paper mache paste recipes

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 recipeร‚ย  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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2,066 Comments

  • Hi! I’m working on a life sized headless horseman for our graveyard and I was wondering if you could answer a couple questions for me since I’ve never done any large paper mache projects before (the only time I did was in a school art class about 10 years ago). As of right now i have the general silouette of the horse cut out of large pieces of cardboard (for the horseman himself I’ll probably just stuff some clothes or something), and I’m uncertain how to proceed from here. On the one hand I’d like to say I want to make it in separate pieces that can deattach for easier storage, however I worry about that making it structurally unsound (we get a lot of wind gusts where we live and I would be just devastated if it fell over and broke). Plus theres the fact that as I’ve never done something like this before I wonder if I should just try and make it all in one piece instead of detachable head and limbs. If I may ask what do you think I should do? I should probably add that its just a basic four legs standing horse.
    My next question is more of a will I be doing this right if I do it this way than an actual question but here goes: I was planning on just layering straight off the cardboard so its paper mache all the way through. Would this work out? Or do I have to have something inside that give it definition which can be removed to make it hollow?
    And what constitutes a single layer of paper mache? I saw that you have to let it dry or it molds, but I’m unsure when you stop and let it dry. Is it just when you cover the full space once, or can you go over twice or three times before letting it dry. I’m so sorry this is so long and thank you!

    • Hi Molly. If you used really long bolts and wide washers, I suppose you could make a strong enough sculpture that could be taken apart. I don’t know how you’d hide the bolts, but you could paint them the same color as the horse. As for making a solid paper mache sculpture, I’m pretty sure that would not work. Every time you add another layer of wet paper mache over dry paper mache, the dry layers get wet again. You would end up with a terribly heavy sculpture, probably too heavy to move, and it would remain damp deep inside.

      Take a look at my baby elephant video. Different shapes, obviously, but the same techniques will work. Instead of using all crumpled paper to make the rounded shapes, fill it out with scraps of foam, instead. My elephant weighs almost 50 pounds. Using a cardboard pattern instead of the wood will make your horse lighter, but the foam will help even more.

      I don’t bother to let each layer of paper mache dry before adding another one, because they all get wet again, anyway. Just add enough layers so you think it will be strong enough, and then put the piece outside or in front of a fan so it can dry all the way through as fast as possible.

      Good luck with it – and be sure to post a photo when it’s done. I’d love to see how it turns out.

    • Molly (horse project)
      I’m also working on a large scale paper mache project (36″ high x 40″ round Devils tower for an Art Car project, tribute to Close Encounters of the Third Kind of course). I’d recommend using pink foam from the hardware store that comes in 4’x8’x1/2″ sheets (around $13 each). Cuts easily with a razor without the little round of styrofoam and without need of a hot wire cutter. Build an interlocking skeleton similar to: see attached file) full size: http://rochambeau.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8352eb98869e20105364a8592970c-pi (also see https://www.pinterest.com/artistjoy/form-and-space/) but without so many “ribs” since you will cover with paper mache. The foam is very light and strong, But you might want to make a heavy wire support that you can either stick into the ground or thinner wire wrap around something like tent stakes on all four legs.

      The fast and easy paper mache application method I use for such large projects is when starting brush a large flat surface with a thin layer of paste a little bigger than the strip of newspaper I’m working with. Lay the paper on this and brush a thin layer of paste on top of the strip forcing it into the paste below. Now both sides are covered. Leave a corner to peal up and stick to your piece. Later once a layer is built on you piece you can brush the piece itself, stick on dry strip and brush over it at the same time prep the next strip’s section. It goes surprisingly fast using this technique.

      Also, save some $ on paste, I like to mix corn starch 1/3-1/2 C into 2 to 3 C of cold water in a large sauce pan and heat while stirring until almost boiling and mixture thickens. If it gets too thick, and some water. Then I mix using a spatula to get in the corners, an equal amount of flour. Then I add a couple “blobs” of premixed sheet rock compound (around $7-8 at home depot/Lowes). Mix adding water till it looks like creamy oatmeal (hopefully without too many lumps). I use an old wide 4″ paint brush, but a wall paper brush is probably better. On such a large project, I stopped mixing white glue due to its expense vs cheap cornstarch and flour. If I were to do it again, I’d consider buying a whole sack of flour (25 lbs) instead of 5 at a time (I’ve used well over 10 lbs already).

      Good luck this your project.

    • I like to make ears out of light cardboard, and put tabs on the bottom so I can have something to tape onto the head armature. Then the paper mache covers both the head and the ears, and they’re quite strong.

  • Hi Jonni,
    Would it be strong enough if I paper mache over my newspaper sculpture and hollowed out the newspaper after it dries? I’m doing it for art class and my sculpture is about a 5″3 human figure.

    • Shannon, if you use enough layers of paper and paste, you can remove the inside newspaper after it dries. If the ‘shell’ is at all fragile after you hollow it out, you can spray on a little bit of expanding foam from the hardware store, on the inside of course, to make it stronger. Just don’t use so much that it gets too big and distorts the shape. You can also very carefully add paper strips and paste to the inside surface instead of foam. If you have to cut open your sculpture to get the newspaper out, put it back together immediately. If you don’t, the cut edges will change shape and it will be really hard to match up the two halves.

      Good luck with your project!

      • okay. thanks a lot! ๐Ÿ™‚
        btw i really love your videos, especially when i can see your passion in what you’re doing and how willing you are to share it and help others.

  • Do you know if fiberglass would addhere well over a paper mache sphere i am making. It’s for a costume and i want to strengthen it.

  • How do you get rid of smell from using flour water on a project. Even when I wash my hands it stays for awhile and it got on my dogs head when petting him. It also sticks up house and garage, we live in Florida. Thanks

    • It sounds like your paste may be trying to ferment. Yeast gets into the mixture right away, because wheat kernels have yeast spores attached. Or, yeast spores could be coming in from the air. It takes a few hours for yeast to start turning the mixture into a smelly pot of hooch (alcohol) so I always mix up just enough to use in one sitting, and throw away the rest. It’s easy to make up more the next time it’s needed.

      It’s also possible that your humid environment has a lot of mold spores, and the smell could be coming from that. Does it smell mildewy, like a dishrag that’s been left wet too long? If so, a little bit of oil of clove or a teaspoon of household bleach added to the water should kill the fungus long enough for the paste to dry.

      If you’re getting mold or mildew on your finished pieces from the humid air, you’ll need to dry the pieces as fast as possible, and seal them completely with a good varnish to keep out moisture. Humid environments are not kind to paper mache. Do not use paste that already shows signs of growing mold or yeast.

  • I was considering making a paper machรจ of my baby bump. Will it be just as efficient as purchasing a baby bump cast kit? Each kit simply includes a couple rolls of casting paper, all natural cast lubricant and gloves. Making it a home made project will definitely be more resourceful and what’s more natural than flour and water. Any suggestions on what paper I should use?

    • Hi Shanoi. I don’t recommend using paper mache directly against your body. It would take a very long time to dry, and the flour and water paste would dry your skin. The plaster gauze can be purchased at a hobby shop or online, and you can use olive oil to keep it from sticking to your tummy. It will harden within minutes. You could then use the plaster form as a mold, and use paper mache inside it, if you want to. You’d need to use a good release so the paper mache wouldn’t stick to the plaster.

  • Hi Jonni,

    First of all, great website and resource! I’m only going back to paper msche since high school… now I’m teaching high school, and we’re going to make masks (a dreaded redundant lesson, yet a staple in any art class) and I was wondering… is boiled for paste better than diluted glue? Or is wheat paste better? What do you recommend for a class, with a laughable budget, yet sturdy and long lasting, in case some students grow attached to their project and wants to keep it for a while? Thank you!

    • Susie, the least expensive option is going to be the basic flour and water paste, either the raw or boiled versions. The raw version is a lot easier, obviously, and my tests have shown it’s just as strong as the boiled paste. Others disagree, of course, but if I had a whole class full of students, I’d mix up some white flour in water and call it done. If the finished mask is varnished to seal it, and the maker doesn’t store it in a damp environment, it should last for years.

  • Hi. I am wanting to cover a laminate side table with pages from an old book (so they’re quite thick)… Will they actually work being they they’re thicker than newspaper and printer paper??
    Thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Nathaniel. I often use the brown paper that grocery bags are made out of, and it works just fine. Some papers bend better when wet, though. Some slick glossy papers crack when they’re bent, and they don’t work well. Pages from a book should work just fine.

    • You could soak it in water overnight to make the fibers fall apart, and use it in my paper mache clay recipe, if you mix it in really well. It won’t be quite as smooth as using toilet paper, but it will still work. Or you could make traditional paper pulp with your soaked paper, adding some form of glue or paste. I suppose you could also do the traditional paper strips and paste method, but it would take an awful lot of time to stick all the little bitty pieces on to an armature. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • I’ve never tried it, but it might be worth experimenting with. Some people add a few drops of oil of clove, and that seems to help. If you try adding vinegar, I hope you’ll let us know if it works.

  • I want to make a large cave, we have the chicken wire foundation held up with rebar. it over 8 feet long and in places over 6 feet tall, its about 3 feet across at the base. my question is can we use bed sheets instead of paper to cover the chicken wire, we have a lot of surface area to cover.

    • Hi Steve. Yes, you can use sheets. Dan Reeder uses sheets dipped in diluted white glue over his paper mache to make the skin stronger, and a lot of Halloween displays are made with sheets that have been dipped in Monster Mud. You might want to go with the Monster Mud, because you won’t have any paper mache under the sheets. It’s a mixture of pre-mixed joint compound and exterior latex paint. Do a Google Search or check on YouTube for exact recipes and how to use it. I’ve been told it dries quite hard.

  • Hi. Crazy as this might sound my husband and I would like to make a go cart body. He wants to try with the water flower news paper idea. Finishing off with a fiberglass or something to make it strong enough. We have the the go cart but it’s just that. Making this a blended family Project. I believe we might use chicken wire to form the frame of the body… Do you think this is something that we can do? If it’s possible he can do it ? he wants to keep the news paper look but we won’t be cooking the glue..

    • Hi Donna. Yes, this sounds like it would work. The fiberglass will help support the paper mache, and the paper mache will give you something to apply the fiberglass to. Do they make transparent fiberglass?

      Raw flour and water paste will leave a white residue on the top layer of paper, but you will still be able to see that it’s newspaper. If he doesn’t like the look, he can always add one more layer of paper mache using a cooked paste or Elmer’s Glue-All, which dries clear.

      I do hope your husband will show us his go-cart when it’s done!

  • Hello!
    Do you think it is possible to build a solar dryer out of paper mache panels? Just wondering. Thank you!

  • Hi, I’m making a very large surprise egg for my daughters birthday, the egg is 50 inches tall. I’ve added about 5 layers of paper so far but the egg still feels extremely delicate. Initially I used newspaper and pva glue but it was very costly so I then used lining paper (wallpaper) and wallpaper paste, the egg still isn’t firming up. It needs to be very strong as I’m sure my little girl will want to use this as some sort of den once it’s made can you please suggest a cheep method I could use that will guarantee me a good strong sturdy egg? Thank you.

    • Hi Laura. I would just keep adding paper. It sounds like you’re using heavy paper, so it should get strong if you add enough. I have never used wallpaper paste, so I’m not sure how stiff it gets. You could do a small experiment, using flour and water paste, and see if it stiffens up any better.

      Paper mache is supposed to be as strong as an equal thickness of plywood. Or so they say – I have no way to test that theory. Six layers of paper would make extremely thin plywood. I think you just need to add more, and make sure all the paste dries, all the way through. A fan could help.

      • Thanks very much for responding. I’m going to try newspaper to try and give a smoother finish, what would your class as one layer? One individual peace of news paper or a couple in one sitting? Also how many more layers would you suggest for a large egg of this size? Thank you.

        • I’ve never made an egg, so I’m probably not the expert on how many layers you’ll need. I consider one piece of paper as a layer, but I do all my layers at once instead of waiting for each one to dry. I use a fan to make sure they dry all the way through.

          If you can be fairly sure that the children won’t chew on the egg, you could add a thin layer of paper mache clay, if you use mineral oil instead of linseed oil when you’re mixing it. You wouldn’t want children to eat the mixture of joint compound and glue, but if you don’t think that would be an issue, the pm clay would be harder and faster.

          • Thanks for response, I’m new to this and I’m now having a problem drying out the mache, it just appears soggy even after 12 hours drying time?
            Is there anything I can do to salvage this? I’m worried i may have to start from scratch and won’t have enough time

          • Hi, unfortunately I had to remove the mache from the balloon as it wasn’t drying. Can you suggest a quick and easy method to achieve a very hard mache please. Thank you.

          • I don’t know why your paper mache isn’t drying properly. Since you’re in a hurry, you might want to run down to the hobby store and get some plaster cloth. Just dip it in warm water, smooth it over your balloon, and add the next piece. You’d need several layers for it to be strong enough, but it hardens almost immediately. Then, you can add on layer of newspaper with a flour and water paste, if you want to make the egg smoother. If you set this in front of a fan, the chemical reaction in the plaster will help it dry.

          • Thank you for the response, how many layers of plaster cloth would you suggest? And should I be leaving a day in between applications? Also will the paper stick to the cloth? Thanks

          • It depends on how strong you want the finished piece to be. I would go with at least three, and use the widest plaster cloth you can find, to make it go on faster. Do all the layers at once, because wet plaster doesn’t like to stick to dry plaster. Flour and water paste will stick to plaster just fine.

          • Joni, when you say “make sure it is completely dry” does this mean I should make each layer dry before adding next layer or can I complete small project and let it dry after that? I know this is strange but I keep thinking about the mold and yet I don’t want to take days and days to dry. Thank you for your great site and advice. Maggie

          • Hi Maggie. Some people dry each layer, but I don’t. Each new wet layer will dampen the layers underneath, so I don’t see the point. There may be a point – I just don’t know what it is. When I’m working with paper strips and paste, I do as much as I can in one sitting, and then put the piece in front of a fan so it can dry quickly. If areas couldn’t be reached the first time, I can then comfortably hold the dry paper mache and add the new paper mache over the new areas. The fan seems to be the real key to getting it to dry quickly. If you think it needs even more help to avoid mold, you can add a few drops of oil of clove to the paste.

  • Hi Jonni, I need to get in contact with Ari Kahn I have to ask him a question about about the process about using the cardboard and chipboard it says to apply the contact cement first to both sides first let dry.how Do I attach it to the armeture do I use more contact cement.

    • Ari hasn’t been answering comments on his guest post for several years now. I think we need to assume that we have all the information from him that he’s able to share. The float builders keep their secrets really well, unfortunately. There is a book that has a few pages on the techniques. I can’t find my copy, but I think it’s 3D Wizardry. It’s out of print but available on amazon, but we can’t look inside the book to make sure it’s the right one. If I remember correctly, the author applies the contact cement, lets it dry, and then rolls up the long strips of cardboard and forms the shapes that way, so they’re hollow and there’s no armature at all. However, I could be wrong. If I did it, I’d need an armature so I’d know in advance what shapes I’m getting, and I’d probably use more contact cement, or perhaps some pins through the cardboard pieces if it would be safe.

    • If your intent is for the cardboard/chipboard to adhere to something else then yes, you use more contact cement. The first coat is to seal a porous material or surface. Until it is sealed it can not stick to anything.

  • I’m about to put your homemade gesso coat on this Raptor. Next step will be paint that is weather-proof? Any suggestions?

    • I don’t know of a paint that’s absolutely waterproof, but you could try exterior latex paint. Some people have good luck with a final coating of marine varnish.

    • Maybe try a coat of poly that’s what I’m doing with these 7′ tall Sarcophagus I’m constructing for a music festival

    • It would be coated in plastic, but waterproof if you used Plastidip. There are limited colors but there are forums on the internet which include information on how people created different colors. Generally it changes the composition of the Plastidip so that is no longer easy to remove. However, if you are not worried about it being a perm infant coating that wouldn’t matter. You could dip you project but it is also available in a spray, which I am assuming cam be painted with a plastic friendly paint.

  • We are making a large sized earth costume for my daughter to wear at her school play. What I’ve found online is to use an exercise ball as the shape (which we have) my question though is should I cover the ball with plastic wrap before applying the paper mache? Or will that hinder the drying process? Or will it simply peel off when I let the air out of the ball once it’s completely dry and I shouldn’t worry covering it? Any pointers would be helpful! Thanks!

    • Hi Rebecca. I’ve never used an exercise ball as a form, but I think it might be easiest if you put plastic wrap on first. That way, the paper mache should peel off easily once it’s dry. Be sure to wait until it’s absolutely, for sure, all the way dry – it can feel dry on the outside, while still being wet on the inside. If it’s still wet, it will collapse when you let the air out of the ball.

      Good luck with it. This sounds like a fun project.

      • Thank you Jonni! We have two weeks to have it done so I’ll give it extra time to dry for sure. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Thanks again!

  • My son has a project due in two days , and of course I am just finding out about it today ,It’s a basketball. I was going to use a balloon and paper mache then paint it orange . I was concerned if it would dry in time for him to be able to paint it? He will use the traditional recipe . I don’t think he could use the oven with the balloon to speed the drying process . Maybe the sun ? We live in Florida, so I’m sure it will be in the 90’s today . Any suggestions?

    • Hi Ronda. You can put paper mache in the sun to dry, but it may be faster to put it in front of a fan. Balloons can be tricky, because they change their shape when the temperature of the air inside changes. You can get cracks or wrinkles when that happens. If he has a problem with it, another layer of paper mache might be needed to repair the damage. You might suggest to him to use as little paste as he can, because you only need enough to stick the paper together. Less paste means less drying time.

      Unfortunately, paper mache is not a fast method, because of the drying. If all else fails, he could cover a balloon with one or two layers of plaster cloth, which hardens within minutes, and then add one layer of newspaper and paste on top. Put it in front of a fan to dry, and it should be ready to paint within 24 hours or less.

      • I use the sun for my drying. I use the same balloon technique but I find in order to keep an intact shape you must use two layers. Before I used to try two layers -let dry- then one more layer (after dry) which eventually collapse the shape! Now I’d like to smooth out totally any paper lines, after applying the second layer, by using some kind of smooth-on recipe that could be thinned to apply (?). (I probably would have to apply this
        as the papered balloon started to dry)

        Could you give me a suggestion on this that would eventually give a ceramic-like finish without bursting the balloon?

        I took suggestions from you on creating a bug free recipe (without flour or cornstarch). It’s been quite successful using joint compound,shredded paper, mineral oil and white glue. I still am unable to post pics less than 250kb but you can link to my FB site and scroll to recipes and designs for reference.

        Thanks for your attention and advice.

        You can go on FB and do a search for me at Lemon GrassGirl.

    • Hi I live south of you and the intense sun is drying things fast fast. I know this comment to you is coming months later but I have a question. I made a paper fish like you made ball with a balloon. I want the surface to be smooth like ceramic. Do you know If I could use two layers of paper newspaper paste and then add smooth-on recipe (thinned out as a slip) and then dry it in the sun.

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