Life-Sized Bust Made with Paper Mache Clay

Joanne Gee, a reader who often shares her comments on this site, sent in a photo of a life-sized bust that she recently completed. I know there are a lot of folks who have been wondering if you can use paper mache clay for human figures and portraits, so you’ll enjoy seeing what Joanne did with this new material:

I asked Joanne to tell us a bit about her project. Here’s what she had to say:

I used a wire mesh and newspaper and tape armature to hold it up.  Then I reinforced the whole thing with a thin layer or skin of plaster strips.  When I was sure it was dry I used your clay over it to model.  The only thing I would do different the next time is to try and make the sculpture lighter and to waterproof it first by varnishing before modeling.  I am not sure about the weight of the sculpture becoming less – if this can be done – since it is life-size.  I am currently working on a young girl – sort of in the process of taking a walk, to her upper torso while she is holding a bouquet of flowers.  Any pointers on how to do long hair that is casually curly on this girl using the clay?

Hmm – good question about the hair. Any ideas, anyone?

32 thoughts on “Life-Sized Bust Made with Paper Mache Clay”

  1. Dear Jonnie,
    I love your work and watched your videos. they were great. I am a begginer and would like to know how to make long curly hair, like the Jamaican hair.
    English is not my first language – so I hope you understood what I meant.

    • Hi Mali. I have not tried that, so I’m not sure what the best method would be. Joanne might still be watching this post, and she might have some ideas for us.

  2. use foam that the florest use, you can get it free at most cemeterys. I cut arms and legs from the foam, sand and glue with elmers glue or hot gun. stack and glue blocks for torso and head. glue cheese cloth to the foam(after sanding) for strength.It works for me!

    • Hi Stan – believe it or not I have just tonight read your comment – appreciate it and will try to use it. Sounds easy cause you just cut soft what the florists’s call I think – floralife foam, glue it and clay over it once the cheese cloth has been added for strength. Great! Thanks, Joanne.

  3. Hi Jonni and all readers – I thought I would post my latest paper clay girl – I tried to do a young girl in the process of taking a stroll – not quire sure if it conveys this. but I tried! Any comments are welcome.

    Paper Mache Bust

  4. I’ve played a bit with clothesline rope and wire for things like this. I wasn’t making hair, but still needed something that would form a loose ringlet shape. The clothesline rope I used was cotton with a fiber core. The core is removable (grab it with needle-nosed plyers and pull) … and then you can insert a thin wire (whatever size works for you). The rope will then hold it’s shape fairly well if you form it around a tube or something similar. My next thought it to stiffen it in a paste/starch mixture. Once it was dry and relatively stiff, you could add clay to texturize.

    It might even work to skip the wire and just dip the rope in the paste/starch mixture and wrap it around your shape until it was dry. My goal was to make something that would hold it’s shape, but still be flexible enough not to be brittle. So the wire helped maintain the shape and gave flexible strength.

    • Good ideas, Beth. I made some feathers using the paper mache clay and the plastic mesh tape used by plasterers to cover cracks. I wanted the feathers to be curved slightly, so I set them over something – I think it was a toilet paper roll – so the middle of each feather was higher than the ends. Your comments made me remember that project. (I liked the feathers and the kittens, but the chicken was not so exciting). This sounds very similar to the method your were suggesting – once the clay dries, it will hold it’s shape. If the clay is thin enough, it still has a bit of bounce.

      • Hello Beth- I read your tip and will try it. Seems to me you apply the rope – then stiffen it and clay over – Is this correct?

  5. I know Im a day or month late here lol, I read this post before and didn’t think of it until just now but if I was going to do long ringlet type hair I might try stiff craft ribbon, the kind with the wire. Then clay over and comb for texture.

  6. i loved your life sized bust. have found expanding builders foam filler a real weight reducing tip. it can be squirted inside a wire framework, or built in layers, it can be carved as well. we don’t seem to have quite the same types and variety of arty supplies as you guys, so there’s only more basic items to explore. hope you find this helpful.

    • Thanks for the tip about foam – I never used this material before, but it sounds intriguing. Do you substitute the foam for some of the paper mache clay while modeling? I think its the joint compound in the mix that makes it heavy. But you know I think my things weigh a lot because they are lilfesize – I just finished a young girl -and its heavy. I’ll post it when its painted if anyone is interested. Happy creating!

  7. Where is the recipe for paper mache clay? What do I use the joint compound for? Thanks for the great site.

  8. Hello Jonni (you creative person – you)

    Thanks for the book alert – I always try to make structures LIGHT (Monique’s book)- but it is difficult. Of course, it looks like there are no “Projects” to be found in this book – it’s kind of like the art teacher that says -‘we use no tracings in this class.’ I’ve learned from those and it’s certainly not a snap to draw directly on canvas. I’m certainly curious and will buy the book when it becomes available. I hope I get a review from you some day!

  9. When I think of the detail you can achieve – thanks for the tip! Someday when I find a lot of patience I am going to try this.

  10. Sorry, I was not exact. I was speaking of large scale, but a lot of time. Floral stem wire is quite long, but thin. You would have to wrap them, and basically it would be like stringing individual hairs. The comb idea is good. Not quite so time consuming.

  11. I’ve done quite a bit in polymer clay, and perhaps this might help…

    You can use an ordinary comb to texture clay just like you’d comb your own hair. I also did a piece once where the hair was rolled into small thin tubes (essentially you’re creating dreadlocks), and that makes for a good effect too.

  12. Thanks for your tips, but think they apply to small dolls. With the paper clay and I work lifesize I would need something mroe substantial than pipe cleaner.

    • One thing about pipe cleaners and paper mache clay – I tried this when I made my frog, and discovered that the fuzzies have to be completely covered with masking tape. Otherwise, the clay won’t stick.

  13. Hmm, ok. Couple of ideas. Depending on what weight you are willing to work with and if you are willing to do the curls individually or grouped. And how long.
    You could use floral stems and use pliers to curl them. Or twist them around your finger and gently pull the curls out to loosen them. You can use the little fuzzy “pipe” cleaners. They are usually not really long though. Each versions would have to be wrapped and covered in the Clay to get the effect you desire. The wire, either version you could actually plug in to the scalp then mold them in with the clay to secure them in place. Hope this idea helps. I have used this method to create some unusual wigs, but I have not created it in a clay version, however in theory…let me know how it turns out. Love to see it.

  14. Hm! What if you took strips of paper, folded thickish, maybe with a lightweight wire inside the fold to help it hold the curl you want, then model the clay over that?

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