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, 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.



You may also like:

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4,365 Comments

  • First off, thank you for the wonderful information. I was planning on using paper mache for a biome science project. The animal I am making is a eastern spiny softshell turtle, but I’m not sure how to best create it. Any suggestions would be great.

  • I need to make a human sitting on a bench and full scale. Would this be a good medium to use and what should I make the frame out of?

    • If you intend the figure to stay on a bench outside, this recipe won’t work. It isn’t waterproof, and there’s no way to make it permanently waterproof. It would work if it’s just going to be outside for a day or two, if you cover it with a good quality marine varnish. I like to use crumpled paper and masking tape for my armatures, or crumpled foil and hot glue. For something this big, a lot of people use chicken wire, although I haven’t tried that. (The cut ends poke me, and I don’t like to bleed).

    • If you use thin layers of 1/8″ or so (recommended) you need to give it two or three days. Putting it in front of a fan will help it dry faster, but remember that it dries on the outside first, and the inside may still be damp, so give it plenty of time.

  • I would like to know how to joint two pieces of card board in order to get one big pannel to start applying the papier mache technique.
    Thank you in advance.
    Luísa

    • You could use masking tape. It will bend a bit at the joint. Flat pieces of cardboard are very challenging, because they tend to warp when the paper mache dries. Good luck with it!

  • Hi, can i know if i can create paper mache clay without using an electric mixer? Can i like knead it until it’s soft? And do you have any tips that can make the finished product not to be a very hard structure?

    • The paper mache dries very hard, and this recipe can’t be altered to change that. You might prefer using the traditional paper pulp. You can find a lot of great tutorials for paper pulp at http://www.papiermache.co.uk/

      I have been told that it’s possible to mix the ingredients by hand, but it would take a long time to get the paper fibers evenly distributed. If you do decide to do that, be sure to use gloves. The calcium, (gypsum) in the joint compound will dry out your hands.

      • One way that you could speed up the process when doing it by hand is to rip the toilet paper apart with your fingers while it is still in the water, then scoop it out a little at a time, squeezing each tiny bit dry, and then breaking the dried ball apart as you add it to a new bowl.

      • Jonni,

        Have you tried “painting” resin (ICE Resin or Amazing Clear Cast come to mind) over a finished piece to make it waterproof? I know it still wouldn’t make the piece weatherproof, but I thought it might make it waterproof. I’ve made jewelry out of both types of resin and water doesn’t bother the dried flowers I encapsulated. Very curious to know if it works for paper mache too.

        • The biggest problem with any coating is that plastics break down from sunlight. A pinhole that develops in the coating can allow water to seep in and destroy the paper mache clay underneath. It would be much more reasonable to use a weatherproof material in the first place, in my opinion. Every experiment I’ve done to try to weatherproof a paper mache product has ended in disappointment. Cement and epoxy clays work really well, and I recommend them for long-term outdoor display. But just because my experiments didn’t work doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try if you think it would work.

  • Hi, I was really excited about using this recipe with my students, minus the linseed oil, until I started reading the label for the joint compound.

    It says on the can:

    “Warnings: KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN! Avoid contact with skin and eyes. Wash thoroughly after handling. Do not breathe dust. While dry sanding, use of a NIOSH -approved dust mask is recommended. Removal of this product after use will result in the generation of Dust. If dry-sanded, exposure to dust may result in the build-up of material in eyes, ears, nose, and mouth which may cause irritation…”

    I’m not trying to rain on your parade, and your sculptures are very nice, but I almost used this with my students until I started doing my research about the ingredients. Do you have any KID SAFE alternatives for a paper mache clay recipe?

    • Hi Jason – I certainly don’t mind that you read the label. It’s highly recommended, in fact. Yes, the joint compound is not edible, and the fine dust is not good for you. I have been told that some school districts don’t allow the use of joint compound in a classroom. Your school probably has a list of approved art materials.

      The alternative is either traditional paper pulp combined with paste or glue, or paper strips and paste. You won’t get a surface that’s as smooth as you can get with this recipe, but if you’re working with small children, this recipe isn’t ideal anyway. It should be applied thinly, with a knife. That requires a lot of dexterity, which smaller kids just haven’t grown into. I developed this recipe with adults in mind, not kids.

      The best place to go for more traditional recipes and tutorials is http://papiermache.co.uk/ – they have some great ideas on that site. Look for tutorials showing how to use paper pulp.

      • Thank you very much, I appreciate your quick response. I have taught the traditional paper mache approach to them already, and we were going to progress to a clay method now. I’m on the hunt for something similar to this. Thanks again, I’ll see what I can find!

        • If you find something, let us know. You might try the cold porcelain recipes. I think they use Elmer’s glue and corn starch, but I could be wrong. The kids might have fun with it.

  • why, why, whyyyy you recommend Drywall Joint compound ? it stops me from finishing my sculpture ! ! ! is it really needful ? Maybe can I skip this ingredient ? 😉

    • If you want to use this recipe, you have to have the drywall joint compound. It isn’t available in all countries, and if you can’t get any or don’t want to use it, you can use the traditional paper pulp instead. That’s just the soaked mushed up paper with glue or paste added. It won’t work the same, but it has been used by millions of artists, and many people actually seem to prefer it. Check this site for ideas about how to use the paper pulp in your sculpture.

  • Hi Jonni,

    Can you use your paper mache clay recipe over a balloon? I need to make a fairly large snowman and thought this might me easier that 3 layers of paper.

    • I tried it, and I gave up before the balloon was completely covered. The pm clay won’t stick to rubber, so gravity really works against you. The balloon also changes shape rather drastically, both with changes in temperature of the air inside, (due to the wet paper mache or paper mache clay) and also when you’re handling it.

      I never use balloons, even with paper strips and paste, unless I put on a few layers of plaster cloth first. The plaster gets hard within minutes, which keeps the rubber balloon from changing shape and causing the paper mache to crack or buckle. When the plaster cloth is hard, one or two layers of paper strips, or a very thin layer of paper mache clay with make the piece stronger and cover the rough texture of the plaster cloth. That’s the fastest and easiest way to use a balloon.

      However, an easier way to make a snowman would be to stuff a plastic bag with crumpled paper, shape the bag so it looks like a snowman, and add your paper mache clay. I made one a few years ago. Mine isn’t very big, but it was a really fast project, and you could use the same method to make a bigger one.

      • How about using beach balls? They come in different sizes, are sturdier than balloons, and could possibly have the air let out and then be pulled from the sculpture and reused. Or possibly those balls you see around for kids? I’m planning on making a really big cauldron for displaying my Tonner Wicked Witch doll (about 16″), and have been thinking about things to use for the shape.

        • Yes, beach balls would work much better than balloons. You might want to use a release to make sure you can get the ball out. Be sure to let us see that cauldron when it’s done!

  • Hi Jonni,
    I love your recipe for paper clay! I use it all the time, yet, I’ve added a new gadget to the preparing part of the recipe. I no long hand squeeze the water from the toilet paper!
    I use the mesh that either fruit or vegetables come in. I’ve found the smaller the produce the smaller the holes in the mesh are. It works great!

    • Yes, it will shrink. Any material that contains water will shrink when it dries, unless it also contains plaster of Paris. Plaster hardens by chemical process before it dries, so it doesn’t have a chance to shrink. There are several commercial paper pulp products that contain plaster, or you could try my recipe for “instant paper mache,” which is paper pulp and plaster, with a layer of cheesecloth to give it more strength. It works really well in silicone molds.

      You have a very nice website, by the way, and the inclusion of your personal story helps give context to the artwork – nicely done.

  • I used this recipe and made the body of a spider for Halloween and it turned out great. What is the linseed oil for. I used it just wondering the reason for it. I am currently working on a project for next Christmas was supposed to be this past Christmas but it took too much time and I was quite busy. Thank you for this information. Hopefully I can download a picture of my finished spider.

    • Hi Deborah. The oil is just to make the pm clay slightly easier to spread. If you leave it out, as I sometimes do because I forget, it’s hard to tell the difference while you’re using it, and there’s no difference at all after it dries. I don’t use the linseed oil any more, but I do use mineral oil (baby oil) when I remember.

      I’d love to see your Halloween spider. Did you take a photo you’d be willing to share?

  • Hello
    I bought your book on “make animal sculpture”. Your paper maché clay recipe is great.
    Question: I need a big batch of paper maché clay for my students. Can I double the recipe or triple it?

    • Yes, you can – as long as it doesn’t put too much strain on your mixer. You might want to use a paint-mixing attachment on an electric drill, instead of a kitchen mixer. If you’re using the recipe with kids, be sure to use mineral oil instead of linseed oil, because they might try to use their fingers to spread the clay instead of a knife. Or just leave out the oil – the recipe works just fine without it.

  • I made this recipe a few times now. I live in Holland and I couldn’t find joint compound pre mixed that isn’t a quick dryer. What I found was quick dry. Instead I used the dry powder form in Dutch called gipsplaatvuller of allesvuller. I used 2/3 cup dry powder and 1/3 cup of water. In stead of toilet paper I used white drawing paper which I soked in water for a night and boiled for 30 min. Put it in a blender so that all the fibers were small. Pushed all the water out I could, skipped the flour and added 2 tbsp of babyoil. I like how it came out.

  • Hey, awesome website and tutorial! Just wanted to put a warning out there, mineral oil is a known carcinogen that tends to build up in your system. Getting it on your skin isn’t a good idea.

    • In the US, most baby oil is made with mineral oil. In fact, I use baby oil, since it’s mineral oil that smells nice. I did a fast search to see if this is a health concern, and I couldn’t find a site claiming that baby oil is a health hazard, except sites that have an alternative to sell – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true, of course. If you have any concerns about using baby oil/mineral oil in the recipe, just leave it out. The recipe works just fine without it.

  • Can I substitute wallpaper powder for the white flour? I am concerned that the white flour will get moldy.

    • I don’t know. You’d have to try it, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work. The flour is only used to thicken the mixture so it’s easier to shape into details. There is one possible problem that could happen – if the wallpaper powder contains borax to prevent mold, it will make the paper mache clay get rubbery. If you try it, please let us know if it works.

  • I started a mask using strips of plaster wrap I bought from Michaels. I was wondering if you know if I could put a thin coat of the joint compound on top just to smooth it out and do I necessarily have to mix in toilet paper or can I skip that part and same for the flour? I would like to know if you or anybody has done just the compound and glue and if so if it works. I don’t need the project to last a long time or anything. Just long enough to make it and to turn it in at school, so maybe a couple weeks.

    • Hi Kim. We use a mixture of the joint compound and glue all the time. I call it home-made gesso. You can use the joint compound all by itself, but it doesn’t stick all that well to something that’s handled a lot, or which might flex. The glue seems to take care of that problem. And the home-made gesso can be sanded between coats, to give you a smooth surface.

      Have fun with your project!

    • I have been using this sculpting material for a while now on my piggy banks etc. I like the hardness after drying and smooth surface . I’ve used a metal file or rasp for smoothing out bumps. Good for strengthening seams on regular paper mache .
      I have a photo album of paper mache on my Facebook page

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