You may remember the beautiful paper mache carousel horse that our friend Isis posted recently on the Daily Sculptors page. Now we get to see exactly how it was made. Thank you, Isis, for sharing your beautiful sculpture, and for writing this guest post for us!
© 2020 Isis Vandelannote
This is a reader-supported site. When you buy through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commission. Thanks for your support! 🙂
Carousel Horse Made With Paper Mache
Hi all. I discovered Ultimate Paper Mache about five years ago, back in 2015. Like many, I was amazed by the tutorial on how to make an elephant and that’s what got me hooked up on sculpting with paper mache.
A few months ago, I started playing with the idea of making a vintage carousel horse, because who doesn’t love old carousel horses, right? My mum and I also agreed that a carousel horse would be a fantastic eye-catcher for Saint Nicholas on the 6th of December (its popularity, and the meaning of this holiday, matches that of Santa Claus for kids living in the USA and UK).
We make up quite the team if it comes to decorating our home and bakery. With the knowledge that I gained through watching Jonni’s tutorials, and inspired by a bunch of other projects on this site, I got excited that I might just succeed in making a carousel horse on my own.
Because it is such a big project, and because I am excited about it, I decided I might as well show you the process behind it in more detail.
STEP 1. Getting started with the carousel horse
The first thing I did was searching the internet for some good images of horses I liked. I already knew I wanted a prancer horse, so that narrowed the search a lot. I really recommend using https://antiquecarousels.com/. It has a ton of photographs of those real antique wooden carousel horses.
The website is actually meant to buy carousel horses, therefore, most carousel horses have pictures showing them from different sides (front, back, left and right side, and sometimes from above). I learned a lot from looking at these photographs.
For instance, I learned that most vintage carousel horses have carved manes but a real horse tail (long wigs work great), and they used to have glass eyes (or cabochons). Lastly, the horses look at the audience, so their heads are slightly bend towards the side.
For me it was important to account for these features as I was aiming for a Dentzel carousel horse made around the 1900’s. The only thing a-typical about it is the way the horse is positioned. Carousel horses are positioned clock-wise, but mine is turned around because that’s the way customers in our shop are going to see him (he had to look at the audience, so without turning him all customers would see his back instead of his head).
STEP 2. Drawing and assembling the pattern
I used a technique that Jonni frequently uses/used to make here patterns – I took an image from the internet that I liked and copied that on a piece of paper. You could do it in Paint or in any other Photoshop tool, but for me it was easier to just copy it on paper.
I then drew a grid on the drawing. Each square is 1cm by 1cm. I knew how big I wanted the horse to be, so I calculated how big my squares had to be for the real pattern. Using those measurements, I drew the grid on big pieces of cardboard that I had laying around.
The body (without the legs, but with the head) was cut out twice, so that the pole was positioned between the two pieces of cardboard. The pole itself had a diameter of 2.8cm (1.10 inch), and is 180cm long (about 71 inches). The horse measures 150cm (59 inch) from the ground to the ears, a 100cm (39.37 inch) from the ground to the shoulders, and about 140cm (55.11 inch) from his front leg to the back leg (width).
Note: I drew the ears on the pattern at first, but had to cut them, because they would have been in the middle of his head (unless you decide to make a unicorn, which is a possibility too). It’s easier to add the ears later, when the head is done.
I assembled the pieces of cardboard on the pole itself. I used some Styrofoam as spacers between the body and each leg. The spacers were approximately 5cm wide (about 2 inches).
I also added some support to the legs using metal skewers, normally used for grilling (we saved them, so this was the cheapest option, but armature wire works great too). This prevented the legs from bending or collapsing.
Another practical thing was adding support under the belly of the horse, so that the horse would stay up in the position that I wanted, as it only stands on his hind legs.
I found that using a clamping ring with rubber in the inside of the ring was the best option. To give the horse more support, I sawed a circle out of a piece of triplex wood I had laying around (about 8 cm wide).
Note: The Styrofoam was attached with duct tape. I first tried attaching them with my glue gun, but that’s a no-go. The Styrofoam melts from the heat of the glue.
Cardboard works fine, but some plywood is even better, especially if you have little kids that want to sit on it.
After assembling the pattern, I started adding newspapers to the cardboard to make the shapes of the legs and body.
The head had more complex shapes, for which I used aluminum foil. Aluminum foil is more malleable then newspapers.
I do not have real guidelines here. The only thing that really helped was looking at various photographs. I spent hours looking at pictures of carousel horses to figure out what shapes these horses have. Especially the muscles on their legs. I did not add the detail that real wooden carousel horses have, but I made sure that those leg muscles were there.
As with any project I do, shaping the horse also means removing some newspaper with a regular, but very sharp, knife. It is a real process, and it helps to look at the project from a distance. I also took many photographs of the ongoing project. This helped me to see if everything was proportioned well. Sometimes mistakes become only visible to yourself if you see it on a photograph.
The nostrils on a carousel horse are quite big and resemble ice cones, so that’s how I made them – aluminum foil ice cones.
The manes are sculpted with aluminum foil and taped to the head. Each mane is attached separately to the head – unfortunately I don’t have photographs of this process, but it’s easy enough.
Note: A mistake that I made is the way that his neck is placed on his shoulders. I made his shoulders flat, whereas they should be skewed. My fix is always my knife: I cut some of the newspaper on his chest away, and simultaneously added some newspaper on his shoulders, towards his neck, which created a nice line from the neck, down to the chest.
Also really pay attention to the position of the neck, especially where the neck meets the head. I did not pay attention, which created some problems for me to make his eyes later. I didn’t realize that a horse’s head is designed to look down to the ground. Once I figured that out, I was better able to make the ‘right’ size of eye sockets for the horse.
STEP 3. Paper mache – the basic form
After the “basic” horse was complete, I covered it with paste (wall paper glue) and stripes: 2 layers of newspaper and 2 layers of kitchen towels. When this was completely dry, I continued adding the decorations that carousel horses typically have.
STEP 4. Adding teeth and eyes
Teeth were added one by one, with paper kitchen towels soaked in wallpaper glue and folded in small squares/rectangles.
The eyes are glass cabochons, painted with acrylic paint. The eyes are typically painted on the backside (also the flat side) of the cabochon. The trick is to add the layers the other way around: starting with the pupil.
I’d like to refer to the tutorial of Pia on how to paint glass eyes here, which shows this process in more detail. The eyes were added to the sculpture when adding the kitchen towels. I also used the kitchen towels to make details to the eye socket (e.g., the corner of the eye).
I always struggle to get the eyes exactly right, however, some fellow ultimate-paper-mache artists on this page have assured me that eyes are never symmetrical. It took some time for me to be happy with how the eyes were placed, but after fiddling around a bit, I now am happy with them. It also helped that I saw a real carousel horse, and the eyes were nowhere near symmetrical – it brings authenticity to the project!
STEP 5. Creating the saddle and belts
The saddle and belts were all made of newspaper and aluminum. The saddle was the most challenging part of the decorations. Instead of making the saddle in one piece, I deconstructed the saddle in several layers.
The first layer is the blanket that goes underneath the saddle. I made a big sheet of aluminum foil and newspapers, and cut out the shape I wanted for the blanket.
Then, an “under saddle” is made. This saddle is slightly larger than the final saddle. Then another piece was added on top of the “under saddle” . The final saddle is added on top of the larger “under saddle”.
I’m not familiar with the terminology of saddle pieces, so I hope my pictures explain enough of the process.
Saddle step 1 and 2
STEP 6. Paper mache the saddle and belts
Once I was pleased with how the belts and saddle looked, I covered them in two layers of newspapers and two layers of kitchen towels, just like I did with the basic horse shape.
STEP 7. Adding paper mache clay
The last step before adding decorative features is to add two layers of paper mache clay. I had some bags of paper mache clay-powder – some that I had purchased for earlier projects, some that I had received as a gift – so that’s what I used here. But a much cheaper option is to use one of Jonni’s paper mache clay recipes.
In fact, I recommend using Jonni’s paper mache clay recipe for making details, because the store-bought paper mache clay seems to shrink quite a bit when it’s drying. That’s the reason why I made most of the details in very light cardboard, or aluminum foil first.
STEP 8. Adding decorative features
Traditional carousel horses are always decorated extensively. I decided to add some small decorations, such as small ornaments on the belts and tassels underneath the belts. The small ornaments on the belts are made from modelling gypsum. The mould is actually used for decorating cakes, but it works perfect for other materials as well.
After the gypsum had dried, I filed out the middle part to fit a fake plastic diamond. These ornaments were glued on afterwards.
Small tassels were added under the belt. These tassels were made from a light cardboard pattern and yarn.
STEP 9. Aaarggh – not happy with the front legs
Yes, I’m continually searching for mistakes that I might have made, even when others say that the sculpture is beautiful, I want to make sure it’s perfect. That way, I noticed that the front legs, from the knee on, were too short.
Now, I know not everything has to be of exact length, but the more I looked at it, the more it bothered me. So, I decided to bring out my trusted sharp knife to cut the legs in two. I added a piece of round cardboard tube in the leg to attach the other piece to, and filled the space in between with paper kitchen towels. It’s still not the same length, though I’m happy with it. The proportions are better now.
STEP 10. Painting
Once the horse and all the details had been shaped and covered with paper mache clay, I started painting it. First, two layers of gesso were applied, which prevented the first layer of paint to be sucked into the clay. I decided that my carousel horse needed to be a white buckskin, because Saint-Nicholas was riding a similar horse according to the myths and legends about him.
In keeping with the tradition, and colors of Saint-Nicholas, I painted most of the decorations red and gold. The blanket is a royal deep blue. Unfortunately the colors are a bit different on the photos I took, than in real life. Lastly, I varnished him to protect the colors.
STEP 11. Final touches
Once the paint had dried, I added some final touches. I glued the fake/plastic diamonds in place, and added the stirrups. He is now officially ready to be seen by the public.
I really enjoyed this project, primarily because I have been thinking about making a carousel horse for a long time, but never had the courage to start the project. I’m really happy that I finally did have the courage, and that it turned out … amazing (can I say that of my own work?).
All in all, it costed me about 2 months to complete this fella – working on it, almost exclusively, in weekends and after hours. I hope the people who see him will be as happy as I am, when looking at him.
44 thoughts on “Carousel Horse Made With Paper Mache”
I am actually making a carousel horse using an old red rider spring horse I found at a dumpster. It’s coming along real well . I dissassembled it and paper mached over it. I am now in the process of making the features more prominent with drywall paste and sanding. The bridle is giving me a headache. But it’ll get there. Thanx for the insights.
Can’t wait to see the end result Elaine! The headache will be worth it in the end, I’m sure 🙂
As I was reading, I gasped when you lopped off those front legs! I thought you were crazy, cause they looked great to me. But I must say, your vision was correct- he looks better with his longer legs. I am in awe of you and this fantastic project! I can only hope to be on your level some day. ?
Sorry, the question mark was originally a heart emoji!
Thanks for your kind words, Amy 🙂
It is one of the few projects that I’m still happy with today. There was definitely a learning curve for me as well doing paper mache.
All I can say is Amazing! Her whole life my mother wanted to buy herself an old carousel horse. Wish I had the chance to make one for her. If I ever finish my Macaw I may have to make one in her honor. Definitely next year at least since we are doing a cross country move sometime in the next year and I would be so worried about a piece that size traveling safely with the movers. You are inspiring.
Wow you did a great job.
It looks so real,
I love the mane, the teeth, and the saddle
How strong is it could a kid sit on it with out breaking it??
It could hold a little kid – like toddler, but that’s about it. The pattern is made of cardboard, and I think that, if you’d want it to hold a kid, I should’ve made it out of plywood. I regret not doing that, because now it’s basically a decorative piece. Euhmn, another thing that I think would help to make it a bit stronger, is another way of holding it to the rod. The way it is done now, doesn’t allow to have much additional weight on it. The real ones are actually attached to the rod with screws that go through a metal ring that is attached to the horse, and trough the rod itself. This allows it to hold much more weight, without having the risk that it slides down the rod (which in the case of my horse would cause its legs to break).
I hope that helps 🙂
Thanks for the reply. I’m thinking of using a old plastic rocking horse as the pattern.
But cutting off the legs flush and remaking the legs in a more suitable stant, and also cutting the neck part and heat and bend it up. To make it look like more like yours.
And cutting the hole for the pipe, along with big washer and a slide clamp ( like they use on dumb bells) to hold it in place, that should hold the weight.
Oh waw, that sounds like an amazing project – though probably not an easy one! I’d like to see the end-result of that. Be sure to share on the daily-sculptors page here when it’s done 🙂
Is there a way to make a paper mache piece waterproof if it’s going to sit outside?
Some people say that Flex Seal will keep paper mache dry, but other people have had problems with it. If you just want to make something to display during a holiday, you can use marine varnish. The paper mache will soften if it gets rained on, but if you bring it back inside you can dry it out again. I don’t personally use paper mache of any kind outside – all of my own experiments failed. I now use waterproof materials for my garden art. Have you see the gnome videos?
This is amazing, very talented.
Absolutely speechless. Give me a moment to write. Your carousel horse is so realistic and beautiful. The details that you put into your project turned out so perfectly from your choice of colors to the tassels to the bridle to the saddle, to the position of the horse. Especially the form of the horse! Love the mane and tail, as well as the expression on the horse. Wonderful job!!!!! Love, love, love it!!!!!
First, thank you Jonni for creating this website, your videos and project kits, and drawing us all together to learn from each other, inspire each other, etc… i hope to contribute someday…
Bravo, Isis! Well done, and to make it a tutorial as well is extremely kind and generous. It looks great! It looks completely believable, as if you took it off a real carousel!
Gosh, what a project you undertook. He is amazing. I would be to scared to cut off his leg! Your skill in putting him together is staggering. I hope you soon find a house with your partner so he can have centre stage in your new home.