The paper mache panda I promised is finished, and you can make one of your own using the following photos and instructions.This is a fairly advanced project, but if you have any prior experience with paper mache you should be able to make a very nice panda of your own.
Before making your panda, be sure to look up lots of panda photos on Google. You’ll want to refer to the photos of real bears as well as following the instructions below. Then your bear will end up looking exactly the way you want it to.
Caution: This bear would be adorable in a baby’s room, but please remember that the paint and finish materials of this bear are not really safe for babies and toddler’s to eat – and teething babies will chew on a paper mache animal. (The nose is always the first thing to go). For that reason, I don’t recommend that small children be allowed to play with these critters until after they stop teething.
Making the Pattern
I’ve discovered that it’s much easier to build a paper mache animal sculpture if you make a side-view pattern, and then build the sculpture around this pre-set form. I have never seen anyone else do this, so it may be an entirely new invention. You don’t need to use a pattern, but you should try it at least once to see if it helps.
You can draw your own pattern right on a piece of cardboard, or you can print my panda pattern (PDF) twice and cut out the body from the first one and the legs and arms from the second one. Then trace around your pattern onto cardboard and cut it out. If you use my pattern you might need to set your printer to print landscape style in order to get the pattern big enough.
When I was halfway through making my panda I decided that I wanted his head to be turned a bit to the side. If you know in advance you want to do that, you can cut through the pattern at the neck, from both the front and the back , leaving just a small tab in the middle. Then twist the pattern into the position you like before adding your newsprint and masking tape.
Building the Body
Now that you have your pattern cut out, start crumpling newspaper into balls. Build up both sides of the pattern with the newsprint and lots of masking tape.
Both the tummy and the head are almost perfectly round. Be sure to add smaller pieces at the back of the neck so the body and head blend into each other above the shoulders.
When you have the head finished, add smaller paper crumples to the muzzle. Your pattern will help you place the muzzle correctly (see photo below).
Adding the Legs
Using your masking tape, tape the feet to the bottom of the legs and then position the legs the way you want them on the body. Remember that pandas slouch when they sit on their tails, (just like we do when we watch TV), and that means that the hip is further forward than you might expect. I found that it helped me find the right positions if I temporarily taped the arms on, too.
I chose to have one of the legs leaning a bit to the side so the foot turns outward. Play around with the position of the legs and arms until your panda bear is doing exactly what you want him to do. Little balls of crumpled newspaper between the top of the legs and the body will help you arrange the legs the way you like.
Now add more paper to the inside and outside of the panda’s legs, making them nice and fat.
Feet and Hips
Add little bits of paper to the top of the foot and another bit for the ball of his foot.
Then use flattened wads of paper to smooth out the shape above the legs. Pandas have very heavy fur coats, so you can’t easily see the joints. If you don’t smooth out the shape above the legs, he might look like a stuffed teddy bear, instead of a “real” panda.
Adding Arms and Shoulders
Now do the same thing with the panda’s arms. Be sure to bend the arms at the elbow and wrist, and bend the claws down towards the body. Then fill in the shape with crumpled paper and masking tape. It’s easiest if you fill out the inside of the arms before taping them to the body.
Once the arms are firmly attached and filled out, turn your panda around so you can see his back. Fill in the spaces at his shoulders, between the body and the arms. He should be fairly smooth across the shoulders.
Adding the Paper Mache
Your panda should now look pretty much like the photo on the left, above. If you want your panda to be lying on his back, now would be a good time to add his tail. If you want him to sit up, don’t add a tail because it will make it hard for him to balance on his bottom.
Make your paste from flour and water. Just pour some flour in a small bowl and add a little tap water at a time. Stir well with a fork or spoon, and add just enough water to make a paste about the consistency of thick cream. Dip one side of a strip of newspaper into the paste, and draw the wet side against the side of your bowl to remove the excess. Then carefully smooth it down onto your panda bear.
You’ll have to do this in two stages, so there’s always a dry spot for the bear to sit on. I made my bear with one layer of newspaper and paste, and then in the steps below you’ll see I add another layer of brown paper.
Adding the Expression and Ears
Use small pieces of newspaper to shape your panda’s smile. You might need to play around with this a bit until you get just the expression that you like. My panda ended up with a very lopsided smile – I could have “fixed” it, but I think it gives him character.
You’ll also want to add his nose. You can build up a nose with a strip of newspaper dipped in paste and then folded into a triangle, the way you fold a flag. Then cut nostrils with an old pair of scissors.
While the paper mache on the panda’s head is still wet, use your thumbs to push in the places just above his muzzle where the eyes will go. You can see in the photo below.
The panda’s ears are very furry. Cut two ears from light cardboard and bend it into a cup shape. Attach the ears with strips of newspaper and paste. Then fill in the fur by dipping a piece of paper towel into paste and rolling it up. Attach the roll of paper towel to the inside edge of the ear with more paper strips. (I really intended to take a photo of this step, but it looks like I forgot. Sorry…)
At this point I decided that I wanted my bear to be looking a little to the side. To do that, I cut off his head with a serrated bread knife and re-attached it to the panda’s body with lots of strips of newspaper and paste. I quite often cut things off and put them back on again to get things just the way I want them. You certainly don’t need to do this if you like your bear’s posture as it is.
Smoothing with Joint Compound
I like to use joint compound to smooth out the bumps on my paper mache animal sculptures. You find joint compound at the hardware store. It’s normally used to finish new walls. It costs about $7 for a gallon, and this amount will last for a very long time.
I add a little water so the joint compound goes on easily. It’s applied with a table knife.
The joint compound dries quickly, and is very easy to sand. Be sure to do your sanding outside.
Now your bear is ready for his final coat of paper mache. I like to use brown paper for the final coat, because the pieces seem to melt into each other very nicely, and create a good smooth surface.
Drying, and Adding Fur
I dried my panda’s last coat of paper mache out on the garden fence, and I couldn’t resist taking that photo.
When the brown paper layer is completely dry, you can add texture to look like fur. Since I alreay had the joint compound out, I thinned it with a little bit of white glue and painted it on with an old, stiff brush. You can achieve much the same effect using a layer of flour and water paste. That’s the way I did the fur on my lop-eared bunny, and it turned out quite nice.
I also added eyes with the wet joint compound. I explain that below.
Adding Eyes, Sanding and Painting
You can see above that I added the eyes using the joint compound. I painted a very thin layer of joint compound onto the muzzle and in the areas where the eyes would go. Then I used the round wooden end of a small brush to draw the eyes into the joint compound. Then I dropped a bit of joint compound onto the eye. While it was still wet it looked like a pointy Hershey’s kisses. When it dried I used sandpaper to smooth off the point. The result was very subtle, but effective
After the joint compound fur dried I sanded it down quite a lot. Without the sanding it looked a little too much like he’d been frosted. You can see the final texture in the photo above.
I painted the bear with a warm white acrylic paint. After the first coat dried I drew the panda’s fur pattern onto the bear with a pencil. I mixed a little bit of brown into my black acrylic paint to warm it up a little, and then painted the black areas.
Finishing the Panda
Once the black areas were painted, I dipped the end of a toothpick into the white paint and used the toothpick as a brush to add tiny dots of reflected light into the eyes. Then the panda was given a coat of Latex Glaze, which I purchased several years ago at the hardware store. It’s milky when it’s first applied, but dries to a clear matte finish.
When the glaze was dry I brought out the texture of the fur by painting on a mixture of Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic and a tiny amount of color. This mixture was first used back when I made the paper mache dragon, and I’ve added a few drops of additional colors each time I use it. I no longer have any idea what colors are in it – but if I was starting over from scratch I’d probably use a little bit of brown and a little bit of blue to make a nice warm grey.
This mixture is brushed onto a very small area of the white part of the panda and then immediately wiped off with a wet paper towel or sponge. If you do this step you must be quick. You only want the shadows to be brought out, without really changing the color of the fur.