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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1,362 Responses

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  1. Diana
    Diana at |

    I have always used the “cooked” flour recipe and tried the raw one. I didn’t quite like it. I agree that it dries to a harder surface faster but the surface has a powdery, rough cover (the raw flour granules) to which nothing sticks. At the beginning I though it was because the paste was too thick (too much flour) but I experimented with other proportions and got the same problems. How can I correct this? I am currently trying to correct the surface by covering it with a think layer of cooked flour paste or diluted mod podge. Otherwise I won’t be able to put another layer because the paper is not sticking to the first layer. Any suggestions?

    Reply
  2. Joe
    Joe at |

    Thanks for all your hard work – great site, very helpful!

    Reply
  3. Margaret
    Margaret at |

    Hello again… wanted to show you my dragon armature (took me several hours over a few days to get to this point…!)

    My new question is… as you can see, some of the covering is regular silver duct tape, and I’ve been using masking tape and paper packing tape over the rest. Is the clay going to want to stick to the duct tape all right, or is that too slick? Should I mask over it all first?

    Here is a current photo of the project. Also, for anyone who is interested/curious, here is a link to my Facebook album (temporarily made public), showing everything I’ve done so far.

    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10203498593487393.1073741829.1290503636&type=1&l=febaaa868c

    Reply
    1. Nope
      Nope at |

      Nic job so far just don’t mess up

      Reply
  4. Daphne Donaldson
    Daphne Donaldson at |

    Many thanks for the great tips and ideas! I have an old casanova venetian long-nose mask – unpainted and I’m guessing made from papier mache. I want to turn it into a raven mask. The mask is cracked in a number of places and I’m wondering how to fix and strengthen the mask before I spray paint it black and add feathers. I assumed I’d need to add more papier mache, but I recently bought a bottle of clear gesso – perhaps I could coat it with the gesso instead? Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated. Daphne

    Reply
  5. Denise
    Denise at |

    Here is my finished painted eagle. I went both eagley colors and patriotic. i’m giving it to my WWII vet tomorrow on his 93rd birthday.

    Reply
    1. Denise
      Denise at |

      side view

      Reply
      1. Denise
        Denise at |

        shoot I keep sizing these too big i hope you can see this one

        Reply
    2. Denise
      Denise at |

      other side view. Is there a way to post more than one pic at a time? And I’m loving the stars and stripes on him. it was a challenge but I did it!

      Reply
  6. Michelle Lee
    Michelle Lee at |

    Hi, great advice and tips!! I have a bucket-full of old unwanted paperwork soaked in water for a few days and now they’re a big pile of pulp after I squished them around and broke the paper apart.

    I was thinking of making an animal paper mache door stop out of this material. I realize that I would have to create a wire frame containing a rock or something to give it some shape and weight.

    However, with all the comments that I’ve read so far, now I’m not sure how to go about it without lumping everything together which would create a soggy moldy sculpture! Also, should I add glue or flour to my paper pulp to create a strong sculpture? Thank you :)

    Reply
  7. Denise
    Denise at |

    Thank you for this gesso recipe! It really works well and will save me money as paint just for a bottom coat can be expensive! Here is my eagle wearing a coat of it. Took the unevenness right out of it. I had sanded him before I painted him so that helped some but a base coat was just the ticket. Thanks again.

    Reply
  8. Kara
    Kara at |

    We are going to paper mache rolling hills on a float…5′ wide and 8′ long. The foundation creating the rolling hills will be chicken wire. We will then paper mache over the chicken wire. The float will be in use over the duration of 8 months so it needs to last!! How much time is needed between the coats of paper mache to thoroughly dry to avoid mold issues and how many layers should we do? It will be bearing the weight of a 8′ somewhat lightweight metal frame laying on it to mimic a hot air balloon landing. Any other advice you could offer would be much appreciated as we have not done this before.

    Reply
  9. Margaret
    Margaret at |

    Hello, Jonni, can I just say what a find is your site!! I have been strictly a strip-and-paste gal until now but was looking for something a little more “sculptable” (not to mention quicker) to use. I wanted my next project to be a little more detailed and sophisticated looking, and your recipes and techniques are just the thing.

    I’m making a fairly large dragon head for a parade scene in a play (think of the big dragons in a Chinese parade.) It will be the largest project I’ve done to date, and it’s been a while since the last one. I’m excited to get started, and you can believe I’ll be referring to your site a LOT. Wish me luck :-)

    Reply
  10. Billip Gordon
    Billip Gordon at |

    I meant that I left it to dry over night on my patio and when I took it up in the morning it was still wet

    Reply
  11. Billip Gordon
    Billip Gordon at |

    I was making a paper mache pig with a ballon but when it dries it always seems really wet and soggy what is the problem

    Reply
  12. Braeden
    Braeden at |

    Will it work with stirofoam?

    Reply
  13. Katie
    Katie at |

    Hello, I have a somewhat odd question. I’m making drinking glasses from beer bottles by cutting off the top and sanding down the rim. I am looking for something to keep the label of the bottle on it permanently. Would the paste be useful for this and would it be safe for people drinking out of the glass and would it come off with washing?

    Reply
  14. Shibu
    Shibu at |

    Hi Joni,

    I want to make Easter bunny paper mache for the garden to mark where the eggs are for the Easter egg hunt. I’ll be doing it with three boys (10/6/3). Please help. I have some which use a ballon but they look awful. Can I fill a candle bunny mould with the paper mâché paste and leave to dry?

    Reply
  15. Elizabeth snow
    Elizabeth snow at |

    Can I use self-raising and plain flour or do I need to buy a special type? If I can use normal flour would it be better to use plain or self-raising? Also, will it still work if I use flour, water and glue all together in the mixture? Thanks!

    Reply
  16. d brown
    d brown at |

    I was wondering if a coating could be put on the finished product that could withstand outdoor weather? I wish to make a life size toddler head and hands on a doll for the garden.
    Alternative material ideas are good too.

    Reply
  17. Boo
    Boo at |

    Is there any reason you shouldn’t use whole wheat flour to make the paste? I have a bag that is expired and I want to make some paper mache boxes and containers for the historical reenacting that I do.

    Also, if you use thin cardboard (i.e. cereal box) as the base for your project and you paste both sides with newspaper, how many layers should you do on each side to ensure stability?

    Thanks

    Reply
  18. Sarah Kakia
    Sarah Kakia at |

    So glad to see someone else not wanting poison on their hands! I always assumed the cooked paste would be stronger, raw will be much easier. I will be offering this as a holiday craft to local school children, to keep costs down, we don’t paint the finished project, I rather save and collect old wrapping paper and we use that as the final layer, which means we will still want the final layer to be the clear drying cooked paste. Is this mixing likely to cause any problems?

    Reply
  19. Joey
    Joey at |

    Hey Jonni I’m not sure if you remember but awhile back I asked you if it was possible to make a wheat paste/joint compound gesso? And then I said it got moldy.. well about two weeks ago I actually came up with a fantastic recipe for gesso! I was trying to make a thinner pulp that I could strengthen regular pulp with after it had dried and I got gesso instead.
    I put about 2 cups pulp and 2 1/2 cups wheat paste (I think) into the blender and it came out very fine and smooth. I think I used my hands at first to test it on my project and then later decided a paint brush would work alot better. It dries very quickly, and it also becomes thinner as it dries. It might be the only gesso that actually contains paper in it, which is kind of interesting! If you decide to try it I would just eyeball the pulp/paste ratio and see how that goes, I would say that this gesso is similar to wheat paste because you can make it as thin or thick as you want. I use wheat paste for my pulp too, I’m not sure how white glue would turn out. I really believe you will love this recipe!! You can make large amounts of gesso in no time.

    Reply
  20. Erin Hennessy
    Erin Hennessy at |

    The picture didn’t go through earlier. Here it is again

    Reply
  21. Erin Hennessy
    Erin Hennessy at |

    Hey Jonni!
    Thanks for your reply earlier. I’m including a picture of the sculpture this time.

    How do you know if your sculpture is rotting from the inside out? And does that happen if you put a layer on too thick, so the paste on the bottom never gets a chance to dry and then starts rotting? There are some squishy areas of my dinosaur and I don’t know if it’s just because there’s squishy (dry) newspaper underneath that area, or if it’s rotting away. I’d hate to start digging into it just to find out all I needed to do was add a few more layers to strengthen it. Help! :(

    Thanks!!! :)

    Reply
  22. DIY Bottle Piggy Bank - ItsySparks

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  24. Children’s Learning | @elmaverickfuego

    […] to get kids exercising their Focus and Self-Awareness skills. Other fun artistic projects include paper mache, puppet-making and DIY […]

  25. Bindu
    Bindu at |

    i need to make paper mache for a school project to use tomorrow. If i make it tonight will it be okay to use tomorrow afternoon? Do I need to keep it cool? I planning on the raw flour and water paste………..Please help!

    Thank You

    Reply
  26. Rachel
    Rachel at |

    I am working on a paper mache project with some middle school aged girls. Thank you so much for all your posts and information. I have truly gotten a paper mache education!! I recently tested the paper mache clay and it worked great. I wanted to get it smoother, and think that I’ll try to make/use gesso and smooth it out with a damp sponge. I was hoping to find a video that shows the application of gesso. Do you have any tutorials that might include this step? Thank so much. I will try to send you a pic of our finished project, though I think I might be better with paper mache than I am with uploading things to computers!! Thanks for any help you can offer.

    Reply
  27. Paper Mache Dinosaur Mask - DIY How To

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  28. Esma low
    Esma low at |

    How many layers of paper mâché do you usually do.

    Reply
  29. Fun Ideas for Rainy Day Afternoons ~ GP | Katie & The Kids

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  31. Sarah
    Sarah at |

    What do you suggest I do to prevent air bubbles in the powdered marble gesso? When I mix it even slowly air bubbles appear that transfer over to my piece and cause pitting. I even tried letting the gesso sit for a day in it’s container to let the bubbles pop on their own but still they remain. Thin or thick batch it doesn’t matter. Is there anything I can mix in to battle this?

    Reply
    1. Marthe
      Marthe at |

      Can you slam the container? In art class, we had to condition the terra cotta clay by repeatedly throwing it on a table to force the air bubbles out. And some people right before baking, drop their cake pans to remove big bubbles. (Not something I do, but I know people who do it) If you can safely and neatly slam the gesso, it might help with the bubbles.

      Reply
  32. Y .A
    Y .A at |

    can v make statues or things like mountains os volcanoes i need to make for my school project if not. can u tell me which ype of paper mache should i use for it .please do i need it urgently.

    Reply
  33. Cathy
    Cathy at |

    It was applied thickly. I will try again using a thin layer and let you know how it works. Thanks!

    Reply
  34. Cathy
    Cathy at |

    I am making snowmen from chicken wire. After shaping used flour, water and newspaper for paper machete. I then used your joint compound, Elmer’s Glue All and acrylic paint gesso recipe. The gesso is cracking. Any suggestions? Thanks so much.

    Reply
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    Minecraft Creeper Paper Mache at |

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  37. Ginette McDonough
    Ginette McDonough at |

    I am 43 and sadly have NEVER worked with paper mache but today will change all of that! Me and my twin 2 y/o’s will make a paper mache bowl. I am so excited…just like a kid. Thanks for all of this info. Makes my first go-round that much easier.

    Reply
  38. dakota
    dakota at |

    Anyone have free glue ;)

    Reply
  39. dakota
    dakota at |

    hi

    Reply
  40. Brian Magruder
    Brian Magruder at |

    I like paper mâché do you have any suggestions on how to get any better at it?

    Reply
    1. James Joyce
      James Joyce at |

      Practice?

      Reply
  41. Joey
    Joey at |

    Can wheat paste be used for this gesso recipe? I have plenty of Joint Compound but not much elmer’s glue. I did regular paper mache sculptures because my clay ones didn’t turn out and they aren’t smooth even though I sanded and put on 4 layers of mache :( Also, I added some pulp to a clay sculpture and forgot to dry it right and it has small amounts of mold would it be okay to do a layer of something else over the mold like mache or gesso or is it ruined? It’s dot sized red mold on top of a non moldy sculpture.. can’t imagine I could remove it easily!

    Reply
  42. Joanne
    Joanne at |

    I am making models of the earth and I is balloons and then put papier-mâché over the balloons

    Reply
  43. page
    page at |

    Does your armature have to be covered inplastic in order to remove it from paper mache paste? Can I remove the armature if I cover it in duct tape?

    Reply
  44. Kelly
    Kelly at |

    I know you said you could substitute glycerin for the linseed oil, but I’m wondering if you could use mineral oil as you do in the air drying clay?

    Reply
  45. late Halloween post | Lemons are for Licking

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  46. Julie
    Julie at |

    I am wanting to make “rocks” and maybe a “boulder” for a stage production. Actors would potentially sit on the boulder. Which paste is the heaviest. I’m planning on forming the shape using chicken wire over a wooden “base”. Just wondering which paste to use. Thanks!

    Reply
  47. shantelle
    shantelle at |

    do I just dip the paper in paste or how do I do it ?

    Reply
  48. Colin Halter
    Colin Halter at |

    Hi! First, I want to say, great tutorial, but i have a question. With the boilec flour and water, when do I take it off the heat?

    Reply
  49. Halloween 2013: The Minion! | Join the Kearneyville

    […] of things… first… I did not know  how to make paper mache. I found a good recipe here.   I used the raw recipe. Second, fans can dry paper mache alot quicker alot quicker the air […]

  50. Jane Street
    Jane Street at |

    Great site! We just published a tutorial on how to make an easy papier mache witch’s cauldron on http://www.mykidcraft.com. I included a link to your webpage for different paste ideas.

    http://mykidcraft.com/papier-mache-witchs-cauldron/

    Thanks
    Jane

    Reply
    1. cece
      cece at |

      Could we use a spray on sealant then apply désirés colored spray paint to finish?
      The project is rather large

      Reply

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