Paper Mache Animals

Snowy Owl is Painted – Finally…

Snowy Owl made with paper mache clay

White bird with a few black spots – and it only took me two weeks to finish painting her. Whew… (I find myself a little disconcerted by the carnivorous stare – am I showing my superstitious side?)

A few of you mentioned that you started your own paper mache snowy owls – did you get them finished? If so, we’d love to see how they came out.

My next project is a bit unusual – I’m trying to draw a make-believe creature, and I can’t get the perspective right. So I’m going to build the creature out of crumpled paper, masking tape, and paper mache clay. I haven’t decided if the joints should be string or wire – the wire would make posing easier, but it will eventually break if I play with it too much. If the finished item seems interesting enough to show you, I’ll post it when it’s done.

In other words, I’m going to be playing around with silly stuff for the next week or two. With all the snow on the ground, and Christmas coming, that seems like a good way to spend my time. It will be a nice way to wind down from the book-making marathon of last month.

Snowy Owl, Made with Paper Mache Clay

Snowy Owl, Made with Paper Mache Clay

Speaking of which, the search inside the book feature for the endangered animals coloring book is now functioning. (See how I slipped in that shameless plug?)  If you know any middle-school teachers or home-school parents, I hope you’ll let them know about it.

And tell us about your Christmas paper mache projects, too – unless it would spoil the secret, of course…

The rest of the posts in this series:

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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 amazon.com

54 Comments

  • Hello and best wishes!
    thank you power your tutorial! I made this owl thanks to your advice. However, I have a small question: you sell your sculptures? if so, how is it? thank you for your reply

    • I love it! This is a beautiful sculpture. But no, I haven’t sold my sculptures, at least not yet. I have been thinking about trying to design a product line, but I’m still in the thinking stage. Do you sell your work?

    • Thank you for the compliment. No I do not sell, it was a first attempt. I offered my mother for Christmas. But I would love to make a small collection to put on display in a shop decoration maybe. It is so difficult to live of his art. alas! I hesitate to make the models. To make better sales. Do you have any idea of ??what pleases the most people?
      cordially

  • Hello and Happy New Year! Best wishes … I am writing to thank you have a tutorial to create an owl. Based on your I put up your advice and here is the thing. A small question, you sell your sculpture? if so, how much. Thank you very much for your answer.

  • Hi Jonni – here’s a fine example of your wonderful eye technique – this owl just stares holes in you – but how beautiful she is! Are you going to do that downloadable PDF of this series? So how do you paint those eyes? Joanne

    • I don’t think I’ll do a pdf of the cat series, because the videos will remain here on the blog. I am trying to come up with a way to make things easier to find, though. I know we can always use the search bar, but the site is getting so large that it’s sometimes difficult to get where we want to go. If you know of a site where that works better, please let me know so I can go see how they’re doing it.

  • Jonni,
    I can’t seem to find what I thought was your newest book. Not Make Animal Sculptures one, but I thought you said you had a new one out where you used less paper and more clay. Also you cannot get your books at Blick.
    Just want to know if you have a 2nd one out that deals less with paper to do mache work.
    Sandra Evens

    • Hi Sandra. I only have one book about paper mache, which uses the paper mache clay recipe (not real clay, of course). It is available online at Amazon.com and from Barnes and Nobles. Your local bookstore might be able to order you a copy, but they won’t have it in stock. They might need this number to look it up in their system:

      ISBN-13: 9780974106519

      The recent book you may have seen me mention is the coloring book, which you can see in the right-hand column. I haven’t written another book about paper mache – but ideas for new books are always welcome. :)

  • Your owl is just perfect! So lifelike and realistic. What did you use to get the eyes so shiny?
    I love your work, your site, and your recipes!

    • Hi Maggie. Actually, the eyes aren’t really very shiny – when the photo was taken there was no varnish on the owl yet. I did “fake” a shine, with a painted reflection. Thanks for your kudos – always appreciated.

  • First and foremost amazing works. I teach middle school art in Texas, I introduced paper mache to my students about 5-6 years ago. The traditional method of paper strips and flour. In rummaging around Facebook I came across your page, which lead me here. I am going to use the paper mache clay recipe. We are off for the Holidays, and I am just about to leave for some joint compound. My students just finished paper mache, so this will give me time to play with it a little before I decide to do this method with them or not. I’ve been looking for ways to get more detail in my personal pieces with out just going to straight clay. I really like this medium. Building the armatures from scratch to the final painting is a blast. The details around the eyes on your pieces is really nice. Ive tinkered with different methods, from cutting in marbles, plasitc, etc. for eyes and teeth. I can’t wait to get my fingers into this. You sites is now on my frequent list. Again AMAZING WORK!!!

    • Gosh – thanks Michael. I sure hope you’ll let us see of of your work, and what your kids come up with. It sounds like you have a lot of creative ideas.

      • Mixed a batch today. I can’t lie, I didn’t really think it was only going to take 5 minutes or so. It did! About 5 minutes and it was totally ready. I used my oil painting palate knives to apply and shape details. I am working on a series of Cats, I’m a cat person. This cat I’m working on now has the features of a pig, so I am told by my students, my own kids and my wife…grumble, grumble. I keep telling people of little faith, it will be a cat. I enlarged the nostrils and it’s ears do look a little, “pig-ish”. My pieces have more of a Dr. Seuss look to them I suppose. Anyway, I used your recipe on eyes, eyelids, enlarging the nostrils, teeth and added a little more detail to the ears. This stuff is great!!! I’ll be picking up your book on Amazon in the next few days, and then upload a few pictures as it gets a little closer to completion. I can’t wait to use this mixture on a full piece.
        THANKS AGAIN!
        mk

  • Well It was your tortoise that got me here so that is a good thing!
    I think I will continue on my cat, test it over the winter and just do a painting on the mailbox since my time is limited. Thanks and I have tried to read everything that was said about the varnish. Was just hoping Bob’s luck would come my way. I appreciate your frankness with me. ;0)))

  • OH Bummer I was hoping that Bob’s experience would be a positive one. If worse comes to worse I will just do a painting on the box. I am enjoying doing this though. Just put some PC on parts of the cats face.

    • Bob did get it to work – but the varnish didn’t work for me. It might work for you – but there isn’t really enough time to test it before your show.

      We’ve had an ongoing discussion on this blog about weatherproofing paper mache. It seems like such a good idea, because it is so much easier to work with than traditional sculptural media like stone, wood and concrete. But just the tiniest pinhole through the protective coating, and water will find it’s way in. Then comes mold… Maybe that means we need to come up with a “clay” recipe that’s intrinsically waterproof, but still as easy and fun to work with as the recipe we have now. That seems like a better idea, in the long run, than trying to find a finish that will protect it outside. Hmm… time to head back to the laboratory, I guess.

  • Joni
    It looks so real!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I went out to Home Depot today and purchased supplies.. I am doing a Fund Raising Project for my Art Alliance which will be mailboxes. I purchased some screen for gutters which so far so good. Made a complete cage out of this for the mailbox because of all the things I have read about drying and needing air from the inside too so I did not want to start my project right on the mailbox. I plan on stuffing the cage with paper and then putting masking tape and a thin layer of your clay over it to dry. I am thinking I should do several layers one at a time to get my mold for the mail box. My long term plan is to put the Cheshire Cat on the mailbox but worried about how I would attach it to the box. Any suggestions would be very helpful

    • Hi Donie. You might try applying the clay directly to the screening. If you push on it, and make it go into the holes, it will be very strong without putting masking tape over it first. But your way will work, too, of course. Did you intend to make a separate cat sculpture, and then attach it to the mailbox? Or did you want to paint a cat on the mailbox? If you’re attaching two dry paper mache clay items together, you might need to use bolts. Does anyone else have some good ideas for Donie’s project?

      • What about starting with the cat in mind, adding the armature for that to the earliest stages of the mailbox, right to the mesh? You could wire them together at that stage. That should be pretty sturdy. Are these to actually use out of doors?

          • Hi Donie. There is still some controversy about using any paper-based product, including paper mache clay, for outside art. Bob has had success with using spar varnish, but my own experiment with it failed, and Georgia had a bad experience with the spar varnish and rain after just one downpour. I would hesitate to make things for sale out of paper mache clay, or any type of paper mache, unless my customers were told to display the pieces inside. We wouldn’t want any customers to be unhappy, after all.

            I know that is not what you want to hear, because it puts a damper on your plans. Couldn’t your mailboxes be redesigned just a bit so they could be used indoors?

  • Jonni, Ever since I found your site and paper mache clay recipe I knew this would work with my kids art class (eight 1st-6th graders) at our art gallery. The holiday project is a reindeer.
    We used tin foil and pipe cleaners for the armature, then a layer of clay topped with the tissue paper ‘skin’. We are in the waiting for the drying and will be painted and glittered next week. But couldn’t wait to share them with you. You can see all of their pieces I have posted on:
    http://www.artsonia.com/museum/gallery.asp?exhibit=346157
    Thank you so much for sharing your work and ideas where we all can try it out. Good luck with your new book.

  • Hi Joni. Love the owl. I am working on a horse and 2 dogs for christmas presents, if I ever learn how to post pics on here I will, (or get a kid to do it for me. lol) There was a mention of dogs feet, I just did a rough foot on the first coat of pm clay, then just used the pm clay like ordinary clay to get the toes right, they have worked out well. Oh and by the way, growl at you, this paper mache has become my obsession, just not sure what I am going to do with all the things I make. Chris Australia

    • Hi Chris. We’d love to see the paper mache sculptures you’ve made (if it wouldn’t spoil the surprise, of course.) I put up some instructions here. If you have any questions about uploading your photos, please let us know so I can try to make them more clear – I love seeing what readers come up with.

  • Oh, Jonni,
    I’ve lost my mind, BTW. I started out to tell you that I really love your owl, how it looks so realistic, like all your work does, and I got sidetracked. You really do have a wonderful talent!

    • Thanks, Ann. My sister-in-law went back to school to pick up her teaching degree, and she’s now teaching middle-school art in Washington. Her sons went to the school where she’s teaching now. Maybe the economy will pick up by the time you’re ready to teach, and the schools will have the funding they need. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you.

  • Jonni, I think the predatory stare is perfect! I love the feathers sheathing the beak, too. Very nice.

    About making joints for your armatures, you reminded me of something a friend was telling me about making claymation figures, which need moveable joints. I did a search, and this came up (there were lots of others, too): http://www.ehow.com/how_2238854_create-claymation-armature.html
    Or this for ball-socket joints:
    http://www.montereymotiongraphics.com/armatures/index.html
    http://www.sci.fi/%7Eanimato/joints/joints.html
    Or check this out for ready-made jointed armatures!
    http://www.armaverse.com/
    Maybe something claymation folk have come up with will work for your figures. Seems like a similar challenge.

    Ann, love the faces and chimp on your blog! 😀

    • Great sites you found, Xan. I don’t know if I need anything that elaborate, but the whole claymation thing has always sounded like fun. (My guy only has to hold together for 9 poses – I think wire should be fine.)

    • Those pre-made armatures are really spendy! But I can see how much help they would be, even for making static sculptures – the one for dogs really caught my eye. I can imagine a very simple one, made with the wooden dowels that have eye bolts in the ends. A wing nut could be used through the joints, the armature could be posed, and then you could cover it all up with crumpled paper and masking tape. Hmmm.

      I’m going totally low-tech for my little guy. He’s going to be strung, like beads, on wire. Here’s how they look, still stuck through with skewers, while they dry. I think it would be fun to make a puppet this way, or a jointed doll.

      Paper Mache Model

      • Dang – see what you did, Xan? You mention claymation, I remember a New York Times article about new software that makes it “easy,” (for kids, at least – no mention about how easy it is for geezers like me), and I spend the next hour online looking at the software, peeking at the how-to book, etc. (expensive!) But wouldn’t it be fun to make a movie?

        • It would be fun to make a movie! I think about various ways to make stop-action movies from time to time. I love watching indie animations; very inspiring!
          In my 20s (before the comic book coloring phase), I cleaned house for Will Vinton, who coined the term “claymation”, and had bunches of the famous characters on shelves in his workroom. Cool! They’re much bigger than I would have thought. Probably makes the details much easier to make and modify.

        • For some reason, it makes me happy to see this bouquet of body parts. It seems like a lot of effort for something that will only be used for a few hours, but I’m having fun with it. And with paper mache, that’s the whole point, right?

          I’m experimenting with a pm clay variation that includes the addition of 3/4 cup potter’s clay – the result feels totally different, and is probably closer to a home-made self-hardening clay than paper mache. It feels very much like real clay, and holds details well — but I don’t yet know how strong or durable it will be. The experiment was inspired by Steve’s comment, and I’ve been thinking about trying it for months. I didn’t have any commercial self-hardening clay on hand (and too cheap to go buy some, so I used the “real” clay I have on hand. I’ll keep you posted…

  • She is stunning, Jonni! Brilliant job. Hopefully I will finish my paper mache dragon (that I started this August) in time for Christmas. He is supposed to be a gift!

  • Jonni,
    While we are on the subject of being inspired by your work, I wanted to show you my chimp cookie jar. I used your chimp as a reference, and while mine is no where near as realistic as yours (mine is almost childish, but I like it anyway.) I wanted you to get full credit for being my muse. The jar isn’t paper mache clay, it is ceramic, but I am looking forward to finishing up this semester so I can play with paper mache clay, and not worry about firing, etc! I don’t know how to post pictures here, sorry!
    http://ann-thompson.blogspot.com/

    • What a fun cookie jar! (And I especially like the mask you intend to use for a welcome sign. He has such character – truly a welcoming face.)

      So – do you teach, or are you a student? (Just being nosy…)

      • Currently I am a student learning to be a teacher. Not that there will be any programs in school that teach art by the time I finally become one, but you can always hope, eh??? Thanks for the compliments!

  • Such a realistic owl….I love it. The eyes are fantastic – great job.
    Have bought my materials to make the clay recipe; hopefully next week I can start a small project. I’m a newbie to your blog and I’ve learned so much already – such talented people!

  • I have been watching your owl take shape and it is wonderful. I do love the way you did the eyes.

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