Easy Paper Mache Clay Recipe

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12/10/09 – I’m editing this post and putting up a new video, because I’ve now had a few months to play with my paper mache clay recipe. The new video will give you instructions that you’ll  need to make sure your toilet paper rolls contain the same amount of paper as mine. The new mixing instructions are also easier to use.

This recipe was inspired by Ronnie Burkett’s Papier Mache Rediscovered (recipe #2) and some comments by readers, especially Bob’s comments on the paper mache pumkin post. Thanks, everyone.

Note: This material does use items from the hardware store that are not rated for use by children, and the resulting clay is not edible. Small children should not use this clay.

I used this clay to make all the big cats you can see on my gallery page.

If you try this recipe, please let me know what you think.

Edit – 11/3/09. While you can speed up drying by putting your sculpture in a warm oven, I don’t recommend using a temperature higher than 150. The heating clay puts out some fumes if you go higher than that. I’m not a chemist or a doctor, but it doesn’t seem like something you’d want to breath for very long. Also, any masking tape that is still exposed will unstick itself in the oven, even at a low temperature. I recommend that you be patient and allow your clay to air-dry naturally.

123 thoughts on “Easy Paper Mache Clay Recipe”

  1. Hi there,

    ok, so I live in Spain and wasn’t sure if I found the right joint compound… the translated equivalent said Yeso, which to me is plaster, so I bought both, however, both are powdered.. is the joint compound in powder or paste?

    Also, and probably bc of the previously mentioned, my first try at the mixture came out curdly, sort of like cottage cheese.

    Help.

    Signed,

    Tuli in Madrid

    Reply
    • The joint compound I buy is already mixed, and although it looks like plaster, it doesn’t set up the way plaster does. According to Google Translate, the word Yeso is plaster in Spanish. I don’t think plaster will work very well, because it will set up before you’re finished using it. I suggest you keep looking. The clerk at the hardware store should be able to help you find the right product. According to one reader, in Mexico joint compound is called “Compuesto Ready Mix” and it’s made by Panel Rey. I don’t know if they export to Spain, but it might be worth asking.

      Reply
      • The marvels of technology never stop amazing me. I awake to find your reply, very neat and tremendous thanks Jonni …I will definitely look for the “Compuesto Ready Mix.”

        As a side note, last night before going to bed, I added more water to the mix to see if it would dissolve the curdles a bit, this morning it seems ok, still curdly looking, but stiff enough to cover cracks, so I am trying it out, like spackle on the tea pot that I am creating… it seems ok, although not smooth… we’ll see how it dries, will keep you posted.

        Again MUCHAS GRACIAS (this site is wonderful and the creations brilliant).

        Reply
        • You might also try adding a bit more glue and a little more flour, to see if you can make the mix smoother. Try it on just a small batch, though, as an experiment. It might work….

          Reply
    • Thanks, Lee. URLs are now automatically live when they’re added to a comment. But if you put the traditional code around them, the system deletes them. Who knows why? Thanks for being patient – I’m really impressed with how the costume and the routine looked on ice. Congratulations, and thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  2. I am attaching a video of a number we did this past Sunday for a Halloween show at Kendall Ice Arena in Miami. I wrote the script for this number and made the cow’s head using your recipe. We were all very pleased how it worked out. I am the farmer’s wife in this video and the junior cowgirl is my grandaughter Alyssa Archer. I am contemplating donating the cow costume to Miami Children’s hospital. Thank you so much for your help. It was a big success.

    Reply
    • Hi Lee. Videos can’t be uploaded to the comment section. Could you give us a link to a web page where the video is located? Did you put it up on YouTube?

      Reply
  3. Hello, Jonni
    I finally got some free time to make a some paper mache clay, and here is a photo of some of what I have done with it. Thank you sooooo much for sharing your wonderful recipe.
    Thank you,
    Jen

    Paper Mache Mask

    Reply
    • Hi Ryan. I like the way the clay feels when the oil is added, compared when it’s left out. But you don’t need it. In fact, you might want to check out the lively discussion at the bottom of the comment area on the paper mache clay page – lots of suggestions about other products that can be used instead of the oil.

      Reply
  4. Hello Jonni!

    I have finally finished that deer (but now it is a elongated pig, hey, they material tells you want it wants to be sometimes!) But I cannot find the post where I said I would show everyone the wire base. So if the picture loads, here it is!

    Reply
    • The clay dries in a day or two if you put on a thin layer (1/8″ or so) and you put the sculpture in a warm place with good air circulation. Since conditions vary so much, even the amount of humidity in the air, it isn’t possible to say definitively how long it will take a sculpture to dry. But do be sure to let your clay dry all the way through before adding a finish coat of paint and sealer.

      Reply
  5. Hi!

    I’m from South Africa, and am wanting to make papier mache decorative items with zebra stripes and make a mixture that includes – real zebra manure! I also have access in impala droppings! Just not sure about the kitchen blender!

    Reply
  6. Please help problem with consistency of paper clay made with toilet tissue , ,joint compound, glue,and flour. WHAT did I do wrong. It is very soft not clay like as expected. How can I dry it out or improve consistency of clay already made ..Thanks for any help .

    Reply
    • Hi Francine. Did you measure the amount of paper that your roll contained? That’s the only thing I can think of that would cause the problem – unless you forgot to press the water out of the paper before you made your clay.

      One issue might be your expectations that you would have a clay that you could shape by hand, like Sculpey. This clay is meant to be spread onto the form with a knife, and details can be molded with modeling tools. But it isn’t stiff, like real clay.

      I hope this helps.

      Reply
    • I don’t know of anything you can use instead of joint compound. It is the chemical combination of white glue and the calcium carbonate in the compound that creates a material that air-dries extremely strong, even when applied in a very thin layer. Just curious – why don’t you want to use joint compound? It’s really cheap.

      Reply
  7. Hi
    I’m new to this medium, but love sculpting in all other forms of clay. I just tried making the recipes here…the one with cellulose insulation….can you tell me what the consistency is supposed to be like after it’s mixed? It seems a little stretchy. Now that seemed kind of weird to me…is that right?

    Reply
    • Are you using the recipe in the video on this page with cellulose insulation instead of toilet paper? One thing I discovered when trying to mix joint compound, Elmer’s glue and cellulose insulation is that any two of these ingredients can be mixed together, but when you mix all three together you get rubber. I did get it to work correctly once, months ago, but there must be a chemical in the insulation that causes this odd reaction.

      So – I use joint compound mixed with the insulation for filler, when I want to build up an area fast – but I always cover it with at least one layer of paper strips and paste. You might not need to, but I always do. For a sculpture made just with paper clay I use the recipe in the video, with toilet paper. It dries extremely hard and does not need a protective layer of paper mache.

      I hope this helps. And if anyone can tell me why those three ingredients turn into rubber, please do. It’s a real mystery.

      Reply
      • I made a batch over the weekend using glue, joint compound, and insullation and it was as close to perfect as I’ve gotten so far. Then I made a batch last night that was basically silly putty. I had to keep adding water just to get it soft enough to spread. I think i used too much glue. When I get the project I am working on complete I am going to experiment with ratios of ingredients to see what combination works best.

        Reply
        • I have my suspicion that the chemicals used to fireproof and bug-proof the insulation are not evenly distributed in the insulation. That may be why I got the glue-joint compound-insulation recipe to work once, too. After that it all turned immediately to rubber. Don’t know why. The toilet paper recipe in the video is by far the best, but it is more expensive.

          Reply
      • I suspect the ingredient that is producing the silly putty in this recipe is Borax.

        Many, many years ago I had “shredded” paper insulation blown into the walls of our first home that no insulation of any kind except for a sheet of aluminum foil as a radiation shield I guess, it was built in the fifties. I was concerned about mice and fire so I asked the installer about it and was told the finely shredded paper was treated with Borax as a fire retardant and insect repellent. Not sure what’s in the current batch of cellulose insulation but is sure sounds like Borax to me.

        A search for “Flubber recipe” on Google produces some fun and informative pages to look at.

        Reply
    • Jonni-i have every flat surface in my house coverd with paper mache STUFF. I’d love to try the cold porcelain clay recipe;’done a bunch with polymer and need to compare. Please list the ingredients one more time.

      Reply
      • Carol, I have never used a cold porcelain recipe. A reader may have left one in a comment somewhere here on the blog, but a fast search didn’t find one. Perhaps a Google search would turn up the recipe you need. Please let us know the results of your experiments.

        Reply
  8. jonni,
    that recipe for the clay looks fantastic. i am going to use if for my skeleton skull. thanks so much for sharing it!

    Reply
  9. Wow, Jonni, I can’t wait to see your finished sculptures! I’m very excited about these clay recipes.

    I’m reminded of “cold porcelain”, which is an air-dry clay based on corn starch. It’s used to make very fine little detailed sculptures, like flowers in particular. Here’s a good link with several recipes and notes on the differences: http://www.theartfulcrafter.com/craft-ideas-nine.html
    There is about 30% shrinkage, so I can imagine there might be some cracking if laid over a dry paper mache form, but I’ve never tried it.

    Reply
    • Hi Xan,
      Thanks for that Porcelain recipe page, such interesting mixes. It also led to Fiona Guagliano’s site with figurines made with it.. That recipe has the translucent characteristic of “real” porcelain too. I was after a recipe that would give a hard smooth finish not the translucent quality her works shows. Impressive stuff indeed!

      Reply
      • It looks like the porcelain recipe could be used to make nice eyeballs. And Bob’s porcelain finish recipe could be used to get a really smooth finish on paper mache eyeballs. My brain is going to explode with all these ideas to explore!

        Reply
        • After reading a bit more, it really sounds like the shrinkage would be a problem with the cold porcelain. It would work well for eyeballs, if you did them first, don’t you think? That way, you’d know how big an opening, all shrinkage would be accounted for, etc.. It could be a really neat effect.

          Of course, I suppose you could also use taxidermy eyes …

          Reply
          • I think you can also get eye stamps at pottery supply stores. If I remember correctly, they’re just little stamps that have a concave eye-shaped depression. You push them into the clay and you get perfectly round eyes. Now that I think of it, I’m going to go see if I made that up or if I really saw a thing like that….

            Well, I just did a search and got sidetracked when I found this tutorial that shows how to make “glass” eyes out of Sculpey. Now I have to go see if I can get the same effect from my new paper mache clay. I’ll keep a look out for those clay press molds, too.

            Reply
  10. Hello Jonni,

    I have included the same picture of my egg shaped PM piece used for coating, paste and clay recipe experiments shown near the bottom of this post : http://ultimatepapermache.com/cheap-art/paper-mache-halloween-pumpkins-and-a-centaur Hear it is closer to actual size so it is cropped to the area of interest.

    This picture happened to also include my 1st and only “Porcelain” coating attempt to cover the rough texture of my PM clay made with the paste below seen here.
    (note no flour, Liquid Starch or Wallboard compound).

    4 Parts PVA ( Elmer’s Glue)
    1 Part water
    1 part Acrylic paint

    If you are going to try this (or some variation) I wanted to give you as much info as I have about it because it is very close to what I was looking for. I’m eager to see if your experienced touch and observation can make it happen. I add acrylic paint because it seems to add body and smoothness to the resulting mix but that has not been proven it is just my “gut’” impression. [img]http://i320.photobucket.com/albums/nn348/EagleSoar123/PorcelainArea.jpg[/img]

    Reply
      • Hi Jonni,
        In my single attempt to make and use it I notice it dries extremely hard considering the ingredients. So hard it can not be dented with a fingernail and because of this hardness it sands beautifully. I was surprised at how smooth it became after sanding it with 220 grit sandpaper. I have a set of very fine files and using one of them the surface actually took on a slight sheen after filing. I was amazed.

        It leaves no brush marks and seems to “flow” a little, smoothing out fine surface features but larger features can show through as seen on the “egg” shaped test piece above. I suspect a 2nd coat or a wet brush applied over it before it dries might help with that.

        I just tried making and “improved” batch of this “porcelain” recipe by adding 1 part of Liquid Starch to it but that failed miserably. It seems I made my own variation of Silly Putty! Perhaps less Liquid Starch or replace it entirely with glycerine or the mineral oil you mentioned? My thought is to make it less hard upon drying and thus reduce cracking when applied in greater thicknesses but that may effect the sanding properties. What fun.. so much to try so little time!

        Reply
        • Hi Jonni, Below are two of my modified “Porcelain” recipes using Karo Syrup for the first test and Glycerin for the second test. The Glycerin was more expensive with little difference.

          These were small batched measured carefully with “level” spoon fulls. In the Karo recipe 1 Part was equal to ¼ teaspoon and for the Glycerin recipe ½ teaspoon equaled 1 Part.

          The modified Porcelain recipes
          4 Parts PVA
          1 Part Karo Light Corn Syrup OR 1 part Glycerin
          (In the second Recipe test Karo Syrup was replaced with 1 part Glycerin)
          8 Parts Wallboard compound
          2 Parts Acrylic paint
          7 Parts General Purpose Flour

          I mixed the PVA and Karo first to see if I got the Silly Putty effect obtained by mixing Liquid Starch and PVA in the previous test, I did not. The two ingredients mixed well as hoped for.

          The differences:
          Karo cost less, dried hard, could not be dented by pressing my thumbnail into it, sanded well, left brush marks but seemed to crack less in thicker applications than the original recipe.

          Glycerin is more costly ($5 for 6 oz), dried faster, dried hard, but CAN be dented by pressing my thumbnail into it, sanded well, left brush marks but seemed to crack less in thicker applications than the original but about the same as the Karo recipe.

          Reply
  11. I can’t wait to see your finished leopard and bobcat!!!I am missing my paper mache projects SO much, but alas *sigh* I have dozens and dozens of painting commissions to do now.

    I wrote somewhere about the use of baby wipes…I can’t find it anywhere, when I rewrote it, it said ‘oops..you already said that!’ lol.

    Reply
    • Hi Laurie. Do you have a website so we could see your paintings, too? We can tell from your sculptures that your paintings must be very creative, and we’d love to see them.

      Reply
  12. Hi Jonni,

    Wonderful tutorial video, thanks for sharing your knowledge and technique …. again! I’m learning so much from this site!

    I had recently seen a kind of expanded metal used for smaller armatures but had no information about what it was or where to get it until you provided it in this video, an unexpected bonus. Wonderful! I have a project where chicken wire will be required and saw how coarse the 1” openings in chicken wire are.

    I’m eager to try this “Jonni Variation” of clay too it sounds delightful because of the fine finish you describe and the ease to concoct it. I got a funny look from my wife when I asked her to collect all the dryer lint and I can hardly wait to see the expression on her face when I tell her I want to get some cheap toilet paper!

    I made an attempt at a fine finish too. I wanted a homemade PM “Porcelain” finish to act as a smoothing and finishing layer. It dried smooth and VERY hard but cracked if applied above a certain thickness. I’m thinking about adding some Liquid Starch or Glyerine (aka glycerol or glycerine) to the “Porcelain” recipe listed below. I have very limited knowledge of the properties of Liquid Starch, however. Maybe even the Linseed oil you mentioned?

    My Porcelain attempt
    2 Parts PVA
    4 Parts Wallboard compound
    1 Part Acrylic paint
    3-4 Parts Flour

    It got very thick but could be painted on vertical surfaces but was not clay like.

    Reply
    • Hi Bob.I’ll try your recipe for a porcelain finish. It would be less expensive than the one I’ve been using. I’ve been using glue-based gesso to get a really smooth finish:

      2 parts white glue
      4 parts water
      8 parts calcium carbonate
      plus titanium oxide to make it white, if you want

      It also cracks sometimes, but a second coat, made with more water to thin it, will smooth out any irregularities. And I sometimes leave the cracks because they’re interesting.

      I have tried using joint compound in place of the water and calcium carbonate, but I hadn’t thought about using flour, too. Joint compound is made from calcium carbonate plus a binder, so it’s basically the same thing as glue-based gesso – but without the flour it doesn’t get as thick as I like to make mine, and you don’t get the same “feel” or absorbency that you do with the original recipe. The flour might help. I’ll try it soon. And the paint would help make it opaque.

      The calcium is sold under a wide variety of names, and the cost depends on what it’s sold for. I get mine from Blick’s. They also have wider expanded metal made especially for sculpting, which would be handy in place of the gutter grid that I use, but of course it does cost more. You can find it here. My hardware store says garden lime is the same thing (and much cheaper) as calcium carbonate, so I’ll try that, too. The powder floats into the air (and into your lungs) so a mask is a must when working with it.

      Thanks again for the tips.

      Reply

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