Paper Mache Holiday Projects

Santa (and Snowstorm) Are Done

Paper Mache Santa

It stopped snowing here in South Dakota, and the wind stopped blowing. My dog is getting used to the cold snow on his feet (but still not happy about it) — and, more to the point of this blog, my Santa is done.

If you didn’t see the first post, where I showed the process of making a simple form and then covering it with paper mache clay, you can find it here.

After he was dry, I made a few changes to Santa’s eyes, and then turned him over and added another thin layer of paper mache clay to the underside. There were a few spots where my first layer was much too thin, and in a few other places the paper mache clay pulled apart, creating tiny holes as the material dried and shrank. The additional layer on the back took care of that, and made the piece strong enough to hold up–I figured it would be going in and out of boxes for storage. I used the back of a spoon to add the layer on the back, so I could reach into the deepest parts and make it reasonably smooth.

Adding Paper Mache Clay to the Back of Santa's Face

Adding Paper Mache Clay to the Back of Santa’s Face

Then I popped Santa into the oven at about 250F to dry again. After that, I gave him a few coats of glue/plaster gesso, using the recipe from my book on paper mache masks. The recipe is:

  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) white glue (Elmer’s Glue-All)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) cold water
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) plaster of Paris
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 ml) vinegar

If you use this recipe, don’t pour the left-over gesso down the sink – plaster sets up under water. The gesso can be wet-sanded (I used a damp shop towel).

I also discovered something about paper mache clay that I had never tried before. It wasn’t useful at all in this project, but I can imagine times when it would come in really handy: It turns out that you can also use a damp sponge to smooth the paper mache clay itself, after it’s dry. No sanding mess.

First Undercoating

First Undercoating

I played around a bit while painting Santa. I wanted the texture of his beard to show, so I started with a light grey undercoat. I also used a weird pink for his face and red for his hat. Fortunately, all of the undercoat on his face was covered as I continued finishing him.

Second Layer of Acrylic Added to Santa

Second Layer of Acrylic Added to Santa

I used a warm white on the beard, and tried to catch only the tops of the ridges so the darker grey would show in the crevices. The face was painted with Northern European flesh color (white, cadmium red, yellow ochre, and a touch of burnt sienna.) It took several coats, with variations in the amounts of the colors in the mix, until I thought he looked OK.

Adding Details to Santa

Adding Details to Santa

Next,I gave Santa some rosy cheeks and a pink nose (he spends a lot of time out in the bright, cold snow, after all). The eyes are a light grey-blue.

Laugh Lines and Eye Highlights Added

Laugh Lines and Eye Highlights Added

After the cheeks and eyes were painted on, I sealed Santa with a coat of satin acrylic varnish. When that was dry, I mixed up some of the same varnish with just a few drops of burnt sienna and one tiny drop of ultramarine blue, so the mix was a very thin brown. I brushed this over the sealed Santa, allowing the pigment to flow into the deeper laugh lines and around the eyes and nose. I then finished covering the rest of the beard and hat, and the very light brown helped to bring the colors together. I added two white highlights to the eyes, and he’s done.

Santa, Finished

Santa, Finished

Almost done, I should say. I now need to use my glue gun and add a hanger on the back.


About the author

Jonni Good

I'm a sculptor, author, gardener, and grandma. When I'm not catering to the needs of my obnoxious cat, I make videos, create stuff, and play around with paper mache. I'm also the author of several highly-rated books on paper mache. You'll find them in the sidebar, and on


  • Hello Jonni – artist extraordinaire!!

    Have you thought of having a Santa Mask Contest – starting right now!!?
    Don’t you think it would be great fun to see who can come up with the top Santa – kind of like a Santa beauty contest crowning the “best” Kris Kringle King of Christmas and having the artist be his best elf-helper?” Let me know what you think.

    • Interesting idea, Joanne. I wonder how many people associate masks with Christmas, though. Maybe a Christmas ornament party? It might be fun to do another reader-contributed ebook, like the practical paper mache ebook we did a few years ago, but with holiday paper mache this time.

  • You know, just because its almost Easter time it doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate your Kris Kringle. He’s just as happy and gorgeous as a Santa should be. I have a question for you though – how does the pottery clay hold up under the pressure of applying the paper mache, without losing original detail and shape?

    As the clay is probably still in the elastic stage you can lose some of it in the application. Do you wait until the clay is leather hard and just lightly apply your clay? If this is the case, then I guess careful application can result from any number of paper armatures.

    • Hi Joanne. I had to go back to that post and look at the photos to remind myself how it was done. I wish I’d done that a few hours earlier, because it would have saved me some work with my latest project. Sigh…

      I put the plastic wrap (the step I forgot, and wish I hadn’t) over wet clay, and started the paper mache clay right away. The wet clay holds up fine if you use a light hand while adding the air-dry clay over the plastic, and because it’s still wet and malleable it’s really easy to pull it out when the air-dry pm clay is dry. That way, you don’t have to worry at all about undercuts or getting wet clay trapped inside your work.

      • Hi Jonni – Okay sounds good but wouldn’t it be also useful to wait until the clay is leather hard? The wet clay technique is versatile and makes the artist’s job easy since it is so malleable – so thanks for the tip, but let me know if you’ve tried using the clay at the more mature stage.

  • Hello,

    Was wondering if the varnish is enough for your pieces to become outside friendly; if not, what sealant would you recommend for the ‘clay’?

    • I have not yet been courageous enough to leave anything outside, except for one poor old tortoise I made and coated with Spar varnish. The sun cracked the varnish, but the paper mache clay underneath didn’t melt, like I expected it to.

      I do intend to try moving something outside this spring. I’ll be following the advice of several readers, who suggested first coating the dried paper mache with deck or concrete sealer, then painting, then giving the sculpture several coats of a varnish with UV filters. I don’t know yet how long a sculpture would last if it was treated this way, but it will be fun to experiment.

        • Hello!’

          Adorable project with great follow-through (that last step is MY stumbling block).

          If you want to try creating projects for the great outdoors, have you considered using sign-painters paint (“One-Shot” is one available brand, among others, that I use for signs) or car enamels? They are meant to be out in the UV. One caution with mixing One-Shot red with white to form a tint – the red is REALLY fugitive even with a UV protector over all. I not longer paint signs with a home-made mixture, but stick to pre-mixed colors instead. Happily, the friend for whom the sign was carved likes the weathered, fugitive character of the red tint. Whew!

          Sign paint is available at large art stores like Pearl’s or at shops that specialize in sign painting supplies. I don’t recall ever seeing it at craft stores. If you can’t find it locally, it’s always available by order. Sign painting brushes are beautiful, usually hand-made, and work elegantly (flexible, especially for thin lines and fine details), but can be very expensive.

          Car enamels are available from stores that specialize in supplying house painters and car painters or available by order. These paints have a wide selection of colors and appearances, like shiny, matte, metallic, and glittery.

          Carry on!

  • Respected Jonni,
    Good day to you !
    I have been watching quite a lot of your videos on You Tube. And so this Christmas, I decided to make a Crib using paper Maché technique. Thanks-be-to-God for your instructional videos. It helped me to craft my first creation using paper Maché. I hope you’ll appreciate this creation.
    Here’s the link :

    P.S. You may post the video on your blog. My intention is that the people may know that your videos are truly helpful to the very beginners.
    Wish you Merry Christmas and Faith-filled New Year.
    I am certain , you are a nice person. Atleast, I can feel that watching your videos- continue being nice and inspire others to be nice, too.

  • You really are an artist Jonnie- I want to know how you got Santa’s eyes to get so soft and sweet looking- the way Santa should look! Merry Christmas- thanks for sharing.

  • Oh Jonni,
    You are so talented. I love you work and appreciate all the sharing you do with us. Thanks for being you Jonni you have helped me improve so much and always answer so many questions from everyone. I know you spend a lot of your time teaching us and helping us so again THANK YOU SO MUCH! Merry Christmas Jonni and the best of luck in the New Year :)

  • Dear Jonni,
    OMG, your work is so fabulous. My girlfriend, Sharon and I are going to play today with your recipes. Sharon and I do murals together, I am attaching one we did for a soup kitchen in Detroit, but today we are going 3D!!!!! I hope you can stay warm in South Dakota. We are right beside Detroit, so I think we will be getting snow soon too.

    • Ann, That’s a lovely mural. I would love to see how it comes out when you do your 3D version!

      And yes, it is a bit cold here in SD, but I think you’re getting most of the snow. Stay snug.

  • Jonni, your Santa is wonderful! He looks just like Santa should look! Thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas!

  • Oh, I love him, Jonni. How funny that you started out with a pink face undercoating. I wish I could see more of the burnt sienna varnish glaze that you added on top. The wet sponge sanding, does that only work on the paper mache clay? I’m guessing it won’t work on the original paper mache paste recipe. Thanks for sharing and yes, hang him up soon. He seems like a jolly addition to your holiday decor. Glad the storm has passed and the dogs are alright.

    • No, you can’t wet sand the traditional paper strips and paste. But it does seem possible to smooth out the paper mache clay after it dries, although it does take a bit of work. It’s still easier than really sanding, though.

      I took a closer photo of the eyes, so you can get a better look at how the glaze worked. I like the way it came out.

  • Hi Jonni,
    Your Santa is outstanding! When I look at him, I expect his nose to twitch and her him chuckle.
    Thank you so much! You truly an inspiration.

  • Jonni, your Santa turned out looking just the way Santa should look. I have made more than 30 Santa figures but not one that can be hung on the wall so this is a project I can see myself working on as a future project after seeing how wonderfully yours turned out. Happy holiday~

  • Santa looks awesome! I love your work and appreciate your sharing with us all. I used your mask book to learn how to make a Halloween mask for my eldest son and a butterfly mask for my daughter. I used some glow in the dark paint on both for some Halloween oomph! They were both a hit, and I hope to find some time to make more. My son proudly displays his mask on his bedroom wall. Love being on your email list. Thanks again!

      • By the way, I can see why your son is proud of his mask. I don’t get to see the photos when I first answer comments, which explains why I didn’t mention that in the first reply.

        • Thanks so much, Jonni! I was just telling my husband about posting the photo. I’ve never been brave enough to post my own work in a public forum, but the instruction and examples you provided in your book were that good. Thanks again!

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