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Paper Mache Custom Work and Ideas Needed

It’s time again to ask for some help from you, dear readers.

I’ve received several requests lately for custom work. I don’t do commissions, since I spend too many hours a day on my “real” web publishing business, and my garden seems to be taking up all the rest. And I don’t have a good list of professional artists that I can refer these folks to. Your help would be much appreciated:

Unpainted Paper Mache Shapes Needed

Yesterday I received an email from Gray Taylor, Senior Art Director at an advertising company in South Carolina. The project is pretty big. He needs basic (unpainted) paper mache shapes that will then be painted by an in-house artist. The painted shapes will be photographed, and the pieces need to be around football sized. They need all the pieces by October 1:

Dog, cat, bird, car/SUV, motorcycle, jet-ski, boat, RV, basketball/football/golf clubs, charcoal grill, lawn mower, kitchen sink, mounted deer head, guitar or musical instrument, family of nesting dolls.

By coincidence, Matt just sent in a link to a store selling these deer heads, but they’re already painted. If you know of anyone who could produce the these pieces, please contact him, or send an email to me and I’ll pass it on. He’ll probably need some photos of previous work, of course.

This is not the first request of this type I’ve received. It looks like there is at least a small market for custom paper mache work, for stage props (I was asked to do a woodland scene, with all the usual critters) and for store window displays. If you have a business that does this type of work, let me know so I can post a link to your website.

Elephants for Hindu Weddings

Two people have asked recently if I can make large elephants to be used in Hindu weddings here in the US. If you know anyone who might be willing to take on these projects in the future, please let me know so I can pass on the name if I receive any future requests. I’m sure the people who already asked me no longer need the beasts (and I hope the couples are now happily married), but the question may come up again in the future.

This would make an interesting home-based business, if you made the elephants over a form like the paper mache boxes you see in craft stores. There’s a YouTube video showing a guy making sculptures for the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration that way. But it would take a lot of research to know if there would be enough customers for the elephants once they’re done. Maybe the only two people who would be interested have already moved on.

Lighted Paper Mache Sphere – Ideas Needed

And finally, Ruth sent in this question:

I am hoping to make some paper mache spheres that can be illuminated with battery operated LEDs, so they need to be translucent. I plan to use punch-ball balloons and white tissue paper. Any suggestions or tips?

This question has come up before. It sounds like an interesting idea, but I’ve never tried doing anything like this myself. Any ideas for Ruth?

Thanks for your help, everyone.

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About the author

Jonni Good

I'm a sculptor, author, gardener, and grandma. When I'm not catering to the needs of my obnoxious cat, I make videos, create stuff, and play around with paper mache. I'm also the author of several highly-rated books on paper mache. You'll find them in the sidebar, and on amazon.com

23 Comments

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  • I need to make a paper mache sphere about three foot (84 cm’s) across, but cannot find a form that size. is there any way to make a spherical form that size, or make it without a form?
    thanks

  • I recently found that vinegar works very very well for getting dried glue off of brushes. I soaked some brushes I’d completely given up on in apple cider vinegar for a day, and after that you can peel the gunk right off the bristles. (You don’t have to use apple cider vinegar, that’s just what I had on hand. Any vinegar should work.)

    I’m a mask-maker and looking forward to using some of these excellent techniques in my masks!

    Best,
    Nine

  • Hi how do you clean the painbrushes after using them to paint the flour water acrylic paint and glue mixture? My paintbrush has clumped up and I don’t know how to clean it.

    • I just use cold water and soap. If the mixture hasn’t dried on the brush, it should come right out.

      I now use a mixture of joint compound and white glue in place of the older paste I used to use that included white flour. About one tablespoon joint compound, one teaspoon white glue, and a dab of white acrylic paint. It’s a bit easier to use, so you might like to try it next time.

  • Wow! There really are some great ideas that people have shared about the translucent requirement! Again, not sure if this will be of interest, but on the chance that someone out there is in need of ideas for making armatures, I found a wonderful book that has several ideas when I started doing sculpting with cement. ‘Tho it deals specifically with the use of cement, I’m thinking that it might still be useful for helping create that always crucial inner structure. Here is the info, and I also have taken some photos of some of sculptures at various stages , if this would be of any help to anyone, I might be able to make a video of them and post that on YouTube. The book is Sculpting with Cement by Lynn Olsen. It can be purchased for around $23 on this web site: http://www.buildersbooksource.com
    It is such a great book that I loaned it out, and have never gotten it back! It is listed at way too high a price on amazon.com so don’t bother there.

    Hope it helps someone!

  • These are such … enticing challenges, Jonni! I wish I weren’t already busy, or I’d love to try taking some of them on! Big elephants?? How fun would that be? Shipping them might be an even bigger challenge, but … whoo! 😀 How interesting that you’ve gotten so many over-the-transom requests for these large projects. Sounds like a business for an enterprising artist.

    I was thinking that the transparent globes might be reinforced with a fine wire or … what’s that stuff, like a string of rattan? Is it rattan? … wound around the balloon, then covered with rice paper (that would be so pretty!) I have, in fact, a paperglobe lamp pretty much like that, but it’s not pm, and will collapse into a flat shape if asked nicely. Seems like it might work well with the pm, and maybe even add an interesting element.

  • orbs work well with very fine ‘florists’ paper, many layers, no scrunching, over a balloon, using a half and half mixture of water and white ‘Elmers’ glue, after four or five layers it won’t matter if the balloon pops, the glue is the strength! if you use electric lights be sure to use pin holes for ventilation, these make beautiful ‘moons’ and with the pin holes representing the stars!

  • Ruth, I love your idea. I’m wondering if you used avairy wire. {Like chicken wire but smaller} to make your form for the light tissue paper would work. Like they do for garden topiaries. It would be strong to hold the little lights. Kind of like the Oriental lanterns. Just an old ladies idea. LOL

  • WOW, This sounds like a fun thing for someone. To be used as props is a great idea. Wish I could help but no way now. I will be watching to see if you get some response. Good luck

  • Hi
    What about rice paper? It is a little bit more durable and is transluscent. I made a lamp shade once a long time ago. Actually I redid a shade for a very unique lamp I got at a thrift store. I got rice paper in sheets. They probably carry that at Michaels or Hobby Lobby. I could cut it and bend it to fit the shape I wanted pretty easily, and glued it together. Hope that helps.

  • Tissue paper is a great idea. Try scrunching the paper and flattening it our to create wrinkles. After it’s dry, coat it with a cornstarch glue made by cooking 1/3 cup of cornstarch with 1 cup of water.. This will give it a very nice sheen when dry.

  • Re: translucent paper mache question: Not sure if this will help or not: I recently made some “dragon eggs” for my grandsons (to go along with a book we’ve been enjoying:Dragon in the Sock Drawer) I used tissue paper strips and then did the bottom parts with the paper clay mixture. I used a “mod podge” type mixture to put the tissue paper onto the ballon, and it was transparent. Only problem is that after several layers that part of the egg was still not hard, but softer. This worked out perfecly for me, however, and a story about the eggs, developing baby dragons, etc. emerged. I’m not sure how to get this hard or stiff, as Ruth’s project might need. I’ll try to post a photo of this project.

  • Hi i work with balloons 80% of the time & as it happens i have a similar idea for the punch ball balloons. Though whilst mine will also be ‘inside lit’ they are going to be for some dragons to be posed with (on over) them.

    When PM’ing balloons to make a ‘working shell’ by that i mean where you can safely remove the balloons (or they accidentally burst/shrink) you need at least 6/8 layers of news print over them. The first layer works/sticks best with undilutted PVA glue (or similar) directly on the balloon before the first layer goes on.

    I have yet to experiment with tissues but assume around 8/10 layers would be required to make a safe ‘shell’. Depending on the strength of the inside lighting i would reccomend at least a single layer of white 80gsm printer paper as your first layer.

    You can find a list on my blog of 30 balloon facts in my archives.

    when things fall to pieces make those pieces into something
    http://www.darksidecreations.blogspot.com/
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/PMSSHOP

        • AFTER THOUGHT:

          In case people don’t want to or don’t have the time to hunt through my archives for my list of using baloon tips here they are in theyere original Q&A form:

          30 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT BALLOON AS PART OF ARMATURES THE CAN’S, CANT’S & DON’TS.

          This information has been gathered over a 10 month period in which I gained hands on experience using balloons for either partial inclusion(s) or as full actual armatures for many paper mache projects. The balloons I have & still use vary in size, physical thickness & all round type & quality. When reading this information several factors MUST be taking into consideration. These factors will be listed throughout this post. This list has been compiled thanks to MY personal experience gained, but should NOT be considered to be a fixed rule book per say. The information in this list CAN & SHOULD be assumed to be ‘flexible’ when used in varying way’s & methods according to YOUR project(s) requirements, other materials & working conditions. Unless otherwise stated ALL references using the term ‘PM STRIPS’ refers to standard paper ‘strips’ ‘triangles’ ‘rectangles’ & ‘squares’. ALL glue(s) reffered to are PVA.

          Q1) How many strips can be added to a balloon?

          Q2) What glue can I use on a balloon?

          Q3) What is the best way to start adding strips to a balloon?

          Q4) How can I make my balloon armature stronger with less layers – Even when using PVA?

          Q5) I do not want to use pulp so what can i do to still improve strength whilst keeping strips & weight to a minimum?

          Q6) what is the minimum of strips I can add to a balloon before bursting the balloon?

          Q7) What is the minimum glue to water ratio I can use before I need worry about strength failing when reducing strips for weight whilst retaining strength??

          Q8) What is the worst type of paper to use as strips on a balloon?

          Q9) What if any problems should I be aware of when using very watery PVA with news paper?

          A10) I prefer my glue & paste(s) to be watery what effect if any will this have on drying times?

          Q11) How can I speed up drying times so I can add as more strips per sitting?

          Q12) A fan & warm room helps but can I do more to speed up drying so I can add more strips during a sitting?

          Q13) When adding any kind of paper strips to a balloon they slide around as I try to brush or wipe them into place. How can I stop this?

          Q14) No matter how few or what type of paper & glue(s) or paste(s) I am using my balloons are shrinking over night resulting in warping or fully collapsed balloons.

          Q15) What is the recommended way to dry a balloon armature with a radiator as a heat source?

          Q16) If hanging a balloon armature is the only way to dry it then why do most of my balloons then burst?

          Q17) When using a balloon as an armature some of my balloons paper layers have split why is this happening?

          A18) Sometimes when I burst a balloon armature the balloon inside comes away clean & other times the balloon either remains stuck to the inside of the paper strips in fragments or the whole balloon sticks warping my armature why is this happening?

          Q19) I want to cut up a balloon armature to use as part(s) of another armature or sculpture but after adding a lot of paper strips I have found it difficult to cut. What can I do to make this easier?

          Q20) What problems should I expect from shrinking with watered down or water based glue(s)?

          Q21) When adding strips to my balloon armature & allowed it to fully dry I can no longer burst the balloon. Should I be aware of any problems this might cause later?

          Q22) Can any balloon or inflatable latex or plastic item be used as an armature?

          Q23) Mid way through adding layers (or drying) my balloon burst. I have several layers applied, can I save this armature?

          Q24) I only require a part of the balloon to be layered in paper strips can I do this to create a specific shape to reduce cutting later for use in making a bowl for example?

          Q25) Will a balloon armature used in conjunction with other stronger materials such as wood, plastic, metal effect the integrity of the final sculpture?

          Q26) What can I use to paint a armature created by a balloon?

          Q27) Am I limited as to what shapes or forms I can make with a balloon armature?

          Q28) Will a very large balloon armature require additional internal support when completed?

          Q29) I want to create large egg sculptures using balloons but do not want to use paper strips how can I do this?

          Q30) I want to ‘shape’ the balloon armature by pushing in certain sections or areas how do I do this?

          A1) Adding PM paper strips of ANY grade or paper type(s) CAN be added DIRECTLY to ANY balloon. From the first layer to the final layer with virtually ANY glue type.

          A2) Essentially ALL glues & paints CAN be applied directly to ANY balloon(s), but, MUST be of a type that will not have any adverse reactions to LATEX balloons which this information refers to at ALL times.

          A3) When adding PM strips to a balloon I recommend you use un-diluted PVA for the first 2/6 layers. After that the glue can be diluted using either water alone or other mediums. When using water ONLY as a thinner then the ratios WILL vary according to the project size & shape, BUT, all round strength WILL remain high with ALL NONE waxed paper types. MINIMUM ratios of water as a thinner with MOST PVA based glues can be around 20% glue to 80% water. After this I can not state what strength the bonded paper/glue(s) may retain. In ALL projects experimentation IS advised when using un-known paper & glue types.

          A4) A combination of strips then pulp then strips CAN be used & will provide a strong finish.

          A5) When using strips alone when/where possible overall strength Can be improved whilst keeping weight & amounts of strips required down by cross hatching the strips ie: vertical then horizontal layering of the strips. A minimum of 1mm ‘overlap’ one ALL strip types IS recommended. A final ‘smooth’ finish can be achieved by NOT overlapping the final 4/6 layers of strips.

          A6) When using PVA undiluted it IS possible to burst the balloon after only 2/4 strips have been added, but it IS recommended that you add a minimum of 8/10 layers before this step.

          A7) When using watered down PVA where the water ratio exceeds 50% glue to 50% water a minimum of 10/14 strips is recommended BEFORE bursting the balloon(s). The artist SHOULD also take into account the balloon armature size, paper type/thickness, pulp type/thickness applied FIRST before bursting the balloon(s). IF in doubt when/where possible simply leave the balloon(s) intact.

          A8) Most ‘glossy’ papers ie: magazine paper WILL wrinkle during application & drying. As a rule these wrinkles WILL NOT disappear.

          A9) News paper WILL wrinkly IF the PVA is too watery, as with rule 8 these wrinkles in most cases will NOT disappear. You CAN ‘work’ or ‘rub’ out the wrinkles that may form using news paper.

          A10) Very watery PVA (or most pastes) WILL take longer to dry as the balloon(s) will act as a shield against the first few layers of strips & the water they retain. If using watery glue(s) or paste(s) then allow a longer drying time or reduce layers added at a sitting.

          A11) Using undiluted PVA in a warm room & or with a fan blowing at the project WILL partially dry the strips & glue allowing for MORE strips to be added during a single sitting. Balloon size, paper types & glue(s) or paste(s) used may vary the results.

          A12) Using undiluted PVA on a balloon (or indeed anything) will allow the artist to apply as many strips & or full layers as they have the patience to apply as long as the previous layer(s) are dry to the touch. I do recommend how ever a maximum of 10 layers per session to ensure even with undiluted PVA dried fully prior to both bursting the balloon & using the armature created.

          A13) When using watery NONE PVA based OR very watery PVA on the FIRST layer of the balloon the strips WILL tend to slide around. To combat this paint a thin layer of PVA or none PVA glue onto the immediate area of the balloon to be worked on then give it a few seconds (times WILL vary depending on glues type used & how watery it is) before adding the first layer of paper strips. Once the first layer has been added then the artist should not experience any ‘sliding’ problems.

          A14) PM’ing balloons IS BEST performed in a stable cold or warm environment. IF the environmental temperatures fluxuate then the balloon WILL shrink, in the worst case sinario this may be to a point where the balloon will appear to be leaking. To prevent this ONLY PM a balloon in stable ‘cold’ OR stable ‘warm’ conditions. Moving a balloon to a cooler environment regardless of strips & or layers added WILL result in the balloon(s) shrinking as mentioned. To combat this try to keep the balloon(s) in the SAME environment: Before, during & after adding the strips has begun. IF you have no choice & simply MUST place the balloon(s) to a new environment to dry. Then move the balloon(s) to a warmer STABLE environment.

          A15) Drying a balloon armature IS a controversial & open to debate subject, especially in relation to radiator or other directly applied heat source drying. After much trial & error (&MANY unexpected very LARGE loud exploding balloons at 1am, 2am, 3am etc), I personally find that radiator drying IS viable but there ARE limitations & rules that MUST be observed. The following information is based on various balloon sizes, grades & drying exposure times. Also layers applied makes no difference to the following rules:

          15a) Drying balloons near a radiator is best performed IF smaller balloon(s) are placed at a minimum of 12/14 inches from a radiator.

          15b) Large balloon(s) are best placed at a minimum of 16/20 inches from a radiator.

          15c) Placing ANY sized or quality of balloon(s) too close to ANY fixed heat source WILL result in the air inside the balloon(s) expanding bursting.

          A16) Suspending balloons when air OR radiator drying becomes difficult often resulting in burst balloon(s) IF:

          A16a) NONE WAXED STRING IS USED TO SUSPEND THE BALLOON(S).

          A16b) TOO MANY LAYERS HAVE BEEN ADDED MAKING THE BALLOON(S) TOO HEAVY.

          A16c) BALLOON(S) FREELY SPINNING WILL RESULT IN THE LATEX OF THE BALLOON(S) NO

          MATTER THE QUALITY – TEARING. TYING OFF THE STRING TO THE BALLOON(S) TOO TIGHTLY IS ANOTHER CAUSE.

          A17) Never inflate a balloon to its maximum capacity prior to adding strips. Any expansion experienced during drying that whilst may not visibly seem to effect the layers ie: tearing. May STILL be enough to rupture the layered strips.

          A18) Latex based glue(s) WILL adhere to ALL balloon(s) if used in an undiluted state. The MORE you dilute a latex based glue then it is less likely that the glue will stick to the balloon(s) once dry.

          A19) IF a balloon armature is to be cut into multiple sections for use in shaping other armatures etc. It would then follow that the armature to be cut up would be easier to cut if it were as thin as possible first. With this in mind the following factors would be best noted: Between 4/6 FULL layers of strips WILL assist in making not only the armature lighter but & the cutting process easier but also the drying times would be reduced too, BUT, the following known problem(s) CAN & DO then often arise:

          A19a) Using undiluted PVA based glue(s) WILL result in the strips sticking to the balloon(s). When the balloon(s) are then burst the armature if not FULLY dried can be irrevocably deformed or tear too badly to then recover & use. Using too few (minimum of x2 full layers) CAN often result in the armature ‘shattering’ & or tearing when FULLY dried. The then cut sections WILL be in MANY cases too thin to use & therefore work with on another armature or project.

          A20) Shrinking WILL not be of any noticeable level as to effect the encased balloon(s) no matter what glue(s) or paste(s) are used during drying.

          A21) No problems or concerns should arise from not bursting the balloon after completing the armature. In time the balloon will simply shrink inside the sculpture. Since by that time the sculpture will be well reinforced nothing of any concern will occur to your finished work.

          A22) Yes, but IF the ‘other’ type of inflatable item is thin plastic or latex then ALL previous shrinking rules apply fully.

          A23) YES, but you must know that speed & care are to be taken to insert a NEW balloon. You must take care to reduce the risk of crushing the soft armature. You must make sure the balloon IS of the same type size/shape etc. You must not over inflate the replacement balloon or the soft layers of paper WILL split.

          A24) YES, but take note: you MUST make sure the layers are sufficient to make the armature stronger than normal as the chances of warping WILL be greatly increased. IF creating an armature with only half or less of the balloons natural shape is to be employed then a minimum of 20/25 layers IS recommended no matter what the glue(s) or paste(s) type used.

          A25) NO, but you MUST make sure that the balloon armature section(s) are reinforced enough with slightly more layers of paper than perhaps normally used.

          A26) Once you have created a balloon armature you may paint it will any paints or combinations of paints & other materials you wish as with any other paper related sculpture.

          A27) NO, as with any other armature you can create any base shape to then go on to sculpt up from there. Of course a little imagination & much cutting & gluing will be required even for the simplest of shapes at times. With a little imagination, time & care you can add balloon armatures & or pieces of balloon armatures together to make virtually any shapes you wish.

          A28) Yes & NO, this all depends on the size of the balloon of which many extremely large balloons can now be purchased. IF the armature has received enough paper strips & layers prior to the actual sculpting taking place then in MOST cases the balloon based armature WILL cope easily. If in doubt as to the balloon based armature being able to withstand any extra pressure from the other sections of the sculpture or other outside forces then it may be a good idea to internally support the balloon based armature with some form of padding. In cases such as this I use ‘loosely’ scrunched up news paper liberally brushed with either undiluted or diluted PVA glue. This then creates a honey comb effect when dry adding much more light weight support.

          A29) Blow up your chosen balloon to the size you require. Now make a mixture of PVA glue undiluted with flour (corn starch etc). Follow these ratios as the layers grow:

          FIRST LAYER: 50% PVA glue to 50% flour

          SECOND LAYER: 60% PVA glue to 40% flour

          THIRD LAYER: 70% PVA glue to 30% flour

          FOURTH LAYER: 80% PVA glue to30% flour.

          FINAL TWO LAYERS: Finish as you would normally with paints & varnish, gesso or what ever you would normally use. You Can add paints or dyes to the mix as you progress to build up colour & the illusion of depth.

          A30) On reaching the 4th or 6th layer of strips allow the armature to fully dry. Then using any kind of marker pen/pencil draw onto the paper ‘where’ you want to push in later. Now take care to ‘miss out’ these sections or areas as you continue to add strips to the rest of the armature. AFTER wards when you burst the balloon. This will make these sections or areas weaker allowing this to be done.

          • Wow! Thanks, Jonty. What a great resource for anyone using balloons with paper mache. I’ve never got the hang of it myself, but maybe now I can actually get it to work.

            By the way, be sure to let us know when you get your Etsy shop up and running, so my readers can see your new Trolls.

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