Explorations into Creating a Paper Mache Giraffe

How to make a paper mache giraffe

Today’s guest post is by our old friend Rex Winn.

Lately, he’s been making giraffes with paper mache clay. These long-legged creatures can be a real challenge to sculpt, and he has some excellent tips for us.

Be sure to scroll all the way down – you don’t want to miss all his how-to photos. Thanks, Rex!

And by the way, if you’d like a faster project, where all the shapes of that beautiful giraffe head are already created for you, be sure to see my own pattern for a giraffe sculpture here.

© 2016 Rex Winn

How I Make My Paper Mache Giraffes

There have been many giraffe sculptures on this site, and all of them have inspired me to give it a try. Here are the lessons I have learned while making three giraffes. Any comments or suggestions are most welcome.


How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe, Step One
#1: How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe

Illustration 1 shows the first step after cutting out the giraffe pattern. I used the grid system. The smaller giraffes were 37 mm grids and the larger giraffe was 47 mm grids (a difference in height of almost 26 mm or 10″). I used foamcore on the smaller giraffes, and on the larger one (seen here) I used double-thick cardboard. I used Aluminum Wire, 11.5 AWG, on the legs (armature wire).

It is not clear on the photo, but I began wiring on the hoof with an “L” shape on the bottom of the hoof, and curved the wire up the leg and around the thigh area. Because the legs are thin, I wanted to make it as strong as possible. The wire goes on the OUTSIDE part of the leg.

I used aluminum foil on the legs up to the belly. I kept it as compact and as narrow as I could, trying to take into consideration the depth of the paper mache clay. I didn’t want the legs to get too thick, but I wanted strength.

How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe, Step Two
#2: How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe

Illustration 2 shows a layout of all the giraffe pieces. When drawing the pattern from a reference photo, I marked where the eyes, lips, and legs attach to the body. (See Jonni’s book of Making Animal Sculptures for great details on this process.)

Every leg has a different shape. Before I cut out the legs, I write on them where they are to be placed: front-right; front-left; rear-right; rear-left. (When I glue on the Styrofoam, I write my shorthand version of placement on the legs.) Drawing on the body the placement of the legs helps me know where to glue on the legs. In this case a solid line shows where the right-side legs are to be placed, and the “x” lines indicate where the left-side legs are to be placed.


The first thing I did on the small giraffes was cover the legs with paper mache clay up to the belly, including the hoofs. The problem I did not foresee then was that when the rear legs are glued onto a graduated piece of Styrofoam (the rear hips), the hoofs are not “straight” on the body. You can see on Illustration 9 that the left-rear hoofs kick out (perhaps making it more playful, but …).

On the third giraffe, I decided not to add clay to the legs first. That was an even bigger disaster because the legs would not hold the weight of the body at all, not even the cardboard. The legs constantly buckled and bended.

How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe, Step Three
#3: How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe

Illustration 3. In the end I had to hang the poor giraffe from a picture hook and add clay to one leg at a time.

HINT: With the small giraffe, the legs were much easier. I tied the feet together where I wanted them. (The legs were covered with dried clay, so they were stiff, but the clay was not on the body.) Using skewers did the trick for me. I broke a skewer to length between the ankles, and held the skewer to the ankles with masking tape. I used 3 skewers to keep the legs in place. I added clay on the body where the legs (now dry) meet the body. When that clay is dry, it binds the body and legs; the feet will not move.

CONCLUSION: Illustration 2 is a photo from the fourth pattern that I started. The legs, covered with pm clay and dried, were strong enough to easily hold up the body, even on the larger model.

Adding Styrofoam:

The thickness of the Styrofoam between the leg and the body is 1 square block of the grid pattern for the front legs. For the rear legs I used 1 square of the grid pattern for the rear of the hip to 1/14 square for the front of the hip. (I’m not sure how anatomically correct this is; perhaps someone could enlighten me.)

I placed the cardboard leg on the Styrofoam, marked the outline of the leg to where it joins the belly. I then cut the Styrofoam, double-checking that I have the right depth, and mark which leg it goes on. I glue it on the leg with a hot glue gun.

Illustration 2 also shows the ears. I prefer the aluminum wire on animals where I want to bend the ears. As Jonni warns, watch the poky bits of wire. They are sharp and will stab you. Covering them with masking tapes helps alleviate a few of the injuries. I drew the ear pattern on the cardboard to use the grid as a measuring device. I placed the wire on the pattern, marked the wire with a magic marker, and cut them out.

I do not cover the hoofs with pm clay until the legs are attached to the body and the complete armature is dry. In the “hanging giraffe,” I could not put clay on the head because I needed the rope to hold it off the ground. When the clay is dry, I stand the giraffe and add clay on the hoofs. This way I can make certain all feet touch evenly on the ground.

On a piece of paper, I draw a pattern of the hoof print. I stuff the hoofs with aluminum foil, and when I add clay, I compare each hoof to the outline on the paper. This way the hoofs are approximately the same size. (In Jonni’s book, she shows how to wrap masking tape around one side of the hoof. Next wrap masking tape around an aluminum foil shaped like half a hoof and then tape that on to complete the hoof. When using thick cardboard like I did, this process helps a lot because you can get each side of the hoof to be the same size on both sides. In other words, less aluminum foil on the side with the cardboard, and the masking tape around the hoof to be glued on will create a natural separation in the hoof.)


How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe, Step Four
#4: How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe

Illustration 4. Before glueing the legs onto the body, it is easier to complete the armature for the head. The cheek is one grid-square deep on each side. (I think my first giraffe is a better shape in the face because I paid closer attention to the width at the top of the head.) I use aluminum foil for the skull and face.

How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe, Step Five
#5: How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe

Illustration 5. Next I added the snout, leaving room at the bottom for the chin and lower lip.

How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe, Step Six
#6: How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe

Illustration 6. After the snout, I added the back of the skull, and then the lower jaw and chin. When making the lower jaw, I usually find that I did not built enough upper jaw or that it was not square enough (like the upper teeth). This usually means adding addition foil to the upper mouth, the area forming the upper lip and cheek. The aluminum foil showing in this illustration is the lower jaw area. Adding it last in this manner helps me keep it separated from the “camel-like” upper lip, nose, and gives the giraffe a mouth.

When adding the nose, I had to be careful not to lose the vertical line of the nostrils. A good pattern here will help you raise the nostrils and keep the upper lip the right depth. (Talking is easy!)


How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe, Step Seven
#7: How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe

Illustration 7:  I leave the cardboard pattern of the horn in the middle of the head until I get to this point. Then I cut the horn off the armature, put aluminum foil on both sides, and then tape it to the top of the skull. When I cut off the horn, I can see where it needs to go on the top of the head and the placement will be correct. (As Carl Sandburg wrote, “It all helps!”)

The little piece of blue is where I cut it off the main cardboard pattern. This is a top view of one side of the skull. I then do the same process to the other side of the face.

If you want to turn the head, you can easily bend the neck when adding paper to that area. The skull area, of course, will not bend.

How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe, Step Eight
#8: How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe

Illustration 8: The large giraffe is now ready to get hoofs. Loki (the black dog) is supervising and Maddie (visiting) gets her first lesson. The giraffe is covered with pm clay. I added the hoofs and let it dry.

How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe, Step Nine
#9: How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe

Illustration 9: In these projects, I wanted a smooth finish, so for my second layer of clay I used Jonni’s smooth air-dry clay. It is at this point that I add details to the ears, nose, hoofs, and add eyes. When the clay is dry, I gave it a sanding, and coated it all with Jonni’s gesso to seal and get the projects ready for painting.


I covered everything with Unbleached Titanium White acrylic paint. I tried other “off-white” colors, but this one was my favorite. The colors I used for the pattern were Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber, using acrylic glazing liquid as needed (all the time!). Occasionally I would add Ultramarine Blue to create a darker color (black) on the hoofs, tail, and nostrils.

#10: How to Make a Paper Mache Giraffe
#10: The Finished Paper Mache Giraffe

Illustration 10: Here is the finished giraffe, 25″ tall. I will cover her with a matte acrylic varnish. My favorite spray varnish is FolkArt clearcote acrylic sealer, matte finish. It is made to cover paper mache. It does not yellow like every other type of spray varnish I have used. Any suggestions on a matte varnish would be welcomed!

I have seen different patterns on painted giraffes. I have a mask in which the only shape used is a triangle. Remember when painting your spots or shapes the story of “The Three Bears”: Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear – three different sizes. In other words, a variety of sizes and a repetition of design.

Hope this helps someone. Show us your projects, please.

18 thoughts on “Explorations into Creating a Paper Mache Giraffe”

  1. I see the patterns for other animals. But I do not see the pattern for the giraffe. CAn you share the link with me? My daughter is interested in making this for a 4th grade project. Thanks so much

    • Hi Caroline. Rex didn’t have a digital copy of his pattern to share with us. He made his own pattern. He probably used a photograph of a giraffe, and drew around the outside edges of the body, neck and head, and then drew around the legs. He transferred the outline onto a grid and then changed the size using another grid. You can see the basic process on my snowy owl post. An owl isn’t anything at all like a giraffe, but the process for making a pattern is exactly the same. Because Rex makes his own patterns, all of his giraffes are different.

      Your daughter will have fun looking for a giraffe photo using a Google Image search. The photo she needs is one that shows the animal directly from the side. If you have an image editing program that will let her draw around the photo on a separate layer, that makes it a lot easier. If not, and if she only wants to make a small giraffe, she can print two copies of the photo. Use one copy for the body pattern, and one copy for the leg patterns.

      I hope she enjoys her project. Let her know that she can share her giraffe here on the Daily Sculptors page. We’d love to see how it comes out.

  2. I wanted to update this post a little. Here is a close-up of the last giraffe I finished. I discovered that I was placing the eye where the eyebrow began. Creating an eyebrow and lowering the eye improved the process. Also, instead of painting tiny panels on the face, I painted one block of color on the cheeks (trying to go from light at the top to darker at the bottom of the pattern). When that had dried, I added the background color with a tiny brush to create the separation. Hope this helps.

    • Hi Rex,
      These are great giraffes!
      I’m wondering if you’ve ever tried one laying or sitting on it’s legs.
      I’m definitely going to go past the neck but I haven’t the energy for a whole body (at least lately!)
      I’m also still trying to understand the graph method which makes perfect sense but I’m not the sharpest acacia tree in the Serengeti! Do you hand-draw the lines on your cardboard? (You must) and if you use one of Jonni’s giraffe patterns At it’s original size, how do you correlate that size to the graph on the body?
      Sorry for the silly q’s but I’m a lifelong giraffe lover and in the middle of making my first paper Mache anything!
      I love your work!

  3. Putting a block of polystyrene under the tummy while the legs dry is easier than hanging the poor thing! I also often turn animals upside down so I can do the legs and tummy first. Polystyrene can be shaped to make a support for that too.

    • Thanks, Rachel — especially for the laugh. I had a difficult time getting it to stand because the body was too heavy for the legs (which were not covered in clay). I have everything covered with smooth clay except part of the face and knocked it off the table. Broke a leg, of course, so after that repair the poor giraffe is upside down on the heater today! I’ll have to remember the polystyrene.

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Rex.
    Your paint job is great. I especially like how you painted the eyes.
    Also love love love the doggies. Maddie’s expression made me smile.
    I’m confused about the description for illustration 4: “the cheek is one-grid deep”.
    I know about using grids for the cardboard/armature pattern, but don’t understand how you applied it to filling out the form. Does it mean that the cheek is the same width as a square on your cardboard pattern?

    • Susanne,

      I have been working on three more giraffes and realized another crucial part on the face. The reference photos I used (from the side and from the front) were the same distance from the giraffe, and as closely as I could determine, each side of the face protruded to the side about one gird I used for the pattern. (I printed out the photos and then printed a grid over that I created in WordPerfect.) When I made the aluminum ball for the eye area, I rolled the aluminum ball and measured it against a grid (which was still visible on the body). Both eye areas were one grid, so it made the width of the face two-grids wide. Does that make sense?

      What I realized as I was working on the last face is the “width of the face” is actually the eyebrow, not the eye itself. The eye is UNDER the eyebrow, of course, and I think taking that into consideration my next eyes will have that “half-mast” look that I couldn’t create on the first three. I have already added the eyeballs, so we’ll see what happens.

  5. Hi Rex!
    Although it was a bit “oups” seeing that photo with the giraffe hanging as if being executed by hanging, it was great fun to watch the process, specially within the sculpting of the head!
    Thanks for the post
    Warmest regards from Portugal

    • Thanks, Pedro. Show us what you are doing! You can imagine how desperate I was to think of hanging the poor thing. It did look terribly gruesome. Good to hear from you.

      • Hi Rex, thanks 🙂

        Well i’ve tried to post one or two things but didnt came out, maybe i wrote something that I shouldnt?

        We can always exchange emails in case u dont have facebook … What do u think?

        • Hi Pedro. I checked my comment folders to see if the system stuck your comments in the wrong place, but I didn’t see them. Maybe the system was just buggy at the moment. If you try again and your comments still don’t come through, please let me know so I can try to see what’s causing the problem.

          • hi Jonny.
            I think it was a post on the daily sculptors page, some mini historical papermache dolls. Didnt got any clue if it had worked or not (resized pictures) so just waited and has you didnt reacted to the email about the “facelift” on my myroyaldolls website, I tended to think that maybe I had misbehaved and was being putted on grounded. Ah ah ah

        • Pedro, that would be great. I have a Facebook account, but I don’t get on very often. Send me a message and I’ll send you my email. (I’m the Rex Winn holding a min pin with cannas in the background.)


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