Large Papier Mache Figure Sculpture

Today our friend Fran O’Meara shows us how she made a large paper mache sculpture of a lady in a swimsuit, using several inventive new techniques. Thanks, Fran!

Papier Mache Sculpture by Fran O’Meara

Hello fellow papier mache enthusiasts. This is my first papier mache project and has taken 6 months to complete. My sculpture sits on the back patio and looks out over the canal where boats come by and are either intrigued or a bit shocked when they see her !!

She is 5 foot 9 inches in height (1.79cm) if she was standing.

BODY

I constructed an armature of aluminium for the skeleton which was secured with zip ties. I used my own arms and legs to make the limbs. I firstly wrapped cling wrap around my limbs then a layer of duct tape which I then cut down the inside of my arms and legs in a line then peeled them off, placed a layer of very fine chicken wire inside each limb along with newspaper, then secured the limb with duct tape.

The arms, legs and hands for the paper mache armature.

I made the feet and hands by using disposable gloves and covering them with a layer of duct tape then cutting the gloves off and taping up the opening. I shaped the finger and toes with fine wire wrapped in newspaper cut to the length of my fingers and toes and placed into each hole.

I then filled up the spaces with shredded paper then insulation foam and bent the wires into position for the fingers and toes to set.

Once the whole body was filled with chicken wire and crumpled up newspaper and taped together into a sitting position I then filled up any gaps with insulation foam.

Body armature for paper mache figure sculpture.

Legs attached to the armature.

Armture covered with duct tape.

The next part of the process was to form her physique with layers of paper held on with painters tape.

Adding more forms to the figure sculpture's armature.

Filling in the forms on the figure sculpture

I then made up many bucket loads of Jonni’s fantastic Original recipe paper mache clay with the grams measurements which made perfect clay every time.

When sculpting the bathing suit I added an extra strip of clay to shape where the legs meet the bathing suit and the same at the chest and around the sides and at the base of the bathers. I then made long strips of clay for the straps of the bathers which were very difficult to blend into the existing clay but I got there with much perseverance.

Adding details to the paper mache figure.

Once she was all covered in clay I plastered her in joint compound in sections and once they were dry I used a damp cloth and smoothed the compound. It turned into a beautiful smooth surface. I then painted Gesso all over her and then 2 layers of acrylic paint.

HEAD

The head was made separately to the body. I made a huge ball of newspaper and held it together with painters tape to make the head. I then purchased a paper mache mask as a guide and then built it up with paper mache clay to the shape I wanted.

The mouth, nose and eyes were very small so I had plenty of scope to make the face that I wanted.

Creating the head for a figure sculpture.

I researched how to make ears on YouTube videos and after many attempts got them pretty close to what I wanted.

Ear made with paper mache clay.

The eyes are made of resin and made by my son’s very talented girlfriend who makes resin jewellery. (For a closeup of the eyes, scroll down to see the last photo). I wanted one blue eye and one green. Just because I could !!

It was extremely difficult setting the eyes inside the mask so they would not move. I did so by firstly taping them in place with painters tape and then filling in around them with silicone. Once they were dry I scooped out two holes in my newspaper head and pushed the mask into place and secured with painters tape.

I then secured the head to the section of neck that I had made with the body with tape. The neck, head and face were then sculpted together with clay. The ears were secured to the sides of the head at the same time.

The back of the armature.

After her head dried I secured a hairnet onto her head which I had sewn on 42 individual dreadlocks which I made by wrapping newspaper around pieces of wire then wrapping wet plaster bandage around the paper and letting them dry. I curled some of them and the others are straight.

Adding hair to the paper mache figure sculpture.

Once the hairnet was secure I put a layer of original paper mache clay on her head and shaped it so that it was along her hairline from the front to the nape of her neck in between the dreadlocks. I then used a bamboo stick and went all over her head turning the stick in tiny circles to make curls that sit close to her head.

Painting each of the 42 dreads twice was far from enjoyable but the final result was worth it.

Hair on paper mache sculpture.

Because I want her to sit outside on our patio I painted her in an epoxy resin which will protect her from the elements. That was a challenge because resin is not forgiving. If you muck it up its not like paper mache where you can rectify a fault.

Painted paper mache figure sculpture.

Paper mache girl in swimsuit, with epoxy.

Anyway, I am very happy with the result and very proud of my achievement.

Apologies for the long explanation but I wanted to share the journey of how my lady came into existence.
Thank you Jonni so much for your expertise. I would never have had the confidence to tackle this project if I hadn’t read your website from beginning to end and also used your fantastic recipes.

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63 thoughts on “Large Papier Mache Figure Sculpture”

  1. She’s beautiful! I can’t wait to see some of her friends join her at the canal for a little get together lol…
    I know she was a tremendous amount of work. Thanks for sharing the process and valuable tips.

    Reply
    • Thank you Jill, She might have to be a loner sitting on the patio as I don’t think my next project will be as large!!

      Reply
  2. I am in awe of you! She turned out fantastic! I am so glad you described in so much detail how you put her all together & loved your imagination to come up with some of the items you used on her. Thank you so much for sharing this! It gives me inspiration! I do hope if you do any other sculptures, that you would share them also.

    Reply
    • Thank you Debra for your very kind comments. It was a huge project when I think back on it and she changed in shape and features as she progressed.
      I have thoroughly enjoyed making her.
      I hope you have lots of fun with your sculptures.

      Reply
    • Thank you Steve, I am very happy to share my techniques. I have learnt so much from this fantastic blog from other very creative sculptors

      Reply
      • Thank you for the reply. I hope next year I will finally find/make the time to complete something myself and contribute back. I make my own eyes, similar to the ones you used, but use different materials for the skin, but have not yet finished anything in over 30 years, except one of Jonni’s lion mask s. Life goes by so quickly…

        Reply
        • Hi Steve, I hope you can find the time to finish your project. You are very clever being able to make the eyes. They look extremely difficult to do.

          Reply
  3. Thanks so much for sharing your work! It was interesting to learn how such a beauty was created! Thanks Fran, thanks Jonni!

    Reply
    • Thank you Gallina, a big thank you to Jonni and her amazing website. The information that Jonni gives to us all helps build our confidence to have a go at paper mache

      Reply
  4. Brilliant! And that’s just your first piece? You are so talented! If you can do something like your lady, you have given me the courage to take on a project of my own that I have been procrastinating about for months. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Thank you Connie, yes it was my first piece. Have a go, its lots of fun. Jonni has so much information on her website to learn from

      Reply
  5. Great achievement and perseverance! Thank for sharing the whole process, very interesting and inspiring! So did i understood you right, you put epoxy resin on top of the painting you did instead of a varnish to put it ouside? Do you plan to leave it outside in the snow if you have some?

    Reply
    • Fran, I have a question that relates to Michele’s – I’ve been looking at two-part epoxies that are used by foam sculptors, and this one by Smooth-On is often recommended. I don’t think you live in the US, but does it look at all like the one you used? Or do you have a recommendation for another brand?

      Reply
    • Thank you Michele, I applied epoxy resin on top of the acrylic paint instead of varnish. I live in the tropics of Australia so humidity is the enemy here (no snow here!?) She sits on the back patio under a roof but the wind and rain do come in where she sits.

      Reply
  6. Thank YOU and Jonni for sharing this! I’m a big girl and I wanted to make a ‘big’ girl, but had no idea how to start. Love it.

    Reply
  7. I really love the way she looks, i especially love her eyes, poise, hair, her skin color & outfit.

    I think she is gorgeous you really did a great awesome job ?

    Reply
    • What amazing work. I like how you used insulating foam to fill the figure in the gap’s and your papier-mâché mask and eyes and hairnet solutions I have never seen before. Would you share how long it took? Anyway thank you for sharing and what an inspiration!

      Reply
      • Thank you Lesley, it took about 3 months to work out how to make the skeleton and how to stabilise it and then six months to make her

        Reply

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