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:ย  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 –ย  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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4,083 Comments

  • I was wondering if there was a way to have a printer friendly version of this?
    Wonderful tutorial…looking very forward to working with this new medium.
    Thank you so very much for sharing. I will send you a picture as soon as I have created something.

  • FUN! Thank you. I can tell that I’m going to love working with this paperclay. Here are pictures of the two leaves I made using this clay. The leaves were just a practice project to see how I liked the clay, how it dried, etc.

    I also made a starfish… I used the microwave to dry the starfish as it was a time critical project … it came out great.

    Can’t wait to play some more.

    • The leaves turned out great. I’ll be sure to tell my dad about them.

      An the microwave idea was interesting – Hmmm… I might have to try that.

  • Hi Jonni! Well, yesterday I whipped up (literally) a batch of your paperclay to try out. I kind of combined your Dads concrete leaf idea with your paperclay idea for my first trial project, a simple grapetree leaf. I spread the clay on the back side (veiny) of the leaf and sit it in the sun to dry… but… after several hours it was still damp. So… I stuck it in the low heat oven for about 20 minutes and baked it dry. Can you overbake this stuff? I think it may still have a little moisture in it and I’m wanting to stick it back in the oven. The layer is probably 1/8 inch thick. Also, I live in the tropics so most of my traditional strip pm dries fast outside in the sun… do you think the paperclay would eventually dry in the sun? I hate to have to use the oven all the time (and wouldn’t be able to for large pieces).
    I love the workability of the clay…. every little vein showed nicely ….

    Great job on the videos and book… looking forward to my amazon purchase of it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    paper mache leaf

    • Hi Laura. What a great idea – you get the look of the leaf, but without the heavy weight of the concrete.

      Yes, the clay will dry in the sun. There’s a possibility that it might curl – I have not had much sun here this winter, so I haven’t tried it yet. However, it should act pretty much the same as traditional paper strips and paste. I usually leave my pieces near a heat register to dry overnight, but some pieces take longer if the clay is thicker in spots.

  • Hi Jonni
    I had a question about using silhouette and a grid.
    Have you ever taken a picture, say of a family pet, and then applied your grid to that?

    also, have you ever had to use a silhouette of the top down as well as side, for instance in a form that looks to be in movement, or turning to face its side?.
    hope that last question is clear.

    Mike.

    • Hi Mike. Yes, I’ve used a photo as the basis for a sculpture, and it works very well as long as the photo is taken from the side, with no foreshortening.

      I have not used a pattern that looks quite like you describe, but I do bend the patterns and twist them to give a sculpture a more dynamic posture. And I quite often cut off a head and turn it so it’s looking in a different direction. I’m working on a video showing some of these things now (a re-do of my dragon) and it should be online as soon as the clay dries.

  • Hey Jonni!
    I’m fascinated and hopeful about the results I got from following your recipe. One question: I’m using a plastic mold I made of a person’s face. It’s taking a VERY long time to dry, probably at least in part because of how thickly I lined the mold. Do you have any thoughts about whether this thing will pop OUT of the mold when it’s dry? I think getting things to actually stick to plastic is challenging. I surely do hope I haven’t discovered something that DOES stick. Opinions?

    Oh, BTW, I found that CostCo’s Kirkland brand of double-ply toilet paper ends up being 2 1/2 cups of damp, smashed paper.

    • Hi Kathy. I’ve never tried to use the clay in a plastic mold. I have used latex molds, (the faces on all the lion cubs were pre-molded before the cubs were assembled) and the clay popped out just fine when it was dry. Of course, the latex bends a bit, and that helps if there are underhangs. Also, the lay will shrink just a little, which also helps it to come out of the mold.

      The clay only needs to be 1/8 to 1/4″ thick. When it’s placed in a mold, the side towards the mold has no contact with air, so it tends to dry more slowly.

      Thanks for the tip on the CostCo brand – that sounds like a good bargain.

  • Hi there! I need to make a couple of masquerade masks but don’t want to use the store bought plastic ones; I want something that is custom-fitted to my customers’ faces! Can I use this as I would papier mache and smear it (over saran wrap of course) on their face to get the shape?

    Also, can you lightly sand this to smooth edges and bumps? Thanks so much for a great site!

    ~Paige

    • Hi Paige. I can easily answer your last question. The answer is yes, you can sand it. If you want a really smooth, porcelain-like surface, you can use a home-made gesso (1 tablespoon joint compound, 1 teaspoon Elmer’s Glue-All) and sand that between coats.

      The custom-fitting is going to be more problematic, because the product may shrink just enough to make the mask too small, or it may warp while drying. The only way to find out for sure is to do some experimenting. In other words, give it a try. And if you do, please let us know if it works or not!

      It sounds like you have a business making masks. Do you have a website so we can see them?

      • I wish I had a business! I just have fun and make things for friends and family. This will be my first foray into masks.
        Maybe I can do a traditional papier mache mold and cover it in the clay. I like the pliability option with the clay.
        Thanks!

  • Hi, thxs for sharing it, Today itself I m going to try it…but will u make it clear …whats white flour..?

  • Just in regards to your comment about not knowing if children would be likely to eat the compound or not… I am a Grade 4 teacher, and my students are not very likely to eat any kind of art material. They are 10 years old, though, so younger children (5 year old kindergarteners, for example) might be curious to see how it tastes. Hope this helps! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I’m in Canada, and I just made up a batch using Lepage White Glue from the hardware store and something called drywall filler. It seems to have worked fine so far! My grade fours will try it out tomorrow, I’ll let you know how it goes. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        • Great – we’d love to see how the projects turn out. Let us know what the kids think about using the clay, too – it would be interesting to see if they prefer the clay or traditional paper and paste.

  • I have been so excited by all the amazing things I have seen and read on your web site. Thank you so much for sharing!

    I teach a homeschooled group of youngsters each week and was planning on using your paper mache clay for my maskmaking group. I made a huge amount ahead of time last night, thinking ahead, for my Wednesday class (it was Sunday yesterday). Now I read that it may snow on Tuesday night, which may in turn cancel Wednesday. Would it be possible to save this clay in the refrigerator, freezer, or cold garage? We have not had snow all winter and what do you know (the one week I prepare for class ahead of time and not the last minute).

    What would you suggest?

    • Hi Melissa. I’ve been able to keep my clay usable for several weeks just by keeping it in a plastic container with a fitted lid. I believe the joint compound may have a mold inhibitor in it (one more reason why the clay isn’t a good material for children who are young enough to eat their art materials).

      We would all love to see the masks your group makes, so I hope you take a picture when they’re done, and share it with us.

    • Two questions today about School Glue. And the answer is no – the Elmer’s school glue won’t work. Another reader tried it, and she said the texture of the clay turned out like “tuna fish.” I know you probably have gallons of the stuff around, but it won’t work for this recipe.

  • Hi Jonni: I am a teacher in Oregon and wonder if Elmer’s School Glue is basically the same formula as Elmer’s Glue All. Can you share the brand of joint compound you use? We put on an international festival each year, during which our students create clay head puppets, cardboard castles, African huts, papier mache masks, etc. Your paper mache clay recipe looks very promising for many of our projects. Thanks for sharing so generously your creative genius!

    • Hi Elaine. As I told Monica, above (you two are on the same wave-length today) the Elmer’s School Glue won’t work for this recipe. Just as an aside, the Elmer’s Carpenters Glue doesn’t work, either. Just Elmer’s Glue All.

      I have used joint compounds from Walmart and from the local Ace Hardware store. All brands are made primarily from calcium carbonate (sold as ground marble in art stores) plus various fillers. In other countries the basic ingredient may be gypsum, another form of calcium, but I’ve been told the local brands work just fine.

      The only brand I’ve had problems with was from the local Bi-Mart store. It makes the clay just fine, but an additive in the formula prevents me from using the joint compound for my home-made gesso.

      And in case you’re wondering, you can make home-made gesso with 1 tablespoon of joint compound (most brands) and 1 teaspoon of Elmer’s glue-all. Add a dab of white acrylic paint, if you want to, and mix well. I use this gesso on my sculptures because it’s so much easier to sand than the dry paper mache clay.

  • Hi Jonni,
    This weekend was experiment weekend. I made a batch with wall paper glue and made a small bowl in which I will place a tea candle in it…So, end results are…I made it about a good 1/4 inch thick and it is very sturdy but It feels kind of chalky.The usual paper mache that I make has a wood like feel to it.
    Oh, after I formed the bowl I had realised that I forgot the flour….What exactly is the flour for? Could that be why it feels chalky? I will try another batch with the glue. Thanks for the recipe.

    • Hi Eunice. I’m afraid I can’t tell you why your clay feels chalky, since you made up your own recipe. It may be the way your wallpaper paste is reacting to the calcium in the joint compound. I’ve used several different types of glue, and the one that I found works every time is Elmer’s Glue-All. Since the joint compound by itself has no plastic in it, I’m assuming that it won’t hold up very well without Elmer’s.

      The flour is just a filler, to make the clay a little more firm. You can leave it out. I suggest you try it both ways, and see which one you like best. An

  • Hello,
    once more.

    I told you that I tried your recipe and had to wait til it has become dry. So ma result:
    At first- I think I used the false thing when searching for this joint compound.
    I used something that I descirbed: “.. that I bought is normally used to fill the space between two sheetrocks….” and it works but it was readymade and smells from the chemical ingredient like hell or living next to a chemical labor. But it was ok to work wih, no bad reaction at my hands. And I think that I was looking for was the stuff that is used for the space between that I bought is normally used to fill the space between two tiles? Maybe you could explain what it is realy used for, think then I will get a hint to finde the right thing.. I hope.
    So back to the work: the clay becames very heavy- I started to make a pig pig to and if needed I could use it a hammer ๐Ÿ˜‰
    It is realy heavy. Now I have to sand that- the ugly part of this fun.
    Maybe I will do that tomorrow, I hate sanding…
    But I want to paint it, so I have to do.

    And one more thing I found out:
    PM is the stuff my parents always warned me:”.. you could become addicted!”
    So many new ideas and not enough time.

    • Hi Erika. The joint compound is as you first described it – it’s used to smooth out the crack between pieces of wallboard. It comes pre-mixed in a plastic tub, but I’ve never bought any that smelled. It’s made primarily of calcium carbonate in this country, or another form of calcium called gypsum in some other countries. The grout that is used to fill cracks between tiles contains portland cement – which will harden before you can shape anything with it, and would be almost impossible to sand.

      I hope you show us your project when it’s done.

  • I will experiment with it and let you know how it went. I would also like to know how many layers are necessary. I decided to make a small bowl for a tee candle.
    I have been working with paper Mache for the last couple of years and have been very successful making sculptures for myself and those who have found an interest in my work. But I have never use joint compound and when I saw this recipe I decided to give it a try. Again, I will let you know how it went.
    Thanks
    I have added a photo of one of my sculptures.

    • I don’t think so. Most wall paper paste is made from some sort of starch, I think (but I’m not an expert, by any means). The Elmer’s Glue-All has a plastic in it that combines with the calcium in the joint compound, and this creates a very hard material once it dries. However, I obviously haven’t tried using wall paper paste, so I can’t say for sure. If you experiment, please let us know how it turns out.

  • Hello, I also use creative paper clay, and have been getting recipes for homemade clay online. I have noticed that baby oil has been used in some of the Cold Porcelain Clay receipes. So I am going to try to use that in place of linseed oil your paper mache clay. I have also noticed that lemon juice, witchhazel, white vineger and bleach are used to prevent mold in other clay recipes – so I will test these out and let you know! Thanks so much for your recipe!
    What did we ever do without the internet!!

    • Hi Shayla. We would love to hear how your experiments turn out. So far, I have not had any mold grow in my clay, and I’ve kept it in the bowl for up to two weeks. By that time, no matter how well I keep it covered the bits around the edges get dry, so I need to start over with a new batch.

      I discovered this morning, by accident, that the clay also works if you forget to add the flour. It’s wetter, but it spreads faster over the form, and it still dries very hard. The more we use this stuff, the more we’ll learn about it.

  • Hello, I just found your site and would like to thank you for all the wonderful information. I’ve been sculpting with a product called Creative Paperclay and although I love working with it it’s not cheap. I was hoping to find a recipe for a paperclay that I could use when building my armatures and then use the commercial brand for the detail layer. I’m wondering how your recipe compares, is it archival? Have you noticed any problems with mold since you use flour in your mix? I only ask because my collectors would be pretty upset with me if their pieces began to mold or crumble.

    • Hi Tamara. I checked your website – lovely work. I totally understand your concerns about longevity, but I’m not sure I can give definitive answers. I just made up the paper mache recipe in my kitchen, and I don’t have a laboratory. I do know that I’ve kept the wet clay in it’s container for several weeks, with no mold appearing. This could never happen with flour and water paste, which begins to “come alive” almost as soon as the water is added to the flour. The Elmer’s glue seems to inhibit mold, and the calcium carbonate or gypsum in the joint compound might be helping, too. Maybe a university student could come up with a good set of tests (anyone want to volunteer?).

      I have not done a pH test on the clay, but the high amount of calcium in the joint compound leads me to think there should be no problem with acids, although toilet paper is made with a variety of chemicals (I assume bleach is one of them) so there could be some reaction with the paint layer over time. I have not yet seen any problems yet, so I’m talking about “maybe” over a number of years.

      Crumbling should never be a problem. The joint compound itself stays on walls for as long as the walls last. When the glue is added, the recipe turns into an air-dried polymer clay, reinforced with the cellulose from the toilet paper. You do need to completely seal your finished work to keep it from getting damp. I use a matte acrylic varnish for this purpose.

      I know that commercial art supply companies have tests they use to determine how well their paints will hold up over a 100 years or so, and the tests are done in a short amount of time – they certainly don’t wait for 100 years to pass and then look to see if the paint has yellowed… So if anyone can give us some good ideas for how we can test this do-it-yourself art material, we’d love to hear your suggestions. In the meantime, I firmly believe that the paper mache clay is at least as durable as traditional paper mache.

  • hello jonni, i am a homeschool mama and we are always looking for great good quality crafts to make and keep and i stumbled across your site today and am soooo excited. we want to use the clay, we are studying s. america and are going to make some s. american toys…i have a few questions 1. do you “need” a form underneath the clay or can you just use the clay itself?? i looked at your frog tutorial and read about the gesso?? 2. is this a needed step?…3. if i do need to use the forms what tape is best to use?? i would like to do this tomorrow or thurs ..thanks for your wonderful site…keep us the great work and may the Lord bless you ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • You need a form because the clay won’t stand up by itself. I suppose you could try to manipulate a pile of paper mache clay into a shape, but I can’t imagine it working very well. I do use the clay to make really fine details, like a row of eyelashes, where the clay is very thin and has no backing, but these are only in small spots. However, I hope you won’t take my word for it – you may discover a whole new way to use the clay. (And if you do, please let us know!)

      You could build up thick and thin layers on a flat cardboard to make a topical map, of course. Thicker parts will take longer to dry. You wouldn’t have to make mountains with crumpled paper and tape first, but your project will dry a lot faster if you do.

      I use masking tape — the cheapest brands are best for this work, because they’re easier to tear. And you don’t need to use the gesso. I use it for most items that I want to have a nice smooth finish. But sometimes I don’t use gesso because I like the texture of the clay. You can use found objects to make specific textures (like the wire screening I used for elephant skin). So, the gesso issue is up to you.

      Have fun with your project. You didn’t mention how old your kids are, so I’ll go ahead and remind you that the clay is not edible, even though it looks a bit like cookie dough.

      • thanks jonni, for all your info…i have a mind flooded with ideas to do… they are 11 9 6 4 2 and baby due in june ๐Ÿ˜‰ boy.girl.girl.girl.girl love and peace. they will help me make it so i will remind them no to eat it ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Khloe. I have not tried any other type of oil, but you could do some experiments. The linseed oil dries (that’s why it’s used in oil paint) so finding another oil with that property would be difficult. If you really don’t want to use it, try making some clay without it. It will still work–it just doesn’t feel quite as nice.

  • Hi,
    first of all: thank you for the recipe and the wonderful tutorials. At the moment I started the frog and also the rabbit. For the frog I didnร‚ยดt used paper mache- I used a air-dry clay that I bought in Germany. Seems towork, at the moment I have to wait, cause it has to dry. But it looks good. The second try is the rabbit and I decided to give your paper mache clay a try and so today I bought all the things I need. It is a problem to buy Elmer Glue in Germany, so I used wood glue. It is also a problem to read about cups in a recipe, because in Germany recipes tells about l or weight. And then this mystical joint compound…
    I searched for that with Google and try to translate it and I hope I found the right thing.
    Iร‚ยดm not sure. Maybe it would be helpful when you write what it is normaly used for. The thing that I bought is normally used to fill the space between two sheetrocks.
    I made the PM clay today and it cames out fine. And because the rabbit needs more then only some pieces of newspaper I used the clay for him. Now I have to wait til it is dry too.

  • Hey, thanks for the recipe. I was wondering if this recipe actually did create a product that was hard enough to drill through without cracking?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Rahul. I believe you could drill a hole without cracking the surface of the piece. I haven’t tried it with a power tool, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. It may actually be easier to make the hole before the clay is completely dry – then you could use a Phillips-head screwdriver to make a hole, and there would be no possibility of cracking.

      If you do some experiments with the clay, to see how well it holds up to various tools, please let us know.

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