How Rex Makes His “Piggy” Banks

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.

tn calf bankWe have a real treat today. Rex Winn has been a good friend of this blog for a long time, and he’s shown us many of the piggy banks that he’s made. I’m very happy to say that he finally agreed to show us how he makes these delightful little sculptures. The bank in this tutorial is in the shape of a calf.

By the way, I’ll happily take credit for  sharing the idea of using patterns for animal sculptures, and for the paper mache clay recipe — but Rex is the one who came up with the idea of making a hollow sculpture with patterns and pm clay, and then using them for piggy banks. The pattern is all his, as well, and it’s very kind of him to share it with us. Now we can make one too, just in time for the holiday season. Thanks, Rex!

Making a Calf Piggy Bank

©2014 Rex Winn

The process of making this piggy bank came from Jonni Good’s book, “Make Animal Sculptures.” The chapter that I used the most is Chapter 6, Piglet. Except, of course, the part about cutting it in half!

The first step was to transfer the pattern onto foamcore board (or cardboard). The photograph I used was a miniature toy calf and was printed on a grid created in WordPerfect. I decided the size of the bank and drew 3/4″ grids on the foamcore. (See illustration 1.) It is helpful to me to draw where the legs, eyes, and mouth are on the pattern.

illustration 1
illustration 1

Next I filled in the skull areas – the cheek, nose, forehead, and mouth – using aluminum foil covered with masking tape. I also added the tail. Next I filled in the lower part of the legs and put paper mache clay on them before adding the styrofoam on the upper leg. I did my best to make sure the feet were even on the table before adding the clay. I used one grid square on the front legs; one grid square graduated to one-and-one-half grid square on the back legs – the thicker part towards the front of the body. (See illustration 2.)

Illustration 2
Illustration 2

Hot glue was used to attach the legs onto the body. (Notice that all the feet are on the table. I worked hard to make sure they were! I wanted the calf to look like he was taking a step.) Then I filled in the rest of the body, working around the legs first and then the thicker part of the back and stomach. I covered the tail with masking tape. The calf has a piece of skin hanging from his throat, and I added aluminum foil, which you can see, for that fold. (See illustration 3.)

Illustration 3
Illustration 3

I added the ears, made from multiple layers of aluminum foil. I covered everything in paper mache clay except the ears, which get smashed a hundred times in the course of things! (Illustration 4.)

Illustration 4
Illustration 4

When the clay was dry, I cut the calf in half with a pull-saw (which I think works well for this process). In order to remove the insides more easily, I have learned to start the upper cut closer to the head and finish at the bottom closer to the rear. (Illustration 4a and 5.)

illustration 4a
Illustration 4a
illustration 5
Illustration 5

Next I pull everything that is inside out, except the foil attaching the ears and tail. The first time I did this, the process took me 4 hours. This time I used a heavy flat-nosed pair of pliers, and it took about 40 minutes. The mess looked like this (illustration 6). I think it also helped to use bubble wrap because it came out in clumps, although my dogs hates it.

Illustration 6
Illustration 6

After everything is removed, I make sure the inside is dry before putting it together. (Illustrations 7 and 8.)

Illustration 7
Illustration 7
Illustration 8
Illustration 8

Putting it back together takes some doing. I wrapped masking tape around the entire body enough to hold it together, and put masking tape here and there to hold the two halves together. Then I added clay on the cut body parts exposed between the tape. Masking tape does not stick well to paper mache, so I use a long enough piece to go around the entire calf. I added smaller pieces of masking tape here and there around the body. (When I did the Mohawk chick, I actually wired the body together, added clay between the wires, let it dry, and then removed the wire.) I tried to make “dents” when cutting the calf in half so I knew exactly where the pieces went together. The most difficult part was keeping all four feet even on the ground. I placed the calf on a pie pan while it dried. (Illustration 9.)

Illustration 9
Illustration 9

When it was dry, I began adding smooth air-dry clay. I need a better support system when putting the pieces together because you can see the right front hoof does not reach the ground. I added extra clay on the hoof, but in the end the hoof was a lot thicker than the other feet. (I wasn’t impressed.) (Illustration 10.)

Illustration 10
Illustration 10

After the air-dry clay was dry, I added gesso, trying to give hair texture to the calf. I added more joint compound to the gesso for this. Then I added a wash of Burnt Sienna. (Illustration 11.)

illustration 11
Illustration 11

To make the black I used Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna. I LOVE this black because the color can vary, which gives a more dimensional look to the animal. (Illustration 12.)

Illustration 12
Illustration 12

I make piggy banks for bills only, so the hole is small. The hole is on top of the neck in the black spot. I painted the hole black so it is difficult to see.  I make the hold using a Dremel tool – using a bit that looks like a drill but will cut sideways.

The final product, illustration 13.

Illustration 13
Illustration 13

If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them. One final comment: I love this process so much more than the balloon version. Balloons tend to expand or shrink depending on the temperature. I can’t say how many I have thrown out because the paper mache had collapsed. Besides making a more pleasing sculpture, the control using this method is great.

Thanks to everyone for their inspiration.

35 thoughts on “How Rex Makes His “Piggy” Banks”

  1. Hello, I stumbled upon this page about an hour ago and I am still here browsing. Can I share with you a couple of my ‘egg heads’. I have a huge stash of hens eggs that i have blown and now and then when I return to ‘playing with my paper pulp and eggs’ I make ‘stuff’…. all kinds of ‘stuff. This is Foxy and his friend Bear. Both made on a blown egg base. The paper I make from old envelopes that i whixx up in my blender with a bit of hot water… I rarely use glue as the paper tightens on the shell like a skin when it dries.

    • They’re wonderful! (I don’t suppose you’d be interested in doing a guest post to show us how you made them, would you? I know you have a blog of your own, and that’s asking a lot – but these are really nice, and I know my readers would love to see how they were done. If you would be interested, send me an email. If not, I totally understand. 🙂 )

  2. Dear Jonni Good,
    Two of my friends from school recommended using this site because we are doing a hall project on Australia. I have to do an echidna, (sort of like a porcupine/anteater.) How would you recommend me making it? Out of wire or a cardboard structure with paper and paper mache and/or paper mache clap on top? My project is due on January 22, 2015 so I have some time to turn it in but I have to start pretty soon since it takes a while to make. Thank you in advance for reading my comment! I appreciate it!

    P.S. Gloria and Destiny are the friends I’m referring to.

    • Hi Serra. It just happens that I wrote a tutorial for making an echidna several years ago. I made him before I developed the paper mache clay recipe, so it was made with paper strips and masking tape, and I smoothed it with joint compound. If I did it again, I’d use the clay recipe.

      By the way, the wooden toothpicks that I used stab me every time I pick up my echidna. You might want to find something softer if a lot of people will be handling it.

    • And say ‘hi’ to Gloria and Destiny for me. By the way, is this a biology class, or an art class that you’re making all these animals for? I do hope we’ll get to see them when they’re done.

      • Oh, every three years at our school we do a hall project. We pick a continent(Australia this year),paint the hall, and everyone makes animals from grade 6-8.

        • That sounds like a great project! I hope you have fun making your critters. I can’t wait to see how they come out.

  3. Hello Jonni Good
    First off I would like to say that your tutorials are so helpful, you put your heart into everything you make and they always turn out beautiful.
    Second: My friend and I are doing a school project on Austrailia, and it involves us making an emu and a quokka. Our teacher would like us to use wire, but she showed us a video on the elephant you had made. She told us that we didn’t have to use wire. Do you have any tips, advice, or pointers to share with us, about how we should do this?
    Thank you for your time,
    Gloria Fornah& Destiny Ehiobu

    • Hi Gloria and Destiny. Thanks for your kind comments. I admit I’d never heard of a quokka, so I had to go look it up. What an adorable animal! For the quokka I would recommend the cardboard pattern technique, especially if you can find some photos that have been taken from the side. That way the hard part of getting the proportions right is already done. For the emu, though, it would depend on whether or not it’s standing on two legs or nesting, with legs folded up underneath. It would also depend on how big you intend to make your sculptures. A standing lifesized emu would need at least one piece of rebar (concrete reinforcing bar) for each leg. A smaller version could use smaller wire. The long neck would probably need to be shaped like a snake, with fairly heavy wire along both the top and bottom edges. You could fill in the neck itself with crumpled paper and masking tape, and the wire will hold the head in the position you need.

      The emu is going to be a big challenge for another reason – getting it to balance correctly while standing is not going to be easy. Every minor change you make in the position of the head and neck will change the balance. You can help the process along by using small pebbles or other weights taped to the tail end, which will tend to be lighter. Otherwise the bird will try to fall on it’s nose.

      How soon do you need these sculptures to be finished? When they are, I do hope you’ll take a photo and upload it to a comment, so we can all see how they came out.

      • Thank you so much! Our project is due January 22,2015, so we have plenty of time to finish our sculptures. I will upload a picture of our animals once we have finished.
        Gloria& Destiny

  4. Rex,
    I love, love, love the calf money bank. Do you have to kill the calf to get the money out? I sure hope not! I love him! You’ve got me wanting to make banks for my grand children. I actually like the idea of not having the front foot not touching the ground. Gives it more a feeling of motion. You did a great job!

    • Thanks, Julie. Yes, people protest about not getting the money out, but that is my point. The best suggestion I have seen came from Jackie (I believe!) who suggested something like a plastic bottle cap that one can screw off. I haven’t tried it yet but might one of these days. I think enough of the plastic could be worked into the bottom of the paper mache so it is stable. Just an idea.

      I like the front foot off the ground – until it falls on its head! I had done a number of chickens with only two feet, but balance is a challenge.

  5. Love it. Inspiring indeed.
    But I’m not sure why the cow got his burn sienna wash (figure 11). I mean it does not show in the pictures so I’m assuming there is a warmer quality to the white?

    • The Burnt Sienna wash makes a big difference because it takes away the stark white color, especially if you see the bank. I add glazing liquid and water to the white paint on the calf, so the warm skin tone does show. I will attach a close-up photo here, which I think shows more clearly the “white” color.

      • Hi Jonni,

        I’d like to leave a comment for Rex for his cow. It is so very very cute. I love it. I would however like to make a suggestion as I am making a reindeer for Christmas. To keep them from crumbling, I would like to suggest placing a bit of wet plaster of paris inside the ears (just enough to cover the circumference of the ear) and allow them to dry and paper mache over them. I will gladly show my reindeer when I get it finished. This worked for my Reindeer since I too, made the ears from foil.

        • Lisa, that sounds like a great idea. Over the years, my biggest problem has been ears. I’ll have to put plaster of paris on my list. Thanks.

          • Hey, happy to help. I noticed it may crack a bit as it dries, but Hey, it is going to be Paper mache’d anyway. It helped my ear project. Lisa

          • Rex, This is the results how my reindeer ears came out. I wanted to use this as an example. Hope this helps. Lisa.

          • Thank you and your very welcome. I will gladly show the rest of the reindeer when I get him finished. I’m glad I was able to help. If the plaster itself isn’t quite enough, I like to make a mixture of 1/8 cup cornstarch,about anywhere to 1 to 1 1/2 Tablespoons of water,and 1 Tablespoon of white school glue enough to make a thick paste. I then took a little brush and painted this over the dried plaster inside the ears.. This is wonderful for creating an extra hardener for the weaker part of the project. I’ve been paper mache’ing for a little over 20 years and I have done many experiments. I envied your little cow and read where you were having troubles with the ears. I wanted to give you this tip with my experience. Hope this helps.

          • my pictures are not uploading. Your welcome to follow me on Twitter under @macheartist if you are on Twitter. All my projects are on my page.

          • Hi Rex, I am sorry to bother you again, If you would like some assistance with balancing the legs, I will be more than happy to help. I did this technique with my reindeer, and It was the best thing I did for balance and positioning. I know that not every artist does this, but it was an experiment that made my life easier for the project. You do not have to do this with your sculptures, but it really helped with mine. It takes patience and a little drying time. It seems like a form of paper mache animal cruelty, but it the animal doesn’t seem to mind in the longrun. Ok, to start this process, Position your front left and right legs as you want them. Tape them to the body for now. you need about 4 long wooden dowels. (no these do not go inside the legs.) The dowels need to be long enough to stretch from the left back ankle on the front left leg (above the hoof.),to the back of the right ankle on the right front leg. (again, above the hoof.) Masking tape the dowel into position attaching it to both legs until they are connected, and spaced apart as you need them. I hope this is helping. Now, if you are wanting the animal in a walking position with one leg in front of the other, Attach the dowel in a diagnal postion from one leg to the other, making sure the dowel is long enough to reach each leg at the same time.. You do not have to cut off any extensions from the dowel if it exceeds the ankles.. now, what I did, was I took another dowel the same size and positioned it to the front left and right ankles,(again above the hoof.)until they are held together in place with tape like the back, only they are in the front this time. The animal has 2 dowels on the front ankles now. Yes, you will be taking these off later. Now, I took the back hind legs and positioned them on the backside of the animal and taped them to the body. I didn’t use any dowels on the back legs, but you can if you want to. Now, for the final step. I took the animal and stood it up on it’s legs until it was on all fours, then eye your feet to make sure they are even with the worktable. You may have to adjust the legs a bit. I did. Now the fun part. to absolutely make sure the feet will be even to the ground as I finished the piece, I took masking tape and taped all four hoofs to the worktable, enough to sturdy the animal, trust me, this really works. Now, you paper mache the forelegs and to the edge of the dowels. I am keeping the masking tape on the feet until the animal is paper mache’d and hardened. My fronts legs were really weak from the weight of the animal, causing the animal to lean, so I took some plaster and brushed it onto the forelegs and limbs. I did this with the back. I used a bit of joint compound to aide with this. I also carefully cut the ends off a soda can, discarded them,dried it and used the aluminum to support the legs as well. You can use mesh wiring for this, but I didn’t have any. It really helped. Now I will paper mache around the limbs and the body. My reindeer has more support than it ever has. Now, when your done with the project, remove the tape and dowels completely. Paper mache the rest of the ankles where you couldn’t before. I hope this isn’t too confusing. I am stil half asleep. I really hope this makes sense to you and I hope this helps. Lisa

          • Lisa, thanks so much. This is a great idea – thinking outside the box. I’m going to try it. It can’t be worse than the surgery I put them through.

            So far I haven’t had problem with legs holding up a body, but I might when I begin making larger animals. Thanks again.

          • Your so welcome. It seems complicated at first, then it all starts to make sense when problems starts to occur. Again, it was just a suggestion to help along. I can’t wait for my reindeer project to complete. I will be more than happy to show it to you. It is almost done.

  6. Great tutorial. May have to try an animal myself.
    I tried a balloon as well and it broke before it was dry. I was able to fill the cavity with a bowl and got it partially saved. but no more balloons for me. Even though they do create a nice shape.

  7. Wow Rex! You did a great job. Oh and when you cut the calf into, I bet that was really hard to do….i mean make yourself just destroy what you just made. But you put the parts back together very nicely. Yep, i’m impressed. So you answered my question about using a balloon for the cavity of the body. Really good!!! Thanks so much for sharing!!!

    • Rex, your calf is absolutely lovely. How tedious to be pulling all the stuffing out like that. It looks like even the legs are hollow. I hope whoever receives this does not plan to open him up any time soon! Nice work, thanks for sharing the process with us.

      • Gussie used this poem for a piggy bank she made, and I stole it, with her permission, and give it out with the banks.

        Yes, the legs and head are hollow.

        Thanks everyone. Appreciate the comments.

        The Piggy Bank

        You can put only paper money in
        Fill me up, including my chin.
        The time will go by fast,
        When you will desire at last,
        A set of wheels for a spin.
        Break me open, down payment is within!


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