Paper Mache Animals

Snowy Owl Sculpture, Part 1 – Making the Pattern

Snowy Owl Sculpture

Ana recently asked for a snowy owl tutorial, and an owl would look great out on a fencepost in my garden, so I decided to get one started. So far, I’ve finished the pattern that will go inside the armature. The padding of the armature will be in the next post. (I have to run to the store for some more masking tape – a good excuse to visit the new hardware store.)

In the meantime, if you’d like to make a snowy owl along with me, here’s the pattern I’ll be using — and the process I used to create the pattern. You can use the same process to make sculptures of your own photos and drawings. I included instructions for making patterns in my book, but I think this is the first time the whole process has been included in a post.

Making the Pattern for a Paper Mache Sculpture, Step 1 – the Drawing

Snowy Owl Sketch

Snowy Owl Sketch

There are thousands of wonderful photos online of snowy owls, so it was easy to find a few good reference photos for my drawing. I simplified the shape a bit, and added the eyes and beak just to get a feel for the proportions. The sketch is then used to make the outline of the pattern pieces.

If you have a good photograph that happens to be a perfect side view of your intended sculpture, you can draw your outlines right on the photo and skip making a sketch – but I think that drawing the animal first makes the finished sculpture a bit more interesting.

Making the Pattern for a Paper Mache Sculpture, Step 2, the Outlines

Snowy Owl Pattern Outlines

Snowy Owl Pattern Outlines

You can see that I changed the posture a bit when I drew the outlines onto the sketch. I brought the legs up a bit so the owl is sitting, rather than standing. I think this will make it a bit more stable when it’s mounted on the post, and it’s a very common posture for owls. I also lengthened the wings so they can cross over the tail when the pieces are put onto the armature. The foot piece is just my best guess about the shapes – I think it will work. I do think I made the tail a bit long – it can always be cut back when the armature is put together.

I drew the outlines in layers using my Serif PhotoPlus program and my Bamboo tablet, but you can do exactly the same thing on a plain piece of paper.

Making the Pattern for a Paper Mache Sculpture, Step 3, the Grid

Snowy Owl Pattern Grid

Snowy Owl Pattern Grid

Since I made my pattern on the computer, it was easy to pull the different pieces apart and place them on a grid so they don’t overlap. This makes it easier for me to see the shapes when I’m transferring them onto cardboard. However, if I wasn’t sharing my pattern on the blog, I would have just drawn the grid right over the outlines on my sketch – the pieces can be drawn onto the cardboard separately, even if they overlap on the sketch. I only put one leg, wing and foot on the grid, since I can use the cut-out pieces as patterns for the second parts.

Making the Pattern for a Paper Mache Sculpture, Step 4, Preparing the Cardboard

Cardboard Grid for Snowy Owl Armature

Cardboard Grid for Snowy Owl Armature

The cardboard pieces will be the basis for your crumpled paper and masking tape armature. Draw a grid onto a piece of cardboard, in a size that will give you the finished dimensions that you want. I wanted a life-sized owl, so I made the lines on my cardboard grid two inches apart. That makes the final sculpture about 20″ from head to tail, about the size of a small adult snowy owl. That’s a very big bird – if I intended to make the owl to display inside my house, I’d probably use a grid with lines 1 1/2″ apart, or even less. The grid lets you make the sculpture any size you want.

My snowy owl will be at least twice as big as my cat, who always has to be in the middle of things…

Making the Pattern for a Paper Mache Sculpture, Step 5, Transfering the Pattern

Snowy Owl Pattern on Cardboard

Snowy Owl Pattern on Cardboard

The pattern is drawn onto the cardboard grid, one square at a time. This gives you a very accurate replica of the original. I turned my cardboard upside down so I could fit the foot into a vacant space on the cardboard.

Making the Pattern for a Paper Mache Sculpture, Step 6, Cutting Out the Pieces

Cutting Out the Pattern Pieces

Cutting Out the Pattern Pieces

The pieces are very carefully cut out with a sharp knife. Use extreme caution with this part, so you don’t slip and end up cutting off your thumb. Use the wing, leg and foot pieces you cut out as patterns for the second pieces.

Completed Pattern for Snowy Owl Sculpture

Completed Pattern for Snowy Owl Sculpture

You can now put the pieces together to see if you think the proportions are right. This is when I realized how ginormous snowy owls are – she’s going to be almost as big as my Australian shepherd (he’s afraid of cameras, so I didn’t make him pose. Too bad the cat doesn’t have that problem…)

OK – I’m off to the hardware store for some masking tape. I’ll start working on filling out the pattern pieces with crumpled paper and masking tape when I get home. I have to do a bit of extra work to prepare my sculpture for outside display, so it may be a few days before the next post is up – if you get impatient, feel free to start without me.

The rest of the posts in this series:


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


  • Hi!
    Do you think I can use the pattern and technique from this owl to make a dove? If I change the pattern a bit ofcourse, do you think it will work?

  • I really like the instruction on this owl – of course I will attempt it. However, it looks involved – is it a difficult one?

    • Hi Joanne. The owl isn’t nearly as difficult as the busts you’ve made. Of course, he isn’t done yet, so we don’t know how nice it will be when it’s done. I might need to bring her inside, so I don’t get so cold while working on her – that might get me moving a bit faster…

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