. Debra
    Debra at |

    Now that I’ve read a bit more here, I am remembering all the art projects I did in highschool that involved paper mache. I made a larger than life bird-man that the principal wanted in his office window(for a while). I named my bird-man Leroy. He was purple and yellow. After a while he moved home. If family stayed in the bedroom where he was ‘living’ -he scared the daylights outta them! He had a nice chicken wire armature, so I guess it was only natural he’d be a bird-man….
    You’ve inspired me so much here that I’m heading for my studio to get my hands in some clay. Then-off to make the toilet paper clay!! Yipee!! Thanks!!
    ~Debra

    Reply
  47. Bubu
    Bubu at |

    You rock for doing this dude!!!! I got a project in 3 weeks and this is great to use!!!!! Thanks a mill!!!!

    Reply
  48. Liz
    Liz at |

    hey i found your web pg @ recommendation from my art teacher about papier mache recipes. I really like the papier mache clay but was wondering how strong is it bc i wanted to make a pinata that my fellow high schoolers can enjoy trying to break (and the regular papier mache didn’t stand a chance against my 12 yr old brother).
    would the clay be ok to use on my pinata or would it beat the high schoolers?

    Reply
  49. Tommye Rodrigues
    Tommye Rodrigues at |

    Joanni, Thank you so very much for letting me copy your paper mache clay recipe. I will let you know how my project, a dress form, comes out. Best to you! Tome

    Reply
  50. Rona Simon
    Rona Simon at |

    Hi,
    I found your site a month ago.
    You asked for a picture of what I made with your paper mache clay.
    Well here she is.
    Thank you!
    Rona

    Reply

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