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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4,176 Comments

    • I have no idea. The clay may freeze to the frozen object, but other than speculation, I can’t really tell you much. If you try it out, let us know how it works for you.

  • Just wondering how safe fume wise the joint compound and linseed oil combo would be to use for a child’s mask. I’m making a mask for my son and his friend who are both 5 and I don’t want them inhaling anything harmful all evening.

    Thanks!
    Misty

    • Hi Misty. For kids, I’d leave out the oil, or perhaps replace it with glycerin (which doesn’t smell and helps the clay dry faster). Then you’d only get possible fumes from the Elmer’s, which is supposed to be non-toxic, and which shouldn’t off-gas anyway.

      My masks tend to have fairly rough interiors, but if I allow them to dry naturally instead of baking them in a warm oven, they don’t have any smell. If the insides of your masks are too rough to be comfortable, you could line them with felt.

      I hope you’ll let us see how the masks turn out.

    • I’ve used newspaper pulp and for smoothing the tissue paper pulp on this sculpt. Here’s how it looked prior to painting it

      Paper Mache Mask

      • Wow. This could be used in a movie. Great work, Don. I don’t suppose you have a website where we can see other artwork you’ve done?

      • Very nice Don!

        Looks like the Predator in the movie Alien vs Predator, well done.

        Sounds like a great use of Jonni’s TP clay over the rougher and cheaper newspaper clay too. This can’t be your first project and I’d love to see more of them. Very inspiring work and I really like the paint job too!

        Thanks for sharing!

        Bob C.

  • Would you consider paper mache clay on a wire mesh stronger than traditional paper mache clay? What would be more impact resistant?

    • Now you’re getting scientific — not my strong point. There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to do some careful experiments. Since my sculptures sit quietly on a shelf, and so far there’s been no inter-species violence, this hasn’t been a strong concern for me. However, I would love to know the answer to that question, if you do some experiments yourself! I think the folks who make model rockets might want to know, too – so please let us know how your experiments turn out.

      • I tried the clay recipe using newsprint paper instead of toilet paper (because that’s what I had an abundance of) and placed it on metal lathe (hardware cloth) and I can only tell you what my modified recipe yielded.

        I will try to post a photo – the piece is a large parade-size Carnival masque (South American Mardi Gras) cut in somewhat of a Phantom-of-the-Opera shape with an open eyehole through which an underlaying painted eye peeked. The cut metal lathe leaves very sharp edges and after rolling down the edges, I applied the clay to the eyehole edges and the top skull edges of the masque. The mix was lightly sanded, painted with Behr exterior latex semi-gloss paint/primer combo, then sealed with two coats of spar varnish. The finished piece is 8′ long X 5′ tall and hangs on a wooden frame via 1/4″ cold rolled steel wire.

        Initially, the results were good, but this particular piece of art *flexed* somewhat (and unexpectedly). The varnish and paint must have had minute cracks which led to failure when it ultimately rained – nay, poured. We carefully moved and dried the piece and, once cured again, wrapped the masque in clear shipping tape from the bottom up (as one would install roofing on a house). This gave the piece a sheen and kept it waterproof.

        If you’re going to use a metal mesh skeleton, I would advise against flexible lathe or chicken wire and go with a quad wire mesh instead – these usually come in 1″, 1/2″ and 1/4″ – they are harder to shape but once shaped, hold their shape well. The piece I constructed was designed to be moved – if you’re not going to move your sculpture, reinforce it with wire rings, tack welding and a strong foundation.

          • Thanks – it was a big hit. As to Bryan’s question – I’d have to say the clay recipe is more *impact* resistant than the clay, though I will say mache layers with wallpaper paste in the wet mix flexed more easily and did not crack. Regardless of either using mache layers or clay (I used both in the project) if you want impact resistance, you will want a firm skeleton (I like quad wire mesh no smaller than 1/2″, preferably 1/4″ mesh). I’m also a bit more impressed with the sturdiness of the clay made with newsprint paper as opposed to bathroom tissue paper.

            Jonni, your site is SO inspiring and is a great resource to even the lay sculptor. Thank you for being so very open to feedback and shared experience – it’s great to see so many options of what works for each person in each different type of sculpture. Thanks!!!!!

  • It’s interesting and helpful reading that I’m not the only one with do-overs, etc. I’ve had to take a different approach often, because I wasn’t able to get things to come out as I wanted, and would get really discouraged in the beginning. Then a friend reminded me to just have fun with it, to let the scupture “talk to me”, much like I had read about a stone telling the sculptor what it was to be. I had started out trying to duplicate a sculpture in the book, which has step by step photos. I started out trying to make a bust of a woman, delicate, etc., and mine looked like a barbarian. But when I let go and just had fun with it, he truly came to life and became this amazing piece, a one of a kind. And he is still evolving since I used steel wool, and it is rusting in places. Anyway, the point is that, sometimes, it’s a very good thing that the art work takes a different turn. We might end up with a whole new discovery! That has worked for me, perhaps because of my skill level (beginning), but it makes it all so much fun!

    Paper Mache Sculpture

  • Hi, I am constructing some very large Mardi-Gras parade-style masques (about 6′ x 8 feet) and in the interest of stability during transport, I’ve been constructing them on metal lathe and 1/4″ wire and leaving the skeletons in. The papier machet recipe I was using included wallpaper paste and I am very disappointed at the lack of stiffness, so I went back to plain, uncooked flour and water. I’m considering trying your clay recipe and was wondering if it would work well with newsprint (I have a *TON*)? It is an abundant supply that has been donated to me and I would hate to trash it all only to buy toilet paper. Thoughts?

    • I can’t say for sure if the newspaper would work, but I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t. You’d probably need to soak it quite a lot longer, the way they do to make traditional paper mache pulp. Some people boil it. I’m also not sure how a kitchen mixer would do with the stronger paper fibers, but you could start out with a small batch to find out. If the mixer gets overheated, you could use a paint mixing attachment for an electric drill.

      Your surface would also not be quite as smooth, and the color of the dried clay would be darker. But it would a lot faster to apply than many layers of paper and paste. I’d say it would be worth doing an experimental batch and see what happens. (And be sure to let us know, when you find out!)

    • Hey Georgia, I read somewhere that you can easily turn your newspaper into pulp. Like Jonni suggested, try a test batch. Here’s what they said. Get ahold of a paper shredder. Maybe even borrow one, eh? 🙂 Shred all your paper. (put in a good dvd, sit in front of the tv and shred away.) This might sound a bit messy, but throw all that newspaper in a the bathtub and cover the paper with the hottest water coming out of the tap. Make sure all paper is submerged. (That’s pretty obvious, eh?) Anyway if you can add big pots of boiling water, I’m sure this will help break it down faster. They didn’t say this next little bit, but I think if you add a household bleach to the mix, the bleach will help to break down the paper and change it’s color also. (Back to what “They” said…Let the paper sit in the water overnight. It’s supposed to break down. Strain and squeeze out all excess water. Haven’t tried it, but it seems pretty darn logical. Then maybe you could use it with Jonni’s awesome recipe. If you decide to go with traditional paper mache with paste and strips of paper, read my reply at Beth October 3rd. I found a paste recipe that’s awesome. Dries quite fast and is hard as a rock. The key is to do ONE layer at a time. Let that layer dry fully and THEN apply your next layer. Smaller bits always seem to work better than bigger/longer strips and make sure you alternate the ways the strips go with each layer as this will create a “mesh” effect and also help make you piece much stronger. Hope this help.

      • Good ideas, Beth. Sounds like a lot of work, though. I’ve made paper pulp without a shredder in the past, by just soaking the paper. The bleach should keep mold from forming, too. It will still end up being a bit more lumpy than using toilet paper, but it would be a lot cheaper.

  • Hi Jonni and friends! Thanks for all of your help. Here’s the sculpture that I made using your paper mache clay recipe. It is called I am Art and is meant to look as if it is made entirely out of paint- as if the paint rose up and created itself.
    Using a tutorial that Jonni linked me to, I created a duct tape armature from a human model. Then I stuffed the armature with newspaper, and created a platform and stand for him using two Swiffer mops and some particle board.
    Originally, I intended to make the entire sculpture out of paper mache, but since I had a limited amount of time (he was a contest entry), I had to rush it, and unfortunately I only used the clay on certain parts of the sculpture. I used it to build up the neck, create the hand and reinforce the chest and arms, and fill in any holes. The majority of the sculpture is layer upon layer of paint on top of the duct tape.
    I didn’t think that I would have enough time to allow the clay to dry and then paint over it since I was racing that deadline. So I made the clay, and then mixed it with paint before applying to the sculpture.
    Has anyone tried this before?
    It worked really well. I just had to make sure to work the paint through the clay mixture enough so that there were no white spots left once I began to smooth it out.
    I used a mask and a balloon to create the head, and paper mache clay to build up and reinforce the face.
    But because I was in such a rush, I couldn’t wait for the clay on the face to fully dry before popping the balloon. I let it dry overnight with fans pointed on it. It felt pretty dry, so I popped the balloon- and the entire head pretty much imploded. But it made for a really cool effect, so I went with it.
    I was able to get the pics I needed to enter the contest, but unfortunately, a few hours later, the sculpture’s face fell off completely. It’s an easy fix- just not one I feel like doing at the moment.
    It’s been two weeks. The duct tape is starting to pull apart a bit. I think if I had had the time to cover the entire armature in paper mache clay before adding the paint, it would have held up really well.
    You can see more photos here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/83251082@N00/sets/72157625102559846/

    • WoooooHooooo Shamira, A life sized human figure covered in duct tape! Too bad you had to rush this project but still a most impressive undertaking and I enjoyed looking at the pictures on your Flickr page. It must have been a real fun project, thanks for sharing!

      Bob C.

  • Thanks for this sanfrantastic site! I have been using the old traditional strips/glue method for sometime. I’m definitely going to try your recipe. Sounds to be just what I’ve been looking for. As far as people having problems with mold, this is the “paste” recipe I use. with appropriate layers it hardens up like a rock. I live in New Zealand and it can be humid, making drying time slower and this recipe dries beautifully, especially if you put each layer done in the sun for a bit. Again, this is a recipe for traditional paper mache paste used with alternating layers of newspaper and brown (paperbag) paper. I SO recommend using the ‘paper bag” layers as they dry much harder than newspaper, I’ve found anyway.That way you can tell that you’ve covered each layer fully since each layer is alternating and different colors…easy to see. I’ve had a uncompleted piece of mine sitting on the dirt floor of my extremely old basement for over a year now and there is absolutely no sign of mold and it’s still hard.

    Here goes:

    1 TBSP corn starch
    1 C cold water
    1 TBSP wood glue (carpenter glue) or the product I’ve found to work super well also is called Wellbond glue. Either work just as well. I just use the Wellbond because I can use it on all my art.

    Mix cornstarch with the water until completely dissolved.

    Transfer the cornstarch/water mixture to a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until it starts to bubble and becomes transparent.

    Pour in container to cool COMPLETELY and then add the glue. Stir it up and you’re all set. It’s smooth, no gloppy flour blobs, has absolutely no odor and like I said before dries like a rock.

    Jonni, I wonder if using cornstarch instead of flour might make a smoother finished clay? Hmmm…I’ll try it and let you know.
    Hope this recipe for traditional paste/strip method might help.

    Cheers from down under!

    • I’ve used corn starch in the recipe, and it does work. I didn’t check to see if it was smoother or not – so I’ll be looking forward to yoru experiments.

      Your paste recipe looks very interesting. The glue is extremely strong, so I can see why it sets up so well.

    • Hi Beth,

      Weldbond Adhesive has been on my list of alternative things to try for a while but I have so much white glue (PVA) I have no need for more glue.

      It does seem Weldbond Adhesive is recommended for use as a successful adhesive on more materials than PVA so there must be some difference. A quick on line check did not produce any ingredients for Weldbond.

      I have also read about corn starch instead of white flour but not tried that yet either… So thanks for sharing your recipe and experience with it!

      I keep burning out or smoking my wife’s appliances as I try mixing (blending, stirring) the PVA flour (and in my case Liquid Starch) recipe. I have smoked an old Osterizer, my hand drill and my Dremel tool .. no flames yet but plenty of stinky smoke.

      Bob C

      • Bob, I think I remember trying to substitute Elmer’s carpenters glue in the recipe, and it didn’t work well. I have not tried the Weldbond brand, which I think is much superior. Now that you remind me, I might get a small container of it and see what happens.

        One thing I noticed, completely by accident, is that the paper mache clay seems to stand up quite well to rain and weather when it isn’t covered at all. I made up a small flat disk to test something, and left it sitting on a fence post to dry. I forgot about it, of course, and found it on the ground several months later. It was still hard, and even though it was in contact with the soil, it didn’t show any mold. I don’t recommend this, of course, and I do live in a dry climate. And, since I was experimenting with something (but I can’t remember what) I might have put something in the clay that isn’t in the original recipe. It could mean, though, that the clay itself could be made even more weatherproof by using Weldbond instead of Elmer’s, and perhaps powdered pigments could be added to the clay itself to decorate outdooor sculpture. Then, with the addition of a final coat, perhaps that UV absorbing varnish I just ordered, it could hold up. While still being porous enough to be sandable and drillable without breaking the tools 🙂

        • Jonni, That is a most interesting discovery because I jumped through all kinds of hoops to “weather proof” my toad stools for the back garden using the conventional wisdom found here and elsewhere on the WEB. I also didn’t use any flour so as to not attract insects or hungry critters and then applied 3 coats of Spar Varnish after painting them. This is well worth looking into indeed.

          Bob C

          • I only used two coats of spar varnish on the tortoise. Maybe that’s why the paint and varnish cracked. Your toadstools are still doing fine, aren’t they?

          • Yes Jonni they look fine this year but last year several of the yellow raised areas had paint missing. At first I thought it was a bird pecking at it to see if it moved or was worth eating but after some thought I realized these toad stools were very carefully sealed to protect them from moisture but that each had a fairly large volume of air trapped inside.

            We have very hot summers here in NC so I guessed the expanding volume of air may have stressed the hard PM clay and newspaper strip construction especially where the raised areas were attached to the tops of the toad stools with PM clay. The hollow stems made of either toilet paper tubes or paper towel tubes added to the volume as well. The same paste was used for both the clay and the newspaper strips (4 parts PVA, 1 part Acrylic Paint 1 part water).

             My solution was to drill a 1/4″ dia. hole in each toad stool and then cover that hole with the fine mesh of some old nylon stockings my wife had. (to keep insects from nesting inside) We set a record this year of days over 100 º F and there is no cracking of the finish this year.

            Gas expansion was something I had not considered and am happy to pass that observation on as a possible issue to be aware of.

            Bob C.

          • Hm – maybe that’s why tortoise lost his coat. Interesting. I thought about trapped moisture, so I made sure he was totally dry before painting. But I didn’t think about trapped air.

      • Hey Bob,
        Oops…I mean WelDbond. (Although it does bond well) 🙂 I also have heaps of PVA glue and when I was introduced to Weldbond, because it’s a bit pricier, I was only going to use it for the stuff that really needed serious gluing. My PVA has now been passed down to my kids. I use Weldbond exclusively. Great stuff.

        I’m off to create..WooHoo! Cheers man!

  • I just made this clay recipe and I prefered it much better to the typical PM strips method.
    However, I made my project before reading the site and used this as modeling clay. I have an event in 6 days for these items and I want them painted yet. Is there any way in all of the possibilities that these WILL dry? I made the recipe exactly as stated.
    Any thoughts?
    Thanks

    • Hi Nicole. You’re in uncharted waters, I’m afraid. When I use a thin coat of the clay, about 1/8 inch, it usually takes several days to dry all the way through. I do use thick applications to get nice details, but I try to make sure I give these spots plenty of time to dry. If you used the clay like modeling clay, it is probably much thicker than that. You might be able to dry the surface enough to paint if you placed them in a slow oven (around 200 F), but the pieces may crack and they would eventually mold. The clay was really developed as a substitute for the paper and paste, and is intended to be used over an armature.

      When I make the recipe the clay is usually much to wet to be modeled without any supporting structure at all. Can you give us a bit more information about your project (how big, how thick, etc.)? Maybe we could come up with a solution for you.

      • Thanks Jonni.
        The pices that I made are about the size of a fist. They actually are molded to look like a fist. It is for relaxation exercise for children. One fist sculpture has a flower blooming off the top of the fist and the other has a candle coming off the top (breathe in, breathe out). The petals on the flower are fairly dry this morning but the fists are still soft. When the recipe was done it was like sticky cookie dough and was not very wet. The fists have held their shape well overnight but are definitely not drying.
        Oh shucks.
        Thanks

        • Hi Nicole, Not sure if this is too late but you might consider Jonni’s idea of drying at least the outside of your sculpture slowly in a 200º F oven for about an hour or two then see if you can dig out some of this PM clay mixture to “hollow” out your sculpture. This would allow it to dry from the inside as well and might also reduce cracking but cracks can be filled and dried more quickly using a variety of materials.

          Just a thought.

          Bob C.

          • Good idea, Bob. If that doesn’t work, Nicole might need to start over, making an armature with crumpled paper and masking tape. I used to hate doing things over, but after working on the sculptures for my book, (most of them built four or five times before I was happy with them) I now actually like doing them over.

          • Jonni, Your PM creatures are amazing and I have such great respect and appreciation for your artistic skills, work ethic and creativity so it is delightful to hear you too have “do overs”. I don’t like to start over very much either so I’m more “considerate” of my artistic endeavors as I go alone so it takes me a longer time between shaping, applying layers of paper and paste or PM clay before I consider my pieces acceptable… at least to me!

            I was once told all art is never “finished” but simply “abandoned” and I find that to be so true in my PM sculpting attempts. There is always a bit more that needs doing.

            Bob C.

          • so true. If we insisted on perfection, we’d never be able to make anything new, because we’d always be stuck “fixing” the old one. And I suspect we wouldn’t learn much from all our mistakes. Now, if I could just remember which things work, and which things don’t, I might not need to do so many things over!

  • Hi Jonni,
    I love this site!
    This new recipe is great. I’m working on some forms for bronze sculpture and with a thin armature this clay hardens and becomes structural. My next step is to seal the shape and take silicone molds. I’ll let you know the progress.
    Your article about webtraffic gave me the courage to start my own site. I’m still working it out and have to get better photos. Do you need to have a blog to make links to improve traffic. I’m using a free template and am about two days into this.
    Thanks for all the great information on here, John

    • John, your unique use of the clay is very inspiring. Please remember to show us the completed bronze sculpture when it’s done. I love the jewelry you have on your site, and the site itself is very elegant. Well done.

      I’m not sure exactly what you mean by needing a blog – if you get enough links to a static site, it will have the same effect, bringing in lots of traffic. Be sure you also see my latest post over on the site I built for artists on how to build their own website. There’s a page there to help get more traffic. The instructions for building the site are based on WordPress, but the traffic stuff works as well for an html site.

  • Hi Amanda,

    I add salt to all my PM endeavors now and it seems to work well. I have been using Jonni’s TP recipe for PM Clay so a batch of newspaper pulp (no glue) I mixed 4 or 5 months ago is still mold free ( looks and smells fine) in the refrigerator. I use about 1.5-2.0 Tablespoons salt for 2 cups of pulp. The rougher texture of this kind of pulp made a great surface finish on a PM frog constructed with it.

    Observation on a creamier mix:
    I mixed a fairly large patch of Jonni’s TP recipe by hand and a smaller part of that with an old Osterizer blender (it didn’t like it very much) but it did indeed make a creamier mix. I would like to do more but I need a better stronger machine so I was wondering if you could give details on your “paper blender” please?

    About a more clay like recipe:
    My wife has been kind enough to save the dryer “lint” for me. This “fluff” is very fine and soft but fibrous too. It seems these fibers have a certain length to them and I read people use that in place of newspaper as well. I am planning on trying to mix some of that with Jonni’s TP recipe to see if fine strands will bind the mixture to produce a more “modeling clay” like texture. It will be a while before I do, however, but feel free to experiment too if you or anyone is so inclined.

    Bob C.

    • Great idea, Bob. I’ve been told that wool makes the clay strong, so dryer lint should do the same thing. I can’t wait to see if you have any cracking if you apply thick layers or use it for modeling larger pieces like real clay.

    • I have a Cuisinart ice blender that I bought new for school (I make paper every now and then). Sorry it has taken me a while to respond I have had two sick kids. I am hoping to make my first batch tomorrow and am going to try it with baby powder instead of flour (it my munchkins are feeling better). I will let everyone know how it turns out.

  • Hi Jonni,
    I recently discovered your site and think it is fantastic. I am looking forward to trying to make some clay. I was reading that you can’t really “sculpt” with the clay. Is that true could you add more flour to the mixture to make it more clay like maybe more like Creative Paperclay? I was also wondering if you could use a blender to “puree” the toilet paper would that make it smoother? I have a paper blender that I use for making paper that I was going to try. Or would the joint compound burn up the blender? I was just curious or could you use puree the TP and then mix it by hand?

    Is it more of a trial and error type of process? Also should I add salt to prevent mold? I live in a high humidity climate would that cause mold? or would the Linseed Oil prevent the mold?

    Any insight would be great!

    Thank you in advance for your help,
    Manda 🙂

    • Hi Manda.

      You’re describing a whole new product – which sounds fantastic, but which has not yet been invented! The paper mache clay recipe on this site is intended as a substitute for the traditional paper strips and paste that I find so frustrating (and messy).

      I don’t know if the linseed oil prevents mold – we don’t have much of a problem with mold where I live, since it’s so dry. I have heard that salt, clove oil, and other substances can be added to the recipe to reduce the chance of mold. Of all the items suggested, salt seems like the best one, although salted bread will eventually mold so it isn’t foolproof. The best thing, besides adding something anti-fungal in the clay itself, is to make darn sure your sculpture is dry all the way through before you paint it. And then keep it in a dry place so it can’t get damp again.

      Enjoy – let us know how your experiments with your new sculpt-able clay turn out 🙂

      • I definitely will let you know how it turns out. I plan on experimenting this weekend. Thank you for your help 🙂 I will post pictures (if it turns out – lol)

        Manda 🙂

      • I add bleach to all my pm recipes from flour paste to Jonni’s clay mix. You don’t need to add a lot, just a splash and it doesn’t hurt your hands when using. (My skin is not very sensitive but if you are worried, use latex gloves if handling) I have found it prevents mould, and insects don’t eat it. I don’t have to refrigerate it either, including my flour paste which goes a bit sour after a week but is still quite usable, and the sour smell goes when it dries. (Usually flour paste goes black from mould and ferments and is unusable in a few days unless refrigerated.) So far I have found that it doesn’t hurt the mixtures in any way.

  • Hi Jonni! My 19 year old son is working on a costume for Halloween. It is of a character in a computer game and involves making full body “armor”. He has made the armature out of K’nex pieces covered with cardboard taped with clear packing tape. He plans to paper mache the outside, then remove the K’nex skeleton. We found your clay recipe and he wants to use it so he can put detailing in the costume. We have no experience with paper mache and need advice. Is it okay to put the clay over cardboard and clear packing tape? Does the cardboard get removed after it dries or does it stay inside for added strength? He wants it to be strong enough that it won’t break when he runs into things or gets bumped as it’s a very bulky design with some awkward sizing. I appreciate your advice and new recipe. P.S. I am adding a photo of one of the lower leg amature.

    Armature for Paper Mache Costume

    • The clay is quite strong by itself, but he might want to play it by ear. After the clay dries, pull a bit of the cardboard away and see if the clay bends or breaks. If it looks like it will hold up, go ahead and remove the cardboard. That would make the costume lighter, but he may find that the inside of the clay layer is a bit rough, and having the cardboard and tape inside could make the costume more comfortable to wear. The clay will go on over the tape, even though you can easily pull the clay away from the tape if you want to.

      I’ve never actually made a body costume, myself. I know several people have experimented with it, but I don’t remember anyone sending in photos of their final project. I’d love to see this one after your son gets it finished.

      • Thank you for your help. My son is ready to cover his armature, but is concerned about the durability of the paper mache. (He wants it to last for more than just one occasion.) Can he apply two layers of clay? I read on these blogs that Weldbond glue is stronger than the Elmer’s glue. I couldn’t find it at Walmart or Lowe’s. Where can I find it? And where can I find the regular joint compound? Lowe’s only had the “light” compound. I noticed on the top of your mask, that you were able to smooth the overlapping cardboard before adding the clay. Did you use masking tape to do that? We have the same situation with the cardboard. We don’t want to have to use the clay for filling in the ridges. It might end up too thick and not dry. (Most parts of the costume will be too large to put in the oven.)

        • Hi Teresa. Yes, you can add as many layers as you want. The idea about using Weldbond instead of Elmers is still just an idea at this point – I think Bob has tried it, but I haven’t yet. The clay using Elmer’s is so strong, I would move to Weldbond just for the possibility that it would help weatherproof a piece. If you can’t find any, I wouldn’t worry about it. Like I said somewhere before, my Joker mask is less than 1/4 inch thick, and I don’t think it would break if I threw it on concrete.

          And yes, you can fill in any dips with masking tape. If they’re too deep, add a bit of crumpled aluminum foil first, and cover it over. I’m becoming quite a fan of the foil for making armatures.

          I can’t wait to see your son’s costume when it’s done. I do hope he’ll post a photo.

        • Hello Teresa, Sadly I have not yet tried Weldbond but I’m sure Elmer’s glue ( PVA) will be strong enough. This seems to me to be more about design and construction technique not materials. The clay is remarkably strong but at some point it will crack if stressed (bent) too much, hence the proper design is important.

          Some thoughts:
          First I should say I’m not sure PM clay will stick well to shiny transparent tape, perhaps it should be covered with masking tape or duct tape. Maybe others here have experience with PM clay and shiny transparent tape, I do not. It would, however, be a major advantage to cover most of the armature with masking tape for strength and good PM clay/paste adhesion.

          Parts that may be subject to stress could perhaps be made as separate pieces and then attached (connected) with a hinge made of duct tape. The duct tape should be stuck to the cardboard and the PM clay cover that part of the tape that is attached to the cardboard. It would be duct tape on both sides of the cardboard, so sticky side to sticky side past the end of cardboard piece #1 ( that is the hinge part) and before the start of cardboard piece #2. This “hinge” could be a short distance of 1/4“ or less.

          I would leave the corrugated cardboard in place as part of the costume construction, it will add strength and allow for less PM clay too, not to mention being VERY difficult to remove.

          Have you considered using torn newspaper strips and flour paste to cover most of this well formed armature? I mention this because your son has already made a nice strong armature and 1 or 2 layers will dry quickly and some flexibility would be there already in the corrugated cardboard and masking tape construction if you used it. The PM clay over al foil as Jonni mentioned could be used as a very effective filler.

          If he is planning on using it in mock combat with actual contact there is not much hope it would survive that kind of use. I guess you could embed regular fiberglass window screen cut to the proper shapes placed between thin layers of PM clay to add more strength and flexibility but this is just an educated guess, I have no real world experience with this kind of construction but I have been considering it for another project.

          PM paste is very easy to make and cheap too.
          Mix warm water with regular white flour to get a thin pancake like batter, that’s it! Some people add white glue (PVA) and salt to prevent mold but the flour/water recipe will last days stored in the fridge in an air tight container. With salt added mine has lasted for months.

          This is an impressive 1st time project and I hope you will take pictures of it and share them with us please.

          Just my $.02

          Bob C.

          • I forgot to mention I buy my Joint Compound in a small 3 lbs container at Home Depot but it wasn’t in an obvious place, I had to really hunt for it.

          • Was the Joint Compound in a bag? I saw compound in the paint department in tubs, but I was thinking the compound is dry like flour and not already moist. The bags were in the lumber section of Lowe’s. They were all marked “light”. I will check out Home Depot tonight. I will also go ahead and get the Elmer’s glue. You are right that this is a very big (and ambitious) project for the first time. But my son never does anything half way. He was even considering doing his costume in Bondo and/or fiberglass. (I think your input has convinced him to give the PM clay a try.) He was so impressed with how much you and Jonni have been helpful and timely with your responses. This is my first time “blogging”, so it has been exciting to see how nice people can be out there is cyber space. Yes, we will take pictures and post them. It’s the least we can do. Also, we bought more masking tape last night, so he will be busy covering the shiny packing tape and the gaps and ridges in the cardboard. (We also got some foil just in case). Thank you, Bob C. and Jonni!!

          • Hi Teresa. The recipe is intended for the pre-mixed joint compound.
            if you have the powdered, mix it according to the label’s instructions before adding to the clay recipe.

            This brings up an interesting question – could one use the powdered joint compound in place of the flour filler? hmmm…

            As for the tape issue – if he wants to remove the cardboard armature at some point to make the finished project lighter, the plastic tape is a good idea. But if the cardboard is a permanent part of the project, Bob’s right – masking tape would be better. The dried clay can be pulled away from masking tape if you need to, but not as easily.

          • Hi Teresa, I agree this is a great site. The Internet is like life, good and not so good but Jonni has created this site and made it a great place to visit and learn. She not only is an experienced and talented artist but also a wonderful teacher who is willing to sharing her knowledge and time with the greater on line community. I have learned much here and am happy to add my $.02 to try and further the PM “cause” whenever I can. Your offer to share pictures of your son’s project will add to the knowledge base here too and the Joint Compound I found at Home Depot was (wet) premixed .

            So about Bondo, it brings back fond (and not so fond) memories. It has a nasty and aggressive hardener (curing agent) and it is more difficult to sand but much stronger and more expensive than PM clay. A version does come with fiberglass cloth too. That’s why I suggested adding the window screen on top of a thin layer of PM clay covered with another thin layer of PM clay to mimic that. Breathing dust while sanding is never good so a well ventilated place and/or wearing a dust mask is a good thing.

            This sounds like a fun project and well worth experimenting with all the options you think might work. A little piece of cardboard covered with PM paste and screen here and a little piece of cardboard covered with PM paste and foil there etc. and perhaps you and your son will discover some wonderful technique and share that too. How exciting!

            Bob C.

        • Hi again. I forgot to mention that my dad used “light” joint compound when he made his chicken, and it worked just fine. I’m not sure what the difference is between regular and light, but it doesn’t seem to affect the clay.

          • Hi Jonni and Bob!

            I’m sorry for the long delay, but here is an update on my son’s costume he made for Halloween. We found the premixed compound and used it with the powder compound in place of the flour. We covered two of his props with it. (I think it took at least five batches). The results of the clay were rough and we could not sand it smooth. It might have been because of not using the flour. Between that and the lack of time, my son decided to forgo the paper mache idea for the costume and just use the cardboard structure. We spray painted them and added detailing. The costume came out great. After seeing how heavy his props were, we think the costume might have been too heavy also. My son won the costume contest and he wants to improve on it next year. I will include a photo of the props unpainted (they are guns) and a photo of the costume. Thank you for all your help. (I thought there was the option of uploading photos, but I don’t see it here. What should I do?)

          • Hi Teresa. We would love to see the costume – but we did lose the option of uploading a photo directly to this site. Don’t let that stop you, though. I put up new instructions here. As soon as your image is uploaded to Imgur.com send me the URL for the image itself (it will end in .jpg) and I’ll be sure to get it into your comment.

            Congratulations to your son for winning the contest, by the way. That must have been exciting.

  • Eek! I just mixed up a batch of this and it is super wet! It is too wet to build with, it just keeps crumbling. Is there anything I can do to make it more plastic? Thanks!!

    • Hi Kate. I’m not sure if you’re describing the normal consistency of the clay. It is a spreadable material that is intended to be put on, in a thin layer, over an armature – to replace the traditional paper strips and paste. You can’t actually model with it by itself, although Steve is experimenting with some additional ingredients that might make that work (look for Steve’s comments on this page). If you just have a really goopy mixture that is much too wet to spread, but it crumbles, I think you must have used the wrong ingredients or the wrong measurements. Can you tell us exactly what you used, and how much, so we can help you a bit more?

    • The plaster will cause the material to set up very fast, possibly faster than you would like. It may also weaken the recipe – since I haven’t done a test, I don’t really know how it will behave. If you experiment, please let us know how it turns out.

  • Forgive me if you have already addressed this, but can you apply the clay over an inflated balloon?

    Love your creations, by the way!

  • Hi Jonni and others,
    I definitely do not recommend using a submersible mixer.(a stick like mixer). I wound up mixing it by hand – ugh!

  • Hello,
    First a big thanks for this wonderfully useful and inspiring site. I’m happily working on my first paper mache efforts and loving every minute. The day I stumbled across your blog I ran out to buy supplies!

    I made a batch of your clay recipe, but found myself wishing it had more traditional clay-like properties….for more detail, modeling beyond spreading with a knife, rolling into balls, etc. So I tried adding a cup and a half of self hardening clay to your recipe(Amoco Marblex Self Hardening Clay). I cut the clay into small clumps and used my mixer to blend it into your recipe. It seems to work perfectly, giving a less cookie dough and more modeling clay-like quality to its handling. Seems to dry just as hard, too. I have been roughing out my general shapes with your original recipe and once that dries I go over with my “clay-added” version to add details and define forms. It does crack here and there in thick areas but can be easily spackled. My question is, does this raise any red flags in your mind based on your experience with these materials? And if not should I simply replace the joint compound with the self-hardening clay, or continue adding clay as an addition to the original recipe? I’m not sure exactly what quality the joint compound brings to the mix.
    One more question….from my painting days I have a lot of leftover acrylic based white gesso for canvas preparation(Utrecht brand). Would this be acceptable as a paper mache undercoat or does your joint compound/Elmers recipe hold some special advantage when used on mache?

    Again, thank you for your generosity with your talent.

    • Your last question first – there’s nothing special about the joint compound/glue gesso except that it’s cheap and it’s made from the same materials that people already have on hand if they already made a batch of paper mache clay. I think a lot of newer artists are not familiar with how much a few layers of gesso can improve the paint-ability of the work. If you’ve got lots of the commercial product, use it by all means.

      As for the way the clay will react, over time, to the addition of the self-hardening clay, I honestly can’t offer much advice. I simply never thought to try it, so I have no experience with it. I really like the idea of being able to work the clay in a more intuitive manner. The joint compound adds calcium carbonate as a filler, and the other stuff they put in it, including some form of glue, helps the paper mache clay to have a nice, spreadable consistency. Will the recipe work if you replace the joint compound with self-hardening clay? I have no idea. We don’t have an art store here in my town, so I can’t experiment with it – but I hope you will, and let us know how it turns out. You may have invented a whole new art medium!

      • Thanks for the reply. Since posting my question I went ahead and made three sculptures using your mache clay mixed with self-dry clay…..So far so good. It is dried almost as hard as your original version, plus the modeling was much improved and more clay-like. The only downsides appear to be that it is not as tough in thinnest areas, and feels slightly heavier, which I guess makes sense. Also some cracking as it shrinks but nothing has fallen off or even come loose–spackle should handle that just fine.How it holds up long term I suppose I’ll have to wait to see.

        I’ll post pictures once I have painted them this weekend.
        Thanks again!

  • Hi Jonni

    Forgif me my bad englisch please, I ll do my best.
    I tried youre recipe for the clay. I can’t get it smooth. When It is dry there are many little lumps. Do you know what I did wrong ?

    Just in case my englisch is not clear enough , I send a picture with what I mean by smooth

  • Well, I couldn’t find any glycerin so I went with the linseed oil. The clay was easy to work with a knife but was a bit sticky on fingers. Now I’m just waiting for it to dry, it may be a while because it’s pretty humid here in Singapore!

  • I have an idea that I am about to try on my paper mache to try to water proof it. There is a product name brand is Zaflar, its a liquid rubber that is completely paintable. I will post pics when I’m done but the mat black finish is what I am after anyway to simulate old iron.

  • I used Sculptamold in my mix for paper mache, and it was fine — It wasn’t a major ingredient because I wanted to use particular paper strips for my project…but mixed in with the other ingredients [see my earlier posts] and kept covered in the fridge, the stuff stayed usable for over a week.

    • thank you for your replies and suggestions, i will look for glycerin here in Singapore in the health food stores because i want the paper mache clay to be used by kids..some of them quite young so i want to avoid any accidental poisonings! Today is the day i’m making my first experimental batches of paper mache clay! I will let you know how it goes! Thanks again

  • Hi Jonni,
    Just a quick note to let you know I love your site and all your critters, they have inspired me to attempt your paper mâché clay, but I have a quick question about Sculpt-a-mold. Is this a paper based product that you just mix with water? Could you use it in place of the toilet paper in your recipe? I know it’s more expensive than a roll of loo paper but I have a bag of sculpt-a-mold and I’m not sure what to do with it. I have also noticed that you don’t recommend using the lindseed oil in the recipe when kids are using it, but do you prefer the linseed oil clay to the non linseed oil clay? Thanks for your time and lovely site!

    • Hi Clara. Sculpt-a-mold contains plaster, so it will set up, often before you want it to. However, if you add all the other ingredients, it might still work. Give it a try with a small batch and see what happens. I bought a bag last year before working out my own recipe, and the item I made hardened really fast, and then took days to dry. Maybe I didn’t do it right.

      Boiled linseed oil from the hardware store does contain some drying agents and chemicals, so it’s not non-toxic (although you could use the kind from the health food store, flax seed oil, if you wanted). I do like the clay better with the oil, but now that I’ve tried the idea to use glycerin instead, I think I like it best. The glycerin was a real bear to find, and I think I bought the last bottle in town. When it’s gone, I’ll go back to the oil. It gives the clay a nice feel, and seems to make it easier to smooth the surface. Glycerin does the same thing.

      Enjoy!

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