Paper Mache Animals

How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe

Paper mache giraffe

I’ve mentioned my giraffe in a previous post, but I skipped over the directions because this was an experiment for me. This is the largest paper mache sculpture I’ve ever done, and part of the process wasn’t very pretty. In fact, I stopped taking pictures before the project was complete.

There were many times during this project that I didn’t believe it would ever work. I’m glad I kept going, though, because I’m very happy with her.

Today a reader  asked for more detail about how this project was done, so here goes. I’m afraid you’ll have to use your imagination towards the end, because I don’t have photos of all the steps.

Making the Neck

The project began with a cardboard tube that I made from pieces cut from a cardboard box. I cut several notches out of the tube in the areas where I wanted the neck to bend, and then taped it all back up again. You can see the progression from a straight tube to a curved “neck” below.

Step 1 - Paper Mache Giraffe

Giraffe Neck, Step 1

Giraffe Neck, Step 2

Giraffe Neck, Step 2

Giraffe Neck, Step 3

Giraffe Neck, Step 3

Giraffe Neck, Step 4

Giraffe Neck, Step 4

Before adding the head or any paper mache, I needed to weight the neck. Otherwise, the head would cause the sculpture to fall over. To do this I cut a circle of cardboard and cut notches into it, then folded it up to make a bottom for the tube. I then cut the tube almost all the way through about eight inches from the bottom, and taped the new circular piece inside.

I put some plastic cut from a kitchen garbage bag into this bottom piece of the neck and poured in some plaster. When the plaster was hard, the bottom piece was taped back onto the rest of the neck. The photos below show how this was done.

Giraffe Neck, Step 5

Giraffe Neck, Step 5

Giraffe Neck, Step 6

Giraffe Neck, Step 6

Giraffe Neck, Step 7

Giraffe Neck, Step 7

Giraffe Neck, Step 8

Giraffe Neck, Step 8

Modeling the Neck and Head:

As you can see in the photo above, a lot of crumpled paper and masking tape was added to give the neck its tendons and general shape. Once I was reasonably satisfied with the shape, I added several layers of paper mache. The first layer was made with strips of newsprint and flour and water paste, and the second layer was made from brown paper and paste. Some additional smoothing was done with joint compound, not shown.

– When I first discovered that you could use joint compound to smooth a paper mache sculpture, it made things so easy I thought I was “cheating.” Now I can’t imagine not using this inexpensive product, which you can find at any hardware store. You can see this being used on several other tutorials on this site.

Giraffe Neck after Adding Paper Mache

Giraffe Neck after Adding Paper Mache

The photo below shows that I first tried to add the head, made from crumpled paper and masking tape, before adding any paper mache to the neck. I can’t remember why I removed the head, although I believe it was because the shape wasn’t quite right and I wanted to do it over.

Anyway, at some point a basic form for the head was added using paper and masking tape, and I then used Sculpey modeling clay over this basic form to build up the details of the head.

In the second photo below you can see this in process. Unfortunately, this is where I stopped taking photos. I had decided at this point that I wouldn’t be writing a detailed tutorial. And frankly, it was so exciting at the moment when the Sculpey suddenly became a giraffe that I didn’t want to stop and take photos. The sculpture was finally working, after spending days wrestling with the cardboard to form the neck.

Giraffe Head, Step 1

Giraffe Head, Step 1

Giraffe Head, Step 2

Giraffe Head, Step 2

When I was satisfied with the clay sculpture, I added several layers of paper mache and allowed it to dry.

I then performed a very delicate operation to remove the clay from inside the head. I felt the weight of the head would make it too easy for the sculpture to be knocked over by one of my playful dogs, even though the bottom of the neck was filled with plaster.

The head was cut in half, the clay and crumpled paper was removed, and the head was immediately put back together with strips of brown paper and paste. If the pieces are not put back together immediately they warp as they dry, and the two halves will not fit together.

With the underlying Sculpey and crumpled paper removed, the head is completely hollow.

Finishing the Giraffe

The ears were then added,  using cardboard pieces cut out of a cereal box. I made the mane from four long strips of corrugated cardboard. I spent a long time cutting “hair” into the strips by cutting almost all the way through the strips a few hundred times. I then notched the side of the two outside strips that would attach to the giraffe, so I would have tabs to tape over. The two inside strips were cut narrower, and glued to the outside pieces. The mane was then attached to the neck with strips of brown paper and paste.

The sculpture was then covered in several layers of glue based gesso, which I made from:

  • 2 parts PVA glue (Elmers or Carpenter’s glue)
  • 4 parts water
  • 8 parts calcium carbonate (marble dust)
  • And 1 part titanium or zinc white pigment, by volume.

Don’t feel you need to run out and buy these items. Ordinary gesso from the art store would work fine.

I then added the spots by mixing some home-made gesso using natural pigments – but acrylic paint would work for the spots. The eye was painted black with acrylic paint, and then a finish coat was applied.

You can see the mane a bit more clearly in the photo below, plus the odd shape that the head has when seen from the top:

Giraffe Mane, Ears and Horns

Giraffe Mane, Ears and Horns

Giraffe Head, From Above

Giraffe Head, From Above

She looks very strange from the top.You can see that the eyes bulge a lot, and you can’t see the actual eyes at all from above. I think this allows the giraffe to have eyes focused on the ground, where their natural enemies might be lurking.

I used a lot of photos from the Internet to see how giraffes are built. I learned some interesting things while doing my research. Of most importance to me as an artist is that every species of giraffe has a different pattern of spots. My giraffe is a total mutt, and does not reflect any particular species or geographic area.

I also learned that biologists are still arguing over how many vertebrae giraffes have in their necks. You would think they could just count them after a giraffe dies in a zoo, but what do I know?

If you make a giraffe of your own, please let us see how it turned out.

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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

45 Comments

  • Hi Jonni,
    My lovely giraffe made in Kenya has lost one of his ears. Do you have a pattern from which I could construct a new one?
    Thank you.
    Megan

    • Hi Megan. That’s too bad about your giraffe. Their ears are long triangles. The bottom of the triangle is curved into a circle, with the top edge folded more than the bottom edge. You would want to cut your new ear to match the one on your sculpture, so I’d suggest using a piece of copy paper, place it around the remaining ear, and trace around it. Then both ears will match.

      Good luck with it! I hope your giraffe gets well soon.

  • Hi ma’m,
    Im a great fan of your work its so inspiring!! Ma’m need i help in making a wearable giraffe and jackle masks.

  • Hi again. I prepared another email and don’t know if it was sent. I just reviewed part 2 of your giraffe and neck and was impressed. My home is decorated in safari style. I had a life-sized, realist giraffe head and partial neck sculpture. Unfortunately, last week, a cabinet installer caused it to fall from its 8 foot high perch and shatter.

    I need to replace it but do not have the skills to do so as a craft. I would greatly appreciate any information about who may be available to replace my giraffe. My telephone number is 561 742-9400. I thank you in advance for your early reply.

  • Hi; I was browsing for exactly what you’ve created: A life-sized, realist Giraffe head and partial neck. My home is decorated ala safari mode. 15 or more years ago, I bought one at an art show while in NC. My giraffe has just met an untimely death when a cabinet installer caused it to fall from its perch, at a height of 8ft, shattering it.

    I do not have the skills to create one as you did so well, but I wish to replace my original. Could you advise as to where and how I could buy one or have one made?

  • im so glad i found your tutorial cause im about to attempt making a wearable giraffe mask and this has given me alot of good ideas on how to go about it all thanks to this i feel like its possible and not just some hopeless attempt. :D

  • thanks for replying! i just have couple more question. would you make the head separately then adjust it to the neck? i did not understand what you meant by,”When I was satisfied with the clay sculpture, I added several layers of paper mache and allowed it to dry”.would you also paper mache the head on top of the modling clay, but would it not make the giraffe very heavy?
    “I then performed a very delicate operation to remove the clay from inside the head.” how would you do that? “The head was cut in half, the clay and crumpled paper was removed” i did not understand that whole sentence. please explain.
    so would you tape together the crumpled paper and then put the modeling clay
    on top of it. where would the paper mache process fit in all of this.
    please explain in detail.
    -Rodas

    • Rodas, I can understand your confusion. This giraffe head and neck was actually an experiment. As it turned out, I think this is my favorite sculpture so far. But I’m not sure I would make it the same way if I did it again.

      If you look through the other tutorials on this site, you’ll see that I almost always use crumpled paper and tape for my armatures, with no clay at all. The clay was used in this instance because I was having a hard time getting the right shapes with the paper. The clay I used was oil-based, so it had to be removed. If it’s left inside a paper sculpture the oil will eventually seep out and cause spots on the surface of the paper mache.

      The only way you can get clay out is to cut the paper mache apart, remove the clay, and then put it all back together. That’s why I would recommend that you not follow the instructions on this particular page. Build an armature out of crumpled paper, then cover it with paper mache. If you wear the giraffe head, you’ll need at least 8 layers of paper and paste, and they need to dry all the way through. If you leave the bottom of the neck open, without paper mache, you can then reach in and pull out the crumpled paper armature, a little at a time, and what you’ll have left is just the shell – the giraffe’s head and neck.

      You could also use a cardboard armature, like I did on my Dogon mask. That way, you have a hollow piece right from the start, and you don’t need to remove the armature when it’s done. The cardboard also makes a very strong, but light, mask.

  • wow! you are amazing and sooo talented! i just got started on my giraffe and i need some tips on the material and the head. Here in africa there is not much supplies. and what is sculpey? the giraff’s neck and head is supposed to like a hat.
    how would you put the head on the neck? please reply soon before october 9th.
    thnks
    -rodas

    • Sculpey is an artificial clay-type product that can be baked in the oven. You won’t be able to find it there. Just use crumpled paper and tape to make your form. My giraffe was made all in one piece, so the head and neck were made together. I have no idea how to make a hat like the one you describe, but it should be a very challenging project. I hope you’ll let us know how it turns out.

  • This is bloody brilliant! I got the idea from an exhibition at my school ( i’m only 15) off a guy called jimmy lei who had done a gorilla thats about 4ft tall. It was really good but me being me i thought i could do better. I’m going for a whole giraffe, as it would have the best effect. It’s going to be about 10 metres tall, dependent on what the world record is, as i’ve done some research and there doesn’t seem to be a record for the largest cardboard giraffe. I’ve not even started yet to be honest but i’ll post pictures etc when i’m done. Thankyou for this article; it will be a huge help!
    Josh

  • Two Questions:
    *1) Is this Giraffe sculpture a whole Giraffe or just the head and neck?
    *2) If this Giraffe is whole would it be able to sit on?

    • I only made the neck and head. My house is not large enough for a whole giraffe.

      To engineer a large sculpture that’s strong enough to sit on, you would need to make the armature very strong. The plywood armature that I used for the elephant would be strong enough, I think. You’d also need to consider the instability of a real giraffe that’s standing up, with all the weight above very tall, skinny legs – a giraffe lying down would be much less likely to tip over. However, the natural slant of the back would make the sculpture somewhat uncomfortable to sit on, I think. If you make one, please post a photo so we can see it.

  • Hi. I am a middle school student and am trying to make a 5ft CAMEL for school. Because of your technique and art skills, do you have any suggestions? We have about 3, maybe 4 weeks to make it. The camel will be around 5ft, maybe a little larger. I should have a group of 3 others helping me, not including my parents. Thank you.

    • Also, do you know approximatly this may cost? And being very first timers, and ideas to make it simpler? Thank you

      • Hi Emma. I suggest that you use a cardboard pattern inside your camel, so you know exactly what shape it will have before you start. Then cover the cardboard shape with crumpled paper and tape, like I show you on many of my latest tutorials. If you make your camel with paper strips and paste it won’t cost much – just the cost of the flour you use in the paste if you use old newspapers. If you use the new paper mache clay recipe it could cost $10 or a little more, but it would go faster.

        Although my elephant has a wooden pattern inside (and you can use cardboard if you won’t be sitting on your camel) you can get some good ideas about how to make the armature by watching the elephant video.

        Good luck.

  • Jonni, great site and desperately need advise… i need to make 2 full size camels for a christmas float by dec 3… the 3rd camel is lying down and ive started it using mesh wire and your clay but because its closer to the grown stability is not an issue but for the 7 ft camels im sure it will be… any advise regarding the base and stability issue would be greatly appreciated…. thanks larien

    • Hi Larien, I’d definitely use an inner armature for a project that size. It would help to stabilize the camels, and it would give you a way to control the final shape and size before adding the paper mache. Have you seen my baby elephant video? The techniques will work for your camel, just the shape has to change.

  • Hi,

    I have been going over this giraffe article again and again. You did a great job! I had a question about this part:

    “When I first discovered that you could use joint compound to smooth a paper mache sculpture, it made things so easy I thought I was “cheating.” Now I can’t imagine not using this inexpensive product, which you can find at any hardware store. ”

    My question being: When you say smotth out the sculpture do you mean coating the entire thing (if need be) to get rid of wrinkles in the papaer mache?

    Thanks and I hope to hear from you!

    Gary

    • Hi Gary. Yes, you can use joint compound to completely cover a paper mache sculpture and smooth out the bumps, as long as you cover the joint compound with at least one additional layer of paper strips and paste. If you use the paper mache clay instead, which I would do if I made another giraffe, you don’t need to cover the clay because the paper is embedded in the joint compound/glue/paper recipe. I developed the paper mache clay recipe in part because I discovered how useful the joint compound can be when making paper mache sculptures.

      The reason you need to cover the bare joint compound is because it may crack if you put it on in a thicker layer than the manufacturer recommends. If you’re covering dips and irregularities in your sculpture, it’s really hard to put it on in an even layer – since that would sort of defeat the purpose. However, if you cover the joint compound with the last layer of paper and paste, you don’t need to worry about cracking, and you protect the joint compound – which doesn’t have much strength on it’s own.

      Enjoy!

  • hola mi amigo, es usted un verdadero artista, por casualidad he encontrado su pagina mçy me es grato y satisfactorio pues segun yo tenia ganas de elaborar un proyecto de papel mache, especialmente una jirafa pero me da miedo pues nunca he echo uno, pero gracias a usted, hoy me he animado y lo voy a emprezar, deseeme suerte. gracias por su gran nobleza al compartir sus conocimientos y obras.

    gracias

  • I am elated to find your instructions! The nursing home residents and i are working on a float- we are making our bus into a circus wagon and I had my heart set on a giraffe sticking his head out the top! We are going to start work on this giraffe next week! Thank You!

    • Our residents and I built “Henri” for our circus float- thank you for all the tips and instructions!

      Henri - paper mache circus float

  • Hello
    your really clever.
    ive got to make a giraffe head but its got to be light because ive got to dance in it. Any other ideas ? x

    • I think you might want to check out the African mask tutorial – it will give you some ideas that you might use to create the form that will keep the mask on your head – although you might need some straps attached at the bottom if the neck is going to be as long as a giraffe’s. Maybe the straps could go under your arms – it sounds a little uncomfortable, but it could work.

      I’d make the basic form out of cardboard pieces taped firmly together. Then add your details with the paper mache. Then would be hollow, so it wouldn’t weight too much. I suppose you could also make it with a chicken wire armature if you could keep those cut wire ends from sticking out and poking you. I always end up feeling like a pincushion when I work with chicken wire, but some people have been very successful with it. Judy made a very large paper mache giraffe using this method, and she shows you how she did it on her blog.

      Good luck! Let us see your mask when it’s done!

  • any suggestions on doing the full giraffe? With the legs and everything? I was thinking of making one for a parade float! I have two weeks!!

  • hello i love your giraffe i am making a giraffe lamp for my hsc project this year and would like to use this tecnique for the top half of my giraffe as i am making a whole body lamp . the light will come out of the tail and i was just wondering if this head is heavy and if the body was also made out of paper masche would it be stable and be able to support it. i am going to reinforce the legs with wood or steal poles aswell but i was wondering if you think it would be strong enough also would you mind if i asked you a few more questions if i get suck later. thankyou very much

    raquel

    • Hi Raquel. I had to put some plaster in the bottom of my giraffe because the weight of the head would have caused it to fall over. If you have wood or steel in the legs that might be enough weight. You would also need to make sure the shape of the overall sculpture is balanced, which might be a challenge. You can make a simple base of wood, and attache the legs to the base. That would give it a wider base, and help keep it from falling over.

      Be sure to see the paper mache clay recipe before starting. I came up with the recipe long after I made this giraffe. If I made it again, I’d use the clay instead, and the project would go a lot faster. The details like eyes would be a lot easier, too. And feel free to ask more questions – that’s what the blog is for!

  • THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THESE INSTRUCTIONS. I will be assisting my mom and sister on this project and I’m so excited about it. Your giraffe is so beautiful and I think that the children will love this. We might be asking for some more tips if we get stumped. Thanks so much for your quick response. Hope you have a great week. We will send you pics and let you know how things worked out.

    • These directions are great, I am going to give it a try, my son (18) loves giraffes, when he comes home one weekend from college he may see one in his room, what a surprise, hope it works out, you are so talented, keep on doing what you do!! thanks for sharing these directions.

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