When Will My Paper Mache Sculpture Be Dry?

This video answers one of the most common questions I’ve  received in the ten years this blog has been online – how long does it take paper mache to dry?

This isn’t an easy question to answer because there are a lot of variable factors that need to be considered. However, speeding up the drying time of your paper mache sculpture is the most important thing we can do to make sure our paper projects are a success. I’ll give you some tips on how to do that in the video.

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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.

Do you have a paper mache project that needs to be done by a certain time?

Or are you concerned about drying your paper mache quickly so your sculpture won’t be destroyed by mold? Either way, drying paper mache quickly is one of the most important keys to creating a successful sculpture.

[Edit] Our friend Henk-Jan Bakker dries paper mache in a DIY drying box, and made a special video to show us how. You can see it here. And if you scroll down to the comments, Christine gave us an even easier idea.  ]

This isn’t an instant art medium. Both paper strips and paste and paper mache clay will take time to dry. Fortunately, if we keep air moving around our projects we can speed things up.

1. Use thin layers of paper mache.

If you use a firm armature, (made with either crumpled paper and masking tape or crumpled foil and hot glue), your sculpture only needs a few layers of paper strips and paste. Those few layers should be ready to paint in just a few days.

If you’re using my paper mache clay recipe instead of traditional paper strips and paste, you can apply it in a very thin layer that will dry in a day or two. The mixture dries very hard, so there’s no need to add more than 1/8″ layer. I often use a paper-thin layer of the paper mache clay, and that’s strong enough for almost any project.

Almost all of the projects in our Art Library use a firm armature made over a pattern. The armature makes the sculpture strong, and the paper mache gives us a nice surface for our paint.

2. Put your wet sculpture in front of a fan.

To keep the air moving. put your sculpture in front of a small fan. Then turn the sculpture once in a while so it dries evenly all the way around. Remember to turn it so the bottom can dry, too.

3. Special problems for really big paper mache sculptures.

Is your sculpture really huge? For a parade float, perhaps? Then you have the additional problem of gravity moving water down towards the bottom of your sculpture. You still want to use as little paper mache as you can possibly get away with, and you still want to put the sculpture in front of a fan. If you’re making it in your garage, open all the doors and windows so you don’t trap a cloud of wet air inside. Give it at least a week to dry, because the bottom of the sculpture will stay wet much longer than the top.

4. Check for dampness before painting.

Before you paint your sculpture, check it near the bottom with your thumb. If you feel any ‘give’ to the paper mache layers, that indicates that water is still trapped inside, even if the top layer of paper mache feels dry. If it’s at all soft, let it dry for a few more days.

5. Seal your artwork.

Always remember to seal your paper mache after you finish painting it. You don’t want your sculpture to absorb water from the air around it.

If you live in a very humid area where getting anything dry fast enough is almost impossible, don’t use thetraditional flour and water paste. Use Elmer’s Art Paste instead, because it doesn’t attract mold. It isn’t expensive – a small 2 oz. package can be mixed with a gallon of water, and that’s a lot of paper mache paste!

What questions do you have about paper mache?

Be sure to ask them in the comment section below.

Have fun sculpting!

5 thoughts on “How Fast Does Paper Mache Dry?”

  1. Jonni, I am trying to make a big paper mache teacup skirt that I can paint a design on for wearable arts. I used a 100 cm balloon and got 3 layers on yesterday…came back 6 hours later and it burst…I was thinking it was that change on in air temperature. It was very cold and then we put the heater on?
    So, was thinking do it again but use the quick drying player of Paris and glue with blue shop towels or Chux wash cloths?

    • Hi Jo. Balloons are really hard to use with paper mache, as you already discovered. I did switch to plaster of Paris bandages for the first few layers, and put plain paper strips and paste over that – just a layer or two to cover the texture of the fabric. If you’d like the paper mache itself to add strength to your wearable art, the shop-towel mache would help. Make sure to completely saturate the shop towels with the drywall joint compound/Elmer’s glue mixture. They won’t get stiff without lots of paste.

      By the way, we would all love to see your teacup skirt when it’s done. Please post a photo on the Daily Sculptors page and show it off. 🙂

  2. I live in Western Washington and it is nice and dry in the summer, but really rainy in the winter. Small scu;ptures I used to put in the oven or over the vents. In the summer, I used to put my sculptures in the hot car or in the hot day of the noon hour on top of the hot glass windshield. The hot glass dried the bottom of the sculpture and the sun the top. I used to put vinegar in my cooked flour paste to reduce mold and bugs and mice do not like the vinegar. I live in the boonies and have many rodent residents.

  3. I like this “it depends” video very much. I struggled for a few years with drying, and this video answered those questions. I did not think of water running down through a sculpture, but of course it does. As I think back on all the projects I have made, the last spot to dry was the bottom of the neck/chest area.

    I began making the projects in the “Making Paper Mache Animals” book seven years ago. Every project was exciting. I lived in California at the time, in summers that would reach 120 degrees, so the paper mache would dry quickly but I did have mold problems with the clay (not the sculptures, however). The clay would stay “good” for about a week. When I moved to Utah, a much dryer climate, I just have to make sure the sculpture is dry. No mold issues. Thanks so much.

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