Life-Sized Paper Mache Giraffe

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life-sized paper mache giraffe

Cris Kelly’s very tall paper mache giraffe still doesn’t have his spots, but I encouraged her to write a guest post right away so we could see how it was made. What a challenging project!  Thank you, Cris, for showing us how you built the armature for your giraffe. I can’t wait to see what he looks like after you paint him!

And if you would like a project that just a ‘tad’ bit easier and faster, be sure to check out my new pattern for a giraffe head sculpture.

Making A Paper Mache Giraffe

©2018 Cristiana Kelly

I had recently moved to a new house that had very tall ceilings. The space just screamed “Giraffe”….and I went about making a life sized giraffe out of paper mache.

I had purchased Jonni Good’s ‘Paper Mache Animals’ book a couple of years ago and made some of the animals in the book. After doing the small pig, I decided to make a life sized pig, which still sits in my living room, with repairs to him after a large earthquake. Making the large pig gave me the confidence to tackle a very tall giraffe.

Life-sized pig made with paper mache
Large Pig, I’m leaving it with the paper mache repairs in honor of the earthquake.

I started collecting things I needed for the armature of the giraffe. I knew I had to keep it lightweight as I would be moving it around on my own. I gathered what I had in my garage (narrow pieces of wood, tape, chicken wire and cardboard) I needed Styrofoam for the giraffe’s bulk (chest area and rump) I posted a request on my local Nextdoor Neighborhood site for some large pieces of Styrofoam… and got A LOT of responses! I had all the Styrofoam I needed.

I set up in the garage with enough space around me to not feel cramped. I started with the belly, using a large cardboard tube. I hung the tube from a rafter at the correct height, then started adding the legs (thin pieces of wood, cardboard, paper, Styrofoam and some rebar). Styrofoam provided the bulk of the hips. The chest is cardboard and lots of newspaper.

Armature beginning for giraffe sculpture

Adding padding to giraffe sculpture armature

Padding the legs on the giraffe armature

completing the giraffe body armature
The neck was the most difficult. I wanted it very stable, with a slight curve at the neck. I used a 6 foot long cardboard tube form (normally used for cement) from a local hardware store. For the curve at the top I used chicken wire that I taped to the top of cardboard neck.

adding the neck to the giraffe armature

Giraffe sculpture with paper mache

The head was made with chicken wire and LOTS of tape. I used a ladder and a stairwell to get up that high.

With the added weight of paper mache, the legs started spreading a bit. I secured them with some wood and a small metal pole.

finished armature for the giraffe
The armature done, I started with newspaper and flour/water mix and put on several layers. The mane and end of tail are made from newspaper without the paste.

Giraffe covered with paper mache
I’m not completely finished with the giraffe, I’m not sure what colors it wants to be. I’m looking forward to adding the beautiful eyelashes that giraffes have, along with it’s final color, whatever that might be.

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23 thoughts on “Life-Sized Paper Mache Giraffe”

  1. Hi!
    I must know more about your life sized pig!
    I share 3 big rescue pigs and I really have to give this a try!
    It would be so fitting!

    Jonni- can you ask Cris if she has any more info on how she used your pattern and turned it into a lifesize one!

    • Hi Ali. I hope Cris is still watching her post for comments, so we can all see her answer. If I wanted a life-sized pig, (and it would be a really fun project!) I’d use the pattern for a pig that’s in my book, Make Animal Sculptures with Paper Mache Clay. That pattern is like the one Cristiana used for her giraffe’s legs – the pieces of those patterns are flat, so you have to fill out the rounded forms with crumpled paper or foil. Or you could make your own armature pattern like I show in this video.

      The head and face is the difficult part of any animal sculpture, and for that part you could use the pattern for the pig’s head, which creates all the shapes for you. The challenging part of that would be getting the size of the head and the body to match correctly. And different breeds and even pigs of different ages have differently shaped heads, and your pigs might not look the same as one from my pattern. If I was doing it, I think I’d skip using the 3-d pattern and just sculpt the head with the crumpled paper and masking tape, and then cover it with paper mache. If you make one, please let us see how it turns out!

  2. Wow, that is one cool giraffe! I love how you hung the tube from the rafters, what a good idea. Can’t wait to see it finished. When you are finished I would love to hear how you manage to move it around, and how stable it is standing there on those long legs. I can picture my dog (I noticed you had a furry helper, too) bumping into it. The poor large pig is cute with his newspaper patches.

  3. I am amazed what can be achieved with lots of hard work and things that normally would be discarded. Your giraffe is incredible (and I love your pig also) I bow to your expertise :o)
    Can I ask how do you get your paper strips so smooth. When I do it, no matter how smooth it looks when wet, it always goes crinkly, lumpy, bumpy when dried out. sigh.
    Looking forward to seeing giraffe (has he a name yet?) painted at some point.

  4. Thank you for sharing….well done,,,,I am in Australia…check out my FB page and you will see some paper mache foxes in a stagecoach,.,.,..Villians in the Vineyard which won a prize at a sculpture show here early this year….happy to pass on how I made the coach……

  5. Cris, that is one awesome project. (Can I go to bed now? It’s made me tired! lol) Yes, please post a photo after it is painted. I am not sure I am enough of an artist that I could get the proportions correct, but you have done a great job. Thanks for the post.

    Also love your pig. Sorry about the earthquake. That is one good thing about being out of California.

  6. WOW – I love what you did here! – I’ve made an animal or two in my time, but nothing this ambitious … I so hope you’ll post pics when you’ve painted this beautiful creature!!!

  7. Well i have started a life size giraffe also and from your amazing posts i can see it is gonna take some time which i did expect . I am learning patients alot of patients trial and error too . Very beautiful by the way

  8. Great Job!!!! My very first sculpture was a 14 foot giraffe , I made it with a lot of great advice from Jonni.

  9. Looks very cool, however, the neck at the connection to the head looks a bit thick. Do you have the shots and plans? I might be interested. Also, how long have you spent on this so far?

  10. WOW…has I was reading your post I didn’t realize until the end I had my mouth wide open…this is just amazing…the amount of work you’ve done so far…absolutely amazing…love it…tfs

  11. That is amazing! Wow, so impressed. I am the executive director of a hospital foundation and we are making paper mache woodland animals for our Christmas Tree Auction “A Woodland Christmas” in November. No giraffes but plenty of animals. Can’t wait to see your finished product. Thank you for sharing.

    • Jen, I have made a few dinosaurs — can’t tell you why, but love doing them. The latest one I used a skeleton (off the television from a NOVA program) as a pattern. I will post the skeleton here. It is a Spinosauras, larger than a T-Rex. Webbed back feet and claws for front feet. (They believe it hunted in the ocean.)

      • Here is what it ended up looking like. The reason I’m posting this is because the skeleton helped me get the correct length on the legs. In comparison to Cris’s giraffe, anything would be small! This one is about six feet long. (My pterodactyl took me four years to finish, and it is not very big. Painting it was my biggest challenge.) Good luck. Please let us see what you do.


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