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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. The video above is an update, just to give you a better idea about how to actually use the clay. The original video is below, and if you scroll down you’ll find the recipe in written form, as well.

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

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

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

How to Use Your Paper Mache Clay

I usually make mine fairly thin by using less flour than the recipe calls for, so it can be spread over an armature like frosting,  – but you can also add more flour to make it thicker when you want more control over the modeling process. The clay dries extremely hard when applied in a very thin layer (1/8 to 1/4″ thick), and it seems to dry much faster than traditional paper mache pulp. Even with a thin layer, you’ll need to give it plenty of time to dry, just like regular paper strips and paste.

Paper Mache Clay on Snow Leopard Sculpture
Paper Mache Clay Made Thick Enough for Modeling Details

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

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

The Recipe for Paper Mache Clay

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

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

See the video below for details on making your clay. And if you try this recipe, please let us all know what you think of it–and also please share a photo of your finished work. We’d love to see how it comes out.

(Can’t see the video? See the instructions printed below).

Making Your Paper Mache Clay

Tools:

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

Note about Toilet Paper:

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

I use a brand called “Angel Soft,” in the “regular” 2-ply rolls. I buy it at my local Wal-Mart. Each roll contains approximately 1 1/4 cup of paper, which I measured by wetting the paper, squeezing out the water, and then firmly squishing it into a measuring cup. They change things sometimes, so you’ll still want to measure the wet paper. And if you find a brand that’s cheaper, go ahead and buy it – the brand doesn’t matter at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Hi there! My first couple of batches of the clay did not have linseed oil in them,
    because I couldn’t get the cap off of the container! lol! Yesterday. I took the can back to the local hardware store where I had purchased it, and you should all of the strong men grapple with the cap. No one could remove it! Finally, with the assistance of a huge pair of pliers, it came off. This is a volatile substance, so I wanted to give a heads up to everyone – do not use a rag with it, and then crumple it up somewhere. You could end up with spontaneous combustion! EEWW!

    Because of the volatility of linseed oil, I was wondering if using glycerine would do the trick. Since the linseed is for greater “manipulation” with the clay for finer detail, I was thinking that glycerine could do the same thing, and without the dangers. I used to make a type of dough with glycerine, and it was quite smooth.
    Any thoughts on this??????

    • Hi Ginny. I’m glad I’m not the only one who had a problem with that cap! I finally resorted to using a pair of pliers. And yes, you do need to be careful with those oily rags. I don’t recommend ever using a rag with any drying oil.

      The glycerin idea sounds very interesting. Where do you buy it? I’d love to give it a try, since the linseed oil is the one ingredient in the clay that causes the most concern. Do you buy it at a pharmacy?

      • Years ago, my Mom and I used to make bread dough for sculpting – it had white bread crumbs, glue and glycerine. I used to buy it at a drug store in a little bottle. You figure that it has to be safe, because it is in products such as hand soap and lotion. My gut told me this would work for your recipe, and there wouldn’t be the danger of the linseed oil.

        Funny about the cap! I wish you could have seen these guys yesterday. At first it was — let us big strong men help the little lady, and then when no one could do it, they went and pulled another can from the shelf. That wouldn’t open either, so they resorted to pliers!

        • Thanks, Ginny. I’ll buy some today and give it a try.

          That is funny about the cap. I wonder why they haven’t redesigned it – we obviously aren’t the only ones who can’t get the darn thing open. But maybe if the glycerin works, we won’t have to worry about it any more.

          • Hi Ginny. I’ve looked in several local stores, and still no luck. The clerks say “I’m sure it’s here somewhere….” but after much time spent looking, we give up. I’ll order some online, and I know several other people already have it on hand and they’ll be trying it, too. Frankly, I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t work, but we can’t know until we try.

  • Hi,i wonder if i most use elmers glue?
    Becouse i’ve moved to sueden and i got no idea of where
    to Find that glue.

    • Ask your local hardware store for a “PVA glue.” Buy the smallest container that they carry, and give it a try. The Elmer’s brand is not available in most countries, but you can get a PVA glue almost everywhere.

  • Hi! I am an artist based in New York (frankiewaite.tumblr.com) and I generally work 2D, however with all this summer time on my hands I’m trying to venture out and get my hands dirty. I can’t wait to use this clay, but I do have one question; How will it dry if it is not spread thin? I used to do some terracotta and kiln fire clayworks, so I’m really wondering if I have to work strictly off the base I create first, or if I can use this as an actual clay.
    Danke!
    Frankie.

    • Hi Frankie. The paper mache clay is a substitute for the traditional paper strips and paste, so it does need to go over a form. It won’t hold a shape by itself the way real clay does. You can make thick layers, but you’ll need to make sure it dries all the way through, which takes a long time if it’s thicker than 1/4 inch. It dries on the outside first, so it can appear to be dry even when the inside is still damp.

  • I would like to know how many layers of the paper mache clay you need to put on….or do you just put one on? I am making a Moose head to go on the wall above the fireplace. It is very large, approx 3 feet by 3 feet. I have made the form with a wire mesh, and then newspaper and masking tape. I have a little more masking taping to do and then I plan to go ahead the get the clay or paper mache on. Another question I had, was about the sanding. Do you do that by hand? And what is the grade of sand paper to use? I know, so many question!!

    • Hi Nancy. I usually put on one layer of paper mache clay. Since you have a wire armature to support your clay, that should be enough. It sounds like a fantastic project!

      I do sand by hand, and I use whatever sandpaper I have around at the time. I try to smooth the clay as much as possible while applying it so I don’t have to sand very much. Also, the home-made gesso helps to smooth out any small bumps, and it can be “sanded” with a lightly damp sponge – no dust.

      I hope you let us see your moose when he’s done.

  • I know the goal with this recipe is to make a paper-based clay, but I’m wondering if you could use this recipe with other paper types [say, strips from a shredder] to make a solid form . I realize that the effect would not be smooth or sculptable as the paper clay with toilet paper, but for my purpose, having the strips of paper [and the print on them] be visible is perfectly fine.

    So, would I soak the paper strips in water, squeeze out, and then dip into the joint compound/flour/etc mix?

    • Hi Rhet. I’ve never tried any other type of paper, but it should work. It would be different, of course, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m wondering, though, if you could get a solid form to dry completely through the middle.

      • Oh, I’ll use a cardboard form underneath — I just want to laminate it with the strips of paper for a few thin layers. If the project turns out well, I’d be happy to send you a picture!

        Thank you for responding — it’s a great website, and you are very generous with your expertise!

  • Hi there! I used your Paper Mache Clay recipe to make a mask last month. It turned out very nice, and was super strong even though it was pretty thin in some places. I messed up the recipe a little and used whole wheat flour instead of white flour. It made the clay a little grainy and left a lot of yellowish spots, but once it was dry it made no difference. I wouldn’t recommend it, though.

    I documented it all on my personal blog. There are some more pictures of the finished thing, as well as many pictures in-progress. Also a gazillion words. I ramble relentlessly. Here are the mask-specific posts:
    http://leamony.blogspot.com/search/label/mask

    Paper Mache Mask

  • I’m wondering about the use of some type of colorant added to the paper clay. Have you tried this? What would your recommend?

    • I have used both natural powdered pigments and acrylic paint to color the clay. Both of them worked just fine. I think any water-based colorant would color the clay. It will dry somewhat lighter than it looks when it’s wet.

  • Sorry for my bad english, but I’m italian.

    I’d like to ask you a question. In this paper-mache recipe you put the toilet paper in the warm water for few time. But in a lot of other recipes they usually put it in the wather for a night, and after they boid that water for 20 minutes.
    is it the same?

    • The paper in the toilet paper available here in the States instantly dissolves when it’s placed in water. I know some people go to much more trouble to boil the water, or soak it for a long time, but I’ve never seen any need to do that. You might try it my way (which is much easier) and if it doesn’t work, go ahead and soak the paper longer next time.

      Enjoy!

  • Hi… I am really excited to try your compound. I have used paper clay and paper mache as well as joint compound for sculpting. I have also used Durham’s Wood Putty… which is a powder that you add to water. It is NOT plaster of paris and dries hard with the color of wood. I have used that with glue mixed in but never thought of adding paper. I make dolls and need something I can sculpt that will air dry that is cheaper than paper clay. So I am going to try this. Hopefully I can do it soon and send you a picture. thank you so much.

  • i like the idea of your new clay recipe- but will it work with bowls?
    i want to make a paper mache bowl that is thick enough to hold fruit etc- that i can paint on but id like it to look really smooth- i have made a bowl with newspaper strips then adding loo roll pulp then strips again.
    to be honest- it looks a bit lumpy looking and thick- im sure i could do a strong one thats thinner- i was planning to smooth it out with my hands but the pulp didnt even out too well- will your pulp give me a nice smooth finish for a bowl? and if i use it do i put pulp straight on the bowl or strips first like i did last time? id appreciate your help im going bowl mad.
    its in my blog, i think ive mentioned your recipe kin my blog and hopefully put a link in- if i havent mentioned you by name in connectionn with your recipe let me know- but i only have 18 followers on my blog- most of them dont read it!

    • Hi Rosielee. yes, you can get a very smooth finish. I’ve never used the clay over a form that has no give at all, so there is a possibility that the slight shrinkage during drying will cause the clay to crack. But there’s only one way to find out – give it a try!

      To smooth the clay, dampen your knife and run the flat side over the newly spread clay. You can use a home-made sandable gesso to make it even smoother, if you want.

  • Hi Jonni,
    Thank u very much.I will follow ur suggestions and surely try with the clay.
    Thank u once again for such a wonderful recipe

    Rgds….
    Jaya

  • If you were going to use the paper mache clay and create a large rabbit head as seen in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, what would you use as a form? Would this clay adhere to an inflated balloon?

    • Hi Tim. I’m not sure if the clay will stick to a balloon. I never use balloons for my armatures – I think it’s much easier to wad up some old newspapers into the general shape you want and cover it with masking tape. The clay will stay on the tape, although you can remove the paper and tape from the inside of the piece after it dries, if you need your sculpture to be hollow.

      A rabbit head would be one large ball, with a smaller ball taped to the front for the muzzle. You can make ears out of cardboard, but if it’s going to be large, reinforce the ears with wire around the edges. Then tape the ears firmly to the larger ball in the right spots, and cover with your paper mache clay. Move the clay around with your knife or modeling tool to make the eyes and nose, and you’ve got yourself a rabbit. Enjoy!

  • Hi Jonni,

    Thank u very much for the reply,and please forgive me for such a belated reply.
    I will try with cornstarch.But regarding joint compound i m not aware of the names u gave.May i use plaster of paris as joint compound, if it is good to use please let me know the consistency.By the way i live in India,so please tell me about joint compound name here.For white glue can i use fevicol?

    THANKS in advance,Jonni

    • Jaya, I don’t know what joint compound is called in India. It isn’t the same as Plaster of Paris, which will harden very fast, and you won’t have time to work with it. You might try the terms “drywall filler” or “joint filler” when you go to the hardware store. I’m also not sure if fevicol will be a good substitute for the Elmer’s Glue All brand we have here. The only way to find out is to buy the smallest container you can find, and do some experimenting. Unfortunately, the formulas for all these products is a little different with every manufacturer and every country, so we just need to try things out and see what works. Good luck.

    • Hi Katie. The length of time it takes to dry depends on a lot of variables – like how warm or humid it is at the time, how thick the clay is applied, etc. It can dry hard in two days, in perfect conditions.

      Enjoy,

  • Here is the inside of the Treasure Chest in case you were wondering what it looks like. I use vintage fabrics from India on this one!

  • Well here Iam again to let you know that I make some Treasure Chests with your wounderful recipe and I send you some pictures, hope you like them!.Iwish God bless you always for all the knowledge you give for free !!

  • Hi JONNI

    Thank u very much for the info.Plz let me know what is joint compound and white flour,is it cornstarch or wheat flour

    Rgds…..
    Jaya

    • Hello Jaya. The white flour is made from wheat, but cornstarch would probably work just as well. You might need to adjust the amounts to get the consistency you want. The joint compound is used in the construction trade – I put a list of terms that are used for this product in other countries on the paper mache book page, and that might help when you talk to the clerk at your local hardware store.

  • Jonni,
    Please forgive me if I asked you this before. I’m afraid I have a terrible memory. What is your opinion about utilizing used dryer softener sheets in paper mache, instead of paper strips? I am always looking for ways to recycle stuff, and thought the sheets might make the paper mache more like fiberglass when dry… Any thoughts from your end? I love, love, love your site! Thanks for your consideration.
    Ann

    • Hi Ann. I don’t know if the dryer sheets would work or not. The only real issue would be whether or not the paste or glue you used actually sticks to them. I don’t know what they’re made out of, but if you can come up with a paste that works, you should have a super-strong “paper” mache. If you try it, please let us know how it works.

      • This is kind of an old comment, but I want to mention that there’s a good deal of evidence to suggest that dryer sheets contain neurological toxins, and are “unsafe at any speed”. The fragrances alone can be nearly impossible to get rid of, from your fabrics or your machine. One might want to research them before continuing with any project involving them.

        • Good points, Xan. I haven’t tried this idea, but I did try another reader’s idea about using baby wipes. I worried about what the things are made out of, since they seem to be indestructible. I wasn’t happy with them as paper substitutes for paper mache, and then I started worrying about zillions of them in landfills. They probably have a 1,00-year half-life (and dryer sheets probably do, too.) Back in the day, I actually used a washrag and warm water to wash my baby’s bottom. And cloth diapers — but I always have been a revolutionary.

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