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,ย  – 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 ingredientsย  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:ย  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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4,399 Comments

  • Thank you for your terrific paper mache tutorials and instructions. I am making a giant egg that will open with hinges. It is for a play and it needs to fit a child inside. She will pop out as a chick during the play. So far, I have used an ikea egg chair as a mold, using chicken wire and an “O” shaped piece of plywood my partner cut out for me so we can attach the hinges to this. We have put one layer of plaster cast as I had this on hand. Now I plan to make the drywall join compound paper mache to cover the egg as I hope this will make it strong enough for the child to be able to sit inside. We made a flat bottom of the egg so it sits on the floor easily. My questions are these: do you have any tips and foresights for me? I have a large canvas sheet material that I was going to use in strips, do you think this will work? Or should I go buy the blue towels you recommend? I have to make 2 of these eggs, as there are 2 chicks in our play. Thanks for your feedback!!!

    • Hi Tiffany. I have never made an egg, other than my Humpty Dumpty. He was a lot smaller than your eggs, but made with plaster cloth with a few layers of paper mache on top.

      Since you’re using the canvas material, you have three options. I haven’t tried any of them, so you might want to test them out with little swatches before covering your eggs.

      1. If you have all the ingredients on hand, go ahead and try using the joint compound/glue recipe. It might work just fine. If it does, be sure to let us know. ๐Ÿ™‚

      2. Or, you could try the Monster Mud recipe instead of the joint compound and glue recipe for your paste. Monster Mud is used a lot for theater props (and Halloween displays, where it got its name). I believe the formula is five gallons of premixed drywall joint compound to one gallon of latex paint. You would not need anywhere near that much, but a five to one ration should work, and you can get cans of cheap paint at the ReStore or any paint store, because they usually have cans that were custom mixed but the color didn’t come out right.

      The usual technique is to dip the fabric into the goop, but if you used it like paste it might not be so messy. It’s definitely something you’d want to do outside or in the garage. It should dry very hard, and it’s supposed to be waterproof.

      3. Dan Reeder uses bed sheets as a final protective layer for his dragon sculptures. I believe he dips the fabric in a solution of white glue and water. This might dry faster than the other two formulas, but I don’t know if it would be sticky enough for your canvas, which is much heavier than bed sheets.

      I hope one of these options will work for you. Those baby chicks are going to look adorable jumping out of their eggs!

  • I’m making a replica of a cheese wheel and started with a styrofoam base which i coated in tape and then drywall compound. The drywall on its own isn’t sanding down as well as I’d hoped and I’m thinking about putting a layer of this clay over it. Do you think it would stick? I I painted over the drywall compound with acrylic paint to see if that would cover up the textural issues (which it didn’t).

  • I have been experimenting with different clay forms lately. I want to eventually move up to making a doll but wanted to make sure my sculpting skills were good enough to put a lot of money into. But I’ve tried a few clay recipes using flour and my creations always end up with an awful smell. Am I doing something wrong? I would love to be able to keep the crafts I make but the past few have been horrible! Any recommendations? Please & Thank you!

    • Hi Chelse. If you use any organic materials, you’ll get mold or yeast if the item doesn’t dry really fast. That’s why I use such a thin layer of the paper mache clay over my armatures. A 1/8″ layer is plenty strong, and it will dry in a few days if left in front of a fan. Of course, in a really humid climate, it may never dry. In that case you might want to use a non-organic material, like Apoxie Sculpt.

      • I must be making the layer too think then. Thank you for the feedback and fast reply! I will be attempting this project again. I will get it down pat one of these tries! Thank you! Great thread & comments, love the support I found on here and the ideas!

  • I’m looking for a cheap alternative to spray insulation for the attic. Its an old house and the insulation that’s here now is like cotton and under that is straw. I want to remove it all, the cotton stuff smells of bat urine. Most spray insulation is ground up paper and cardboard with insect deterrent and flame resistant. I just want a thin paste to spread down to seal up air flow, then add another insulation over that once dried. Boards will go over all of that anyway. Would this clay be able to seal up everything?

  • I am very new to clay crafting. I bought store bought paper mache clay. It’s very difficult to mould it. It’s very hard. Not like the clay kids play with as u had expected. What should I do? When I try to mould them cracks appear at many places. Even a simple mini bowl does not have smooth surface. What should I do? Please guide me.

    • I haven’t used store-bought paper mache clay in years, so I can’t help you with this question. Tell us what brand you’re using, and one of my readers might have some suggestions for you. In the past, I remember buying products that included plaster, so they got hard really fast and you couldn’t get nice details. Is that what’s happening with yours?

      • No.. The clay itself looks hard. Its not dried. But like hard dough where you have used less liquid and more flour. I guess you get my point. If thats the case with my clay what can I do while molding? Currently what i do is I wet the area where the cracks appear and try to smoothen it and that area gets fine. but when trying to do that another area might produce cracks and I smoothen it with water. So ultimately the bowls are not that smooth and even.

    • I haven’t tried it, but the flour is just to add filler and soak up some of the moisture. Any type of flour should work – but experiment with it, to make sure.

      • Thank you! I’m a beginner and your videos are giving me so much inspiration! Thanks so much! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Hi. Thanks to you, I have had great success using your clay to repair some antique paper mache candy containers. Now I’m really getting ambitious & attempting to transform a 4″ doll into a bunny. I have two questions.
    1. Is the masking tape a must? I’m having trouble getting mine to stick smoothly.
    2. After covering these little inch long legs with tissue paper & tape, how can I keep them separated long enough to clay them & let it dry?
    Thank you so much.
    Chris

  • Hello, how long does this recipe take to dry? I have a fan and floor heater simultaneously blowing on it, but I goofed and forgot to add bleach to the toilet paper water. Once dry, will it be a good idea to build more layers onto it to shape it? I mixed all of mine by hand by first shredding the toilet paper in warm water by rapidly stirring with a fork and then straining the water out, so it’s not as smooth as it could be, but I sure was able to shape it very nicely over my base.

    • Hi Emily. The drying time really depends on how thick it has been applied. If you used a thin layer, maybe about 1/8th of an inch, it should dry in 24 hours. Just be sure to give it time to dry all the way through, because it will feel dry on the outside before the inside is completely dry. You can add more layers on top of a dry layer, if you want. I do that all the time.

  • Hi Jonni, thanks for sharing all these great information with us. However, I am wondering if it’s possible to make a paper-mache so thick to be able to knead it and form directly in my hands, just like any other clay or a plasticine? I mean direct manual forming and sculpting, without the need of spreading the mache over anything (making not too big items, of course). I tried to make a thicker version of your recipe but at some point my mixer just stops and won’t go (as the pulp’s too thick already). What do you say? Thanks a lot. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Bea. That doesn’t work because any layer thicker than 1/4″ will have a very long drying time. I even recommend thinner layers. When thick layers do dry (and it takes forever) the item will crack. You might have more fun with the air-dry clays that are made with earth clay (and something else added, I’m sure). You might have to experiment with those, too, to prevent cracking. I think the slower they dry, the less they will crack. If you try one of those air dry clay products, I hope you’ll let us know what you think of them.

      • Hi, thanks for your reply Jonni. I’ve been using these air-drying ready clays for a long time in my dolls, but find them just too breakable, not sturdy enough. I thought your recipe would solve this problem…

        • Are those your dolls? They’re beautiful. I’m not sure if the paper mache clay will work for you, though, because it has a slight texture. Good for some animals, not so good for doll faces. The air dry clay is smoother, but I use it, for dolls, over a form made of plaster cloth, for strength.

          • Yes, those are mine, thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚
            I’ll experiment with your recipe I think, and will let you know the effects. I need a strong clay, I’ll try. I will probably put it into the oven to speed up the drying process. Thanks a lot Jonni! ๐Ÿ™‚

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