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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1,549 Responses

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  1. Faith
    Faith at |

    With all the info on the web I am just overwhelmed with the options and need your “have done it” advice. We are making a wearable garbage truck costume for Halloween next week. It is made out of cardboard but thought we could paper mâché it to smooth out the edges, fill in some of the holes and in the end paint it. With 1 week left what would be the best method and how many layers to achieve truck like appearance (sandable to make it smooth) but not go overboard (too heavy or expensive)? Thanks a bunch, this one project is making me think what else I can make! Faith

    Reply
  2. Jeff
    Jeff at |

    I am making a “Great Oak” for Robin Hood (stage-play). Considering using a paper-mache mixture with fabric over chicken wire on a 2×4 frame. Base will be 4.5 feet across, branches 15 feet tall. Any recommendations?

    Reply
  3. chemma
    chemma at |

    I’m looking for idea what to use to make a Halloween costume sturdy enough to hold a lot of weight. I want to cover an exercise ball as a mold (for size comparsion) and ultimately be able to poke holes into it to cover the ball with lollipops and wear it as a sucker bouquet. I don’t know if paper mache will be study enough to hold up the weight of all those lollipops (tootsie roll pop suckers).ideas?

    Reply
  4. Teressa
    Teressa at |

    I am making a costume using beach ball I have put 2-3 layers on now it has a large open crack down one side like the ball expanded and crackes the layers I’m gonna pop the ball not sure how to repair and if it will be strong enough to hold shape when ball popped how do I repair? Help please

    Reply
  5. Lee
    Lee at |

    Thank you for the web site, much easier to learn things than it was 20 years ago. I want to do statues about four feet high, any suggestions? how to make a the wire forms. Thanks Lee

    Reply
  6. Paper Mache | Marla's Art Page Blog

    […] recipes check out The Ultimate Paper Mache.  I like the one that uses glue.  A lot of good information on this […]

  7. Welcome Marquee DIY |
    Welcome Marquee DIY | at |

    […] water and flour for paper mache – paper mache recipes […]

  8. fran
    fran at |

    i need to make a dog in mache paper

    Reply
  9. brett
    brett at |

    Hi Jonni I made a baluster mold out of fiberglass for a cement pour but I only made one side. I attempted to make a one sided mold out of plaster but it broke upon removal. I was wondering if you think I could use paper mache to make a mold of the one side to then fiber glass over the paper mache in order to make the other side. Let me know what you think.

    Reply
  10. Callaigh
    Callaigh at |

    Hi Jonni. I just wanted to say thank you for all your tutorials! My 12 yr old daughter just created a piece for a homeschool art show and she used your paper mache clay recipe. It actually stayed soft and damp long enough for her to work with it. Then it dried in a couple days time so for her, being 12 and impatient, it was perfect. She loves sculpting in clay but for this project, she needed something different. I am so glad we found your site.

    We made a wire frame to attach it too and then she layered it on, let it dry overnight and added another layer the next day. She let it dry again the next night and then the following day painted it with acrylic paints. It is a tree with branches so I think the fact that it was made with toilet paper actually worked better for her. Lightweight when it dried and easy to mold. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise:)

    Callaigh R.

    Reply
  11. Peggy
    Peggy at |

    Hey Jonni I am working on ideas for zombie masks! ,,I want to keep this project for a weekend camping trip simple.. I need to make some zombie masks for cheap and simple. I haven’t worked with paper mâché since grade school over 42 years ago. Please give me some simple recipes for basic but ok looking zombie faces…

    Reply
  12. Peggy
    Peggy at |

    Jonini I’ve read thru your comments and they are fabulous. . I’m planning on making some simple zombie masks for a holloween camping trip . This is my first attempts with paper mâché since grade school and that was 42 years ago. I want this to be a simple project. Where do I begin??????? And please I want to make this a simple but good project….Peggy

    Reply
  13. Tina Halstead
    Tina Halstead at |

    Hi Jonni, I am trying to make a life sized cessna plane, just the nose of it out of paper mache. I have a 6′ round piece of thinnish plywood cut to use as the base. We will put 3 internal support posts coming out from the base to the nose of the plane. I was planning on using chicken wire over the supports to get the shape, but after reading above where you suggested cardboard I thought “DUH!” the chicken wire is $25 for the amount I’d need and cardboard is FREE! That’s a no-brainer.
    My question to you is this, I plan to do the cardboard and then top it with plaster cloth (I hope I have enough to do 1 nice layer), I probably don’t have enough plaster cloth to do multiple (3 or more) layers…so I was wondering if homemade gesso using joint compound and glue would help to harden this plane further, making it sturdier? I’m just doing the front portion of the plane from the windshield to the nose, but I’m concerned that the weight of the nose itself would pull it apart if it’s not hard enough? The plane is 6′ wide and the nose will be about 4.5′ from the tip to the plywood base. Any advice would be most appreciated.
    Also, I plan to try to make the top wing over the top of the windshield as well, and was thinking of using 1″ thick foam (used for insulation, comes in an 8’x4′ panel), it is covered in white plastic on one side and mylar on the opposite side. Would I be able to cover that in homemade gesso too? Would that stiffen the wings up and make them stronger? Does the homemade gesso tend to crack after it’s dry? How long does it usually take to dry? Any info on it would be VERY appreciated. Our budget is next to NOTHING. We are trying to attempt to make it look as if a plane has crashed through the wall of our church for a “left behind” sermon series…should be interesting! The guy helping me even suggested making the tail of the plane and he says he will go onto the roof of the church and adhere it up there since the plane is coming in at a downward angle and the nose will be suspended about 40 ft. in the air jutting out of a wall.

    Thanks for any help you can offer, I’ve spent days and days pouring through your site and you are a paper mache genius and have been instrumental in helping me pull off our last set design, so thank you!!

    Tina

    Reply
  14. Alexis
    Alexis at |

    Hi,
    I am new to paper mache and noticed several different recipes. I was wondering though how do you know which recipe to use for each project? Does it just depend on the intricacy of the project? And I am not sure if this is true but I heard that flour in paper mache can attract insects or cause mold to grow, is this true and how would you avoid these issues?
    Thank you for your time and I love all your creations,
    Alexis

    Reply
  15. Yay! Paper Mache | twoartsygals
    Yay! Paper Mache | twoartsygals at |

    […] it! Here is the link to Ultimate Paper Mache and the paste recipes we talked about during the show http://www.ultimatepapermache.com/paper-mache-recipes. You may want to spend a little time just checking this site out because she has some really great […]

  16. Sara
    Sara at |

    I need to make a half of a volcano that will sit against the wall. I am trying to figure out how to get the shape. Would chicken wire work the best or do you have any other ideas? I have a big piece of foam but not sure how I could keep that shaped while the mache dries.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Sara
      Sara at |

      I might add that I want it to me kind of bigger. To sit on a table against the wall.

      Reply
    2. Chloe
      Chloe at |

      Using strong wire create a wired frame.

      Reply
  17. Yaremis
    Yaremis at |

    I made angel wings for my wall out of cardboard. The frame is wood and then I shaped the feathers out of cardboard. The cardboard feathers were then hot glued directly on the wood; making a beautiful piece. I now want to paper mache it. I want to use the method that will ensure I can keep the wings as long as possible. I am really confused which method of paper mache to use. I really liked the clay option, but I am not sure if that works directly on card board? Do you mind recommending the best method for my frame (glue, . flour or clay). Thank you.

    Reply
  18. Emily
    Emily at |

    Hello! Had a strange question. I’m interested in making transparent sculptures that will glow when a light is placed in them. Is there a recipe I could use to achieve this transparent look? Obviously the mache will have to be thin, but is this possible?

    Reply
  19. micky
    micky at |

    I really enjoyed your tutorial but i want to ask that i am making a mask with balloon base and i am pasting papers with fevicol i have done 2-3 strokes but i am worried because its not getting tight and i am scared too that if i burst the balloon i would be spoiled please suggest me way.

    Reply
  20. Darlynn
    Darlynn at |

    Hello! Our high school band wants 3D cloud shaped props this year. They would need to be approximately 4-5 feet long and 3 feet tall. They need to be lightweight too but able to stand up to marching season and competitions. Looking for suggestions! I had thought maybe taping together a bunch of punching balloons to get the curves and general shape but saw the comments on problems with balloons. Not so sure about attempting anything with wire either. Any suggestions on what type of paste to use? They have the potential for brief rain exposure but nothing extended. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Reply

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