Bobcat Sculpture

Paper Mache Clay

Several years ago I developed a new recipe for a sculptural material I call “paper mache clay.” This material is so easy to use and so easy to make that I now use it exclusively for all my paper mache sculptures. The recipe has now gone “viral” and is being used by artists all over the world.

It might be a bit more accurate to call this material “home-made air-dried cellulose-reinforced polymer clay,” but that’s way too hard to say (or type!), so for now, let’s just call it paper mache clay.

Make Animal Sculptures with Paper Mache ClayThe first video below shows how to make the paper mache clay, and the second video answers some common questions that I’ve received from readers since I first developed this recipe. Below the videos you’ll find the recipe written out, and a few comments about how it’s used. (This recipe is the basis for my book “Make Animal Sculptures with Paper Mache Clay.”)

 

 

 

I usually make mine fairly thin so it can be spread over an armature like frosting, by using less flour than the recipe calls for – but you can also make it thicker, with more flour, when you want more control over the modeling process. The clay dries extremely hard when applied in a very thin layer (1/8 to 1/4″ thick), and it seems to dry much faster than traditional paper mache pulp. (And it only takes about 5 minutes to make).

Paper Mache Clay on Snow Leopard Sculpture

Paper Mache Clay on Snow Leopard Sculpture

As you can see above, the clay can be modeled into fairly fine details. Using the clay for modeling feels much more intuitive than creating sculptures with paper strips and paste, and once the clay is dry it is a pleasure to paint.

The ingredients are inexpensive, and can be found at your local grocery store and hardware store. You will need:

  • Cheap toilet paper (measure the wet paper pulp, and use 1 1/4 cups – some rolls contain more paper than needed)
  • 1 cup Joint compound from the hardware store (get premixed “regular,” that comes in a plastic tub, not the dry powder form.) (Not sure what Joint compound is, or what it’s called in your country? click here.)
    Note:  The DAP brand does not work. All other brands will work just fine.
  • 3/4 cup Elmer’s Glue-all (PVA glue)
  • 1/2 cup White Flour
  • 2 tablespoons Linseed Oil or Mineral Oil (Linseed oil contains chemicals, so mineral oil is a better choice if you’re working with kids, or if you like to get your hands in the clay)

See the video below for details on making your clay. And if you try this recipe, please let us all know what you think of it–and also please share a photo of your finished work. We’d love to see how it comes out. (Can’t see the video? See the instructions printed below).

[Edit 2/12/2011 –  If you find that your clay seems “rubbery” instead of smooth and creamy, you may need to use a different brand of joint compound. They all make their products using different formulas. Most of them work, but if you find one that doesn’t, please let us know. ]

Making Your Paper Mache Clay

Tools:

You’ll also need a large bowl, (use one with high sides so you don’t splatter clay on your cupboards), an electric mixer, a measuring cup and a tablespoon measure. To keep t he finished clay from drying out, you’ll need an air-tight container. The recipe makes approximately 1 quart of paper mache clay.

Note about Toilet Paper:

Unfortunately, the people who make toilet paper don’t expect us to turn their product into great works of art, so they see no reason to include the kind of information that would make things a lot easier for us.

I use a brand called “Angel Soft,” in the “regular” 2-ply rolls. I buy it at my local Wal-Mart. Each roll contains approximately 1 1/4 cup of paper, which I measured by wetting the paper, squeezing out the water, and then firmly squishing it into a measuring cup.

Since brands differ so much, the first time you make this recipe you should take a few minutes to find out how much paper is in the first roll. Then adjust the recipe if your brand don’t contain about 1 1/4 cup of paper. Fortunately, this is not a chemistry experiment or rocket science – if your mixture contains a little more paper than mine, or a little less, your sculptures will still be stunning.

Step 1. Fill a high-sided bowl with warm water. Remove the toilet paper from the roll and throw it into the water. Push down on the paper to make sure all of it gets wet.

Step 2. Then pick up the paper and squeeze out as much water as you can. Pour the water out of the bowl and put your paper mass back in.

Step 3. You will want to break the paper into chunks about 1″ across. This will allow your mixer to move around the pieces and break them apart.

Step 4. Add all the ingredients to the bowl and mix, using an electric mixer. The mixer will pull the fibers of the toilet paper apart and turn it into pulp. Continue to mix for at least 3 minutes to make sure all the paper has been mixed in with the other ingredients. If you still see some lumps, use a fork or your fingers (with the mixer turned off!) to break them apart, and then mix some more.

Your paper mache clay is now ready to use. It will look a bit like cookie dough – but don’t eat it!

If you don’t plan to use your clay right away, place it in an airtight container to keep it from drying out. The clay should stay usable for 5 days or more, if you keep it covered. The recipe makes about 1 quart.

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4,169 Comments

  • I am going to be trying this soon with some young people I teach. I work with teens and adults with autism so it should be interesting.

  • Hello,I am interestd in learning the art of paper mache.I stumbled on your sight and was amazed by how great your sculptures are.I am interested in trying your recipe and want to know if it would be good for minitures and sculpting on its own. I’m interested in adding figures to an HO scale model train. Any ideas or help in this aea is appreciated. Is it possible to use your recipe for such small sculptures?. I prefer mking my own cheap clay and recyclables. Thank you so muh for your time and sharing your talent. Patty

    • Hi Patty. The paper mache clay is spreadable, and it’s possible that it could be modified enough to stand up on it’s own — perhaps by using more paper in the recipe. However, this is something I’ve never tried myself. I’ve seen some wonderful little houses made with the clay, but I think the artist used a cardboard armature. This is something that needs some experimentation – if you try it and discover that it works (or that it doesn’t, even) please let us know.

  • I wanted a very quiet and well behaved dog for my new writing room. Unfortunately, mine are neither quiet or well behaved, so out of respect for my carpets, I decided to make my own dog. Thanks so much for the recipe Jonni!

    Paper Mache Dog

    • S/He’s adorable!! I think you’ve got something there. 😉 I have a little tiny dog, carved from dalmation jasper, that I call Jasper, my GOOD dog! lol!

      What did you do with the surface? Is it painted?

      • Thank you guys.

        I did paint the surface, Xan. I must confess though, I didn’t fully read Jonni’s wonderful directions before I started , so I missed the part about smoothing the clay out once it was applied. My surface was NOT smooth. I sanded it as best I could, then applied a layer of spackle to help smooth it. That worked great.

        The paint is a layer of yellow acrylic which nearly blinded me with its brightness, then a layer of white acrylic wash to help calm that down, then a layer of brown acrylic wash pulled up in places with a dry rag.

        • Spackle! Introducing a whole new household product to the mix! LOL!

          I like the way the finish is mottled and irregular. It’s very organic. I really love this piece! 🙂

          • And take note, folks. Xan’s a true expert when it comes to dog art, so her kudos mean a lot. Congratulations, Janee. Your pup has made quite an impression on us all!

        • Hi everyone!
          Just want to confirm the importance of spreading the clay with a wet knife. It makes clay very smooth and allow to be sure that the clay is on contact with the surface underneath plus it takes less clay than just pressign it on the surface.

          I’m working on a new Pepakura based futuristic helmet (which I modelised myself) and I need very smooth and angular surface (since it’s not an organic model).

          I will post a picture as soon as I can.

  • Hi Jonni!
    Thank you for the wonderfull «papier mâché» clay recipe. I fond it very usefull in my Pepakura sculpting works. Here’s a picture of the shell of my unfinished Shrek head. I have some detail to add and some sanding to do but I’m happy of the result I get.

    Great work of your’s!

    Pepakura/Paper Mache Head

  • I am an airbrush artist, and I airbrushed the egg first and decided I wanted a dragon or dinosaur in it. I looked at sever diffrent media, then someone suggested paper mache, looking on the internet I found your web page and paper mache clay. I loved working with it and I think my first try was pretty good. I have since made more creations I will post later. thank you for your great website.

  • Hi Jonni, Yes you’re right I added salt to your TP clay recipe to retard any mold that may want to start because I mixed up a fairly large batch and store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator. It turns out I was interrupted for about 2 months and did not touch any of my PM projects but I’m happy to say, having just checked the batch in the fridge, it is still viable and mold free.

    I did get to use it before I was interrupted and can report it dries hard and firm with NO friability evident anywhere. I mentioned in post number 36 above the two experiments I did with my “Porcelain” recipe exchanging Karo Light Corn Syrup and Glycerin with little difference, both dried hard and sanded well. In fact with a fine jewelers metal file I was able to get a kind of “polished finish” on both. I was surprised.

    I now have experimental and practical evidence (not just speculation) that the less expensive and easier to find Karo Syrup works well to replace linseed oil in your TP clay recipe, at least for me.

    A few thoughts on the potential confusion about wire gage “standards”, there are many of them.

    Listed below are different standards for wire gauges and using your 16 gauge wire as an example the actual diameter follows the various standards. This is a bit “in the weeds” but may be helpful to some people and reduce confusion.

    For 16 gauge wire:
    1. American Or Brown & Sharp = 0.0508“
    2. Birmingham or Stubbs Iron Wire = 0.065“
    3. U.S. Standard = 0.0625“
    4. American Steel & Wire Co. = 0.0625“

    Bob C.

    • Thanks, Bob. As always, your help is much appreciated. I’m quite excited about the ability to “polish” the clay, although I might not have the patience to actually do it myself. Do you have any recent photos of your work?

      • Hi Jonni, I have two works in progress (WIP) using a variation of your TP clay and have attached a picture as requested. One is the head of a serpent and the other is an abstraction of the human form. My 1st attempt at sculpting the human form.

        Paper Mache Figure and Serpent Head

        • Bob, it looks like you’ve made a great start on your human – and I’m quite intrigued by your serpent. I haven’t built up the courage to tackle an open-mouthed beast, myself. Do you have any pointers for us?

          • Hi Jonni, Not being particularly familiar with the shape of a serpents head and its opened or closed mouth I went online to find as many relevant images I could find. The main observation I made was the closed mouth, when seen from the top, had the basic shape of a somewhat shortened arrowhead, a very muscular arrow head at that.

            The open mouth was remarkably open and almost unhinged if opened enough, very much slimmer and no longer looking like an arrowhead at all. So the idea was to decide how open and slimmer I wanted and how to capture the transition from the shorter triangle shape to a longer, slimmer and more open position. This says nothing about finding out and then modeling what is seen inside this gaping mouth. The attached picture above show the lower jaw just pushed in place to give me an idea of the proportions…. Still a WIP.

  • Good point , but no worries as they are beyond the eating everything stage (thankfully). They are really creative and always looking for things to try. Into dragons at this time and want to make one like they one we saw on your site. I’m just trying to stay 1 step ahead of them!

  • Question: If the linseed oil or the glycerin in to help with the manipulation, could baby oil be used in lieu of either of the above products (to eliminate concerns of availability or safety or cost)?

    A possible idea: I have done a lot of sculpting in cement and found that if I mixed the dry pigments into the wet cement mixture (to get the color throughout the mix, it tended to dry out really quicky and made it more difficult to sculpt. I started to vary this by getting the main sculpting completed and then in the final process/layering of a thin cement paste mixture, I would dip my fingers into the pigment and then quickly “paint” it over the surface. Then I might lightly sand off a bit, add a light layer, etc. This gave a really interesting effect, kind of like layers of rock of varying types/colors look. And with the animals it did the same thing, looked like the natural variations in fur/hair coloring. Just thought I’d throw this out there in case anyone wants to try this.


    • Hi Nikki. I don’t know what oil they put in baby oil. It might work, but I haven’t tried it. Linseed oil is a drying oil. That’s why it’s been used for centuries in oil paints. Will baby oil dry? Don’t know. If you try it, please let us know how it turns out.

      The painting idea sounds interesting. I do know that pigments added to concrete will affect it’s strength and set-up time, which you mention. I use a similar technique to “stain” my sculptures, when I want a natural-looking, uneven coat of color. I mention it in my video about the African elephant I made with paper mache clay. The process can’t be completely controlled, and I think that’s why I like it. I haven’t tried using powdered pigment over wet paper mache clay, but I imagine you could get some very interesting results. Do you have a website where we can see your concrete sculptures? I’d love to see them.

      • No web site (yet!) but I’ll let you know if/when that ever happens. If you’d like, I can try to send you a couple of photos.

        I’ll try the baby oil and see what happens. Since the linseed oil is also for drying purposes, it might not work, but then, again, glycerin isn’t for drying, either. Who knows the possibilites out there! I just need to make sure that this is safe for my grandkids to be using.

        • You can add a photo from your desktop here in the comment section – then everyone can see your work.

          Before giving the paper mache clay to your grandkids, read the label on the joint compound. It isn’t edible, so I don’t recommend the clay for very young kids, with or without linseed oil.

  • hi I was wondering how you make the gesso alot of other sites say to boil and do other stuff how do you make it….just mix it all together or what ? just need some help on that one……
    thanks

    • I just mix it up, myself. However, I haven’t tried any of those other recipes you mention – I haven’t even seen them. So I don’t know if my way of doing it is better or not. If you do try one of those other recipes, please let me know how it turns out.

  • Please revise the above to read:

    Joint compound: is used in “taping and floating” drywall. It is applied over the tape spanning the joints between sheets of gypsum wall board, commonly known as “sheetrock”. And the whole wall is called “drywall” because the assembly of the wall does not require water the way a plaster wall would. The gypsum (plaster) has been preformed into a board/sheet with paper on both sides.

  • Jonni, glad I found your website. I haven’t tried any recipes yet, but I have a couple of bits of information for clarity and a question.

    General Info:
    (for readers without construction materials background or in other countries)

    Wire: The number of the wire is the gauge; the smaller the number the larger (and, therefore, stiffer) the wire. Think of it as the denominator of a fraction: a quarter (1/4) is larger than an eighth (1/8). 1/12 is larger than 1/16. And #12 wire is larger in diameter than #16. And different metals are stiffer than others … copper, aluminum, iron, steel. And for larger projects, electrical conduit and/or any number of metal lath materials used for plaster walls, corners, and shapes, plus coat hangers, or tie wire for concrete reinforcing rods (rebar).

    Joint compound: is for filling the joints between sheets of gypsum wall board, commonly known as “sheetrock”. And the whole wall is called “drywall” because the assembly of the wall does not require water the way a plaster wall would. The gypsum (plaster) has been preformed into a board/sheet with paper on both sides.

    Elmer’s glue: (which in the U.S. we say the same way we say Kleenex to mean facial tissue) is as you noted a version of PVA. Its common name in construction is either white glue or carpenter’s glue, which sometimes is yellowish.

    Glycerin is indeed generally found in the laxative section of the pharmacy. (Our grandmothers also talked of “castor oil for that what ailed you,” but I am NOT recommending it for this use!) In other crafts, glycerin is used as a retardant, e.g. to keep paint (acrylics) from drying out too quickly. But for that application, it is used in very small quantities, just a drop or two for a quart of paint.

    And that raises a question in my mind about the advisability of using Karo syrup as a substitute for glycerin — not that you have recommended it, but since a reader did. I’m wondering if the high fructose corn syrup, although increasing malleability, and maybe stickiness, while working with the paper mache clay, might be a problem when dries into sugar … or does the stuff ever dry?!?

    Thanks again for being so generous with your information through this website. I hope these comments help someone as well.

    P.S. Does WordPress provide a way to post a blog in reverse chronological order? I’ve seen that done elsewhere, and when I land on the page the most recent questions and answers are at the top.

    • Hi Jean. Thanks for your definitions and explanations about the joint compound and glue – I know it will be helpful to people who aren’t compulsive remodelers, like I seem to be.

      You have an interesting point about the Karo syrup. I’m sure it does dry, since it must just be corn sugar mixed with water. But the sugar would be attractive to fungi and bacteria, which may be the reason Bob uses a bit of salt in his recipe.

      The white flour normally used in paper mache paste is also a refined carbohydrate that makes great food for tiny critters, so the Karo probably wouldn’t be any more attractive to mold than regular paper mache, once it dried. More experiments need to be done. I’m still hoping a high school class will take on some of the experiments so they can be a bit more scientific than I tend to be.

      And I’m not sure if there’s a way to make last comments show up at the top of the page. That would be particularly helpful on this blog, I think. I’ll do a search and find out.

  • Just tried making a batch and it worked.
    I didn’t use any form for my first sculpture which is a Koi.
    I found out when it hardens it ‘s pretty solid.In fact you can sand it smooth, I even used a Dremel tool to sand some areas and it held up fine.
    I’ll send some pics after I paint my sculpture. Thanks for the recipe!

  • I noticed on this blog at the top you mention to get the regular joint compound. I unknowingly purchased the lightweight. What is the problem with using the lightweight? Also what wire do you use, guage, material, etc.? I have problems finding anything heavier than a 12 guage, which isn’t too sturdy.

    • Hi Nikki. I do use the regular joint compound, but my dad used the lightweight version, and his chicken came out just fine. I would go ahead and use the stuff you already bought.

      On my latest little chicken I used 16 gauge tie wire, which is quite flexible. Since the sculpture was very small, it still worked out OK. When I need the lightweight wire to be sturdier I double or triple it. However, I usually have the wire over a crumpled paper armature, so the strength isn’t that important.

  • Hello again Jonni,

    I have been away for a while but I remember talking to you about this issue before you changed your web page to this nice blog format.

    I was making a modified “Porcelain” recipe..

    4? ?Parts PVA
    1? ?Part Karo Light Corn Syrup? ?OR? ?1? ?part Glycerin
    8? ?Parts Wallboard compound
    2? ?Parts Acrylic paint
    7? ?Parts General Purpose Flour

    I made it twice, once with Glycerin and once with Karo Light Corn Syrup both worked well but RiteAid Glycerin was difficult to find and relatively expensive at 4$ for only 6 OZ.

    Karo Light Corn Syrup is safe (we can eat it) cost much less than Glycerin for a bigger 16 OZ bottle and is easy to find.

    I used Karo Light Corn Syrup to replace linseed oil in your Toilet Paper Clay recipe because I didn’t have any linseed oil.

    It worked well. I’m still making my model with this Toilet Paper Clay recipe (that too was interrupted as well as my visits here). The PM clay looks great and works well. Also I like to add salt (1 heaping teaspoon of salt to your basic recipe) as a preservative and know you think it corrodes but it has worked well in my experience.

    Just wanted to mention the Karo Light Corn Syrup replacement for linseed oil…

    Thanks for this great place to learn and share about PM.

    Bob C.

    • Thanks, Bob. This is great news. I went to every store in town to find glycerin, and it is expensive. And the salt idea is good for people who live in more humid areas. I’ll put a link to your comment on my latest post so people are sure to see it.

  • Wonderful! Thank you very much for that!
    Haha, I had to use that glue quite a bit for many of my primary school projects. Thanks for searching that up for me.
    I shall give it a try then, when I’m not swamped with Uni assignments….grrr!
    Have a lovely day!

  • Just read your article and I love the idea of your clay!
    I’m wanting to make a mask just for fun, and am thinking of paper mache-ing it. Do you think I could make a mask using your mache clay recipe?

    And I would like to also ask, is the Elmer’s glue a very specific type of glue? I come from Australia and I’ve never come across such a name for a glue. Would using PVC glue be the same thing?

    Either way, thanks for the recipe!
    Have a lovely day!

    • Elmer’s Glue-All appears to be a PVA glue with some modifications to the formula. However, whatever PVA-type glue happens to be available in Australia should work as well. Just to make sure, buy the smallest container you can find and do a test batch to see if the clay works the way you want it to. I did an online search and found Clag Hobby Glue, a PVA glue that might work. But the only way to know for sure is to give it a try.

  • Yay! I KNEW it would work! I have been experimenting this weekend with glycerin and the crushed marble powder. It is pretty smooth, but somewhat sticky. Didn’t know if I should add more toilet paper….

  • It was in the pharmacy section, although I couldn’t be more specific. When I asked one of the sales people, she went right to it and gave me a bottle. I know that I asked at the grocery store and they told me to look in the laxative section! Sheesh!
    I suppose because of glycerin suppositories. I’ll check tomorrow at Rite Aid and let you know where it is there.

    • Great, Ginny. What department did you find it in, and what other items were near it on the shelf? If I have that info, I should be able to pick some up at my local store (their pharmacy clerk wasn’t able to help last time I tried).

      • OK – I found the glycerin at RiteAid, next to the peroxide, for about the same price quoted by Ginny. I made up a batch of clay using about 2 tablespoons of the glycerin instead of the linseed oil. So far, it’s working very well. The clay feels good and it was very easy to apply a thin, smooth layer. I’m making a baby chick right now (I have chickens on the brain at the moment). I should be posting a full tutorial about the chick in the next few days so you can see how the new mixture worked out. It’s nice and warm outside so it shouldn’t take long to dry in this weather. Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions about using the glycerin in the paper mache clay – it does smell better, and the cap was way easier to open:)

  • I started already on this piece but will try epoxy on my next project that will include moscics. I’ll have to learn about apoxy-sculpt, I never heard of it. Thanks Rhet!

  • If I wanted to add objects to a piece like buttons, beads, glass etc, do you know if the clay alone would support the weight or would I need to glue these pieces to the form and try to mold the clay around them?

      • I’m using 2-part expoxy putty to hold the glass pieces in my current project. If I’d planned better, I’d have used Apoxi-Sculpt, but instead I’m soldiering on with just the log epoxy from the hardware store…

  • Thanks everyone for the tips! I think I am going to go with the marble from Blick, and the glycerin. f you have a Michael’s or an AC Moore close by, the glycerin is found in the Wilton baking supplies section. It runs $2.49 – $2.79 for a 2-ounce bottle. Have to check Rite Aid.

  • How about white tempera paint? It is white, is a powder, wouldn’t be toxic. It’s a powder, like flour would be. Keep trying to get away from anything with food. I figure that will contribute to the longevity of the pieces.

    • Yes, that should work. Since the flour is only used as a filler, almost anything that absorbs moisture would work, and the tempera paint would make the clay nice and white. I don’t have any on hand, so if you try it, please let us know how it turns out.

        • You might want to test this on something you don’t care about first. If what you have is powdered poster paints, the sizing might not be a problem, but tempera might have egg in it. My containers don’t list ingredients, but maybe yours do? It’s the sizing that might be the issue, bottom line.
          From Wikipedia: “Tempera, also known as egg tempera, is a permanent fast drying painting medium consisting of colored pigment mixed with a water-soluble binder medium (usually a glutinous material such as egg yolk or some other size).”
          And: “Poster paint is a tempera paint that usually uses a type of gum-water or glue size as its binder. It either comes in large bottles or jars or in a powdered form. It is normally a “cheap” paint used in theatrical backdrops or in grade school art classes.”

          • Thanks for the ideas, Xan. And yes – always experiment when you play around with the recipe, on something that isn’t terribly important. I’m amazed at how many times I’ve assumed something would work, when it doesn’t.

  • This may be far fetched but aren’t suppositories made out of glycerin??? I know that I have used them before when something called for glycerin, I just melted them down.

    Just wanted to say I love your blog and I can’t wait to try your recipe.

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