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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Life Sized Paper Mache Baby ElephantLife-Sized Baby Elephant

4,506 Comments

  • Hi I’ve always loved clay crafting but don’t want to buy a killm. This seems like the perfect alternative but I have a a question. Hopefully I’m not bothering you but I was wondering how well this clay would stand up against outside weather conditions. I think if I sealed a finished project in a waterproof polyurethane or something similar it could work. Or maybe I wouldn’t need that at all. I’m curious to know cause I like to make lawn decorations.

  • Hello there Mrs. Jonni
    I’m a art student and i need to make a torso of a man with paper mache clay
    Here the question can i still make it without a mixer?

    • Some people have told me that it’s possible, although I’ve never tried it. You’ll probably need to put on some gloves and get your hands in the mix, and kneed it a lot so all the paper fibers will get dispersed through the recipe. If they clump together, it’s hard to spread it thinly, and it would be bumpier than you’d like. But if you have patience, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work.

    • Hi Jonni could not scroll through 4500 posts to ask this question hope you get this can your clay be used in silicone moulds to make furniture appliqué

      • Hi Annie. I had to go look up furniture applique – I’d never heard that term before. But now that I see what you mean, I think I can give you a qualified ‘yes.’ However, the paper mache clay doesn’t give you a nice clear copy because the high paper content keeps the material from coming into full contact with the mold. My experiments didn’t work out very well. People have told me that they get nice copies in silicone molds when using the air dry clay recipe, which has less paper. But you’ll have to watch it carefully – both recipes will shrink as they dry.

        You might also want to check out the plaster and paper mixture that I created specifically for silicone molds. You can find it here.

  • Jonni, your website has become an invaulable resource! I’m the propsmith for a live action roleplaying game my family runs, and I’m very much a novice in fabricating things. Thanks to your plaster paper mache mix I’ve made some lovely faux-stone monuments!

    Anyway I was wondering about this mixture. How is cleanup? Would I have to have a dedicated set of mixer whisks and hooks and a dedicated bowl, or would a trip though the dishwasher render my tools foodsafe again?

    • Hi Luna. I use some ratty old plastic bowls for the paper mache clay that have air-tight covers, and I only use them for that purpose. I don’t know if that’s needed. I also have a separate little mixer that I use for craft projects. That’s mostly because the paper mache clay tends to rise up the beaters and can get stuck inside the holes where the beaters are attached. It’s hard to clean that area, and I wouldn’t want little bits of dried paper mache clay in my cookies.

  • Hi Jonni. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m looking for something with a longer working time than the cold porcelain I typically use. What is the working time please? Also, I get mineral oil in the laxative aisle, (same as baby oil, just without the fragrance). Very inexpensive, too! ?

    • Good tip on the mineral oil, Diane. Thanks! As for working time, the paper mache clay dries slowly, the way wet paper does. I recommend drying it as quickly as possible once you’re finished sculpting with it, but you do have several hours to play with it. For a smoother surface that’s a little closer to cold porcelain, you might also want to check out the smoother air-dry clay. The corn starch that’s added to that recipe will change the working time, though. You can spritz it with water to keep it damp longer.

  • Hi Jonni!!!
    First of all, Thank you a million times over!! You are an amazing artist, and your recipe is wonderful!! You have given me so much inspiration!! And how you take the time to answer all of these comments so calmly, even the repetitive ones!! You are a truly wonderful person! I used your recipe last Halloween for a prop for my husband. He was a voodoo priest and I made a skull on a stick type thingy. Worked Beautifully!!! Thank you SO MUCH!!!

  • Hi Jonni, I have not tried the clay yet, but will keep you posted.. meanwhile, I am trying to send a photo!!!

  • Hi Jonni, I have been using your papier mache clay recipe to make lanterns and they have been turning out great. Thanks so much for sharing it. Now, I want to try the air-dry clay for a smoother look, and I was wondering wether I can use it directly onto the masking tape of the armature?

    • Hi Diana. The air-dry clay uses the same ingredients as the paper mache clay (plus corn starch), but it isn’t as sticky. You’ll want to test it on a small scale before doing a larger project. I use a mixture of water and PVA glue to help it stick to things. You might need to do that, too. Be sure to watch the video of the rhino (there’s a link to it on the air dry clay page) so you can see how the material differs from the original paper mache clay recipe.

      We would love to see your lanterns, by the way. Do you have a photo or two that you’d like to share with us?

      • Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I will try it and let you know. Let me try to load a photo, I hope it works, I’m not good at this stuff ??..

      • Hi, I tried to load a photo but it said the file was too big.. I am really bad at this stuff and now I am not even sure if my reply went thru ??In case it has not, let me thank you again for your prompt rely.. I will try with glue wash and let you know.. meanwhile, I shall ask my son today to help me load a photo of my work.. Tks again..

          • Hi Jonni, I tried the clay over the masking tape and used modpodge underneath, it seems to have worked just fine. They hardened and I let them be for a few days now and they look good. Thanks again. I will try to post a photo again.. if it does not work and you have an instagram account, you can see my work under: Save.The.Memory by Diana Cheaib, although my work pales in comparison to yours!!!!

  • I typically gesso my paper mache…do you think the clay would adhere to to a paper mached layer or the gesso layer better? Also…all my hardware had was Spackle brand spackling compound…do you happen to know if that would work in a pinch? I’ll definitely post a picture once I’m done 🙂 Thanks so much!

    • Ben, I haven’t tested the paper mache clay to see if it would stick to an acrylic-based gesso. I don’t actually use it over paper mache, unless I’m adding little details, and then I just put it right on over the dried paper mache without sealing it first. It might stick to gesso, but you’ll want to test it. As for the Spackle, I haven’t tried that either. If you have some on hand, mix up a small batch, spread a thin layer and let it dry. Then let us know if it dries nice and hard, like it should.

  • Can I use shredded paper instead of toilet paper if I soak it?
    I’m trying to be more environmentally conscious!

    • Yes, you can use recycled paper if you soak it longer. Make sure you give it time so the paper fibers fall apart, and mix it really well. It won’t be as smooth as the TP, but it does work, and many people use recycled paper in the recipe.

  • Hi Jonni
    Wow and wow and wow is all I can say. Your site is amazing and so informative – even learning stuff through reading your questions and answers. You are such a special person to share all this infomation and advise in such clear and easy to follow ways. Thank you. Had my first go at paper mache clay yesterday having watched your tutorial of the receipe and then thought I have it figured and off I went, but having some time today to look through your site has made me realise you have so many tips and techniques. All I want to say is a huge thank you. And once my chicken dries, Ill attempt to post you a picture. Paula from New Zealand

  • Hello Jonni,
    I’m curious if you have ever gotten flour bugs after you’ve made your paper mache?
    I surprisingly did. Now I want to make some more and nervous that I’ll get more. I don’t always use the dried paper mache right away.
    Thanks Deborah

    • I don’t think we have flour bugs where I live. So far I haven’t seen any bugs at all eating into a finished sculpture made with paper mache clay, but that might just be because our bugs don’t think it tastes good.

      You might want to seal your sculptures as soon as they’re dry with an acrylic varnish. The matte version might be easiest to paint over when you have time to finish the painting. Someone recently mentioned that he uses bleached white flour in his mixture, even though he never uses it in cooking, because the bleaching process kills the mold spores that naturally come with the flour. I wonder if that might discourage your bugs, too? Or you could try adding a few drops of oil of cloves, and see if it helps.

      Also, you might want to leave another comment over on the Daily Sculptors Page. There’s a link to it at the top of the site, and a lot of people visit that page every day. Maybe someone else has had this problem, and has an actual solution to it (as opposed to me just making things up. 🙂 )

      • If she’s talking about weevils, the Weevil eggs are are already in the flour when you purchase it from the store. Most grain products contain harmless Weevil eggs. Those of us who live in a hot climate are all too familiar with these little critters who hatch and infest foods. I used to make bean bag toys and stuff them with rice, but the weevils in the rice would hatch and bore through the fabric of the animals.

        I’m very interested in trying your process. I was recently inspired to try my hand at paper mache by an artist who works with discarded horse racing tickets, wood glue, and water to create gorgeous life-sized sculptures. His nomme de art is Tom Deadstuff.

        • Hi Michele – I didn’t think of weevils. I don’t think we have them here. Lots of other creepy crawlies, but I’ve never seen those. Thanks for the tip.

          Tom Deadstuff – I hadn’t heard of him, so I had to go look him up. What an imagination! (And a weird sense of humor, too. 😉 ) If I found the one you meant, that is. Does he do horror-related work like the one I linked to?

  • Jonni,
    I justed wanted to say thank you for this recipe! I have searched many years for a fast alternative to paper-maché. I love that this is inexpensive and mostly the durability of the product once it has dried. Thanks again!

  • Hi Jonni,
    I have recently discovered your work and am so excited about the creative possibilities. I wonder, if the papier-mâché clay would break if put on over regular wheat paste papier mache? I make piñatas and am wondering how they will perform. Any insight is super appreciated!! Warm Regards,
    seá

    • Hi seá. I haven’t tried it but I have concerns. You’d want to test it. I’m worried that the paper mache dries so hard, almost like plastic, and that broken shards could cause injuries if the piñata was hit hard enough and if people were close enough. It will break if you make the layers thin enough – but I’m just not sure it will work for this purpose, and I would hate to see anyone get hurt. Experiment with it, and see.

      • Yes that is what I was afraid of. Even in the grass I don’t want sharp pieces. I will have to keep experimenting with more traditional methods. Thank you for your input!

  • I Jonni i am sculpting a animal for client for outdoor can i use The clay for The animal is it stay good outside il not what do you use for outside ,i dix à goose for inside thank you on advanced beatrice

  • Hello Jonni, and thank you for sharing your talents and skills so selflessly with the rest of us! I appreciate your generosity.

    I am using your black bear pattern to create a theatre set prop. I am making a life-size faux polar bear rug. The head will need to be strong enough so it doesn’t collapse under the weight of the body fur. I plan on using your paper mache clay to reinforce the structure and create fur texture around his snout. Does the mineral oil add to the overall strength of the end product, or just to it’s smoothness? Thanks again for your expertise.

    • Hi Sharon. I don’t think the mineral oil adds anything except a smoother feel to the pm clay while you’re using it. I often forget to add any oil, and the result is just as strong. To improve the strength of your polar bear (great idea!) you might want to fill it with rice or sand. It would make the head heavier, but there would be inside support in case someone decides to put his or her foot on the bear’s head and strike a pose. 😉

      What are you using for polar-bear fur?

      • I’ll be using long hair synthetic fur. We have an awesome textile resource here in Chicago. I forgot to mention my plan to fill the head cavity with “Great Stuff” expanding spray foam. It dries hard but can be carved and sanded as necessary. The tricky part will be judging how much to use for the correct amount of expansion so it doesn’t disfigure the shape of his head! Fingers crossed and I’ll keep you posted.

  • Hi Jonni, I’m really enjoying your tutorials and have been making masks on a regular basis since encountering your site. I was using the blue shop towel approach and went back for more tips and saw your paper mache clay recipe and was really excited to try it. However I think I messed up the recipe a bit by using too much TP in the mix. I bought the double roll of angel soft and tried to guesstimate how much was half. It was a little sticky and I had trouble getting a uniform surface while keeping the details. It’s a little thin in spots and you can see the oil clay through it (it’s a dark brown oil clay). I’m worried about doing another layer though because I’m afraid of losing even more of the detail. I’m going to try to send you an image and I was wondering if you can tell me if it’s safe to take off or not? I still have a lot of the clay left and I was wondering if just adding a bit more of the wet ingredients would help make it more spreadable, or maybe I just need to mix it for longer? Anyway, I really appreciate the time you put into these tutorials and the sharing of your amazing talent!

    • Hi Patrice. Your image didn’t come through, but you can certainly add more of the joint compound and glue, and then mix again, to distribute the paper better. To make your pm clay less sticky, you can add more flour or even use corn starch. It will soak up some of the liquid in the mix. If you can see through the pm clay, you’ll probably lose those parts when you take the dried clay off the form. I would recommend using just a little more pm clay and letting it dry.

      Next time, you might actually prefer to use your shop towels for the initial layers, and then use the pm clay or the smoother version for the final details. You could end up with a lighter mask that’s smoother on the inside.

  • I’m not a native English speaker so bear with me please..

    Hi, thanks for the fantastic amount and quality of info on Paper Mache you provide on your site..
    Could be you explained in somewhere (can’t find it) but I wonder why exactly the PVA-glue is needed, I haven’t used it yet with my mixture, so I wonder.
    Just Joint Compound (“tegellijm” in The Netherlands) seems to be working for me.

    • If it works without the glue, that’s great. I think it helps prevent cracking, and the resulting dried mixture is very hard and strong. Drywall joint compound by itself is designed to be used in very thin layers on a wall, and is fragile on its own. But I have to admit I’ve never tried just using the joint compound with paper and flour, without the glue. I’m wondering if your drywall joint compound in the Netherlands is different from ours. Has anyone else tried this?

    • Are you talking about paper money? I doubt it. They make that paper especially so it won’t break down easily. Completely opposite of tp, which dissolves instantly in water. If you were talking about some other kind of bill, let me know.

        • Yes, you can use recycled paper of any kind, but it isn’t as easy as using toilet paper. You need to soak the paper for a lot longer, and then mix it a lot longer to tear the individual paper fibers apart. But a lot of people do use regular paper, and they say it works. I’m too lazy to try it, myself. 🙂

    • Hello Renate,
      You might try running the junk mail paper through a shredder if you have one, but be sure to remove any cellophane windows or other weird material that they may have included. That will help your paper to break down more easily.

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