Ceramic Artist Makes a Bear With Paper Mache Clay

Get a fast start on your next paper mache project or hand-made gift with Jonni’s easy downloadable patterns for masks, animal sculptures and faux trophy mounts. The patterns help you create a beautiful work of art, even if you’ve never sculpted anything before.

bear tnToday we have a guest post by Cindy Menasco, who made a bear out of paper mache clay, and textured it with tools normally used by ceramic artists. You can see some of the fur texture in the image on the right, before he bear was painted. Below, she tells us how her bear was made.

©Cindy Menasco

Hi everyone. Jonni had asked for me to share with you how Issy, the bear was made. She was a fly-by-the-pants type first project for me in paper mache.  I had my own ceramic home shop for a number of years, years ago.   So, about 12 yrs had passed by after I had sold the shop, before I had started looking into sculpting something myself. I had looked on the internet and landed on Jonni’s website and my eyes were opened up to a whole new world.

I had brought a couple of Jonni’s books, Make Animal Sculptures with Paper Mache Clay and How to Make Adorable Baby Animal Dolls.  Issy was a experiment in learning the feel of the clay and what it will do for me. I loved it all, making the clay and learning the texture of it, to applying it to the armature. Then painting her to see how the textures would turned out.   I never plan how I’m going to make my projects, so I just jumped in and did it. That can be a bad thing, but I find it to always a fun thing – always getting a surprise to look forward too.

Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of the wire armature, or the stages I went thru applying newspaper and masking tape, but the pictures below will show you the result of what I came up with. For the muzzle I cut a toilet paper roll in half lengthwise and taped it to the middle front of Issy’s head. For the ears, I cut out a half rounded shape out of card board and attached them to the middle top of the head, (see picture below). When you tape the head in place, tilt it a bit – that gives the bear added personality. Also, make sure that you have plenty of room between the front paws, and the front paws and back paws. With the 2 coats of clay, I was running out of room to work with, texturing the second coat of clay and then painting in between the paws. So, I would recommend to spread the front paws apart and up a little bit.

Paper Mache Bear Armature with Masking Tape
Paper Mache Bear Armature with Masking Tape
Paper Mache Bear Armature with Masking Tape
Paper Mache Bear Armature with Masking Tape, Back View

Next, make up a batch of paper mache clay, using Jonni’s recipe in Make Animal Sculptures with Paper Mache Clay book. Then apply this clay to your armature. When applying this first coat of clay, try to keep it smooth as possible.   I started at the bottom, then worked my way up toward the head. I formed the front and back paws working in the toes, working up to the hips and shoulders. I was not sure at the time what I was doing, so I made Issy a bit bottom heavy, which turned out OK….

While working on the body, I added in some extra clay for her chest, and a rounded belly.

Once I was happy with the body, I put in the first coat of clay over Issy’s neck and head. Here is where the rest of her personality is starting to show. Again, I kept the clay smooth.

Once I had covered the head area, (leaving the ears uncovered in clay at the time), I then covered the muzzle next. First by, covering over top of the muzzle, shaping it. Then the lower jaw, cupping the clay, making the lower jaw fit under the muzzle, twisting, turning it to give expression.

If the clay dries out while you are playing with it, then lightly wipe the clay with a paint brush full of water. This will extend the amount of time you have to play with the clay. (Be careful, I have run into putting too much water on the clay, which will produce very tiny little balls of paper, if that happens, just let the clay dry a bit, add a small amount of more clay, with the glue and water mixture, blend in and you can continue to sculpt). Once you finish with the muzzle and lower jaw, then push a wad of paper towel into the mouth, to widen the mouth to a shape you like and let dry over night.

Once the muzzle and lower jaw are dry, you can pull out the paper towel and add in the clay into the inside of the upper mouth, turning Issy upside down. Then let that dry.   Next, I cut a toothpick in half and glued it to the lower jaw for teeth, then cover tooth picks with a small amount of clay. Then I added a thick piece of clay, shaping it into a tongue, and let that dry overnight.

Now it was time to work on the eyes, which I made two rounded balls, the size that would fit the face, and using a glue and water mixture, I put them in place. Then I rolled four worm-looking strips of clay, putting them above and under the rounded balls of clay, creating eyes, as shown in Jonni’s How to Make Adorable Baby Animal Dolls.

I decided at that time to add in a big nose, using a pencil for the nostrils and a little more clay on the muzzle shaping the grin.   Then I added a small ball of clay to the underside of the chin, attaching it with the glue and water mixture, then textured it. When everything looked good with the head and body, I finally put clay on the ears. The reason I waited is I was consistently putting Issy on her head for one reason or another, which pushed her ears all over the place. I let Issy dry for at least a week. The second coat of clay is for the texture.

First layer of paper mache clay.
First layer of paper mache clay.
First layer of paper mache clay, front view.
First layer of paper mache clay, front view.

Now for the second coat of clay. I had been working in ceramics a number of years, and had brought this tool, pictured below, using only the black end of this tool for the texturing.

Clay Texturing Tool
Clay Texturing Tool

What I did was apply a small amount of the glue and water mixture to a given area, then I applied a small amount of clay on that glue, first blending the clay into the area I was working on. Once done with that, I put a small amount of water on the clay, at the same time using the black end of the tool, tapping down on that clay in a fan like style, either with the tip or side of the black tool. At first it does not look like much of anything, but repeat the tapping back and forth, and sometimes up and down until you get the desired look you are working for.

At this time I had added cheeks to Issy, by rolling up a medium size balls of clay, applied a small amount of the glue, water mixture to the area I wanted her cheek to be in and place that balls of clay according, applying a little water, blending and texturing where necessary.   I also had extended her eye brows by the same process, but instead of a ball of clay I made a worm of clay, fitting to just above each eye.   Once you finish with applying and texturing the clay, go thru and look everything over to see if this bear is what you want, then let her dry for at least a week, if not a little more.

(TIP: If you have any clay left over, make a number of flat disks, about 2” round, texturing some of them, then putting something on them, like a cup, to let them dry flat. I used these disks to try my paint colors on first, before using the paints on Issy. This came in really handy. )

Texturing the paper mache bear.
Texturing the paper mache bear.
Texture, back view.
Texture, back view.

The next stage is to paint. I painted Issy in 3 stages, using a mixture of washes. As you make your washes, add in a dab of Liquitex Matte Gel. This gives the wash a nice sheen when dried, I have discovered.  Make sure you let the bear dry completely between each coat of paint.

  1. Paint colors: Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna, mixed in equal parts, adding just a little of Primary Yellow.(Make enough to use twice) Once mixed, make a wash out of it (adding water until the paint is very thin). Apply this mixture all over the bear, except the eyes. Let dry completely. This will look on the orange side when dry.
  2. Paint colors: Use the same colors as above, adding Raw Umber into the mix.   You paint should already be thin, but add a little water if needed, keeping the paint on the thin side.   Apply as before, except the eyes, nose and inside of the ears. This paint mix will had a bit of soft brown when dried. Let dry.
  3. Paint colors: Final wash, mix Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue, equal parts together.  Before thinning this mixture, apply the paint to the lower lip and nose areas. It may take a couple of coats of this paint to get the affect you are looking for. Then thin down the paint to a wash, apply this mixture to everything except: eyes, inside of ears and inside mouth. When applying this mixture to paws, make sure that the paint is very thin, just outlining the toes and pads of the paws . Let dry.
  4. Paint color: White, thin a bit and paint the two teeth.
  5. Paint colors: Light Portrait Pink, Cadmium Red, mix in equal parts, adding just a little of Burnt Sienna. Also make this mixture into a wash, but not so thin.   Then apply this mixture to the tongue and inside of the ears. Let dry.
  6. Paint colors: Light Blue, Bright Aqua Green, Ultramarine Blue, and Ivory Black. Mix Light Blue and Bright Aqua Green together and thin just a little bit of Ultramarine Blue. Please refer to Jonni’s How to Make Adorable Baby Animal Dolls book as to painting the eyes. I found this technique very successful. Let dry for a few weeks.
Paper Mache Bear Painted
Paper Mache Bear Painted

paper mache bear 10

I have not as yet sealed Issy. She is still drying, which will be in just about a month. But I plan to use a satin/matte combination varnish on everything but her eyes, nose and tongue. Those I will finish in gloss.

All in all, I had a great time thru every process in learning this project. I truly hope that you will too. Thank you for reading this article. Cindy Menasco

15 thoughts on “Ceramic Artist Makes a Bear With Paper Mache Clay”

  1. I am making a project that I have 3 weeks to finish, so I don’t have a month to let the paint dry. I will probably have a week to get it painted and dried. Any other suggestions for painting my project?

    • Susan, you can use acrylic paint instead of oil paint, and then you can seal it with an acrylic varnish the next day.

  2. Hello,
    I am looking to make a pair of peacocks for my daughters wedding. I have looked everywhere to purchase them but can’t find a decent bird anywhere. I was hoping that someone might have a pattern I can use as a starting point. I’ve never done this before, but I have an artistic ability and 14 months to make it happen. Also, if anyone has pointers or information I should have before starting, i’d appreciate your input. Thank you!

    • Hi Karen. I always use patterns in my sculptures, and it’s fairly easy to make one using photos you find online. The first video in the paper mache cat series shows how it’s done – the cat has more legs, of course, but you’ll get the basics. The neck could be made with wire surrounded by crumpled aluminum foil that’s held on with masking tape. Once you have the posture you want, you can attach one end of the wire to the body pattern, and the other end to a pattern of the head.

      Two-legged creatures have extra challenges, because they have to balance on fewer legs. Heavy wire is needed in the legs, and even light rebar from the lumber store would not be too much. Since people may want to touch your peacocks (and could easily knock them over) it would be good if you can attach the feet to a piece of plywood that would act as the base of your sculpture.

      This sounds like such a delightful project! I do hope you’ll keep us posted on the progress, and show us how it turns out. If you run into any problems with it, be sure to ask.

  3. Cindy — really enjoyed reading about your adventure in making Issy –great step by step narrative and hints. She wonderful and you are very creative. Congrats! and thanks for sharing.

    • Love your bear Cindy…Will motivate me to try and replicate the little one I glimpsed peaking over a stump as I drove in the back country. 🙂 great expression

  4. I am curious to know what is the name of the tool you used? I am about to start on a sloth and have been delaying starting because I didn’t know what to do for the fur. What you did looks very good and I want to try it. Couldn’t I make my own tool by using the correct size wire and laying or drawing it into the cement clay? Don

    • Hi Don, The tool I had used was a old X-Acto tool. It comes apart, for which I had used the black side of the tool. You can use just about anything that is dull and has slim sides to it. I would not use wire. That will cut the clay, which would give a much different look to your fur. I would recommend the side of a fork, bobbin pins straightened out, small knife dull side, the side of a ruler, anything slim and will not cut. I may also suggest that whatever you use, while making your fur, that you follow the direction or flow of the body. Example, taping the clay from back to hip down the leg to the foot. Slightly, changing the directions of the fur, with long and short stokes, where the muscles move, will give the fur more realistic look. Make a couple of small disks out of your clay to experiment with first, will give you the idea of how you what to make your fur. I hope this will help you. Good Luck and have a ton of fun. Cindy

  5. What a cute bear! Thanks for sharing your talent with us.
    Now I can have confidence to make a smooth outer layer on my next project.

  6. Hi Eileen, Thank you for your kind comments. I had sculpted once before a doll head and hands,only. This is my first time in sculpting, pretty much. Yes, I did use acrylic paints. In ceramics, I only used a liquid clay called Slip, pouring the slip into and out of a mold. Once the slip had dried a bit, you can break that mold (pulling the molds apart) leaving your ceramic piece to work on. In paper mache, I construct from a wire armature, adding newspaper and masking tape to create the shape I want. Once I have the basic shape I want, I add the paper clay, first coat for the basic shape and second coat for the details I want. There is a lot more drying time in paper mache, making sure that mold does not develop in my sculpture. To me, I have found paper mache is more hands on and always a fun surprise. I never plan anything, just go for it. I hope that I have answered you questions. Cindy

  7. What a sweet bear with great personality! Thanks for taking the time to share your process. Very helpful!

  8. Cindy, your bear sculpture is fabulous and is quite the character. It is obvious that you have sculpting experience. Did you use acrylic paint? Also, how much different was it to do a paper mache sculpture than a ceramic one? I know the painting and glazing would be different, but what about the actual sculpting? I know the drying times are different. Just curious.
    Thanks for sharing your process.

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