Paper Mache Animals

Paper Mache Recipes



On this page you’ll find recipes for two different home-made paper mache pastes made with white flour and water, plus several alternative paper mache paste recipes and products – including some that are gluten-free.

My favorite recipe is the easiest one, which you can see in the text and video below. If you were looking for the recipe for my famous paper mache clay recipe – click here.

Easy paper mache paste recipe:

This is the best paste to use if you’re working with a classroom of kids, because it’s both fast and inexpensive – and it’s plenty strong, too.

paper mache paste recipe

Mixing paper mache paste with an immersion blender.

To make the paste, just pour some white flour in a bowl, and add water gradually until you have a consistency that will work well. (If you want, you can use a small kitchen mixer so you don’t have any lumps. An immersion blender works great).

How thick should you make your paste?ย  You want it thin enough so it more closely resembles white glue than pancake batter – although thicker paste will work OK, too, if that’s the way you like it.

What kind of flour will work? You’ll need to use all-purpose white flour. Whole-wheat flour makes healthier bread, but it isn’t sticky enough to make good paste.

Make up just enough for one sculpting session. This is good advice for any paste made with wheat flour. Wild yeast is attracted to flour (that’s how sourdough bread is made.) If the paste is kept over from one session to the next, the yeast will break down the flour and make the paste less sticky (and slightly stinky). It’s best to whip up as much as you need today, throw out any paste that’s left over, and make a new batch tomorrow – or whenever you need some more. (If you need a paste that can be kept for longer periods of time, see the Elmer’s Art Paste, below.)

Be sure to clean the bowl and utensils before the paste has time to dry – it will dry very hard. That’s good for paper mache, but not so good for the person washing the dishes.


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Boiled Flour and Water Paste:

Boiled paper mache paste takes a little longer to make, and it doesn’t seem to be any stronger than the raw flour and water paste shown above. However, it will dry almost clear, unlike the raw paste, and the surface of your paper mache sculpture will be slightly smoother. If you aren’t sure which recipe you’ll like better, mix up a batch of both of them and try them out.

To make boiled paste, mix two tablespoons of white flour with a cup of water in a small saucepan and stir until there are no lumps. A whisk works really well for this. Put the pan on the stove at medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When it begins to thicken, be sure to watch carefully and keep stirring, to make sure it doesn’t burn. As soon as it starts to bubble, remove from heat and allow to cool. The paste will be runny when it’s hot, but it will gel slightly as it cools.

Gluten-Free Paper Mache Paste:

Elmer’s Art Paste:

Gluten-free paper mache pasteIf you mix Elmer’s Art Paste with the amount of water specified on the package you’ll have up to four quarts of gluten-free paste that doesn’t attract mold. It feels different than the more traditional wheat paste, but it works just as well. Mix it way ahead of time, because it takes longer to absorb the water than the maker claims.

Elmer’s Art Paste is made with methyl-cellulose, the product often considered the ‘gold standard’ for professional paper mache artists. It’s non-toxic, safe for kids, and a great paste for people who live in hot, humid climates.

You can mix up the entire 2 oz package and keep it in a covered jar. It won’t spoil.

Glue-Based Paste:

If you need a paste that dries perfectly clear, you can use Elmer’s Glue-All (or any white PVA glue) mixed with just enough water to make the glue thinner and easier to spread. Many people use the glue and water to avoid the gluten in wheat-based paste. I don’t personally like using it because it’s slick, which makes the pieces of paper slide around on the armature until the glue finally ‘grabs on.’ However, some people really like it, and never use anything else.

Acrylic Gel:

This isn’t really a paste, but acrylic gel medium does a fine job of sticking paper onto an armature. This is the product that I use when I add colored tissue paper as a final layer over a paper mache sculpture. If you do this, make sure the paper mache underneath is completely dry, because the acrylic medium could dry on top, sealing moisture inside. This would lead to problems later on.

I use the gel medium with tissue paper for two reasons: It dries perfectly clear, and it doesn’t cause the fragile tissue paper to fall apart, the way a water-based paste will do.

You can use any acrylic gel medium, but the one I now use exclusively is the Acrylic Gel Medium by Rock Paint. It isn’t ‘better’ than other gels on the market, but it seems to be the least expensive product of it’s type, and it works just fine.

You can see how the gel medium worked with tissue paper on a bullfrog sculpture here: (If you follow the links on that page, you’ll find a free 3D pattern for the bullfrog.)

Drywall Joint Compound and Glue Paste:

I use this recipe, or the plaster and glue recipe below, whenever I make a mask or sculpture with blue shop towels. Just just two or three layers of the heavy shop towel paper, held together with one of these paste, will make a strong, hard skin for a sculpture or mask. I also use this recipe as gesso, to create a nice white ground for the final paint on my sculptures.

To make the paste with glue and joint compound, you’ll need a mixture of about 1/3 Elmer’s Glue-All or any white PVA glue, and 2/3 joint compound. After you’ve mixed it thoroughly, add just a small amount of water to make it thin enough to brush over your armature.

Use any joint compound except Dap brand, which doesn’t work. Walmart sells non-Dap joint compound in their paint department. You can find gallon-sized bottles of Elmer’s Glue-All at most hardware stores and DIY stores. It’s much less expensive when purchased in the larger size.

This paste is too heavy to use with newspaper, but it works great with the blue shop towels. The towels need to be completely saturated with the paste, so they’ll dry hard and strong.

You can find a video showing how I make the home-made paste (called gesso in the video) here.

Glue and Plaster of Paris Paste:

This is the paste that I used for all the masks in my book How to Make Masks. It works great with the blue shop towels, but is too heavy to use with lighter papers. Unfortunately, the towels are not available in all countries, but in the US you can find them at hardware stores, DIY stores, and Walmart. You can see a three-video series of a Commedia del Arte Maskย  mask made with the blue shop towels and the glue and plaster paste here.

The recipe for this fast-setting paper mache paste:

Mix together:

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) white glue (Elmerโ€™s Glue-Allยฎ or any PVA glue)
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) cold water
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vinegar (it slows down the plaster to give you more time to work)

Then mix in:

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) plaster of Paris

This paste will harden quickly, and may even begin to harden right in the bowl. If you will be working with children, or if you’re working on a large project, use the previous recipe for paste made with drywall joint compound and glue instead. Both recipes dry very hard when used with the blue shop towels.

Finishing Your Paper Mache Sculpture:

You can use any type of paint on your sculpture. I like to use acrylic craft paints, and I seal my sculptures with a matte acrylic varnish. If the sculpture is very dry when you paint it, and if you seal it with varnish, it should last a lifetime.

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2,238 Comments

  • My daughter is making a Medieval Castel for a school project. What would you recommend for the texture of the walls? Also, any ideas on what materials to use for a molt or water scene? It needs to be as realistic as possible, but we are on a tight budget? Any ideas or tips would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks
    Nikki

    • Hi Nikki. You daughter’s castle shouldn’t cost much, if anything. I’d use cardboard for the walls, and make some turrets with cardboard rolls from the inside of paper towels (if they would be big enough. You didn’t mention how big the castle would be). Just sculpt the entire castle with pieces of cardboard, and tape it all together with masking tape. Then cover it with paper strips and paste. She could get carried away and make “stone blocks” (just cut out a whole lot of squares and rectangles with your cardboard), glue or tape them all around the walls with a small gap between them, and then cover with paper strips and paste. Three layers of paper mache should be plenty. For the moat – gosh, I don’t know. Maybe just build a mounded area a few inches from the castle and paint the flat part between them blue? Add a crocodile for effect?

  • Hello
    We are trying to make a river dolphin paper mache project for school
    we are using a balloon shape of a dolphin
    question for you, I had heard you can use liquid starch with newspaper to make paper mache will this work or should I stick with flour mixture
    Thanks for your help

    Denise Donlon

    • Hi Denise. I’ve never tried the liquid starch, but it sounds like it would work. You could do a quick experiment and find out. If you do, please let us know how it turned out.

    • YES – Denise – I actually would recommend liquid starch over a flour mixture when working with students. It works very well!! Good luck with your project!
      Corneille

  • Hi Jonni I have a question about other uses of paper mache paste. I am looking to assemble an art piece for class and want to use cloth as my medium. Is it possible to use paper mache paste and soak it into the cloth to make it stiff and hold up?

  • I hope you can help me figure out what I am doing wrong and thank you in advance. I am trying to make a simple paper mache egg. I am using a balloon and the flour water paste with colored tissue paper. I have now tried 4 times with different consistancy of paste but it keep cracking, not little cracks but large ones the length of the balloon. I will fill in those cracks on the next layer and it will crack somewhere else. I have even it hung it up to dry and that has not helped either. I need to use the tissue paper cuz I will be cutting a hole in it and putting an easter scene in it if i ever get it made. It should look like stained glass when it is done. I will shellac both inside and outside if i can ever accomplish just making the egg in one piece (without cracks)before the balloon starts deflating. I appreciate any help you can give me, because at the rate i am going i will not have it done by next easter. thans so much

    • Hi Lori. The problem may be caused by using the tissue paper, which has no strength, along with a balloon, which changes it’s size depending on the temperature and atmospheric pressure. You might try using white glue thinned with water in place of the paste. The tissue paper will disintegrate if you get it damp before applying it to the balloon, so you would need to paint a thin wash of glue on the balloon and then smooth the paper over it. The glue will dry quickly, so it should harden before the balloon changes shape. It should also make your tissue paper layers a little stronger, and since white glue dries clear, you should get more of that stained glass look you’re after.

      However, I’ve never actually made anything with tissue paper, and I avoid using balloons, so I suggest that you test this theory on a small project first.

      Good luck with it. If the process above doesn’t work, let me know so we can ask more readers for help.

  • What a great site!! It so awesome that you are sharing these great ideas. I’m in charge of decorations for my son’s 5th grade banquet. We’d like to make hot air balloons using paper mache for the balloon part and tissue boxes for the base (dual purpose on the tissues). There’s a latex allergy so this is our next option. What would be our best bet to make something sturdy but light enough to be held up by wire as well as quick to dry? I think we’re going to need 20+ and don’t have a lot of time. Thanks so much for you help.

    • If you want to make your round hot air balloons without using a latex balloon inside (I hope I understood your question correctly,) you could make big balls of crumpled paper and masking tape, cover them with three or four layers of paper mache, and when the paper mache is dry cut it in two pieces, remove the inside crumpled paper, and put the two halves back together with more strips of paper and paste.

      If you need something that dries faster than flour and water paste, you can use white glue diluted with some water. Paint it on the balls (or balloons, if you’re using them) and then smooth the paper strips over the glue.

      I hope that helps. If I didn’t answer your question in full, please let me know and we’ll give it another try.

      • Thank you, that will help a lot. I was trying to figure out how to make a few hotair balloons bigger than the stand. 12″ balloon size. The balled up paper & tape will be perfect!!

        I think I’m going to try using the paste & paper for a few layers then trying some with paint mixed in to finish. I can use balloons for the “mold” as long as they don’t stay in. I was thinking popping it or waiting for it to deflate & fall out the bottom since it will be open at the bottom end.

        My question now is how many layers would be enough without making it too heavy? and do you have a suggestion on what gauge wire would hold it up best? Thank you for all your help.

        • Hi Paula. Three or four layers of paper and paste should be plenty if the decorations aren’t handled. If you just need wire to hang them with, the wire used for hanging pictures would be plenty strong. Or you could use fishing line, which would be invisible. If you need wire that will hold the “balloon” up above the basket, you might need something quite stiff, like the kind clothes hangers used to be made out of. I just bought some wire the hardware store called “galvanized merchant wire,” which would work really well. I bought mine at a True Value store. The same wire might be called something different at other stores.

        • I just finished making a giant Xmas ornament. I made it with paper strips put over an exercise ball. When all of the layer were dry enough to hold the shape I deflated the ball and took it out, so I could use it again. Worked really well. When I figure out how to post a picture, I will.

  • Hello and great site!! I have been a model maker and costume maker for over 25+ years. Now I am diving into aviation models for large scale action figure collectors. Finding a large scale helicopter is expensive because of the use of fiberglass. I was thinking along this method, but wanted your professional thoughts, can paper mache ( flour and strip paper mix) be used in a female plaster mold? I haven’t tried it but I am thinking that the plaster might soak up the water so I would seal the plaster with paint ( from what I have found works). maybe with a release agent added also- could this type of method work? I was looking into making multiple bodies in this form. Have you experience in female molds and mache? Mold came to mind also….. Thank you!!!

    • I have not used paper and paste in a plaster mold. However, I think that’s how many of the life-sized figures for Day of the Dead celebrations are made. This video on YouTube shows how one sculptor uses molds with paper mache. If you can figure out how to contact him, he’d be the one to ask for help. It obviously can be done, because he’s doing it.

  • Hi Jonni,
    I noticed you reply to your inquires and was hoping you had time to help me. I’m a student at Syracuse University and we received a project to build a float for a parade due May 10th. For the float we are making a giant shoe (4 feet x 7 feet). We need to keep it as light as possible but will sacrifice weight for strength. I have been reading a lot about paper mache and am curious if you have a specific recipe in mind. We were thinking about using chicken wire for support but after reading through your sight do you have other recommendations?

    Thank you so much for your help!
    Cat

    p.s. I can’t wait to use your paper mache clay recipe for other projects ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Cat. For something that large, the chicken wire will probably work just fine. Chicken wire tends to leave bumpy parts sticking out, because it’s hard to get the wire to form a smooth surface. However, if you spend plenty of time on it, you should be able to get it as smooth as you need it to be. If it does cause problems, you could tape several layers of newspaper over the wire (whole sheets, dry) and then put your paper strips and paste over that, both inside and out.

      For something large and basically temporary, a paste made from flour and water should work just fine. It dries very hard, and it’s cheap. Also, tear really big paper strips, even as large as a whole page, so the project will go quickly. Dan Reeder uses his hands to smear the paste over the form, then smooths the very large strips of paper over that. It makes a strong sculpture very quickly. It sounds like you’d need a hazmat suit to keep from being covered with paste, but I’ve tried his method and it really isn’t as messy as it sounds.

      • Thank you so much for replying so quickly!

        Since you recommend a great idea of doing large paper strips, should I worry about cracking or finishing it with a glue recipe?

        Sincerely,
        Cat

  • Hello Jonni,
    You seem very talented and knowledgeable in mache art; I would love to create a paper mache mobile for my daughter. I was thinking, though, of a tree sculpture, the base resting free on the ground, and the mobile pieces coming off of extending branches (this would have to fit against a wall, probably). My question is: do you have any suggestions for making the sculpture sturdy and balanced enough for this project?
    Also, have you ever made a successful ‘gnarly’ skin, like tree bark for instance?
    Thanks!
    Alice

    • Hi Alice. I’ll answer the easy question first – if you use the paper mache clay recipe you can easily make bark texture just by pressing some real bark into the clay. You’d want to dampen the bark so it doesn’t stick to the clay.

      Making something strong enough depends on whether or not somebody might be tempted to try climbing on it. It would require some heavy wire, some strong attachments at the top and bottom so it doesn’t pull off the wall, etc. I don’t think I’m qualified to design something like that, although I’m sure it can be done.

  • Hi,
    For my son’s preschool’s 35th Birthday picnic, I want to have the students make a large birthday cake with paper mache. Any suggestions on how I would do the base? What should I use for the base?
    It would be nice to do a layered cake–square or round, doesn’t matter.
    Thanks,
    Eileen

    • I would probably cut two pieces of cardboard in the shape you want your cake – two round pieces for a round cake, or two square pieces for a square cake. Then cut a long piece of cardboard for the sides, and tape the pieces together to make a hollow box. Then the kids could put paper mache over the cardboard, let it dry, paint it, and stick on candles.

      Have fun at the party.

  • Jonni, I just want to thank you for all the wonderful information you offer to us. I think you are a very, very generous and special person to share your time and knowledge with us. THANK YOU, your site is wonderful, I do appreciate it :), many hugs to you.

  • Greetings….. I wanted to know what i could use as a base to make face features in a paper mache mask? I made a nose useing a ball of newspaper and paper mache’d over it, but i found it a bit hard as the nose came out quite odd.

  • Hi, I was looking through your website, looking for ideas to make folklorico dancers. This is the first time I will be using paper mache. Do you have any suggestions. I need it done by the middle of May.

    • Hi Tina. I thought I answered your question this morning, but I think I forgot to poke the submit button. Sorry.

      This sounds like something a teacher would assign. Am I right? Here’s how I think I would do it:

      I’d find a photo of a dancer, taken from the side. I’d use the photo as a model and create two-dimensional patterns of the legs, arms, and torso, including neck and head. I’d make the patterns out of cardboard, in the size needed for the dancer. Then I’d pad the patterns with crumpled paper to make them round, like a real person. Use a ton of masking tape.

      Once you have all the pieces padded, tape them together with lots of tape. You might need to use some heavy wire to keep the arms balanced the way you want them. Don’t start adding paper mache until your armature is able to stand up by itself.

      Then use paper strips and paste or the new paper mache clay recipe, and cover your dancer. The clay would be much easier on the face. Once your dancer is dry, give her a coat of paint (acrylics work well) and then find some clothes that look like they belong.

      That’s a short version for a very advanced project. It probably wouldn’t be the kind of project I’d suggest for someone who’d never done this sort of thing before, but it should be a very interesting challenge. I hope you’ll let us see your dancer when she’s done.

  • Hello. I am so happy and lucky to come across your website! ๐Ÿ™‚ I am 17 years old, and i am a brilliant clay artist, but i have never worked with Paper Mache before. I have a project that i have been wanting to do for quite some time.It’s a project that will become a prop for me at a costumeConvention called Anime Expo. So i want to make a sea serpent by the name of Leviathan, but i want to make it so i can wrap him around a rod, and it can become a staff. i was considering clay, but then i realized that that will be too heavy. And my art teacher brought up the idea of Paper Mache. I thought that it wouldn’t work, but after i did some research and visited your website, i realized that it would work. ๐Ÿ™‚

    So i was wondering how exactly i can make this work? Because he will be big, and i know he might hit something while i carry him around; i want to make sure that he is sturdy enough. ๐Ÿ™‚

    and if the flour mixture would be right? because he is going to be huge, and i don’t know if i really want to put him in the sun…?

    thank you sooooooooooooo much! ๐Ÿ˜€

    ~ Here is a picture of the Leviathan i will be doing.

    • Hello Danielle. Paper mache is very strong, especially when you apply it over a firm base made from crumpled paper and masking tape. Since your Leviathan is a perfect shape for that, you should have no worries about him (her?) breaking — unless you intend to whack people with him intentionally. (I know you’re not – just kidding).

      Since you work with clay and you’re comfortable with that medium, you might also consider using the clay instead of paper strips and paste for at least the head, so you can model the eyes more easily. And you will need to use some strong wire inside those wings, since that’s the part that will be easiest to break. I suggest that you have you serpent hold his wings closer to his body, so the possibility of stabbing someone is reduced. This will also help protect them from damage. Be sure to watch my recent video about making an armature for a dragon to see how I made the wings.

      Good luck. Be sure to let us see how your Leviathan turns out.

        • I only use the aluminum foil for smaller places, like the face, where it’s easier than wadding up newspaper. However, the paper works just as well–it just takes slightly more time. Dan makes really big monsters, so he doesn’t need to use foil inside his armatures.

          I assume that you’re going to build your Leviathan around something, like a pole? When you asked if the paper mache would be strong enough, that’s how I imagined it. Kind of like the caduceus symbol used for the medical profession. If not, you might need to use wire inside the armature, the way Dan makes his monsters.

        • Thank you Jonni once again! ๐Ÿ™‚

          yes, i am going to build him around a pole, so it should be fine.
          ๐Ÿ™‚

          thank you so much.

          I can’t wait to show you what he looks like in the end! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Hi,

    I love your sculptures, they are sooo beautiful!
    Please could you help, I have been asked to help make props for my daughter forthcoming ballet show. Along with many items that I can easily make, I have been tasked with creating a tree stump or log that two 8 year olds can sit on!!

    Do you think that if I made it using your technique, would it hold the weight of two children?????

    Many thanks in advance,

    Steph xx

    • Hi Steph. What a beautiful ballerina. I assume you’re related?

      I’m afraid that the engineering of stage props goes beyond my expertise. One reader wrote in about a horse she’s building for a prop, and she’s putting a wooden sawhorse inside. Great idea. Another reader built a paper mache rock for a stage play, and I believe she’s building it around a wooden stool or something equally strong. Paper mache by itself will not hold anyone up. I do suggest that you pay careful attention to the “worse case scenario” while building your prop, just in case you decide to reinforce any part of it with wire. If the prop should break, you wouldn’t want a piece of wire to stab your little actors.

      So, long story short, I would suggest that you team up with someone with experience building strong items, perhaps out of wood, or that you build your tree trunk over a pre-built object that will hold up your actors. Then go nuts with the paper mache, since that’s the fun part.

      • Thank-you sooo much for taking time to reply. I have now found an off-cut of an drainage pipe which IS strong enough to sit on. Now for the fun paper-mache part of covering and making it look more log like!!

        My daughter will be sooo proud, just like I am of her.

        Thanks again xxx

  • I love your work – all of it – and your recipe – please let me know when your book will be available and where I can purchase same.

  • Jonni,

    I am a highschool senior making paper mache sculptures for my advanced sculpture class, and only use glue and water papier mache formulas for the sculptures. I am interested in using the flour based solution because I have read about the strength. But I do have a question, I spoke with my teacher and we talked about the flour solution attractive roaches and other bugs because it is a food based mixture. Have you had problems with bugs and creepy crawlies finding their to your sculptures for a midnight snack? I am looking at the most practical ways to papier mache and the flour based one seemed the cheapest most efficient.

    Spencer

    • Hi Spencer. I happen to live in a part of the country where roaches aren’t an issue, so I may not be the right person to ask. It is important to dry your sculptures very thoroughly, and to seal them. I use an acrylic varnish, and for larger pieces I sometimes use Verathane from the hardware store. The final sealing coat seems to protect the pieces from mold, which could be a real issue (mold loves white flour).

      Paper mache dolls and other items from Victorian days are often sold on eBay, but I don’t know what type of paste they used, or if most of the items are made with pulp. This would be a great question for a science class.

  • Jonni,

    Thanks so much for the information. I have a paper mache challenge that I would like your input on. I’m working on a public art installation at a local Rec Center using discarded sports balls. I’m trying to find a method to “glaze” tennis balls, to render them w/ a white wash that would neutralize most of their color, though not all. (Darned hard things to paint, tennis balls….). I’ve experimented w/ the wood glue-enhanced paper mache. Could you recommend other methods?

    Thanks so much!

    Christopher

    • Hmm – that’s a bit beyond my skill set, but have you tried dipping them in diluted white house paint? Anyone have some suggestions?

  • Hi-
    Thanks for your information! I was wondering if you had any advice on what to put on top of a paper mache piece to make it water proof? I am doing a 4-month outdoor sculpture piece where I am hanging 5-ft whales from trees and I’ve been told tons of things, but no one straight answer. Im thinking a resin? any advice?

    • Yes, but you’d have to be really patient. I’d recommend putting your work over a furnace grate, near a radiator, or in front of a fan.

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