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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1,685 Responses

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  1. Donna
    Donna at |

    Hello Jonni,
    I’ve enjoyed your recipes and tutorials very much. I’m thinking of trying a more runny version of your paper mache clay to use with newspaper strips and I wondered if you had ever done this and have any insight?
    I like applying newspaper strips better than spreading clay but then I end up adding a layer of clay later because I like the meat and strength of it better than just flour and water, and I like how it takes paint. So, I thought I’d try combining the two. Have you ever tried this?

    Reply
  2. ojas
    ojas at |

    hey johni i am working on a sculpture of the taj mahal(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taj_Mahal) for a school project i intend to use paper mache for making it bu i dont know how to apply the paper mache on the cardboard structure that i have made can you please tell me how to do this

    Reply
  3. Ayeh
    Ayeh at |

    Would mod podge work to keep the paper mache together. I’m trying to make a dog sculpture out of paper mâché and I was wondering if mod podgy would keep the whole thing together for a while.

    Reply
  4. Safia
    Safia at |

    Hi dear

    I am really excited to get strated.
    I am trying to make a shape like matryoshka the russian doll, but have no idea how to start?
    could you please suggest ideas for me to initial the frame by reused materials? what can I use?

    Reply
  5. Leah
    Leah at |

    Jonni,

    This is such great information, thank you.

    I am trying to develop a paper mache project that can be done by volunteers and later be donated to children. Do you have any advice to get the quickest drying product (preferably dry within an hour)?

    Reply
  6. Rocco
    Rocco at |

    Hi Jonni, wonderful site thank so much for sharing. I have student project Im starting and was interested incorporating news paper articles as a background texture. So do you have any suggestions of what would be a good finish/sealer for the paper mache that would still allow the articles to be identified clearly? Even better would be colored finishes.

    Once again thanks!

    Reply
  7. Mike
    Mike at |

    I’ll try it once more, I don’t know why it didn’t work.

    Reply
  8. Mike
    Mike at |

    I think my other picture was too large, So I am sending another one.

    Reply
  9. Mike
    Mike at |

    Jonni, I am experimenting with CelluClay, after looking at your site I had to try and see what I could do with paper mâché or paper clay. I like the way this marionette head turned out. I will have to keep experimenting with some of your recipies to see which one I like best. Thanks for your videos, you have giving me a lot of ideas to play with.

    Reply
  10. Stuart
    Stuart at |

    Hi Jonni, really love your site.
    I’ve just started up some paper mache with a brush and the flour/water mix. Do you have any recommendations for cleaning the brush? I seem to be getting a lot of gunk on them.
    Kind regards,
    Stuart

    Reply
  11. Patty
    Patty at |

    I want to make a bowl using paper mâché. What do I use as a sealant to make the bowl food safe?

    Reply
  12. Adrienne
    Adrienne at |

    I have been doing paper mache for quite a few years using the glue and water mixture. I was wondering do I still have to worry about mold developing since I’m not using flour? As of yet, none of my projects have any molding and my oldest piece is from 10 years ago.

    I live in a dry climate and use Aleene’s Tacky Glue. I like it much better than Elmer’s, because is dries faster and it seems like my project is more sturdy.

    Other than that, I love your video on paper mache clay. I definitely have to try that! Thank you.

    Reply
  13. Angela
    Angela at |

    Hi Jonni,

    Thank you for your great tips! My 3 year old little boy loves watching kids open up a Surprise Big Egg filled with toys and treats. He then looked at me with those puppy yes and said ‘I want one’ so I said ‘ok I will order one’ I dont know what I was thinking as there is no where to purchase these surprise eggs!
    I was thinking maybe we can make one! Do you have any tips for my husband and I before we start this crazy project? i.e. how to stuff these toys are what not inside, how to make it ‘store bought’?

    I anticipate your reply!!!
    Angela

    Reply
  14. Ryan
    Ryan at |

    I want to make a large cloud and put a string of lights inside of it, Then hang it from the ceiling as part of a dance I am sponsoring at the high school. So I need a few things. I need a shape that will hold up to being suspended. I need to be able to see the lights from inside. And I need it to look like a large cloud (4 feet across 3 feet wide, and 2-3 feet tall. I wonder if I could soak a sheet in paper mache paste, wrap the sheet around some balloons, wait for it to dry, and then glue batting to the outside and put my string lights inside and hang it all up. Is this possible with paper mache or should I use chicken wire and hope it looks “cloudy” enough?

    Reply
  15. Alyss
    Alyss at |

    I need to make a 3D map in school and I need help. What do I do?

    Reply
  16. megan
    megan at |

    Hi,
    I’m making a paper mache horse for a school project I turn 15 next month and I was wondering what all I could do I bought some paper glue from the brand MOD PODGE. So I was wondering what all I need for it.

    Reply
  17. JEANINE joseph
    JEANINE joseph at |

    Hi Jonni,

    I paper mâchéd around a balloon, left it to dry and then popped the balloon. Now I have seen week spots throughout the layers of my project, can I paper mâché over them without the balloon and the project not loosing its shape?

    Thank you

    Reply
  18. Brandi
    Brandi at |

    Hi! I am planning my little girl’s 4th birthday party.. which is in 3 days. She likes “supprise eggs” which is just toys hidden in egg type containers. Im making supprise egg ma?he, i had planned to find eggs large enough for the toys, but im out of time, and could not find any local.
    My question is, can i use the raw flour/water mix to make the eggs. Then cut them open like a cracked egg.. without using gesso & paint?
    i want them “crackable” when she opens. And rough looking (but not tacky)
    Thanks!
    Brandi

    Reply
  19. Natalie
    Natalie at |

    Hi Jonni, I hope today finds you well.
    I am so thankful for people like you who can freely share their knowledge and work with the world. Thanks so much!

    I am in the process of making a paper mache tree for my son’s wedding. My plan is to finish the tree off with cherry blossom flowers, a birds nest with “love birds”, and carving of “initials” in the knot of the tree. and add green moss to the base for a grass like look.

    My tree is about 4 1/2 feet tall. right now it’s covered with masking tape and the bottom has old (like a year old) paper mache clay which helped to seal the chipboard base and the exposed roots of the tree. I should have mixed the old paper mache clay thoroughly before applying because it created minor cracks while drying. Incidentally, just now read on your blog, to discard weeks old paper mache. My tree frame is made out of wood, which includes the trunk and the main branches joined at the trunk. Extending from the 5 or 6 main branches are smaller branches made with wire. All parts are covered in newspaper and masking tape, except for the chipboard base.

    My questions are:
    1. What do you suggest I use on tree branches such as these to cover the masking tape, to give it a finished look and so that they could bend and make transportation easier and more compact?

    2. Which of these two do you think would most suit my needs in doing that: Flour & water or Elmer’s glue & water using strips of kraft paper for the branches or neither?

    3. Do you have other thoughts that might help me?
    Thanks so much Jonni!
    -Natalie A

    Reply
  20. Nicki
    Nicki at |

    Hi!
    Thanks so much for all the helpful info!
    In your gesso recipe, when you say 3 parts joint compound, are you referring to Drywall joint compound?
    Thanks!

    Reply
  21. Hattie
    Hattie at |

    Hi,
    This video is so helpful. I will be starting this project soon and I look forward up-dating you with my results.
    My you tube video is Hattie Duncan. The local PBS television station featured my work in 2014. I would love for you to view a portion of what my artwork.
    Country/Region of Manufacture: Mexico Peasant /Workers Dolls: Vintage Items
    Mexican Folk Art Dolls: Paper Mache Dolls
    To use this style of clothing on my sculptures will make them POP!..
    Thanks

    Reply
  22. Hattie
    Hattie at |

    Hi, I have a question. I am making a large scale paper mache project and I feel a bit lost. How were the vintage outfits made in Mexico for their dolls also, sculptures?
    Thanks for your site.

    Reply
  23. Hattie
    Hattie at |

    I have to make paper mache sculptures for my 2015 Spring show. Can you help me on how to make the Mexican vintage method used for their paper mache dolls using paper?
    Thanks for your wonderful effort on this website which has open my eyes to things I will try.

    Reply

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