5 Easy Tips for Smooth Paper Mache

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To see the video I mentioned in the video, for making paper mache smooth if it doesn’t come out the way you want it, click here.
Although that video shows a sculpture made with paper mache clay, the method works just as well for making paper strips and paste smooth without sanding.

But it’s always better to make the paper mache go on as smoothly as possible right from the start. It cuts down a lot on how much time it takes to finish your sculpture.

To make your paper mache go on as nicely as possible, follow these 5 easy tips:

1 Use newspaper, because it’s a very soft paper that molds itself to the underlying form when it’s wet. White copy paper is slightly stiffer, but you can still get it to work if you’re patient. Anything harder than that will make your job a lot more difficult.

2 Tear the paper instead of cutting it. If you cut your paper you’ll have visible lines all through your work. Those hard edges can be sanded, if you used enough layers so the sandpaper doesn’t cut all the way through to the underlying armature – but if you tear instead of cut, the paper edges will melt into each other.

3 If a piece doesn’t lay flat, tear it in the right spots so it doesn’t wrinkle. If you tear the paper in just the right places as you’re laying the strips onto the armature, you can overlap the small pieces. That way, your paper will follow the contours, and the final sculpture won’t have bumps of extra paper in all the wrong places.

4 Use small pieces over complex shapes. I always use the largest piece of paper that I can for any particular spot, but some areas really need small pieces of paper. The cow’s eye in the video is a good example of that. That’s also the areas that are most likely to have details that could be lost if you don’t go slowly and carefully. A tool can help you push your pieces of paper deep into the details.

5 And use a knife or your fingers to push the paper onto the form and remove all air bubbles and push the extra paste out from under the paper.

What if your paper mache still isn’t as smooth as you want it to be?

Sometimes paper strips and paste don’t come out quite as nice as you want it to, no matter how careful you  are. If that happens, don’t worry – it’s easy to fix. Watch this video here to see how to make your paper mache smooth without sanding. And yes, the method works for both paper strips and paper mache clay.

By the way, if you haven’t downloaded “The 5 Best Recipes for Paper Mache,” which includes the raw flour and water paste that I used in this video, you can find the PDF here.

And the patterns for the masks and wall art behind me in the video can be found here:

Do you have any questions? Be sure to ask in the comment section below.

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Five easy tips for smooth paper mache

33 thoughts on “5 Easy Tips for Smooth Paper Mache”

  1. Hi, I’ve been doing paper mache since I was a child and used flour n water as my paste. Not any more. I use water n white glue. The reason I stopped using flour base paste is that flour has itty bitty benign bug eggs. After a few years I started noticing tiny holes in my work. It was the bugs finally emerging from flour. My pieces were ruined. Thousands of teeny tiny holes appeared. These bugs ate through paper, paint n varnish. The pieces I made as a child were ruined. My Mom was sad to see my childhood art destroyed. Depending on how many bugs come out, if there are thousands, the piece crumbles, les holes, and art work is. ruined. So I don’t recommend flour. Yes it’s cheaper, but in time these little bugs come out n all your work is ruined. Sometimes they come out in as little as weeks or months. But after a few years they will definitely emerge. It’s happens to everyone, not using flour very often n it sits for a few months. And we see bugs n weevils. And we toss it. The eggs of these critters are in all flour. So consider the use of white glue n water paste instead of flour paste.

  2. Hi Jonni,

    I stumbled upon your YouTube channel while hoping to make a set of bowls that I saw in a magazine. Is the paper mache clay water proof/resistant after drying or is there something else I should use. The bowls won’t go in the dish washer or be immersed in water, but I will need to clean them with a wet cloth at times.

    Thank you,

    • Hi Faith. Any good varnish will harden enough so you can wipe off dust with a lightly damp cloth. The artists’ acrylic varnishes don’t seem to yellow as much as the sealers used by woodworkers, but they might not give as much protection from water.

  3. Hey there! I am trying to figure out a cheap way to make some Malificent wings that I want to be over half my body length (I’m 5’3″). So far I think I’ll make the shape of the wing with some kind of wire I can mold. Then I was brainstorming how to fill it in because I found this method of using paper plates for feathers.

    Here’s where my question comes in: do you think it would work to tightly wrap plastic wrap over the frame and then paper mache it so I can have a base to glue feathers on?

    The reason I’m going with wire instead of cardboard for the frame is because her song shape is very specific.

    Thanks for any advice you may have!

    • Hi Kelsey. Your paper mache might not stick to plastic wrap. However, you could use the plastic to get your shapes, and then cover it with masking tape. After that, a few layers of paper mache would stick and make it fairly stiff, and you could add your feathers. By the way, we would love to see how they come out. The Daily Sculptors page is a great place for both questions and to show off your work, because many people stop there first to see what other artists have made.

  4. Jonni,

    Maybe I haven’t found it on your website, or maybe it’s in your books. But when should you use paper mache clay vs. paper mache paste and strips?

    • Hi Sammie. It’s up to you, of course – but there are times when I prefer the paper and paste, and other times I prefer the paper mache clay. And many of my readers always use the air dry clay as a top thin layer, no matter which recipe they use for the first layer. I use the paper mache clay in a thin layer on most items, but when I get to very thin edges, like around an ear that’s made with cereal box cardboard, I put the paper strips around those edges. I also like the paper strips around really thin areas, like very thin legs, or anything that’s just wire that needs to be covered. Paper mache clay doesn’t behave well in those circumstances. It works well everywhere else, though. But many people do still use paper strips and paste exclusively with beautiful results, so it really depends on which materials you’re most comfortable with. Don’t know if that helps… 🙂

  5. Oh I should have proofread my comment from earlier today. I meant to say I am using a plastic mannequin torso as a form to apply the paper mache. and then it will be released from this form when finished.

  6. Hi Jonni! I am so excited that I stumbled across your site! What a great way to be introduced to this medium. Your videos are not at all ‘painful’ to view as you certainly have a flow to your videos and your voice is very soothing. (Some can be soooooooo ultra boring or have this voice that I just cannot listen to) It is like watching an old friend teach me the tricks of their trade.
    Since I have just started my project I was needing some advice as to how many layers I should apply to keep my structure strong. I have sed a plastic mannequin (1/2 torso only) so when done, will hang on a wall for display
    I was going to apply some paint and possibly some other materials – copper weaving to parts of it) I also want to remove (cut away a big hole in the center )a piece from the middle inside of the torso to incorporate the copper weaving.
    Therefore, how many layers should i use (with pva glue/water paste) and what would you cut it with. I was thinking of perhaps a dremel or an electric knife?
    Your thoughts and inputs would be wonderful.
    Thanks in advance,
    Cathy

    • Hi Cathy. I don’t use glue and strips of paper very often, so I’m not sure how thickly the paper mache should be applied. However, I recently experimented with Titebond II glue and newspaper strips, and I was pretty impressed with how strong just a few layers can be. I was able to cut two layers with regular scissors, but you would need a Dremel tool or really sharp shears to cut four layers or more. For something that large, though, and if it’s going to support some mixed media additions, you might want to consider using plaster cloth as a base, just two or three layers, and add a few layers of your strips and paste on top of it to make it smooth. The fibers in the plaster cloth make it quite strong, and it hardens in just a few minutes. It should hold up well to the copper and other items you intend to use. Be sure to use a release of some kind so whatever you use isn’t permanently struck to the torso.
      Have fun with it!

  7. Hello, Jonni – I plan a large “paper mache” sculpture, and wonder if there is a better/stronger alternative to flour paste. I’m wondering about a dilute PVA glue, and if that might work. Do you have any tips or links on this subject?
    Thanks, Carlo

    • Hi Carlo. The strongest recipe on this site is the paper mache clay recipe. A thin layer dries very hard. For a paste that you use with paper strips, I’ve tried the diluted PVA glue and it doesn’t seem to be any stronger than flour and water paste. Wood glue might be stronger, but I haven’t tested it.

  8. Hi Jonni! It’s been a while since I’ve discovered you and I’m glad I did! I am just beginning making masks and I have a lot to learn. I just wanted to say that I love your work, your warmth and your clearness in explaining your techniques.
    I was watching one of your videos and I realized that I was going to close YouTube once the video was done and start doing what you thought me! But that is wrong! I have seen that the video had 1.1 k views and just 99 likes! That is rude. It’s like reciveing a gift and not say thank you! So I will not do that again! I hit like and for the first time made a comment on a website I follow.
    Thank you for teaching!
    P.S. You remind me of my art teacher witch I loved and admired! ??

  9. Jonni I love the cow mask. I also love the way you teach. That’s the way I learn. I bought your book “Make animal sculptures with paper mache clay and had fun with the chicken, am working on the fish now. I want to get that cow mask pattern when it comes out is just so cute. Thank you for your videos, books blogs and website. I really enjoy them.

  10. Thank you Jonni for your tips on smooth paper mache. I always, always get lumps and bumps which is annoying, so going to try your hot water and flour and be a bit more patient and press down to get rid of the air bubbles etc. Thanks again.

  11. Jonni, your website is amazing. You are a natural teacher, and your collection of videos and recipes is a real resource. Thank you!

    • Hi Jonni,
      I’m looking for something I can use to make yard decoration for the holidays. I’m wanting to make hands and face for Santa and maybe an Elf or two. Can you recommend a way I could do this? I live in Ohio
      Thank you!
      Lisa

      • Hi Lisa. If you only leave the items outside when it isn’t raining or snowing you can use paper mache that has been sealed with an exterior varnish. For long-term, you might try Flex Seal. Some people have had really good luck with it, but it didn’t work for others. If you wanat to keep your Santa and Elf for next season, I’d recommend using Apoxie Sculpt or some other brand of epoxy clay instead of paper mache. It’s waterproof. My squirrel has been outside in SW Minnesota for four years, summer and winter. It still looks exactly the same that it did when it was first made.

  12. Dear Jonni, I have not been able to work on my projects because life keeps getting in the way, but I wanted to tell you that I really enjoy your posts and sincerely appreciate your generosity in sharing your knowledge. I have learned so much from you! I have one of your books and hope to be able to make a replica of my little Chihuahua dog soon. Thanks again!

  13. Jonni, YOU ROCK!!! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that you share all the most wonderful Paper Mache tips with us peeps out in the world. Sending you much gratitude for spreading all your expertise!

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