Aye Aye Sculpture, Made in Just 6 Days!

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Aye Aye Sculpture

The Aye Aye in this guest post was made by Julie Byrne, a newcomer to the art and fun of sculptural paper mache.  This project was her first ever attempt! Believe it or not, she finished him, start to finish, in just six days. And – she came up with a brilliant way to make a bushy tail. I’m really glad that she agreed to show us how her Aye Aye was made. Thanks, Julie!

©2016 Julie Byrne

The Story:

I live in North Carolina and am a volunteer at the Duke Lemur Center. I was asked by a friend to help her create a display to feature one of the unique animals housed at the Lemur Center. This display was to kick off a major fund-raising project for a species of lemur called an Aye Aye.

Aye ayes are one of the world’s most fascinating and endangered primates. They are about the size of a cat or a small raccoon. They are nocturnal foragers who use their large ears and specialized middle fingers to skillfully locate and extract insect larvae from trees and other plants. They are insatiably curious and incredibly intelligent. (You can see photos and learn more about lemurs by visiting the web site.

The Aye Aye - the model for Julie's sculpture.
The Aye Aye – the model for Julie’s sculpture.

I had never done sculptural paper mache before, but I came across Jonni’s instructions and videos and thought I could give it a try. One drawback was that by the time this all came about, I had only 6 days to create this sculpture and have it dried, painted and ready for the event!

I referenced Jonni’s instructions for her beautiful raccoon as the guide for my project. I made a pattern on paper of the limbs, head and tail, then cut them out of cardboard and assembled the pieces with wire, Styrofoam and tape, very much as the video instructions for the raccoon showed.

My “pattern” for the size, shape and pose of my sculpture.

Julie's pattern for her Aye Aye sculpture.
Julie’s pattern for her Aye Aye sculpture.

I then added newspaper to fill out the body and limbs, and covered the whole thing in masking tape.

My sculpture just prior to covering with the paper mache clay.

The finished armature for Julie's Aye Aye sculpture.
The finished armature for Julie’s Aye Aye sculpture.

A couple of real challenges were the hands and tail of this creature. Aye ayes have intricate hands to begin with, but also this long, thin finger on each had that is their specialized tool for extracting food from logs. I made the fingers with wire, individually wrapped and shaped with foil, and covered with masking tape.

When the body was formed, I used Jonni’s recipe for the paper mache clay to cover most of the form. My clay mixture was more lumpy than I had hoped (I probably should have mixed it more vigorously, but I didn’t want it too moist because I was concerned about drying time) in any case,  I slathered it on the body, head and the top part of the tail.  For the feet and fingers, I used just newspaper shreds dipped in 1:1 plain white flour and water “paste”. I put the whole thing in front of a fan overnight to dry.

It  did manage to dry by the next day, so I got to start painting it! The creature had squashed a bit on it’s feet, and the head was not as well formed as I would have liked, but I did what I could with the paint to give it some dimension. I didn’t have time to add any more clay to make the nose and ears have more shape. I used black spray paint to cover the whole thing, and then acrylic craft paint to do the face and fingernails.

My Aye Aye freshly-painted.

Aye Aye sculpture, freshly painted.
Aye Aye sculpture, freshly painted.

Aye ayes typically have kind-of brushy tails, and rather than making it solid like the raccoon tail, I hit upon the idea of using “wood wool“. I cut off some of the paper and tape structure that I had, and left just a thin “backbone” for the tail.  I then spread some more of the clay onto the tail and pressed the wood wool into the clay and fluffed it out a little to look a bit brushy. It took the spray paint really well too!

This shows the brushy tail a little bit. Now that I know wood wool works, I would make it fuller next time.

Completed Aye Aye sculpture, showing the bushy tail.
Completed Aye Aye sculpture, showing the bushy tail.

My Aye aye was as done as it was going to be. I took it to the set up for the event, wired it to the top of the display—and it was the hit of the night!! People were lining up to take “selfies” with the “animal”!  One man even had to touch it and examine it up close because he thought it was a taxidermy project!! (It helped that the event venue was darkened by that point!)

My creature after the event, “watching” video footage of his live inspiration.

Aye Aye watching himself on video :)
Aye Aye watching himself on video 🙂

In any case, I managed to create a fairly realistic-looking sculpture in just six days! Thanks to Jonni’s great, easy-to-follow instructions, recipes and videos, I looked like I actually knew what I was doing all along!!!

I am now hooked on this process and want to do another one where I can take my time and do it right rather than rush it.

Thanks for encouraging me to share my first-timer experience!


11 thoughts on “Aye Aye Sculpture, Made in Just 6 Days!”

  1. Absolutely brilliant.. I am new to this but have set myself a positive goal which is to make nativity display in my garden this Christmas ? I will be making Mary & Joseph.. Using one of my daughters dolls for Jesus and my lovely husband will build the crib & 3suded stable… Using wire/clothes from charity shops and paper mache… Wish me luck ?. And if anyone can give me some tips too I would appreciate it. Cheers. I will take pictures once completed. 🙂

    • Hi Wendy. You may have already seen my first reply, but I moved my site to a new host and it disappeared from view. If this is a duplicate, I apologize.

      First, congratulations on choosing such a challenging project. The only idea I had that might be of use is the goo called Monster Mud. It’s used by a lot of folks in the theater industry and for Halloween displays. It’s a mixture of drywall joint compound and latex house paint. Fabric can be dipped in the mixture and then draped over a figure sculpture. It dries hard, and I’ve been told it can withstand outside weather, at least for a while. If you do a Google search for Monster Mud, you’ll find some great tutorials.

      I’m mentioning the Monster Mud because it might make it easier to make the robes for Mary and Joseph. Good luck with your project – and please come back to the site and show it off when it’s finished.

  2. Julie, I love your aye aye. I am experimenting with some wart hogs, and I am going to make a trip to the store and see if I can find something like your “wood wool.” What a great idea. It is awesome that you help these creatures. I have such a great respect for people who do that. I hope the fund raising was a great success. I really like the hands and eyes. Thanks for your post and your inspiration and hope to see more of your work.

    I appreciate you getting it completed in six days. That would be a miracle in my book. Now that the cooler weather is here and I have turned on my wall heater, I have a place to put my projects to dry faster.

  3. Julie, I’m very impressed with your sculpture and by the fact that you volunteer at the Duke Lemur Center. Thank you for both.

  4. Well Julie, for a six day project, your Aye aye is certainly a phenomenal success, congratulations. I am sure your next works will be tons better and we would love to see them.

  5. Julie-What a fabulous first time sculpture! You have the knack, for sure! I cant wait to see what you come up with next!
    Is the wood wool a type of Spanish moss? Does it get brittle after painting it?
    Really nice job… you were able to capture the personality of the little guy!

    • Thanks! Wood wool is wood that had been shredded and resembles the old shredded wheat cereal. We use it a lot at the lemur center for stuffng into boxes and bags with treats for the lemurs. The lemurs have to dig and forage through the wood shreds to find the tasty nuts and fruits. It did not get brittle after painting! It has stayed nice and flexible.


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