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 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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1,759 Comments

  • Hi there. I am looking to create a large paper mache rock for a Superhero Party. I want to make it paper mache so that children look like they are lifting something really heavy over their heads. What would you recommend for constructing this? I’ve seen several pictures online of rocks created with paper mache, but no instructions on how to do it. I thank you so much for your time.

    • Hi Glynnis. You’ll want to create a form for your rock out of something that is strong enough for kids to sit on, and stable enough so it won’t fall over. A bench, wooden box, or something of that sort would work well. You can then fill in the shapes of your rock on top of that form, either with chicken wire (not my favorite) or crumpled paper and masking tape. Make the form as strong as you can – the paper mache just covers it, it doesn’t really offer any real structural strength. Once you like the form you’ve created, tear some big strips of newspaper and make some of the raw flour and water paste. You can use a big brush to put the paste on the form, or you can dip the paper in the paste and rub the excess off on the edge of the bowl. Don’t use too much paste – you just want enough to make the paper stick. When you have at least 5 layers, put your rock in front of a fan and let it dry all the way through. Then you can paint it.

      I hope that helps. Let us know how your rock turns out.

  • Dear Jonni,
    Thanks for an excellent site,
    I’m thinking of making a built-in wardrobe, with storage cupboards all around the room near the ceiling and after seeing your site I thinking of fitting them with paper mache storage boxes rather than buying plastic ones.
    I’m thinking of something like 10” deep x 8” wide and 12” high, with a drop-on lid.
    Because some of the items I want to store are a bit heavy I’m assuming I would need to stiffen the sides to stop them from bowing/bulging.
    Do you think this is a practical idea? And if so, how many layers would you think I would need? I haven’t done any paper mache work for about 60 years, so I’m a bit rusty on how strong it is.
    Sorry if you’ve already answered this sort of question and I missed it, I did look through your comments, but didn’t see one suitable.
    Many thanks,
    Bob Knight

    • Hi Bob. You’re in luck – several years ago, our readers and I got together and put together an e-book project called Practical Paper Mache. If you click on that link and scroll down to the articles by Tani Hughes you’ll see several projects that sound very much like the one you’re describing. I think you’ll find the answers to your questions in her tutorials. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, let us know.

      • Hi Jonni,

        I’ve had a quick read, and as you say,
        it looks just about what I’m looking for.

        Many thanks,
        Bob

  • Good evening from Northern Europe, sir.

    I was wondering which one of these “recipes” you’d recommend for making staffs and horns, lets say that I’d like to make a mage’s staff and sheep’s horns that I need to be able to take off from the wig. Any recommendations for these kinds of things?

  • Hey, I recently read a book and memorized the construction of some of the projects, but i didnt read how many layers of paper mâché to put with the flour water paste. The project is made of cardboard paper aluminum and a bowl. How many layers should i put?

    • It depends on how strong you need it to be. Start with four or five layers and let it dry. Test it, and if it’s too flexible for your purpose, add four or five more layers.

  • Hi Jonni, I’m so Glad I found your website. I’m superrrrr new at this. First project.
    So I volunteered at my Kids church to do Paper Mache Fruits for a presentation….little did I know what I was getting myself into. I thought it would be easy. I used a mix i had read some where else, one part flour 2 parts flour and I used Balloons. Some of the pieces this morning looked in good shape but others I see looks like the balloon deflated. Why? Did i do something wrong? What other items can I use other than balloons?

    • You didn’t do anything wrong. Balloons just do that. Partly, it’s because wet paper mache is cold, and when air inside the balloon gets cold, it contracts. But it’s also partly because balloons just do whatever they feel like, and they seem to enjoy wrinkled paper mache.

      I like using crumpled paper or aluminum foil wrapped in masking tape for armatures. It would be much easier for younger children, too, since this type of armature is less likely to go flying off the table. However, I watched a second-grader try to pull masking tape off the roll, and it was painfully difficult for small fingers. That means, of course, that Teacher would have to make all the crumpled paper or foil armatures ahead of time, and let the kids add the paper mache.

  • I am making a pinata for a birthday party, we want to use a beach ball to get the shape, then pop it, and pull out the beach ball. We started making one using the decoupage glue from the craft store and realized that we glued the ball to the new paper. Will the flour paste allow us to form the shape and than pop the ball?

    Thanks for the help
    Nicole

    • Hi Nicole. The flour paste will stick to the ball when it’s wet, but it usually lets go when it’s completely (totally, absolutely) dry. If you popped the ball when the paper mache was still sticking to it, your pinata would collapse with the ball. Just to be on the safe side, you may want to use a release, like a very thin coat of petroleum jelly. And let the air out slowly through the ball’s air intake valve, so you can stop quickly if it looks like the paper mache is not yet strong enough to stand up on its own.

  • I’d like to make a baseball pinata for my Grandson’s Brithday party in a few days…. can i use a balloon to shape the ball and then pop the balloon inside, and then paint it or should i use red and white papers

    • Hi Rita. I think the colored paper is traditional, but paint should work, too. I’ve never made a pinata, so my advice might not be too useful to you. As I mentioned to Nicole, you’ll want to make very sure your paper mache is fully dry before removing or popping the balloon. Wet paper mache sticks to rubber, and will collapse if the balloon is popped to soon.

  • I am making a parrot head for Mary Poppins umbrella. I have foil underneath to make the shape. I want to put on the first layer of newspaper but I wondered how long do you usually wait to add the next layer and how many layers should I do? I’m super new to this. Would you cover up the paste in between drying so as not to waste the mixture?

    • Hi Emily. When I’m making paper mache with flour and water paste, I don’t bother to let each layer dry before adding another one. I know a lot of people do, but in my experience the new layer’s damp paste will soak into the lower layer, and they both end up wet anyway. You’ll probably want to use five to 10 layers, depending on how the umbrella will be used.

      As for the paste, if it’s made with flour and water, it won’t keep very well. Wild yeast will try to turn the paste into sourdough starter by eating the starch, which reduces the stickiness of the paste. I would recommend making only as much as you can use at one time, and starting over at the next session.

  • Hello,

    I want to make a Fairy Garden and was thinking of using Paper Mache to build a foundation with hills and maybe a cave, also thinking of making Fairy houses. What, if anything, can be used to make the Paper Mache water proof? I won’t be getting it wet on a regular bases, but on occasion when watering the plants some water might get on the Paper Mache and there is also going to be a water fountain in it so there will also be higher humidity. Thanks.

    • Hi Valerie. That’s a question we get asked a lot, and my answer is always the same – there is no safe product that will keep a paper-based sculpture from being damaged by water and weather. Some people say they have success with one product or another, but when I try them my sculptures are damaged within weeks. I strongly suggest using cement (concrete) for your outdoor sculptures.

  • Hi Jonni, love you site and your insight!
    I have used your recipe for paper mache’ with shop towels for alien masks, it worked great! My class of 9-11 year olds just completed some Egyptian masks; King Tut, Queen Nefertiti and Horus. They combined paper mache’ and cardboard. Filling in the gap between the mask and headress with toilet paper pulp and glue. Worked great!
    Next we are going to be creating a variety of paper mache’ projects. Just wondering if you could tell me can the blue shop towels be applied over balloons?
    Thanks so much of all of your wealth of information and knowledge, and the fact that you are so willing to share is much appreciated!!!

    • Hi Christine. I’ve never tried using the shop towels over balloons, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work. You may have the usual problems associated with paper mache over balloons – mostly wrinkling of the paper mache when the balloon gets smaller. Wet paper mache makes the air inside the balloon get cooler, the air contracts, and the paper mache wrinkles a bit. Since I haven’t’ tried this myself, I’d suggest doing one at home before having a whole classroom of kids do it – that way you’ll know what to expect before the class starts.

      We would love to see those Egyptian masks. If the artists wouldn’t mind showing them off, you can upload a photo in a comment so we can all see how they came out.

  • Hi I’m making piñatas for 4 of July and I just wanted to make sure I was getting the right idea so for the flour and water mixture(the paste) will runny consitantcy do fine will the paper still stick?!

  • Hello there! I was trying to make a sword for a cosplay, its a pretty big sword that I have had in mind. I was wondering will the mache break? I’m only doing the handle in mache though its still roughly large. I was going to do the flour and water one, and I have one more question. Will the paste be like a clay almost or will we still have to use paper on it?

    • If I understand you correctly, you’re thinking about using a mixture of flour and water (paper mache paste) without the paper. It will probably crumble and fall off when it dries. It is really only good for sticking paper to paper, which will become very hard and durable, almost wood-like, when it dries.

  • I recently come apon you’re. website. & you’ve gotten. me overjoyed. lm sick with cancer and basicly homebound. I get so bored, I’ve gotten some materials that you’ve talked about and going to make me a four foot penguin sculpture to put on my front deck to brighten up my winter days here in U.P Michigan. thank you so much.

    • Hi Michael. I’m sorry to hear that you aren’t feeling well. Making a four-foot penguin should certainly be fun, and I hope you’ll show it to us when it’s done. We like progress photos a lot, too, so feel free to upload photos as you work.

  • I make handmade gemtone jewlery. I was thinking of making my own gift boxes out of brown bags, I cannot find any guidlines for this. Any help is appreciated.

  • Hi Joni,
    I want to make bricks out of paper to build a real house to live in. Do u have any ideas how?

    Thanks,
    James

    • Hi James. The only way I know of to use paper for building an actual house is to use it to make papercrete. You can find a nice article on the subject here: http://www.instructables.com/id/I-Love-Papercrete/

      Check with your local building inspectors, though. It’s an alternative building method, so it might not be allowed everywhere. And I don’t know how the strength compares to all-concrete block. It might be useful to do some research on that subject before building the mixing machine. But if you do make a house with this method, or any other method that includes paper, I sure hope you’ll let us know about it.

  • looking forward to attempting to make a cat condo for outdoors (or indoors)
    thanks for your excellent information!
    Sue

  • Hi!
    Thank you for your helpful tips!
    Im about to embark on making some GIANT paper mache sculptures. I was thinking using wood and chicken wire for the structures. Do you have any other suggestions for easy building so I can get onto the actual paper-mache-ing?

    Thanks!
    Allegra

    • Hi Allegra. The expert who seems to have the best advice about really large, strong and light paper mache sculptures is Monique Robert. I don’t think she has a website that’s set up for comments and advice, but her book is excellent. She does museum-quality work herself, but her techniques could work for the rest of us, too. Another paper mache sculptor who works big is Dan Reeder. His techniques are similar to Monique’s in some ways, but less exacting and more fun. He does have a blog, but I just looked at a few of his latest posts, and they’re a bit intimidating. (But doesn’t a dragon with translucent fly wings sound fabulous?) His book is wonderful, not intimidating at all, and the techniques he uses for building up the shapes can be used for any sculpture, not just crazy dragons. His cloth mache idea for making a really strong skin is what he’s most famous for, and for big sculptures it’s a tremendous idea. You can use fewer layers of paper mache and still have an almost-indestructible sculpture.

      Now, all that said, your wood and chicken wire idea will work just fine. I personally avoid chicken wire whenever possible, because the cut ends of the wires are really sharp, and I’m clumsy, so I end up with an arm full of tiny holes. Not a problem for most people, I suppose. Depending on the finished size, you can use thin plywood as a pattern on the inside of the sculpture, like I did for my baby elephant but with thinner wood to make it lighter, and then fill in the roundness with either your chicken wire or some bubble wrap or foam insulation sheets like they sell at the lumber store, which can be carved to shape.

      In other words, there are lots of different ways to make an armature for a large sculpture. Let us know which method you choose, and keep us posted about your progress. And if it isn’t a secret, could you tell us what you’re going to be doing with these giant sculptures?

  • Hi! I started a giant tree book case for our baby’s nursery. I have applied one layer of paper mâché over the front using the flour, salt, and water recipe. My issue is that it is extremely difficult for me to continue using strips of paper to continue this way as I am due in a month and a half. I need a fast way to put a hard coating on my project. Since I have one layer of paper mâché done on my project can I use plaster a Paris or joint compound over my first layer to speed up my process? The tree base is made of a wooden shelp and cardboard. It will all be secured to the wall and celing for stability. Thank you for your insight!

    • Hi Jessica,
      Joint compound contains toxic substances so it would not be a good idea to use it while pregnant. I would suggest the traditional paper mâché ingredients: water, glue and flour.

    • Hi Jessica. I think I missed your comment earlier – I’m sorry it took so long to respond.

      Neither joint compound nor plaster of Paris have any structural strength at all, and will just chip off as soon as someone bumps the tree. I would recommend using really big strips of paper mache with your flour and water paste, and do four or more layers all at once. You don’t need to wait between layers to let each layer dry. Large pieces go on faster and add more strength than small strips.

  • I’m well under way on my horse head, ready to apply my paper mâché clay! Can’t wait for the final! (I’m ordering horse hair online for the mane, plan to use PM clay to adhere it. I also made a life sized baby elephant using your recipe!

    • I can’t wait to see the next photo you send in when your horse is finished! It’s going to look good – I can tell from the way you’ve captured the shapes so well. And it definitely looks like you’re having fun!

  • Hi! I’m an art student in my final year of high school from Australia. I’m making a paper mâché skeleton by moulding paper around a life size skeleton protected by cling wrap. I was wondering if using this clay would be easier with my task but I came across a possible issue with using this clay. Would it be difficult to cut through the dried clay? Say for example, I applied the clay almost a half a centimetre to a full centimetre thick? Would that be difficult to cut?

    Thank you so much for your time.

    • Fatema, there may be two problems with using the pm clay. First, it really is difficult to cut. It dries very hard – almost like a hard plastic. It won’t shatter like plastic, but cutting it isn’t easy at all. Second, it shrinks a bit as it dries, so it will probably crack if it’s applied over a solid armature that doesn’t shrink with the clay, the way crumpled paper or foil does.

      Paper strips and paste might crack, too, but it’s really easy to repair it by adding a few more strips and paste.

  • I am currently making a house out of paper mache. It is quite large, and I am using cardboard as a base. How do I make it light so that it is portable and can hold up 3 floors? And how can I also fit other household furniture out of clay so that it can stay while in motion?

    • The cardboard and paper mache should be quite light. I have never made a house out of paper mache, though – you might find some good ideas from a site that specializes in doll houses. When you get it done, I’d love to see it.

    • You’ll want to brace it, add a structural frame of wood or a thicker frame of heat treated bamboo and use either doweling pins, wood thredding or a decent gauge of nail/screw/bolt.
      I suppose fencing wire could work if you tied and fitted it tight enough.
      If you want to do plumping or electricity youre going to need pvc piping, and they have to be painted differant colours and kept seperate for safety.
      The floors will need cross beams too support them, and weaving a thick strong net into the paper mache will be great for safety in case of floor breakage.
      The roof will need a few layers of plastic sheet pladtered into the paper, and a water proof agent mixed in with all external peices, possibly spray with a rubber based spray mix.
      Perspex for any windows.
      Plastic fittings on walls for battery powered items.
      Mix in a fire retardent to all the glue if possible.
      Use paper frames to seperate rooms, use as much natrual light as possible.
      Use carpets for floor coverings, try and have them attached to anchor points in wall and floor beams.light furniture, either from paper or fabric, plastic for frames.
      All bottoms should be rounded or set into the floor/wall, ceiling.

      Even if that isnt helpful, thank you for asking that question and making me think of all this.
      I might just go get amongst it.

  • I seek your wisdom! I’ve read this whole page, but I need help deciding on a very strong recipe to use over the top of a spray-foam sculpture. I hope to make the final product resistant to dents and damage, since it will be a costume piece. (A very large and realistic pair of antlers, to be precise.) While I don’t plan on butting heads with anything with horns, I need them to hold up well enough that doorways and tree branches won’t create a problem.

    I’m considering a wood glue paste, but I want to get your input before I do anything drastic. Of all the recipes you’ve tried, which one would you say is the strongest?

    • Hi Heather. The hardest recipe to go over paper mache is the paper mache clay. If you use a very thin layer and let it dry completely, it will be very strong and hard. But if you want to use paper strips, the wood glue is an excellent choice.

      • Jonni… Thanks so much! I watched all your youtubes more than twice :) I had never tried this art medium til i saw one of your videos. Incredible. I apologize, for not saying thank you before:)

        • I’m glad your enjoying the videos, Keith – and I hope you’ll show us some of your new work, too!

      • Hello, Jonni! One more question for you. Would I be able to substitute wood glue instead of PVA glue in your paper mache clay recipe? I don’t imagine it would make too much of a difference; wood glue is just thicker. But if you don’t think it’ll work, I’ll go buy some PVA!

        • Hi Heather. I tried Elmer’s carpenters glue once, and it did not work – I think they use boron to prevent mold, and that causes the mixture to turn into little rubber balls. However, I just now tested my Titebond II with some lightweight Sheetrock brand joint compound (just what I happened to have on hand) and it worked just fine. So I guess the answer to your questions is “it depends…”

          If you have some carpenters glue on hand, mix a small amount of it with a small amount of your joint compound. If it turns rubbery, it won’t make pm clay. (It will happen immediately, if it happens at all). I just now mixed my glue and joint compound, so I don’t know how hard it will be when it dries, but it should be OK. I’ll spread some out and let it dry, and let you know.

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