Paper Mache Recipes, Tips, Techniques, and Experiments

Paper Mache Clay



Several years ago I developed a new recipe for a sculptural material I call “paper mache clay.”

This material is so easy to use and so easy to make that the recipe has now gone “viral” and is being used by artists all over the world. The video above is an update, just to give you a better idea about how to actually use the clay. The original video is below, and if you scroll down you’ll find the recipe in written form, as well.

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

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

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

How to Use Your Paper Mache Clay

I usually make mine fairly thin by using less flour than the recipe calls for, so it can be spread over an armature like frosting,  – 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 in the recipe so it dries smoother and it’s easier to sand.


Baby Giraffe Print

 

If you like animal art, check out Jonni’s new Baby Giraffe print. It will make you smile.

 


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.

Important note:

I’m often asked if it’s possible to waterproof a sculpture made with this recipe, so the sculpture can be left outside. I’ve tried a lot of products to see if I could find one that would work, and they have all failed miserably. This recipe is intended for use inside only.

For outdoor sculptures, I recommend the use of epoxy clay. Watch this video to see how I made a made of a squirrel sculpture that has been sitting outside in Minnesota weather for a year now, including unrelenting weeks of rain and -30° winter temps, and it’s still doing just fine.

 



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4,506 Comments

  • What is the latest paper Mache clay recipe? This one does not include corn starch. Is corn starch still recommended? Thanks so much for the valuable information and help.

    • Hi Virgil. There are two different recipes. This one is the original paper mache clay recipe, and although I’ve tried to improve it occasionally, I keep coming back to this one. The other recipe, the one that contains corn starch, is the smoother air dry clay recipe. You use it the same way as this one, by applying a thin coat over an armature. It isn’t as sticky, and it’s smoother.

      I’ve recently changed some things here on the site to help make it easier to find things. If you click on the Art Library link at the top the site, and then choose the link that appears under Paper Mache Recipes, you’ll see all of the current recipes. Let me know what you think of the change.

  • I’m going to give this a shot. My daughter and I are doing this for the first time and we’re using the traditional paper strips. But I want to finish our project with the clay. Your videos were extremely helpful and answered a lot of questions. Thanks! We are making Christmas ornaments to give to our relatives. Hopefully they turn out OK.

  • HI Jonni, thanks for the recipe. I will translate in French and add it here for others French speaking people.
    I can’t find the oil, can I use Baby oil? Like in cold porcelain? Will it work. Thanks for replying.

  • Hi Jonni

    Thanks. Those were the pictures I was trying to send. My son had to re-size them for me. Otherwise I’d still be trying and feeling foolish. I really got into making fairy houses this summer and can’t stop. Most of them are stone and wood. Thanks again.

    Carmen

  • Jonni,
    How do you think your clay recipe will work with shredded paper rather than toilet paper? I can get a ton of it for free.

    • Many people have tried it, and they say it works just fine. The paper just needs to be soaked longer to get the fibers to come apart, and you’ll need to mix it longer.

      • Fantastic, thank you for the quick reply. Your work and that of your guests have truly inspired me to push myself.

    • No, sorry. Are you getting an error message? It’s usually a problem of file sizes. Your camera may be set to save photos at print quality, which is way too big for the Web. Did you try one of the photo resizing tips at the top of the page?

  • Why does the DAP joint compound not work? Is there a quick substitute to replace it with? I’m using this for a mask for a school project and I just want someone to smooth up the surface for when I paint it

    • A ingredient in their formula, probably boron for fire protection and mold reduction, creates a Flubber-like product when mixed with Elmer’s glue. You don’t want your paper mache clay to act like bits of rubber. A only substitute is drywall joint compound that is not made by DAP, and the easiest way to find some is to go to the paint department of Wal-Mart.

  • I don’t see DAP written on the container, I will try what you recommended. I would have added more oil.
    What is the purpose of the Oil in the ingredients?

  • Hi Jonni, I Love your blog. I have made several PM pieces using the paste….n I Love it.
    I tried missing the Clay (first time doing this), to make that Lovely Tomte, and somehow I added too much or not enough of something. It came out too thick. When I try spreading it over the foil it’s not sticking too well to the foil, but to itself it starts to ball together. Please Help….could I fix it (get it smoother), but adding Something or more of one of the ingredients?

    • Hi. Is there any possibility that you used the DAP brand joint compound to make your paper mache clay? The mixture of their brand of drywall joint compound and glue turns into rubber. Does that sound like what’s happening?

      If not, you can add more of the drywall joint compound and glue (the sticky parts) and mix again long enough to make sure your paper completely disintegrates. Let us know if that helps.

  • Hi joni,
    I can not get the right transalition for joint compound in Dutch
    I Did see the link but stil not clear wat jou recep is
    So the project was unfortunally not succesful.

    • You might try asking at your hardware store for Drywall Joint Compound, or the product that is used to fill the gaps between two pieces of drywall when making walls. If the product is available there, they should be able to help.

    • I live in the Netherlands and used ‘Kant & Klaar Plamuur’. (soms in de aanbieding in de supermarkten)
      And even with Alabastine (the powdered version you first have to prepare with water) ‘muurvuller’ it works.

  • Sorry, I tried to post a picture but it was indicated they were too large. I’ll try again. The tree in the middle is not painted yet. The tree on the right is a vase.

  • I have made 2 trees and a fairy house with your paper mache clay and was curious as to why you said the unused clay would only last about a week. Love working with it.

    • In some areas, where there’s lots of humidity and spores in the air, the paper mache clay can start to go sour after a few days. It lasts longer if you put it in the fridge, and indefinitely (or so I’ve been told) in the freezer. But if you haven’t had any problems with this yourself, don’t worry about it.

      By the way, I would love to see those trees and your fairy house. Do you have some photos you could share here on the blog?

  • I told you I would show you my finished Santa. The old recipe that I added cornstarch too worked a charm! Thank you!

  • Hi there. I live in Turkey and I cannot seem to find the ready mixed joint compound they seem to use powdered satin plaster powder over here when doing dry plaster walls. Do you have any other ideas or recipes for powdered plaster. Thanks

    • Hi Vickky. I know that the product is not available in some countries. However, you could make traditional paper pulp. The best site for information about that mixture is http://www.papiermache.co.uk/ – they have tons of tutorials and many of them are about making sculptures with paper pulp, with no drywall joint compound required.

  • Hi Jonni,
    I have started making an ambitious sculpture with your tutorials about paper mache. It is a first time for me, but still I expect a good result anyway, somehow I lean on your advises. I made the skeleton with steel wire, net and cartoon, shaped the form in the basic paper mache method. I now plan, after covering with 5-6 layers to finish it with paper mache clay.
    The question is when do I make final details and how thick paper mache clay can I use for that, will it dry safely. Or I should make it in layers if I want to correct or add some details.
    I am making female figures and faces are in question.
    At this moment I dont know all the steps forward so it is a real adventure, just hope it will be successful. The problem is , without having previous experience, to enable joints for final additions/ details on proper spots.
    I will send you some photos of the phases,
    thank you very much

  • Pre mixed joint compound has some scarey warnings on the label. I backed away from using your recipe with middle school students because of that, but it looks like such a great mixture. What to do!

    • Kay, I think the warnings are added to the label because the dust caused by sanding contains silica, which isn’t very good for breathing. I don’t recommend sanding anyway, unless you absolutely have to, and it’s best to use a mask whenever you sand anything, even wood. However, the product is designed for the construction industry, not kids, so I can understand your concern. And I’ve been told there are schools that don’t allow the product to be used as an art supply.

      The paper mache clay can’t be made without it, but the traditional paper strips and paste still work just fine. I’ve made many sculptures using flour and water paste and bits of newspaper. It isn’t as fast, or as easy, but it still works. If any of your kids have gluten allergies, you can use Elmer’s Art Paste.

  • Hi Jonni, I was wondering if you could tell me how to tone down my paper mache snowman. It is stark white and I would like for him to look some what aged. I used the recipe for your Tomte and I love the texture. Thank you!

    • Hi Lisa. I do that by mixing a little bit of Burnt Umber or dark gray with Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid, brushing it on, and then wiping it off. I did that with my Tomte, but it was really subtle. More brown in the mix would make the texture stand out more, and would make the piece look older. Another way to achieve a similar effect is to mix the color with acrylic varnish. The pigment tends to fall into the crevices, and will lightly tone down the bright white.

      Will you be sharing a photo when your sculpture is done?

      • Hi Jonni. I will definitely try it. I remember you using the Burnt Umber on the red portion of the Tomte but didn’t know if it would make him to muddy looking. I will try one and if it doesn’t look right I can repaint it and try the other. After all it’s just paint. Yes I would like to try to share a photo when I’m finished. Thank you again!

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