Making the Dragon’s Head, Part 2 – the Plaster Cloth

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paper mache dragon
How the Dragon Looked When it Was Finished

I made a few changes to the dragon’s head, as you’ll see in this video. I didn’t like the straight horns, so I made him some new ones. I extended the spiky things down over the top of his head, and I may now add a rhino-type horn to his nose. (Haven’t decided yet.)

The video shows the plaster cloth on the head (although I couldn’t leave the camera on during that entire process – too messy) and then I cut the head open, removed the clay, and put the head back together. Tricky! Next, I build an armature for the body. I’m rethinking the wings – maybe he’ll get some, after all.

I mentioned in the video that the armature I’ll be making probably won’t stand up to a gang of kids, and I know several people are thinking about making a dragon for their school or library. If anyone knows of a sure-fire way to make a safe armature that will prevent a sculpture from falling over or breaking if small children climb on it, be sure to let us know. I don’t have the training to engineer something like that, but it would be a lot of fun to make something like this for our local library.

Although, once the dragon was finished, I felt that the sculpture would be safe as long as it didn’t get knocked over. It was strong enough to hold the weight of a child – or even a small adult – and the spikes along his back would keep anyone from trying to sit on him anyway.

See all of the posts for this paper mache clay dragon:

34 thoughts on “Making the Dragon’s Head, Part 2 – the Plaster Cloth”

  1. Okay, update from me. Still trying to find the right glue for myself. A little bit of wheat flour helps a casein and boric acid mache a lot!
    Leaving magazine/junk mail type paper in a bucket in a pounding rain does help it break down.
    I went in class, thinking I would use a stick blender on my paper mashes. The first blender I tried didn’t work.
    So I grabbed a power tool hanging on the wall that looked like a blender. Smashed up mashes in two different buckets quite easily with it. My instructor grinned when he heard the noise.
    I usually don’t touch the machines, but my father was an electrician and a handyman. I’m not as strong as he was, but I am familiar with tools and love to work with my hands.
    I have a large junk mail/magazine mash and a smaller toilet paper mash. I want to make some jewelry with the toilet paper mash.
    Borax is supposed to improve fire resistance. I like to make milk casein glue and paint with borax.
    TSP, trisodium phosphate, is also supposed to improve fire resistance and can also break down milk protein for glue. I got some TSP recently at Loew’s but haven’t used it that much yet.
    My paper mixes start to stink after a while, but I have a ton of essential oils and can also add some chlorine bleach.
    I saw the big gallons of joint compound at Loew’s but the thought of that stuff kind of grosses me out for now!
    My instructor calls me an alchemist. I didn’t realize that’s what I am, but it is.

  2. Hi there! I’m making a mask/hat type structure for a costume. It’s a bird’s head, and it’s supposed to sit on top of mine. Would just a few layers of plaster cloth and some of your wonderful paper mache clay do the trick for supporting it? Or is there some other method I need to look at? Thanks!! 😀

    • Yes, that would be plenty strong enough. I made the helmet in my mask book using paper shop towels and fast-setting paste, which is also what I used for the Mayan/Roman helmet mask in this video. But your plan of using the pm clay over plaster cloth would work, too. There are a lot of wonderful ways to make masks. My recent gorilla display mask uses the plaster cloth with a little bit of paper added for texture, and it’s plenty strong.

      You should only need a very thin layer of pm clay to make the plaster cloth strong enough to hold up well and give you the texture you’re looking for. That way, you’ll get the strength you need without making the mask too heavy.

      Be sure to show us your mask when it’s done. I’d love to see it!

      • Oops, it would have helped if I had been more diligent in my research on your website… Thank you very much! I’ll be sure to drop by with some pictures once everything is made! 🙂

    • Have you seen these videos? This gentleman uses asphalt sealer and filler on his pumpkin piece. He says it can stay outside and handle the weather! There are actually 8 videos in his pumpking tutorial, I just included the cement filler/sealer part. I bet it would have helped your baby elephants… Let me know if it is helpful. I have been enjoying watching your tutorials, and can’t wait to get started…

      • Interesting – there have been a lot of recommendations for waterproofing paper mache in out comment area, but I don’t think anyone has ever mentioned asphalt sealer before. I’ll check out the videos. Thanks!

  3. Hi Jonni,
    I am making a flying monkey from the Wizard of Oz and just finished the body and now am ready to make the head out of paper mache clay. I like your technique of molding the face out of clay and then covering with plaster cloth and I was wondering if I can use regular air dry clay since I don’t have any WED clay…if so, do I need to use plastic between the clay and the plaster cloth so it won’t stick? I plan on using your recipe for paper mache clay to finish up.
    Thank you!

    • You can use any kind of clay. Anything kind will work. The WED clay is just regular wet pottery clay, that doesn’t dry out quite so fast. I’ve also used oil-based clay and Super Sculpey. If your clay might dry out before you can remove it, a release is a good idea.

  4. I’m getting updates on this site now. Been looking at it for several months now. I plan on actively participating here.
    I currently have magazines and toilet papers in containers on my apartment patio soaking up the rain from a storm.
    I must figure out easy ways to break the stuff down!

    • Some people use a blender, with a lot of water and a little paper. It seems to work with newspaper, but I’m not sure how magazine paper will look after it soaks. The binding may be too hard. Toilet paper doesn’t need more than a minute or two in warm water, and then it mixes up just fine in the paper mache clay recipe or traditional paper pulp.

      • I inherited a really large stick blender from a friend, larger than the one I have for food. We also have stick blenders in class. But I’m too lazy to use it. I like to jump right in.
        I relied on the constant beating of the rain. Still in process. I took a roll of Angel Soft toilet paper in after a good beating and it was easy to tear apart. Then I put it back out.
        Still experimenting with casein/milk glue and paint. One of the nice things about casein is it can go over oil, and acrylic can’t. If we mix a very small amount of oil in our glue/pastes, it’s probably not that much of a problem getting acrylic to adhere. I prefer to give it a coat of casein, then acrylic, if I want it.

  5. Jonni, it looks like the best way to contact you is just put on a currently active thread.
    I’m starting to experiment with paper mache, mostly want to do recycling. I have many years of art, am currently in a design/ sculpture class where we currently do a lot of clay but can do anything we want, really.
    In class, I’m mixing Titebond wood glue in with shredded magazine pages, because we have plenty in class, and waiting for it to set up.
    I don’t ask questions like, “Can I do this or that?” because I just try it.
    I like to make casein paint. I often mix boric acid with powdered evaporated milk to break down the casein. So, of course, I am experimenting with it in paper mache.
    Casein dries hard, so I add some drying linseed, walnut, sunflower, or safflower oil to the glue to make it more flexible.
    Casein pastes don’t seem to draw insects as badly as the flour pastes do.
    I have not been able to find many other artists using caseins for paper mache online. Are you aware of any?
    I have plenty of essential oils like clove, lavender, eucalyptus, etc., to add for antifungals.
    Yesterday, I told my instructor my bucket with mag pages and wood glue was starting to smell. He said the school didn’t want us to have big bottles of bleach, but I could bring in a small amount. When I used some paper mache and added more Titebond, the smell went down due to the preservatives.
    This is just a comment. Tomro I plan on bringing a little bleach or some essential oil to class.

  6. Did you use an automotive wax on the clay before adding the plaster cloth strips this time as in previous projects?

  7. Wow, what a great video, Jonni, and a beautiful sculpture in the making. Thanks so much for sharing with us, truly inspirational. Can hardly wait to see him finished.
    Lesley from Australia aka burrumgirl

  8. Hi Jonni,
    I enjoy watching your videos and admire your gung-ho approach to projects and materials. I agree that keying your cut pieces will make reassembly much easier. You might want to try a plastic bag loosely filled with bean bag pellets to support pieces while you are working on them. This could be helpful when you get to working on the larger body parts and need to rotate them in order to work comfortably. I’m looking forward to seeing the body.

  9. Your dragon looks great! I agree a little bigger horn on this nose would make him look more dragon like but more of a spiky horn not a rhino horn. When cutting it apart you could have tried a zigzag cut so you could put it back together easier, especially down the neck and under the chin. Love seeing your work, right now have too much going with my husbands health issues to start anything. Maybe after his surgery and he’s back on his feet I’ll have time to get creative. Thanks for your inspiration.

  10. Hi Jonni. Just catching up with your dragon project, which is really ambitious (it’s going to be HUGE!)

    I had some thoughts about things that might help with some of the tricky bits.

    When cutting the piece apart to take out the armature, maybe make some triangular notches along the cut, so that it will be easy to line it up, but will also sort of lock in place when you’re putting it back together. Might make the only-two-hands problem a little easier, too.

    To prop up bits while drying, I had good luck with a pillow in a plastic trash bag. It’s formable, to some extent, and soft, so it can support over a large area without squashing details too much. (I figured this out working on the dog sculpture a few years ago, which took a total of 3 heads to get right, if I remember correctly!)

    The size of your wonderful dragon might make it hard to handle or move, much less get through doors. You could make it so that it comes apart in pieces, which could have the added benefit of making it just a little bit posable. You’d have to work out how to support the pieces relative to each other, but maybe some of that could be done with matching lips around the edges, like you see in nesting dolls.

    On an aesthetic note, I was liking the whiskery look the wires gave when you were trying them on for horns. Might be fun to add some wire whiskers to move her even further from “horse” or “antelope” (which it suggests to me, with its doe-like eyes) into “dragon”.

    I’m excited to see how this develops, and what others might do with this inspiration!

    • Great ideas, Xan. I’m not sure how I would go about making it come apart, but that would be rather nice. It might take an engineering degree, though.

      I will be playing with more “furniture” for his face, but I think I’ll leave it until the body is put together. I know I’ll be making spines that go along the top of his ears and feathering beyond, to mimic the curve of the horns. A beard may be a good addition, and maybe a wispy mustache. It’s fun to be able to just do whatever, and say “that’s how I think dragons look.”

      I’ll go buy the foam board for the armature tomorrow. I can’t wait to get started. In the meantime, I’m thinking of getting this dog (not really a puppy) as a companion for my old dog. Know anything about Lhasa apsos? I think the Cavalier part is questionable, if that’s really his picture.

      • Oops! Looks like that pup is no longer listed. Did you get him? All I know about Lhasas is that they have long hair and they’re little. 🙂 Big help, right? I do know that a young dog can be hard on an old dog. Maybe you should take your old dog with you to audition the match ahead of time.

        I like your attitude about “how I think dragons look”. Reminds me of my favorite art saying. It’s ART: We can do what we want!

    • I haven’t tried it, but many people have, and they say it does work in the paper mache clay recipe. However, one visitor mentioned that the clay takes considerably longer to dry – although I’m not sure why that would happen. Give it a try, and see if you like it.

  11. You had asked for some ideas a few posts ago. I wonder if you might consider making a green man mask?
    It’s a fall thing, and and a halloween mask idea!
    The dragon is looking terrific!

    • Hi Dorothy. That sounds like a fun project, but I seem to have three projects going already! It might have to wait for next year. Thanks for the idea.

  12. Jonni, the dragon looks great. I have never used the modelling clay as an armature, and now I really want too. Once again, thank you for all your informative and inspiring videos 🙂

  13. Love the way the dragon is coming along. Just a hint, if anyone is interested, with the off cuts of your foam board, I glue off cuts to help pad things out, sometimes I can get flat packaging off people, saves a bit of newspaper scrunching, and less waste. I use a hot glue gun, its all covered with Jonni clay, so only has to last a while. I do always put newspaper over it, but I am right into using stuff to save land waste, if I can.

  14. Of all your projects, this has been the most interesting. I’ve been wondering how I might employ a small supply of non drying clay I purchased a few years ago… what a delight to finally find a use that’s perfect for it. I can’t wait to see the rest of your dragon build! Thanks for your efforts.

  15. I love the horns. It gives a quality of movement. Maybe dragons can be suspended from the ceiling of the library out of reach. It will last longer and look good as time goes by so many more can enjoy the art.

    The only statues that last are cast in bronze like the ones in our National parks. They are made for touching.

  16. iv been wanting to make a dragon yours look so cool
    i was thinking of making one with your new air dry clay
    but i was wondering could i use soaked new paper instead of toilet paper
    for the recipe or does it have to be toilet paper just wondering

    oh and thank you for your inspiration

    • Jonni, I have just found your web site and am enjoying your videos very much. I had not done any paper Mache since my teaching days and am blown away by the amount of detail you are able to get with your mix. Way back then I really didn’t think of this media as worth pursuing. Now I do. Your art has inspired me! I will post any finished projects (if I get them done) and plague you with endless questions on how to improve. LOL

      • Great! I hope I can answer some of those questions for you. If I can’t, there are a whole lot of other people reading this blog who are always more than happy to help out.


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