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

  • paper mache clay sculpture

    Im a BFA sculpture student @ the University of Kentucky, and im loving your material! I am currently working at a much larger scale with the material 🙂

    • When you say “much larger scale,” how much larger, exactly? That sounds intriguing. And can you tell us just a bit about the photo you sent? You have me curious.

  • Do you know where I can find that other post that I made? I can’t seem to find it. And thank you. I think the grid and cardborad would work perfectly. Your sculptures are amazing and look so realistic. I will be sure to post a picture of my eagle when I’m done.
    Thanks for all your help!

  • Hi Jonni. My name is Victoria, and I am 14 and I am in 9th grade. I’m creating a school project based on Americans. I figured a Bald Eagle could represent freedom. I want to do it out of paper mache and blow my teacher away. But this is a big project and I obly have ’till at least the 11th. I fear I won’t have enough time, but I’m confident I can do it. Its a bit of a challenge, and I have had very little experience with paper mache. The bald eagle will be at the most 2 feet tall, perched on the ground, wings spread open. I would probably round up newspapers and tape them like you did with the dragon. But I am not sure how to do details and if I should do your home-made paper mache clay, or just use paper strips and paste? I think the clay will have much more work to make then just strips. But I wanna get an opinion from an expert. Thank you for any infromation or websites or advice you can give me. 🙂

    • Hi Victoria. I mentioned on your other comment that you might want to take a look at my tutorial about how to make a cardboard armature for a snowy owl. I know you want your eagle to have a different pose, but you can use the basic technique for your armature. Then you can finish it with the paper strips and paste, like the dragon, which will probably dry faster if you only use a few layers. I think I added one final layer of paste to the dragon to smooth it out, but I would skip that step if I was in a hurry. Gesso dries faster, and it’s less likely to crack. It can also be sanded nice and smooth, and makes a great base for your paint.

      Good luck. Be sure to let us see your eagle when it’s done.

    • I’m the wrong person to ask, because I don’t actually sell my work. I live too far away from anywhere, and shipping is too expensive. You might be able to get some ideas for pricing from a local artist.

  • i hae tried realy hard to make it myself but i just ant do it. How much are you willing to take for it?$$$$$

    • I’m sorry, Jessica. I don’t take commissions. Maybe you could get together with some friends and make him – it will mean so much more to you if you make him yourself, even if the first one doesn’t come out quite the way you wanted him to.

      Be sure to watch my videos about making a dragon with a pattern – the series starts here. There’s a pattern for the dragon below the video.

  • Im 12 and im making a giant paper mache drgon so far i have the main body , the head and two of the legs done, so far it stands at about a meter and a half but when the wings are added it will probably be about 2 metres and i was just wondering if this has been done before? it is made out of a bit of cardboard and lots of newspaper and lots of celetape

    • Hi Elizabeth. I haven’t made a dragon that large, but it sounds like a fantastic project. I hope you’ll let us see it when it’s done.

  • Hello =)

    I love this dragon! The details are perfect and the with this collors it looks awesome and like real dragon =D. I love dragons but i can’t find a tutorial about a clay dragon. I havn’t paper mache 🙁
    But: Nice work =D

  • I am in the process of making my dragon, but i did (accidentally) make one slight change in the instructions. I am paper macheing on roughly 3 layers of paper every step. So before the legs and other various body parts were even attatched to the body, i had paper mached them. and then even more when i put them on the body, and so on. As i don’t have any masking tape, i figured this might work just as well. so i’ll either have a dragon that is so heavy it can’t stand up or an extremely sturdy one. oh well. i’ll let you all know about the final product! have fun, all of the paper amche loving people on this blog!
    ~Leah~

    • I think that adding paper mache to the limbs and letting it dry before attaching them is a good idea. This is the first project I made when I started this blog, and my dragon’s legs tended to sag every time I added a new wet layer. I had to prop her up during the drying time. You won’t have to do that because the legs will be supported. Excellent idea, Leah.

  • Hello again! i was working on my dragon again today and i started thinking… why did you do a dragon? you seem to like to do real animals. Of corse i’m definitely not saying your dragon isn’t amazing… I also read somewhere else on your blog (can’t remember where…) that your daughter painted a gourd. does she have a blog or website? If so i’d like to see it. i paint gours and it would be interesting to see some others. thanks a bunch!
    ~Leah~

    • I don’t think my daughter has ever painted a gourd, but another reader might have – you might find the comment again using the search bar. However, I won’t waste an opportunity to give my daughter another link to her oil painting blog – 🙂

        • I made the dragon because the very first website I built, years ago, has drawing tutorials showing kids how to draw the mythical animals from the Harry Potter books. The dragon was the most popular page on that site. It’s still online, and it still gets up to a 1000 views a day, although I think I could do a much better job on the tutorials if I did them over. This dragon was a way for me to say “thanks” to all the readers who have visited that old site through the years.

          I think the idea of dragons is particularly interesting because almost every culture on earth has this “mythical” creature somewhere in their traditions. I suspect that people thousands of years ago found dinosaur bones, and they were able to see what kind of animal the bones originally belonged to. For me, the existence of the stories is more fascinating than the stories themselves.

  • opps!
    i have to cover dragon with white primer.
    but how to make the nose and the eyes ?how to use paper towel?

    • The damp paper towel can be scrunched up to form the eyes and nose. You could also tear off small bits and add them to build up the shapes.

      I do hope you’ll let us see your dragon when it’s done.

  • hi jonny!
    when i add the second layer of newspaper with paste the color of the dragon isn’t white so how to make it white
    O.O

  • Thank you for your pictures and information. Do you have suggestions for a good size hippopotamas for a pattern? I want to use your newest method for placing in the back of a pick up truck with children for a summer parade. I see plenty of hippos, but not a good side view like you have of your elephant. I’m planning on purchasing your book/books as well. Hope your daughter is improving.

    • Hi Sandra. I always check Google’s image search first when I’m trying to find a good photo for a sculpture. Sometimes you need to use several photos to get all the shapes right. Also, there’s often many pages of photos, and the one you need might be way down on the page. If you click on that link above, and get out your sketch pad, I’m sure you’ll get a good likeness for your hippo. Be sure to let us see it when it’s done!

  • i also just wanted to say that im a six grader who just found this and now im makeing a dragon piggy bank for a school project i cant wait to see how it turns out

    • Hi Addyson. You might also want to watch the videos about making a dragon with the paper mache clay. The details are a bit easier with the clay than the paper and paste. You can find the videos here and here. I never finished that dragon, unfortunately.

    • Umm… yes, you can make a dragon any size you want. If you imagine dragons being the size of a large dinosaur, you can make your dragon that big. If you need to move it, make sure you can get it out the door. 🙂

      The best resources for making really, really big paper mache sculptures are Dan Reeder’s book Papier-Mache Monsters and Monique Robert’s book Papier Mache Design. These two folks like to make really big sculptures, with light-weight armatures. My largest piece, so far, is a life-sized snow leopard, which may (or may not) be dragon-sized. Depending…

      • Andy, you do know that dragons aren’t real and therefore, any size is lifesize and yet is not at the same time, right? have fun anyway.
        ~Leah~

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