Paper Mache Recipes

This page contains recipes for several kinds of home-made paper mache paste, and home-made gesso recipes for finishing your sculptures.

I have been messing around with paper mache for over 50 years and up until a few months ago I always came back to the easiest paper mache recipes, using plain old white flour and water paste with torn strips of newspaper.

Now, however, I have abandoned the traditional layered paper process and use my new paper mache clay recipe  and/or the even newer silky-smooth air-dry clay recipe for most my sculptures. However, for younger artists or for those who really don’t want to make the trip to the hardware store, these following recipes work just fine, and most of the tutorials on this site would work using these traditional paper mache recipes.

Paper Mache Paste Recipes:

Paper Mache Recipe #1
Paper Mache Recipe #1

White flour and water make a remarkably strong paste. In fact, some folks think paper mache is strong enough to build houses with. Your finished sculptures might not be strong enough to hold up a house, but you can sand them and drill them, just like wood.

Boiled Flour and Water Paste:

Many people use a paste that is made of white flour and water that has been brought to a boil. I did some experimenting and found that this paste is not as strong as raw paste, so you’ll need more layers of paper to make your finished sculpture stiff enough. However, it does dry clear, so many people prefer it. To make boiled paste, mix a heaping tablespoon of white flour with a cup of water in a small saucepan and stir until there are no lumps. Put the pan on the stove at medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and allow to cool. The paste will be very runny at this stage, but it will gell as it cools.

Raw Flour and Water Paste:

This is the paste I almost always use, because it’s stronger than boiled paste and you can complete a project with only a few layers of paper. To make up the paste, just pour some white flour in a bowl, and add water gradually until you have a consistency that will work well. (Use a small kitchen mixer so you don’t have any lumps).

How thick should you make your paste? It’s actually up to you. Experiment with thick pastes that resemble hotcake batter, and thin pastes that are runny and watery. You get to decide which ones you prefer.

Keep in mind that it is the flour, and not the water, that gives strength to your paper mache sculpture. And also remember that each layer of paste and paper that is added to your project must dry completely to keep it from developing mold.

Speaking of mold, why not use wallpaper pastes that contain fungicides? There are two reasons why I choose to use white flour pastes, instead of ingredients that prevent mold. First, white flour is ridiculously cheap when compared to any other type of art supply. And second, I hate the idea of dipping my hands in something that contains poison. If small children were helping me with my projects, this would be even more important.

To prevent the development of mold in your projects, you just need to remember that molds cannot grow without water. Therefore, take every effort to dry out your projects completely. I usually put my small sculptures in a warm oven (not over 200 F) or place them near a radiator. Next summer I intend to build a solar dryer that will be large enough for bigger items. The main trick is to make sure the sculpture is dry all the way through – if any dampness is left inside when you apply paint or other finish, the sculpture will eventually rot from the inside out – a truly disappointing development, I assure you.

Glue-Based paste:

If you don’t want to mess with flour and water, and you don’t mind spending the money for some Elmer’s glue, I found this video for a glue-based paper mache paste that you might want to use instead.

Paper Mache Recipe #2
Paper Mache Recipe #2

Papers to Use for Paper Mache:

The traditional paper to use for paper mache is newspaper, which is torn into short strips. (Cut edges should be avoided, because they don’t blend in.) Newspaper is cheap, and it is a soft paper that is easy to bend and mold around a sculpture.

However, you can also use brown kraft paper from paper bags, which will give your sculpture a naturally warm color if the piece is left unpainted.

You can also use softer papers, like paper towels and even tissue paper. The softer papers are used to fashion delicate details, and textured paper towels can be used to add an interesting final coat. The paper mache dragon on this site used the bumpiness of paper towels to represent the dragon’s leathery skin.

Gesso Recipes:

Gesso helps to seal the paper mache and provide a nice white ground that makes your paint brighter. You can use acrylic gesso from the art store, or make your own.

Easy Glue and Joint Compound recipe:

I make my gesso using about 3 parts joint compound, 1 part Elmer’s Glue-All, and some white acrylic paint if I want the gesso nice and white. The paint isn’t really needed. You can apply a coat of this gesso, sand it or use a lightly damp sponge to smooth it out, and then add another layer if the surface still isn’t smooth enough.

Powdered Marble Gesso recipe:

For a thicker home-made gesso, you can use calcium carbonate (powdered marble) and white glue. The traditional proportions are 2 parts PVA glue (Elmer’s or an archival book-binder’s PVA glue if you worry about pH), 4 parts water, and 8 parts calcium carbonate. To make it nice and white, add 1 part powdered titanium or zinc white pigment. If you want to thicken the gesso to cover bumps faster, you can use more powdered marble.

Finishing Your Paper Mache Sculpture:

You can use any type of paint on your sculpture. I usually use acrylic craft paints, and a final glaze made from water-based Verathane mixed with a bit of brown, or copper paint from the craft store. This final coat is put on with a brush and then immediately rubbed off with a paper towel, leaving the darker color in the dips and valleys of the sculpture. I happen to like the effect, but it is certainly not required.

 

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1,377 Responses

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  1. Daniela
    Daniela at |

    Hi Jonni
    First of all I would like to thank for sharing all these great recipes with us! But may I make a suggestion? You should add somewhere in big red letters ‘Warning – if you use any of the recipes you might get really addicted!’ Happened to me! I started in January and I am already through the 3rd batch :-)
    Now here comes my question. I made them all the same and I use containers for storage. Now the 3rd batch grew fungus. Is it possible that I did not add enough linseed oil? Would you think a bit of salt or bleach would help prevent this from happening? I live in the Caribbean and the conditions can be a bit challenging with regards to humidity.
    Again, thanks a mill for sharing all your knowledge with us!
    Daniela – Kalla Lou

    Reply
  2. Paper maché treasures - ritewhileucan

    […]  a whole website devoted to just this activity. Wow. 2. For your easy reference here is a list of paper maché recipes . 3. You can find a helpful video here on how to keep mold from from ruining your creations 4. The […]

  3. Tiffany
    Tiffany at |

    Hi! I’m trying to make a few cage accessories for my twin rats, Milo & Otis. They love to climb so anything I put in there would have to support their chubby little bodies without caving in or crumbling. I would need the a very durable, edible (since they chew everything) mache paste. I was also thinking about using fabric instead of paper, do you know which would set the firmest? Thanks in advance!

    Reply
  4. Marvo
    Marvo at |

    Thanks for the great info! I have a few more questions for anyone who may be able to help. I work for a recycling company who produces a lot of waste fabric dust (tons/day). Think of it as dryer lint from blue jeans mixed with some cloth threads. A friend of mine mixed flour, lint and then baked it. The samples were relatively smooth, rigid and light. My initial finish product thoughts were building materials and flower pots. Here are my questions:
    1) Terrible to see truck loads of this per day going to the land fill, any ideas?
    2) Do you know of any commercial applications for mache? Cloth mache?
    3) Thoughts?

    Reply
  5. Joey
    Joey at |

    Hey Jonni, I was going to send you an email but your contact page says to just do a comments so that works fer me. I went to the library and searched Paper Mache and your book was the first that popped up!!!! How neat. I had it ordered or reserved too. Also I sent you a friend request on FB, not sure how often you get online there. NO I’m not stalking you…!!!!! Haha. Also, I’m not sure when I’ll do that guest post. I do have some stuff ready to go, but now I’m sidetracked. I used wheat paste as sort of a frosting type deal, and now I’m wondering if I couldn’t just use that as gesso. Soooo…I’ll test that too. It’s kind of hard to explain really, but I’m always trying to think of ways to make the pulp strong since its so weak. If you are interested, I now have an Etsy Shop with all or most of my projects on it. You can see the Wheat Paste frosting, and also some cardboard pulp stuff. This is kind of like Wayne’s World (if you’ve seen it) where they advertise coca cola… haha. But yea search for Epic Paper Projects if you do want to check it out. Still going to work on doing a post, except now I’ll probably have more to talk about. With all these variations of paper mache I sometimes wonder if there is some magical combination of them that will make the truly Ultimate Paper Mache!!!!! Maybe like, Pulp + Regular Paper Mache + Paper Mache Clay + Wheat Paste + Gesso or something. But that of course, might cause a paper mache blob monster to be born. El Ultimo Paper Blobbo. El Monstro De Epico Es Paperoo!!!!! If only that were real spanish..lol

    Reply
  6. Ralph
    Ralph at |

    Thanks for the reply Jonni, if I can get a camera from somewhere I possibly could.

    Reply
  7. Ralph
    Ralph at |

    Hello
    Can anybody tell me a brand for Raw Flour?

    I am having trouble finding flour in the UK marked as “Raw Flour” and am not sure if what I am getting is the correct one?

    Perhaps its labelled as just flour (with additional not self-rising marking somewhere), or perhaps its wheat flour? I just don’t know.

    Thanks alot.

    Reply

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