Guest Post – Paper Mache Body Cast

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Today’s post is by Kerry Stent. I’m very excited about this post because we’ve received a large number of questions from people who want to learn how to make a paper mache body cast.  I’m so glad Kerry was willing to share his experiences.  Kerry lives in the small city of Nelson, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, which he describes as “a great sunny place, abundant in artist of all kinds.”

And now, I’ll turn it over to Kerry:

This isn’t a lesson on “how to,”  just an  account of how it went for me.

Kelsi and Daughter
Kelsi and Daughter

At the end of last year, my oldest daughter Kelsi wanted to celebrate the end of her child bearing at the birth of her 3rd one, a girl, Sophia Jade, by having a belly cast made. So, at about 3 weeks out from the due date we had Melanie, her younger sister, create the partial body mold of this wonderful fecundate belly.

At this stage of the project…girls only allowed.

Kerry Stent, the Artist
Kerry Stent, the Artist

The mould was made of 2 layers of plaster paris bandage, with extra layers here and there, and a liberal coating of plaster wiped over the whole thing, the same used for fixing up broken limbs. A German product called Hartmann Plastrona was used, this stuff sets in under 5 minutes but needs another 30 to harden off. You can buy kits containing everything you need for this process. There are also synthetic flexible products preferred by those who produce body casts professionally, as they give a more highly defined finish, (not a single wrinkle escapes!!)

From this plaster mould a paper mache casting was made, in this case the mix being simply egg carton and wall paper paste. Melanie had to return to Auckland, she is a full time student there, so dear old dad was left, or should I say instructed,  to finish the project off.

Body cast, first attempt
The 1st attempt, egg carton with wall paper glue when being plastered to bring it up to finish. The shrinkage and distortion of this cast being unacceptable.

2 or 3 weeks later the casting was pulling away from the mould as it hardened, and on easing the paper mache casting from the mould it was clear there had been significant shrinkage, plus it was very rough. So it was smoothed over with wall board finishing compound, which sadly made things even worse. Not only did the shrinkage worsen it pulled badly out of shape presumably due to differential shrinkage, really disappointing…oh well, not good enough for me, so went on line to see if there are any artists out there who specialize in paper mache, and this is when I made contact with Jonni, and learned of her paper mache clay recipe.

The mould was a little worse for wear at this stage.

Second Body Cast
Second Body Cast, After Painting

Casting No.2 was  much smoother, hence requiring way less finishing, and I was eager to get it painted. Some annoying cracking was present at this stage that needed repairing. For painting I chose some aerosol products, a sandable undercoat and full gloss top coat, which gave a great finish, but a short while later, further cracking appeared, right through the paint and into the clay…Grrrr…It had gone from looking hopefully finished to yet more repairs needed. I could only conclude the paint was too hard and rigid for the paper mache substrate.

The project was abandoned for a while, being that fed up with it.

When getting around to finishing off this job, I chose good old fully flexible acrylic house paint, it’s designed to move with its substrate and bridge blemishes.  So, at the moment, the body is the same color as my house, funny that! and the paint has held up perfectly.  I brushed the paint so its not quite up to the finish intended, its not too bad, one day it will get a spray finish, but the recipient is in no hurry, and will probably choose another color.Overall, I am very satisfied with the result. The photo is of when it had its first paint job.

First and second castings, side by side.
First and second castings, side by side.

So.. some observations:

The mould: don’t skimp on this, at the Community Art Centre, I mentioned moulds that are for reuse, are a good 1″  thick, mine only just made it through the second casting. If something goes wrong first time, a mould still intact is essential.

Painting: use a flexible coating, there might well be other products than acrylic, again, this what the folk down the centre use and recommend, but artists quality…not left over house paint.

Layering, for future projects I would use this, other artists recommend it, I believe it leads to a stronger more consistent outcome.

Clay mix: stick to proven recipes where appropriate, take care to maintain proportions if batching up large quantities, I am sure I must have been rather light on the finishing compound, perhaps being a little stingy due to only buying a small quantity of the product.. I just feel my project is not quite as strong as it could have been.

Experiment –  you will be surprised the difference made by minor adjustments will make. Whats fine for 1 application might not be the best for another.

Why a robust mold is needed.
Why a robust mould is needed.

In Hindsight:

As a first time user I wish I had researched a little more, there is so much information on offer. I think my mix was not dry enough. I think an amount of more robust fibre could have been used, i.e. my mix was all toilet tissue and having recently found  samples, 1 that is about 30% egg carton and 70% toilet tissue seems to be as tuff as old boots, lastly possibly not careful enough with batching up.

Having beat myself up, I am still happy with the final result.

8 thoughts on “Guest Post – Paper Mache Body Cast”

  1. Hi Mike,
    Good old petrolium jelly was used as release agent. I had a little anxiety about whether this would affect subsiquent paint finishing, I recall Jonni had also mentioned this, but there were no problems there. This is because being a petrolium product it simply evapourates away. Other local artist informed me of this, and it really does. Not a lot of sanding required, mostly just before he finishing coat as pictured. All paint till then was sprayed.

  2. This is really nice work, it looks like porcelain. What did you use as a release agent in order to get the cast off, or does Plaster just pop off pretty easily?
    Also, how much sanding did it take to end up with a finish so smooth?

  3. I know you had problems with the paint shown in the first photo, but I sure do like that smooth finish. I wonder if the joint compound and white glue formulas are perhaps just a little bit different in your part of the world, which may have contributed to the cracking? So far, that’s a problem I haven’t run across, but that may be because my armatures are slightly flexible and probably shrink a bit as the paper mache clay dries around them. Do you think the kind of paint used for cars would be more flexible?

  4. Hi,
    This was an interesting story, I have enjoyed reading how it all finally came together for you after all of your efforts. I don’t understand what you mean by egg carton. Are you talking about the carboardish egg carton we get with our eggs? If it is, how do you break it down?
    I have seen housepaint as a suggestion for painting dolls, a marionette in fact. I never thought about the reason for that until you just explained how it had some give to it. I have really enjoyed you explaining the different steps and the outcome is great!

    • I just finished a large batch of pulp using egg cartons and other pulp packaging that I have been saving up. I tore everything up into 2″ or so pieces and put them in my big stainless stock pot with lots of water to cover, got it up to a boil and them simmered for a few hours until things were pretty well broken down. I was surprised when the egg carton needed a little more coaxing than the other shipping carton, I had to get out my hand mixer and mix until it was finally broken down. When it cooled slightly I took the pot outside and poured the pulp into two wire mesh cooking strainers, it made a lot more than I expected so I plan to separate it into portions for a single batch of the clay and let the leftovers dry out so that next time I will have premeasured pulp ready to go. This is the first time I will be making the clay with the egg crate pulp so I will let you know how it goes.

      • So, when you use egg cartons and break them down that way, what would be a recipe to use to get the consisitency you want? What do you use with it? I think this is so fun, I am so curious! Thanks for sharing!

        • I’m using Jonni’s recipe for PMC, the cardboard and fiber pulp is in the place of the toilet tissue, just follow her recipe and use the pulp instead. I used my pulp yesterday to make a batch of clay and it was very nice, no difference in my work.


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