Indian Rhino, Plaster Cloth over Wet Clay Experiment

Get a fast start on your next paper mache project or hand-made gift with Jonni’s easy downloadable patterns for masks, animal sculptures and faux trophy mounts. The patterns help you create a beautiful work of art, even if you’ve never sculpted anything before.

I took a bit of time off from my book-writing job to begin an adult Indian Rhino. Not a life-sized one, but still pretty big. To make it go faster, I created the basic shapes with wet clay over a cobbled-together armature, and then covered the clay with plaster cloth. The final layer will come tomorrow, when I add the “skin” with homemade air-dry clay.

Joanne recently reminded me about my Santa mask, which was made in a similar way. For Santa, I used paper mache clay directly over the pottery clay (with plastic in between) instead of using an intermediate layer of plaster cloth like I did today. I used today’s experimental method because plaster cloth can be cut with a sharp box knife, but dried paper mache clay is so hard I think I’d need power tools to cut it apart. Santa was open at the back and didn’t need to be cut apart to remove the clay. I didn’t use regular paper strips and paste because I wanted a hard surface sooner – no waiting for me this week – ’cause I’m really supposed to be working on something else….

I’ll post another video to show how the air-dry clay goes on the rhino. I already started playing with it, and I’m getting some really nice textures – so watch for it if you’d like to see how the rhino turns out.

40 thoughts on “Indian Rhino, Plaster Cloth over Wet Clay Experiment”

  1. Hi Jonni- when do we get to see the finish of Ms.or Mr. Rhino on video? Will you include a how-to on the armature construction?

    • Hi Joanne. I hope to have the rhino painted this weekend. I have so many different projects I’m working on, so the poor Ms. rhino has taken a back seat. Now that the snow finally melted, though, I really want to get her done so I can see how she looks out in the real world.

      The armature was such a mess that I was too embarrassed to take a photo of it. So no how-to on the armature. But it was done like all the other ones I do, except that I used clay instead of crumpled paper to fill out the form.

  2. I’ll be very interested to see how this project turns out with the new clay, it looks amazing as does all your work. I made a small batch for a small relief and it certainly is smooth in comparison with my old recipe, Itll be interesting to see how your, much larger, project turns out.


    • Thanks, Mike. She’s almost done. I did a bit of surgery on her feet today, to make them look more like rhino feet than elephant feet. She should be dry in a few days, and then I get to play with the finish. I think it will be iron, again, but with a different patina than I used on the raven. Experiments are fun.

  3. One student last year did a giraffe and her eyes were in the neck. She made it out of styrofoam and covered it in plaster. I may just have to go with that myself. Will your clay stick to styrofoam? I am nervous to try the plaster. We had an assignment earlier in the semester where we had to do that. I live in Arkansas so the humidity lately makes plaster a little tricky. This will be a lot of fun. I will post a picture of it when I’m done. There is a lot of symbolism in this piece so I’m excited to do it. 🙂

    • I forgot to mention that the headpiece has to be larger than us. I saw your unicorn mask and it is amazing! I wish that would work for this assignment. But it’s always fun to work on an enormous scale. Thanks again for all of your help! I can’t wait to try the masks with my kids this summer.

    • I’m not sure if the clay would stick to Styrofoam, but I think someone recently mentioned that it would. The air-dry clay does stick, if you make it quite wet for the first layer. The paper towel mache would stick, I think, as would plaster cloth, but you might need to turn the piece so you could cover a bit at a time, without allowing the sheets to slide off due to gravity. Once they’re hard and formed against the foam, they would stay put.

  4. Hi Jonni! I am an art major and we have to make “Alter Ego” suits for our final project. We are focusing on the headdress or mask for them. I wanted to make a large white knight chess piece for mine. Do you have any suggestions on which clay to use? I need it to be 18-24 in. high off my shoulders. I also want to attach snakes to the head, coming from the back to around the sides of the face. Would I need to do this separately? I appreciate any help you could give me. Your work is beautiful!

    Thank you,


    • Hi Missy. The original paper mache clay appears to be stronger and harder than the new air-dry clay. I would suggest using it for something that large, although the air-dry clay could be used as a final layer to make things nice and smooth. You would want to use the water and glue mix to make sure it was stuck tight to the layer of dry clay underneath. If you’re going to be all the way inside this thing, use mineral oil instead of the linseed oil, because it has less odor and no chemicals.

      You should also consider using the shop towel mache technique that I use for masks, since it is much lighter than the clay, and is more comfortable to wear. There are three videos that show the process and recipes – you can find the first one here.

      The snakes are going to present some engineering problems, since the headdress is so high and balance will be challenging. I would suggest making the base first, and then add the snakes. Because weight will also be a concern, you might consider the positive mold idea that I use for my masks for them, too, because you could remove the clay and leave the snakes hollow. This would be much lighter than putting paper mache over a paper armature. Once all the pieces are attached and you know for sure it will balance and be light enough to wear, you could paint it or finish it any way you like.

      I would love to see this when it’s done. What an interesting concept – and it sounds like there must be quite a story behind it!

      • Thank you so much! I watched the videos and they seem great. The giraffe head sculpture behind you in the videos, is the shape I am looking for. Would this work for that form? I wanted the mask to have a back to it. I could even do the horse head as a hat with a mask covering my face underneath it. Here is a picture to help you see what I am thinking.

        Thanks again for your help!

        • The giraffe is weighted at the bottom of the neck. If there wasn’t plaster in the bottom few inches, she would fall over. You will have a similar problem with the horse’s head, unless you engineer it so the back of the horse neck is somehow attached to your neck. A harness of some sort should work. If the neck is big enough for you to get your head inside, with a few holes for the eyes, that would work, too. Did you happen so see my unicorn mask? unicorn mask There’s no neck, but it’s close. You might use the horse’s face as your mask, with the neck being a chest plate of some kind – just thinking off the top of my head here… What a fun project.

          • Thank you for all of your help! My mask turned out great. It was so much fun to make. The headpiece is 2 ft tall. I used flower pots as the base and added clay to that to get the details I needed. The eye holes are hidden behind the feathers. I need to add one for the mouth though because it was weakening as I was wearing it. But overall it was great. 🙂

            • Here is a view of the whole suit. The hood and collar are attached to the mask at the base.

            • Yeah it is. A bunch of people were talking about it around the building. It was fun to be able to see people’s reactions but they couldn’t see me. I was towering over everyone. I had so much fun making it.

  5. I have been living in your book since last August, and it is nothing but tatters. I made all the projects (even though a friend took the horse and told me to begin over) and have had many side adventures. I re-read the book the other night and decided to check out this website. Are you kidding me? I am simply amazed. This has definitely changed my life. People from all over the world and the creativity is astounding. It was outside my imagination that you would be on the web like this, commenting and helping people. I have the material for the new air-dry clay and can’t wait to try it – as soon as I finish the catfish, cat, rabbit, and koi! Thanks so much. You are a wonder.

    • Wow – I would love to see some of the sculptures you completed. Can you post a photo or two? It sounds like you now have as many critters in your house as I do, if not more! I’d love to see them.

  6. I am really glad I found this website! I have to make a 5 ft tall alligator. Any advice? I am having trouble deciding what to use for me “skeleton.” Right now I am thinking about buying chicken wire…

    • 5 feet high? Is he standing on his hind feet? (I sure hope you’ll let us see it when it’s done!)

      I usually use a cardboard pattern on the inside, with the form filled in with crumpled paper and masking tape. However, all that paper does make a really heavy sculpture. I’ve seen other people fill in most of the space with expanding foam from the hardware store, but that can get really expensive. Chicken wire works, but it is hard to manipulate without getting stabbed. However, for something this big, it would probably be the lightest option. If you wrap the chicken wire with some duct tape, you could then use the paper mache clay or paper mache strips and paste (with really big strips – the bigger the better). If you have a cardboard or very light plywood pattern on the inside, it would help you get the right shapes when you build the wire around it.

      Good luck with it! (By the way, you said you “have” to make this alligator. Would you be willing to tell us what it’s for?)

  7. Brilliant – looks so good and such a great idea. Thanks everso Jonni – always a treat seeing what you do. Gives everyone the opportunity to learn more.

  8. Hi Jonni I love your rhino and the new recipe ! Do you still have the template of the rhino ?
    Thanks for sharing so much of your knowledge !

    • Hi Aislinn. My template wouldn’t do anyone any good, because it was too basic – and I changed a lot when I put on the clay. You could make your own (and probably do a much better job than I did) by using a photo of an Indian rhino.

  9. You have more tricks up your sleeve than anyone I know. The clay over your armature is a grate idea. I’m trying to come up with something I’d like to do and have it displayed in my home, but so far my muse is eluding me. Do you sell your work, if so where? Keep up the good work, love watching your creative thought process.
    Thanks for all the inspiration!

    • Hi Suzie. No, I don’t sell my artwork, although I might start if I run out of room in my house. I sell the books that show you how to make the artwork, and that pays for my art supplies.

  10. Wow, a recipe improvement and at the moment I don’t have the time to ‘speriment and see! Still, sounds like fun and art are both happening in your new home, and I see your cat is still inspecting all your work!

  11. Love the process and the knowledge…thank you. I look forward to being invited to see the continued process.

  12. The rhino is great . . . once again. A couple more and you can open your own petting zoo. You spoke of greater detail in your clip and how much detail are you going to add? Is this going to be another ˆ, or will it be painted?


    • I’m going to play around with the skin textures, and try to get a fairly realistic eye. I won’t do much more than that. And I don’t yet know how I’ll finish him (her? I can’t decide…). The whole purpose of this experiment is to see if I can get something that I can photograph, and then turn the photo into a large poster-sized print for my wall. My camera won’t print large enough, so I think I’ll need to hire somebody with a better camera, if the beast turns out good enough to bother.

  13. Jonni! Wow! Amazing! Great!
    I’m all excited about your way to make big projects more easy and a lot lighter!
    Thank you so much!
    Will you somehow care for the center of gravity?

    • Thanks, Sabine. I did worry about the gravity issue, but she (he?) seems to be sitting solidly on the table, with no tipping. If I intended to sell or ship it, I’d probably go ahead and fill it with the foam or with vermiculite or something, but leave the bottom three or four inches of the legs empty. Then I’d put in small plastic bags and fill them with plaster or sand, and seal up the bottom of the feet. Then it would definitely stand up straight. It would be a lot more important if he (she?) was walking, and only three or even two legs were on the ground.

  14. Wow- you are the busy little beaver aren’t you? Do you sleep? He/she is great and I love the process. You may not need to add the foam inside since he is rather large and the air dry clay dries heavier. Will you be using paper towels to make a leathery texture or do you want it smooth? I still have not finished my last project but I just HAD to do more with the air dry clay so I am working on a box turtle using regular clay for the feet and head, with paper towels to get the rough texture. Then using the air dry clay for the smooth shell. For the claws, I made them seperately with air dry clay and let them dry. They turned out great and cut easily with a pair of scissors.
    Looking forward to seeing Mr or Mrs Rhino’s progress.

  15. Another fun project. A nursery full of animals. Love watching you at work. I will have to try the plaster wrap, haven’t used it in 45 years or better. We made the most beautiful drapping gowns for our school prom statues of greek goddesses as I remember it was easy to work with too.
    Thanks again

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