Paper Mache Animals

How to Make a Paper Mache Dragon

Paper Mache Dragon

Project Difficulty Level: Challenging

My first project for this new blog is a paper mache dragon, which I made in honor of my readers over at my other site, DrawFluffy.com

This dragon is made from newspaper, paste, masking tape and paint. The total cost was under $5 – an art project for the true cheapskate! Feel free to use the ideas and instructions to make your own paper mache dragon, with your own individual creative touches, of course!

Dragon, Step 1

Dragon, Step 1

Step 1:

The first step in making a small sculpture from paper mache is to create the basic form. For this project I used newspapers twisted into a general shape and then wound together with masking tape. For inspiration, I looked at the beautiful drawings of dragons in the book Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons.
Note: be sure to keep any books or other items a loooong way away from your paper mache projects – you’ll be making a big mess, and you wouldn’t want to ruin a nice book.

I create both hind legs before attaching them to the body, so I’ll know they’re both basically the same size. The legs are attached so the top (hip) is near the dragon’s backbone.

I don’t pay any attention to details, like toes, in this stage. I’m just trying to build the general shape of the dragon, and give him (her?) an interesting posture.

Dragon, Step 2

Dragon, Step 2

Step 2:

The back legs are on, and now the front legs are being attached. I include the shoulder section in the leg, and I continue to add masking tape to cover the paper. The masking tape helps make the inner form stronger.

Dragon, Step 3

Dragon, Step 3

Step 3:

Now the tail has been added, along with some spiny points along the backbone. Then the tail and hind legs are taped securely to a board.

Dragon, Step 4

Dragon, Step 4

Step 4:

The wings have been added. The wings are first made with a twist of paper in the same shape as a front leg (arm?) and attached to the body. I then cut some cardboard from a cereal box and folded it like a fan. This has been taped securely to the wing’s ‘bones’.

Adding wings to an animal that already has front legs is a real challenge, because the front legs are attached in the place where wings would go. (Wings are front legs, with feathers added). One can only hope that the final sculpture will look halfway reasonable.

Dragon, Step 5

Dragon, Step 5

Step 5:

Now for the fun, messy part. I dip each torn piece of newspaper into the flour and water paste, and then wipe off the extra paste against the side of the bowl. Then the paper is laid on the body and pressed down as smooth as possible.

This is continued until the entire dragon has been covered. I also covered the masking tape that holds the dragon to the board.

Dragon, Step 6

Dragon, Step 6

Step 6:

The weight of the wet paper will cause the form to lose it’s shape, so a paper roll props up the dragon until the first layer dries.

Once the first layer is completely dry, another layer is added, the form is propped up again, and allowed to dry again.

This sculpture will not be played with, so it only needs two layers of newsprint and paste. Once these layers have dried, the form is strong enough to stand on it’s own.

Dragon, Step 7

Dragon, Step 7

Step 7:

Now the features are added with tiny bits of paper towel dipped in paste.In this photo you can see I’ve added the mouth, eyes, nostrils, ears, and chin whiskers.

The toes have also been added, and a layer of paper town has been added to the rest of the dragon, because it produced a very nice leathery texture.

The features are left to dry, and then the entire sculpture is covered with a layer of paste, diluted with a small amount of carpenters glue. This helped to smooth out the texture and gives the dragon a smooth, slightly bumpy skin. Once the top layer of paste is dry, the dragon is covered with white primer.

Dragon, Step 8

Dragon, Step 8

Step 8:

The dragon is now painted with antique copper paint, which I purchased from the crafts section at the local Walmart. The base is painted black.

Dragon, Step 9

Dragon, Step 9

Step 9:

Using a fairly dry brush, I start to add the color to the dragon. The first layer of green has been added in this picture. Some of the copper still shows through. (I could have stopped at this point – but I’m not too excited about the bright green as a color for a large, imposing and scary creature. I thought he (she?) needed some more work.) As I continue painting, I mix some of the green with silver paint, and I add some copper, black and silver spots along the dragon’s side. I paint the eyes last.

Completed Paper Mache Dragon Sculpture

Completed Paper Mache Dragon Sculpture

The finished paper mache dragon:

After all the painting was done, and all the paint was dried, I finished the sculpture with water-based verathane mixed with a small amount of copper paint. This protects the sculpture, and the copper helped pull the colors together and made the skin patterns more subtle. The dragon is finished – now, on to my next project!

You may also like:

How I painted the Unicorn.Unicorn Pattern
Hyena Mask PatternHyena Mask Pattern
Life Sized Paper Mache Baby ElephantLife-Sized Baby Elephant

105 Comments

  • Hi!
    I Love your paper mache Dragon along with everything Else. Do you Know if it is possible to use the technique of your Baby elephant on the Dragon to make it possibly Bigger? Another question, is it possible to make a easier Dragon sculpture because in sixth grade i cant do much.

    • Hi Andy. Yes, you can use the basic ideas from the elephant video to make a larger dragon. If you don’t think anyone will sit on the dragon (with those points on his back, who would?) you can use cardboard for the pattern instead of wood. Just make a fairly simple drawing of the dragon you want, and blow it up onto a big piece of cardboard. Add the legs and wings, and start adding crumpled paper. You can make a great dragon.

  • Hi!
    I love your creations! I was wondering if there is a way to make the dragon weather safe. We would like to make one with our kids at the preschool were I work and use it in an outside display. Thank you.

    • You can see my latest experiment to waterproof paper mache was not very successful, although others have said that using spar varnish will work. Check that post, and read through all the comments. You might get some ideas that you could use for your dragon.

      • You can get a spray -on wheather proof varnish at the hardware store that works really well. i use it when i paint rocks. they go in my yard and thy’ve all held up well so far. good luck and have fun!
        ~Leah~

  • Hello,

    For my high school homecoming decorations we wanted to create a life sized dragon out of paper mache. Do you have any tips for simplifying the instructions or anything else? Our materials are chicken wire, newspaper, paste, and wood.( maybe styrofoam)

    Wendy

    • For large dragons, the “expert” is Dan Reeder. I don’t know if he has time to answer emails, but he’s got some great videos on his site, and his latest book gives good instructions for making large “monsters.” The instructions could be easily modified to fit your dragon.

      You might also want to check out my baby elephant video – I used a plywood armature on the inside, and it worked very well.

      Good luck!

  • wow this is awsome!can you make me one? it looks just a wee bit complex for a 10th grader. (even if i have all the dragon books ive found.)

    • I don’t do dragons on commission, but you might want to give it a try, anyway. You might be surprised at how nice your dragon turns out.

      • I think a tenth grader could manage that! if you follow Jonni’s steps mentioned above, you shouldn’t have that much trouble. i’m younger than 10th grade and i haven’t had too much trouble at all. give it a try! good luck!
        ~Leah~

  • hi we did the pig the legs ended up to short unfortunately, but luckly we have not painted him yet so we can sort that out. I know its a big or even giant jump to have a go at the dragon well if it goes wrong it goes wrong not much I can do. By the way my picture is my hamster the one was going to do a sculpture off!!!

    from emily

  • this is a great website! your projects give me lots of inspiration! i’m trying to make a dragon myself but i hit a few roadblocks. i’m doing tons of projects and i could use some help. could you make a bald eagle?

    • I’ve been intending to do another dragon, using an internal cardboard pattern to help form the armature, and using paper mache clay on the outside instead of paper strips and paste. But I don’t know when it will be done. Bookmark the main page of this site, and check back often.

      And for your question – yes, I could make a bald eagle, but that’s one more thing on my to-do list. I have figured out how to make nice feathers with the paper mache clay, and they’d be great for an eagle sculpture. One of these days….

        • I didn’t take any photos of the chicken feathers, and it’s been so long I’m not even sure how I did it. But I think you could make them just like the butterfly wings if you reinforce each feather with wire. You’d need to experiment a bit to find a technique that works the way you want it to.

  • I was looking for info on P M, I loved your dragon. I’m working on a final for a college Art class and want to use P M. Thanks for all the information. S

  • Nice work! I do love the steps in form, limb and wing attachments! I’ve done a number of storybook characters in papier mache using screen mesh that I’ve used to form the armature,and then applied the mache mix. Using newspaper is a lot easier to use and not as harsh on the hands when twisting!
    I only went by methods used in years gone by suggested by those who created characters for theme parks in the 50’s and 60’s.
    I, like you, followed reference photos myself and came up with characters that turned out to be true winners! Its the area of creating for exhibiting and possible selling that escapes me and is not in abundance!
    I’d dearly love to exhibit my work to share with others for their viewing pleasure!

    • Hi Bruce. You have a very nice website. If your paper mache characters are nearly as well done as your airbrush art, I can see why they were winners.

      I just picked up an ebook on selling art online that seems to have some great advice on the subject. (That’s not an affiliate link, by the way. Just a plain old link.) You seem to be doing many of the things they suggest already, with your own website. I’ve slowly come the realization that I’ll have to sell some of my sculptures if I want to keep making them. Even though the materials are less expensive than many kinds of media, prices to seem to keep going up. And there’s only so much room in my house, after all.

      • i know exactly what you mean about room in your house. i am no good at all at selling things online, but i am setting up a booth at our next festival. you might try something similar. good luck!
        ~Leah~

  • This is a fantastic site.
    I am woundering if somebody would help me.
    I would like to make a lifelike body so as to make dresses that would fit
    Thank you

    • You’re the second person to ask me how to make a paper mache dress form, so I put up a new post. I have a few ideas of my own, but I’ve never tried it myself. I hope other readers will add their own ideas – perhaps someone has some personal experience they’d like to share. You can find the post about paper mache dress forms here.

      • it’d be really cool if someone wore a paper mache dress to prom. my friend wore a duct tape vest to promotion…

  • I am trying to use up all my junk mail paper and magazines by using them in the paper mache. Have you experimented with magazine paper and junk mail paper, like credit card application paper(haha)? I would rather make something out of the paper then have to save it for the monthly trip to the recycling center.

    • Hi Stacey. I haven’t used magazine paper and the slick stuff in junk mail because I assume it wouldn’t soak up water from the paste very well. If it doesn’t get damp from the paste, it’s hard to get paper to make a smooth layer on a sculpture. However, that’s just my guess. You could do a really fast experiment by whipping up some paste from white flour and water, and then tearing your paper into big strips. Stick them on something – maybe a cardboard box you don’t need for anything, and see if you can get the paper to go around corners and lay flat. If it works, there would be no reason to not use the paper on a real sculpture.

      In fact, it might be kind of fun to use the colors from magazine photos in a final layer of a sculpture, instead of painting it.

      The only time I would say that isn’t true is if you’re making something for a small child who might eat it – the inks on colored magazine pages aren’t made from soy, like newspaper ink is.

      If you decide to do your experiment, please let us know how it turns out!

      • i’ve used magaziens before. in my experience, they take a little longer to dry and may be a little trickier to work with, but they do work. good luck!
        ~Leah~

  • Hi. Love the dragon. I am in process of trying to do something similar and your video has been a great source of ideas on techniques. I am just wondering tho, what type of paint were you using?

    • Hi Bob. I used acrylic craft paint for the dragon. I think if I made another one I’d add some metallic wax on top, to give it that reptile sheen. I hope you’ll let us see your dragon when it’s done…

    • So did I! they are so fun! i did mine for a school mural project. my dino was nearly 4 feet tall. unfortunately, my teacher didn’t think through whatever plan she had in her head and ripped the body to where it was unreparable. i did manage to salvage the head, though and the jaw still moves! Tell your sister i give her an electronical hi-five!

  • Your art is amazing! It is creatively lifelike…if that makes sense. I would like more information on how you paint the eyes because I think that is the detail that is bringing such life to your projects. Thanks so much for sharing your artwork.

  • Hello:
    I’m a chinese artist,would you tell me do you have the Invitational Exhibition or Academic exchanges in your country every year? or Sculpture project tendering? and do you need art teacher in your area? can you help me sell my sculpture?
    would you like Contact for me?(you can my sculpture).

    • Your dragon is gorgeous, Jonni. I especially like the idea of the paste/carpenter’s glue “smoothing” layer.

      I have Dan Reeder’s book and found it helpful. Another paper mache artist I admire is Scott Stollow. Here’s a link to his paper mache dragon tutorial: http://www.stolloween.com/?page_id=51

      Thanks for sharing your work and your knowledge.

    • I don’t know how I missed this website until now. I really like your technique Jonni. And the dragon is beautiful. I really like the movement in it. And the paint job is perfect. In fact, I really like what I’ve seen so far with all of your projects. I love them. Thank you for such in depth sharing!
      Dan
      PS. I fully intended to write this before I saw your very flattering comment. I am humbled. So “cheers” from one paper mache artist to another. Keep up the great work.

      • Gosh Dan – thanks for visiting! Your videos are a real inspiration. I know they take a lot of time and effort, and they’re remarkably well done. I sincerely hope that anyone reading this who hasn’t already found your site will hop on over there right away and check out your incredible designs.

        • Hi again Jonni,
          I love this site. I check back often. You have a great style. At the risk of sounding self serving, I actually have a number of new videos. And a new book, “Papier Mache Monsters” ,2009, Gibbs Smith Publishers. I love this medium. Obviously you do too. And I love that you love giving it away. I feel the same way. And since you invite self promotion and photos, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve taken advantage of both.
          Thank you Jonni. Keep up the great art work (and the great blog!)
          Dan Reeder
          http://www.Monster-man.com

          [img]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3418/3902573732_932531c0ba.jpg[/img][img]http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2550/3902573602_8ef2f9c598.jpg[/img][img]http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2473/3901781919_7d74236300.jpg[/img]

          • woa~ Dan Reeder is on the blog! hi! i was wondering if the link above goes to Dan’s website… i guess i’ll find out! I was wondering, though, do you think Dan’s coat hanger method (i don’t think i’m spoiling anything~ that was on Amazon) or Jonni’s method of making a wood or cardboard “skeleton” would work better for making my peacock? If either of you could give me a pointer, that would be great! thanks for your earlier pointers on this matter, btw Jonni. I was going to start soon, but then i saw Dan’s method and i wondered whether that might work better. thanks!
            ~Leah~

            • Leah, either method will work just fine. Dan’s wire frames are made from really heavy wire, so it might actually be stronger than using the cardboard pattern. I made my lion cubs, snow leopard and bobcat armatures using Dan’s method. I still made a full-sized pattern on a large sheet of paper so I’d know how to shape the wire. If your bird’s neck will be rather twisty, Dan’s method might make it easier to position the neck the way you want it – although you can get a lot of movement using the cardboard method, too.

              I guess I’m saying that both methods work, so go ahead and use the method that best fits your own working style.

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