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:
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.
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? 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.
Are you concerned about mold growing on your paper mache, either before or after the sculpture is finished? Watch this video for some ways to avoid the problem of mold on paper mache.
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 Ideas:
Elmer’s Art Paste:
If 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.
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.
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 Mask mask made with the blue shop towels and the glue and plaster paste here.
The recipe for this fast-setting paper mache paste:
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) white glue (Elmer’s Glue-All® 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.