How Jackie Made Her Outdoor Figure Sculpture

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tn Today we have a guest post by Jackie Smith, who recently posted photos of her wonderful figure sculpture on the blog. She got tons of attention, and lots of people asked her questions about her process. She graciously agreed to write up a full post with all the details. Thanks, Jackie!

©2014 Jackie Smith

My name is Jackie Smith and I am from Grenada, Mississippi. I am so Honored to have been asked to be a Guest Post for Ultimatepapermache.com

Several other Paper Mache sculptors have been asking how I made this figure and how she came to be. I call her “Goddess Charta”. I am very new to paper mache and started with a frog that is probably about 20 inches tall. I looked back at the photos that I took of him and saw that I have only been making these fun projects since September of 2013. Yep…..a newby!

What made me decide to make her is that I wanted a large statue for my front yard. I could just see her in a large flower bed but when I started pricing concrete statues, the price made me start thinking about the possibility of making her myself. I didn’t know if I could accomplish any of this but just just dove right in and kept working on her until she was finally complete. First of all, before I ever started, I searched the internet for Greek and Roman Goddess’. Most of what I found, they were very masculine with helmets, shields and some had body armor which is not the look that I wanted. I found two that were suitable so I used them as a “go-by”. I used parts from the photos of each to build my Goddess. I spent a lot of time in my work area just sitting and starring at her and trying to figure out what is the next thing that has to be done. I made mental pictures of how I wanted her to look and using two photos as kind of a guide, I tried to do the easiest way possible.

Another question was how did I get started making this Goddess. I began making her from her feet and upwards. I traced my own feet onto a sheet of paper, cut is out and taped to a wooden board. This showed me where to fill in with crumpled paper. I made her feet with crumpled paper except for the upper foot and toes. For that, I used the air dry clay. Next, I used cardboard oatmeal boxes for the legs. I used small boxes stuffed with paper to fill in between the legs and Wal-Mart plastic bags filled with paper to form her lower body and skirt. In order to form the skirt, I wrapped the the bag of the whole lower body with sheets of paper and taped everything really well with lots of masking tape. From there just kept working up the body.

Working on the  Feet
Working on the Feet
Skirt and Upper Body
Filling in the Skirt on the Armature

Her upper body and neck. I used a cardboard peanut can for her neck.

Upper Body is Shaping U[
Working on the Upper Body
She’s beginning to take shape now. The cardboard peanut can had to be cut down a good bit in order to get the right size. This is the $4.00 Styrofoam head that I found at a local store which turned out to be too small for the rest of her. The styrofoam head is just for filler so I built on top of the styrofoam. I used my husband’s tin snips to cut through the thicker cardboard peanut container. Regular scissors would not work very well.  I also used paper strips with the flour and water to cover the styrofoam thinking that the clays would adhere better.

Styrofoam Head Added to Armature

I used the air dry clay on her face and some of her hair. This picture of part of her hair is crumpled paper and taped to the back of her head and covered with the paper mache clay. For her clothes, I used paper shop towels dipped in the flour and water mixture and then draped them on her while they were wet to form the right folds and lengths.

Sculpting the Face and Adding Clothes

Her arms are crumpled paper but I did put one strand of wire in her arms for more support. Her bowl is paper strips and flour and water to form it and then stuffed with more crumpled paper. I also closed the bowl because I didn’t want it to catch any rain.

I have added the hair with air dry clay and reworked her eyes, mouth and nose several times until I was finally pleased with it. Boy, her expressions and features changed a bunch of times! haha I am finished building her now and covering her with the first coat of the “Thin Set”. When it dries, the color is much lighter. Also after it is dry, the outer coating is very stiff or firm.

Adding Thinset

She has a ponytail which you really can’t see very well. I used crumpled paper to form a base for her strands of hair. I used strong paper towels dipped in the flour and water mixture and just twirled the strands and attached each one to the base. I used paper strips and the flour/water mixture to hold each one in place. This picture, i have already covered her with the thin set. Her ponytail took 2 or 3 days to completely dry and become stiff and rigid.

Closeup of Ponytail

She is completely covered with “thin set” which is a type of cement that they use to install ceramic tile floors.  It’s like cement meaning it is a dry powder with sand in it. You just add water which I did to make it thin enough that I could use a paint brush and cover her with it.

After the thin set dried, I used and exterior Latex paint on top of that in one color. I used a much lighter color to highlight the top layers and tried to leave some of the dark in the creases and fold over her whole body. With the lighter color, I used the dry brush technique. The final coat or several coats is with spar urathane.  My local paint store said that the difference in polyurethane and Spar urethane is that polyurethane will eventually crack. So, she has three different products to seal her from the rain.

Full-Length Photo
Here is a closer picture.

Just out of curiosity, I put her on the scales to see what she weighed. She weighs 22 pounds and is a little over 4.5 feet tall.

Now that she is finished and in the garden, when I look at her, I am amazed that I built her. No forms and no help but me and her…got it all worked out and complete.

When you decide to make something, just be sure to think through all the steps before you do anything.  You can do this too if you only try!!!

64 thoughts on “How Jackie Made Her Outdoor Figure Sculpture”

  1. What a wonderful sculpture and I so appreciate you sharing the detailed description of how you created her. I too am very impressed with this site and check often for updates — you mesmerized me with your post. I also want to thank you for adding the great transition photos. I love working in this medium and am so happy to get the thin set tip. Hope you have many years of enjoyment from your goddess!

  2. Thanks Jackie for the support, I really want to get her done, I have to finish the room I am redoing first. But my giraffe is standing in the corner of that room. I can hardly wait to jump in with both feet, so to speak.
    Have a Blessed day

  3. I really like Jackie’s beautiful sculpture and would like to know if spar urethane and thinset would really make my man and princess which I am doing with paper mache clay really waterproof.

  4. Nice work! It is inspirational because many of us want to make water proof, lightweight sculptures for the yard, or to give as gifts; thanks for posting all the stages. She’s a lovely goddess of the garden.

    • I am working on a man and princess for the garden. Does Spar Urethane and thinset make the figurines water proof? Your work was very beautiful.

      • Hi Gary! Thank you. This is the 3rd piece that I have made and used 3 different products. Thin set, exterior latex paint and spar urethane. My first piece was Mr Frog and he has all three products on him too…except I didn’t use Spar urethane on him but I did use Polyurethane. He has been sitting outside by my driveway since last September. He has shown no signs of leaking. You might want to test all three products on something else first just to be sure and make you feel better about it. The thing to watch for are small holes where water could penetrate. Be completely sure that there are no small holes and everything is completely covered with all of the products. Please test it because if they started to take on water, I would feel really bad. All of these products was my idea and it seems to be working. I wish you the best of luck!!! I would also love to see them.

    • Hello Everybody. My Goodness…all of your comments and compliments are wonderful and I really appreciate every one. As I told Gary Chapman, if you make a piece to go outside, and if you use the 3 products that I use, please be sure that you put really good coats of all these products on them. Be sure that there are no small holes where water could enter. Also something you might be aware of is that the thin set has sand or something similar in it. If you want a really satin smooth feel to your piece, you might not want to use the thin set. I would also suggest that you try these on something else first to see if you like that finish. As I said in my original post, I am a new-bee and still learning too. Please don’t just take my word for it test it out for yourself.

  5. What a big project you did! She must make you so happy every time you look at her. I sure know it would me. I think she is wonderful and hope she lasts many many years. Will you take her in of course for the winters, even with all that spar urethane?
    What is your next project?

    • Thank you Susan and Artis!! Yes, I really do like Charta. She is exactly what i was looking for to put in my Garden. Not sure about bringing her in for the winter. Actually if she survives the squirrels and Hickory Nuts this fall…..she can probably survive the winter. I live in the south so normally, our winters are not too bad. Notice I said normally!!! I’ll just have to keep an eye out for her and see how she reacts. My next piece…..I really haven’t decided. I would like to make some kind of coin banks for my 3 grandchildren. I also thought about some large rounded shaped plates that sit in a stand. Plate is probably not the right word i’m looking for. I have even thought about maybe a Butler that holds a small shelf or table. So i’ll just have to think about it. Thanks again for your wonderful compliments.

  6. Jackie, I agree with you one hundred percent, but what do your neighbors think of your statue? Have you got any requests yet?

    • Christine, We live on a tall hill and basically in the woods. We have one neighbor that could see her but there is a tall wooden fence between us. Some of our friends have come lately and they are just in disbelief that first of all that I made her and second disbelief that she is all paper. They really like her too. No request yet except i did hear someone say something about a Yetti. Oh my!!! Talk about a challenge with all the hair not to mention size!?

  7. Really enjoyed this piece. I would love to try just getting started. I see all these forms out of chicken wire and makes me wonder. I enjoyed bags full of paper. I need a beginner how to book. Any suggestions to learning?

    • Hi Janet. You are at the right place but the wrong person. Jonni is the best. How I got started was watching Jonni’s videos, reading her information on projects and copying her recipes for the clays. When i first started, just to see what is all about, I made a round ball…kinda big ball. Stuck a dowell into it and taped it down, used the paper strips with the flour/water mixture, painted and sealed (at that time) with Polyurethane. Worked really well. Stuck the dowel into the ground in another flower garden along with some other objects to make garden art and it is still there bright and shiny. Jonni is your go to source for real information. And of course, this website is designed to help each other….or at least that is what i am finding. Good Luck and have lots of fun.

  8. What an inspiration you are to all and especially to me as a beginner. Thank you for sharing and giving me an insight to future projects. Thank you Jonni for posting.

  9. This is a project I have wanted to do for awhile now, your step by step is just what I needed to get the nerve up to do something like this. Your Goddess is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your project with us. I am going to get started in the next couple of days. My town already thinks I am crazy for all of my gargoyles in the front yard…just wait until they see my Goddess…I only hope that mine turns out half as great as yours.

    • Hello Dee! Did you make your gargoyles? Well, to make your Goddess will be fun. Gook Luck with her! Are you going to put armor on her? I saw a lot of that on the internet when i was looking for ideas for Charta. I wanna see when you finish!!

      • Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I have made most of my gargoyles out of cement. I do want to make one to sit up on top of an arch over the walk way to the front door. Not sure what I am going to do first but you tutorial really got me motivated. I will send a photo when I am done. Thanks!!!!

  10. Thank you for this post Jackie. Your pictures and concise description of how you created Goddess Charta came at a time when I was stuck with how to create a full sized armature for a light weight, water proof human form. I can now create my 10 pieces and move them myself!! You and Jonni are truly inspiring artists helping us to stretch our imaginations. Looking forward to more of your works.

    • Maude, thank you. Ya know these last few days have been a whirlwind of surprises. I never in my wildest dreams think that by posting a picture of Charta would bring all of this. I thought that she looked ok and is my best work so far but wow. I am so glad that i have helped to inspire you and so many others. I wish you the best of luck with your 10 pieces but remember to have fun with it too. I wanna see them when your are finished too.

  11. Jackie you did a wonderful job. I am still looking at my giraffe and she just looks back at me. I talked to Jonni a while back about her, so I think you inspired me to get busy. She stand 6′ tall and I am 5’3″ but I love her and want to get her done.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Thank you Loretta…Say your giraffe is not talking to you??? That’s funny! Wow, she is a big girl!!! I know what you mean about finishing her. Toward the end of finishing Charta, i wanted to get her finished too. So jump in there girl and have some fun finishing her.

  12. Thanks, Jackie and Jonni! Makes me wanna work BIG! You gals have to be proud of your success with what most of us can’t clearly imagine, or have the guts to start!

  13. Your Goddess is wonderful. Great job for a new-bee, it is not that easy to work that larger with pepper machete.

  14. Absolutely fantastic!! You have inspired me to try something similar if my arthritis will allow it. Thank you so much. Can’t wait to see what you do next.

  15. Thanks for the post Jackie, she is definitely a work of art and really is an inspiration to a lot of sculptors who have doubts about their abilities.

    • Thank you Christine! I appreciate your and everyone’s very kind comments and compliments. As I told Jonni, she is my mentor and this website is responsible for inspiring me to try. Some things, like Charta, can be a lot of work but I enjoyed it. You don’t know if you can do things unless you try. If you fail, so what and if you don’t fail, guess what…you have an item that you like and you have also learned something and had fun in the process.


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