Paper Mache Animals

Snowy Owl Sculpture, Part 2 – Making the Armature

Snowy Owl made with paper mache clay

My Snowy Owl is coming along nicely – the cardboard pattern has now been filled out with crumpled paper and masking tape, and I’m ready to start adding paper mache clay. You can see how it was done in the photos below.

If you want to use traditional paper strips and paste when you make your own owl, that will work just fine, but you might want to cut individual feathers out of heavy paper or light cardboard to make it easier to get the wing and tail feathers looking the way you want them to. If you do that, tape the individual feathers to the cardboard wing and tail patterns before adding the crumpled paper padding. Since I’ll be using the paper mache clay recipe for my owl, I’ll model the feathers with the clay, instead.

Padding the Armature for the Paper Mache Snowy Owl Sculpture

Padding the Cardboard Pattern

Padding the Cardboard Pattern

Once the pattern has been transferred to cardboard and cut out (see previous post), you need to pad it with crumpled paper and masking tape. I find that it’s easiest to do if you tear off some strips of masking tape first and stick them on the edge of your table. Then you don’t need three hands to hold down the paper, pull off some tape and stick it on. Be sure you don’t cover the edges of your pattern with paper, since then you’d lose the basic shape.

Adding the Leg Patterns

Adding the Leg Patterns

When the body is covered with a padded layer of crumpled paper and tape, you can add the legs. First, tape the feet to the bottom of the legs, and then tack the legs onto the body. Just use a few strips of tape so you can set the owl on her feet and see how well it stands up. Be sure to find a nice photo of a snowy owl (use the image search on google.com) so you can get the stance you like.

Padding the Inside of the Legs

Padding the Inside of the Legs

When you have the legs where you want them, tape them down more firmly. Then add small bits of crumpled paper to the insides of the legs. Use the round bit at the back end of the owl’s feet patterns to use as a guide. Tape the crumpled paper firmly to the legs, feet and body pattern, so you have a very strong armature.

Legs, with Padding Added

Legs, with Padding Added

When the inside of the legs is done, do the same thing with the outside of the legs. Make the padding nice and full all the way to the top of the legs – your finished owl should be quite round. Check occasionally to see if your armature will still stand up on its own.

Adding the Tail

Adding the Tail

Crease the cardboard tail slightly, down the middle. Then tape it to the back of the snowy owl.

Adding the Wings

Adding the Wings

Then tack the wings on with a few pieces of tape. If your snowy owl’s body doesn’t seem round enough, you may need to add more padding first. The wings will need to be bent so they’ll fold over the tail. The head is defined by the top of the wings.

Padding the Wings

Padding the Wings

Slip a bit of crumpled paper below the leading edge of the wings to make them rounded. Then pad the wings. Some of the cardboard at the wing tips can be left uncovered. Keep turning the owl on the table and looking at all sides to make sure it’s nice and round, because Owl is wearing a very nice down jacket.

At this point, my owl started to fall forward, because there was more paper added in the front. To keep her upright, I borrowed a trick from Monique Robert and added some weight. I just cut a slit through the masking tape underneath the owl between the legs and the tail, and then slipped in a small flat rock. Then I taped her back up. She now stands up nice and straight again.

Wings Crossed Over Tail

Wings Crossed Over Tail

The wing tips cross over the tail, as shown.

Padding the Toes

Padding the Toes, and Making Claws

I crumpled up a bit of aluminum foil for the top of a toe, and formed the claw in the same piece of foil. The claw was “sharpened” a bit before I taped the foil onto the foot pattern. A second smaller ball of foil is then added below the front of the toe, for the pad.

The Snowy Owl's Toe

The Snowy Owl’s Toe

Use narrow strips of masking tape for the toes, so you can get the foil completely covered. Also, the joint where the toes meet the leg are probably the most vulnerable part of the sculpture, so extra tape should be used to reinforce the foot at these joints.

Snowy Owl Feet, From Below

Snowy Owl Feet, From Below

At this point, the owl is ready to be covered with paper mache. I made up a batch of paper mache clay for my owl, and I’ll get started on it right away. The one additional thing you might want to do before covering your owl with paper mache is to add a beak, which you can make from aluminum foil. Turn your owl around and look at her from both sides, to decide which side is “front.” Or, your owl could face forward, or completely backwards – I haven’t decided that part yet.

See you in a few days, when my clay is dry.

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

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