Friendly Full Size Lion – Full Sculpt 3.5 ft tall

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Amy Cole recently showed us a few photos of her lion that she made with paper mache clay. When I found out that she took photos of her entire process, I asked her if she’d be willing to write a full tutorial so we could see exactly how this delightful lion was made for a baby shower, along with her giraffe. I’m so excited that she agreed!

Be sure to scroll down to see all the step-by-step photos. Thanks, Amy!

How Amy Made a Life-Sized Lion for a Baby Shower

© 2022 Amy Cole

After having made a large giraffe sculpt for a baby shower, I decided to try my hand at doing a lion, too. I started with Jonni’s lioness mask and modified it to fit on the body I planned to create.

I found a side view photo of a lion online and added a grid to enlarge it onto cardboard using the method that I learned from Jonni. I made 2 copies and used one for the torso and the other for the front and back legs and paws. Once I sketched them onto cardboard, I cut them out using a box knife. I actually made a double layer of cardboard for the torso because I wanted it to be strong. See photos below.

For assembly, I added some styrofoam block spacers on each side of the torso and attached both rear legs.

Then I started filling out the body with paper, bubble wrap, and masking tape. I continued to add details, packing everything tightly, until it had the shape I was looking for. I did the same with the front and rear legs.

Once complete, I secured the head to the body with lots of masking tape. I knew I would be adding a large mane, so I didn’t have to be super particular with the way it looked when I attached the head to the body.

Once everything was shaped and taped (a good rhyme for this step!), I mixed up 2 batches of paper mache clay and applied 2 thin-ish coats all over. Again, knowing that a large mane would be added, I didn’t fuss with his neck and back of head areas too much. I did coat them, though, knowing I would need a good surface to glue the mane onto.

For his paws, I sculpted “toes” using aluminum foil and glued them on, followed by a layer of masking tape. The clay won’t stick to aluminum foil very well, so masking tape was essential here. I made a tail from pipecleaners and masking tape, and secured it in place. I added a layer of clay to it, as well.

Once he had a nice hard paper mache shell, I added a layer of homemade gesso (Jonni’s recipe) just to further smooth him out. Once that was dry, I added the golden yellow color of acrylic paint all over. Then I went in and painted the details to his face and ears. I also added details to his paws with acrylic paint.

When he was completely dry, I started working on his mane. I bought one yard of fur material from my local hobby lobby store, plus one sheet of white fur from the craft section. I added the thick mane all around his upper back, neck, and head. I used the white fur for a patch right under his chin for dimension. Since he was headed to a baby shower, I wanted him to look friendly and a bit cartoonish, so realism wasn’t my main goal. I thought he turned out super cute with a nice, sweet facial expression. Although, to me, he still looks like he’s in charge! He rules the jungle with genuine kindness and compassion!

Finished lioness mask, taped with masking tape. The back opening was modified a bit so it could be placed onto the lion's body.

Finished lioness mask, taped with masking tape. The back opening was modified a bit so it could be placed onto the lion’s body.

Armature for lion sculpture

Torso and back legs are hot glued into place.

Lion's front legs cut out

Front legs have been cut out of cardboard, and will be placed after I fill out the torso and back legs.

Starting to fill in the lion's torso

Starting to fill in the torso with bubble wrap and scrap paper, held in place with masking tape.

Lion's torso in progress
Lion's torso in progress
Lion's torso in progress

Filled in the body and back thighs. Ended up cutting the back feet off of the armature because I decided to move them more to the front of his body. I also added the front legs and began working on shaping the muscles at the top of each front leg. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s never too late to make revisions… even if they seem massive! When I first began, I was struggling to visualize where his back feet would go. Once I built him, I realized they’d look ridiculous (to me) if I continued building them outward the way I had cut my armature. So, I chopped them off and slid them over (as shown in photos below).

Lion's legs

Back feet were added and filled out. Everything is taped down with a layer of masking tape. I ended up shortening his front paws a bit, deciding I wanted to add a little more detail.

Foil for the paws.
Lion paws sculpted with foil

I used aluminum foil to shape 4 toes for each back paw, then glued them on with hot glue. I then covered them with masking tape. This was the most “fiddly” part of the entire project, especially since I was working behind the already formed front legs. It was very helpful to me that I was able to put him up on a table and work on his feet at an eye level. This would’ve been much harder if I had to stoop over and work on it!

Body and paws are done

Both front and back paws are done and taped up. We’re ready to add his head!

Adding the head
Adding the head

I had to trim down the cardboard torso a bit to allow his head to sit at a more natural level. Then I stuffed paper and applied masking tape until his head felt secure. You can see that I didn’t bother getting a perfect finish around his chin and neck, knowing that his mane would be covering these areas.

First layer of paper mache clay

First layer of paper mache clay is applied and allowed to dry thoroughly.

Second layer of paper mache clay

Second layer of paper mache clay is applied.

Adding the Tail

Added his tail from paper, pipe cleaners, and masking tape.

Smoothing the paper mache clay

Smoothed out the paper mache clay with a wet sponge, then added a layer of homemade gesso.

Lion sculpture before painting

Starting to apply his overall paint color. You can see that I didn’t smooth out the clay on the back of his head and neck where the mane will eventually cover.

Painting the lion

Painted his face and started adding his mane. He looks like an adolescent to me in these pics without his full mane. Lol.

The finished lion:

Finished lion, with fur mane and beard

Finally finished! His glorious mane is full and thick, giving him free reign to rule the jungle! But seriously, it took me an entire Saturday to hot glue this mane on. It didn’t go as quickly as I thought it would. I ended up having to cut the material into 3 x 4 or 5″ strips and hot gluing one end down. I thought I could just glue down the fur fabric and be done, but it didn’t turn out to be quite so easy. Well worth the effort, in my opinion.

Lastly, I’ve included a couple photos of the lion and giraffe (Lionel and Gary) duo at the baby shower they were created for:

Lionel and Gary at the baby shower
Lionel and Gary at the baby shower
Lionel and Gary at the baby shower

17 thoughts on “Friendly Full Size Lion – Full Sculpt 3.5 ft tall”

  1. I love Lionel! And Gary too. Great tutorial thanks Amy. I love what you say about doing big revisions to your work when required, I find stuff like that so helpful.
    What a treat to have such lovely sculptures at the baby shower!

    • Thank you, Denise!! They’re hanging out in our rec room now… I think they’re going to be permanent fixtures! Lol.

  2. This is amazing! You did a wonderful job building your lion, it’s inspiring. I would love to see more progress pictures, if you have them.

    • Hi Carol! Thank you for your sweet comments! I think I’ve posted all of the pics that I took along the way, but if you have questions about the specifics, I’m happy to help if I can!

    • Thank you, Pat!! He debuted at a baby shower, but now he sits in our rec room keeping watch over everything. Lol.

  3. Amy, thank you so much for showing us your lion, and for adding so much detail about how it was made. Your giraffe was for a baby shower, too – was the lion for the same baby? 🙂

    • Hi, Jonni! The lion did indeed join the giraffe at the baby shower. They were an impressive duo, to be sure! ? Thanks to you, again, for the easy to follow instructions and endless inspiration!


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