How Michele Made Her Paper Mache Giraffe

Paper Mache GiraffeToday we have a real treat. Michele Morel recently made a giraffe and showed us some of the progress photos in comments she left on our Daily Sculptors’ page. When I asked her to write up a post so we could see the entire process all in one place, she graciously agreed. Thanks, Michele!

©2014 Michele Morel

How I made my giraffe which was meant to be outside!

Hello everybody, I’m Michele. I’m not a sculptor neither an artist. But I attended a paper mache course in 2003 which I enjoyed very much.

I dreamed of doing some more since then but when I found Jonni’s website, her book and the daily sculptor page, I decided to jump back into it. I didn’t know into what! I just had the idea of a giraffe, in my front yard, that would look at the cars passing by and may be slow down the traffic!

So my journey has been a trial and error story.

The start in January…

I printed a photo with a grid done in Photoshop and cut some acoustic panel that I already had and reproduce some parts of the pattern. I wanted to recycle as much as possible of the material. The acoustic panel that I had wasn’t large enough so I hot glued pieces together to make the body. I didn’t have enough to make the legs. It would have been a lot easier to start with a bigger piece of panel and design all the legs with that at first, but I didn’t know then…

Michele begins work on the armature.
Michele begins work on the armature.

For the head, I used some chicken wire and a spray foam used for insulation that I had. I won’t use that type of spray foam any more, too hard to work with. I reinforced the neck with a metal bar to make it strong enough to support the weight of the head. 4 metal poles did the legs, inserted into 4 pieces of wood to fix them to the body. Then I asked help on the Jonni’s daily sculptor page to find out how I could possibly make the giraffe stand on his own, specially on three legs!

The challenge of standing

I wanted to put her outside so the stand needed to be temporarily fixed and easily moved to  bring her outside.  I used some big screws inside wood so I could insert that on the bottom of each leg. That way, each leg could be easily removed when needed.

Attaching the Base to the Leg Armature
Attaching the Base to the Leg Armature

The wood pieces I used as the stand were not square so they needed to be in a special alignment for the giraffe to stand and  keep her balance. But it worked so I was quite proud!

February, the filling begins!

I used a lot of plastic bottle, box, newspaper, etc to make the body shape. I didn’t know at that time that this step was very important to make a good body shape. I thought I could fix every default after. So by now, I won’t use square box because there is a risk that the final product will stay square!

Filling Out the Form
Filling Out the Form
Closeup of Material Used Inside the Armature
Closeup of Material Used Inside the Armature

In March, paper strips.

I covered the whole giraffe with paper and I had to do many layers to shape her well as my filling wasn’t precisely done and too square! Took me a while to get her the shape I wanted and still, a part of the neck has not the curve shape I was trying to do…!

Adding the Paper Strips and Paste
Adding the Paper Strips and Paste

Adding paper mache paste.

I’ve learned this paste recipe in 2003 and enjoy his simplicity and texture.

To do the paste, I simply put a cellulose insulation that is made of recycled paper fibers with the usual flour and water mix. This product is sold in big bags for cheap.

I bought this bag in 2003 and haven’t been though half of it yet: http://www.benolec.com/en/cellulose-beno-therm/

This fiber give a texture which I like but that isn’t suitable for everything. In fact, for the head, I finished it with Jonni’s paper mache paste to get a smoother surface and more precise details.

Adding Cellulose Insulation Mixed with Flour and Water Paste
Adding Cellulose Insulation Mixed with Flour and Water Paste

During those steps, I did a lot of touch up, either with aluminum fool, or other paper layers on top of it to get a better shape, make her a belly, knees, muscles, etc

Adding Details to the Head
Doing Some Adjustments to the Neck

By April I did a neck surgery as I wasn’t happy with the neck. I discovered too late that giraffe have a very slim neck!

For the mane, I use the hair of a fire brush that I had and for the lashes too. And once finished, I painted it with 2 coats of Jonni’s gesso. I also experiment with concrete on her foot.

By May, I painted her and applied 4 layers of Varnish Marine, Epiphanes, which was supposed to be the best for an outside use.

The Gesso Layer, and Painting Begins
The Gesso Layer, and Painting Begins
The Painting Is Done
The Painting Is Done
The Marine Varnish Has Been Applied
The Marine Varnish Has Been Applied

10giraffe

By the 4 layers, she had turned yellow but still nice. So I put her outside with temporary stand.

As I had read a lot about different experiment on outside paper mache, I protected her with a waterproof triangle shade sail. But after 2 days, we had a really big heavy rain and one of her leg, which wasn’t fully under the sail, got really wet and started to soften. I did an emergency repair with foil on the feet and put her back on her stand. I thought I had solved the problem…

Problem Caused by Rain
Problem Caused by Rain

But another big rain came and her leg continued to soften some more. So I quit and took her inside for good. I’m presently making a second repair of that same leg. I won’t put her outside unless I decide to recoat her with a few more marine varnish layer. I’m searching to see if an epoxy layer would make her safe but it is an really expensive path and hard to apply.

So that has been my journey with this idea. Now, I’m looking either to find her a home inside or another option to make her safe outside!.

62 thoughts on “How Michele Made Her Paper Mache Giraffe

    • Have you tried to use resin like they do for polymer clay I guess you can buy it and big buckets I would like to try to make a giraffe or an elephant for my yard I might try the resin and thanks for the wonderful idea

  1. Just found Ultimate Paper Mache and am inspired by the beautiful work. Excellent videos, lots of great information. I would like to say to Joni, and Michele of “Giraffe” fame (it’s fabulous), that I just read about a product for sculpting which is waterproof and may be useful. I haven’t ordered any yet, so I’m only basing this on their info and tutorials submitted by users. SinceI haven’t sifted thru’ all the comments yet, I don’t know if this has been mentioned before. Here’s the webiste: https://www.avesstudio.com/ It’s a two-part mix, like putty, non-toxic, sticks to anything, called Apoxie Sculpt. They have other products, as well. Worth checking. It appears that it’s used for taxidermy and outdoor items.

  2. Hello, I am in high school am I am making a paper mâché giraffe just like yours. I was wondering if we could talk so that I can get an understanding on how you made it. Yours is amazing and I want to know how you constructed it.

  3. the problem is that for my part I see France in Europe. So no way to get pay tya alas !! I try my hand a recipe that allows to expose outside sculptures. Avaos I heard a mixture of paper pulp, clay, lime, linseed oil and rabbit skin glue (or vynillique). But I have not tried it yet. Ceal perhaps would waterproof the paper mache?

    • I haven’t found anything that will seal paper mache – at least none of my experiments have worked. But in a recent comment by Sylvie she said that she made a hanging goose sculpture with paper mache and sprayed it with spray paint, and then coated it with marine varnish, and it lasted for many years outside.

    • I don’t have the Paltya recipes either, of course, but I have tried the cement recipes on this page, and they’re really nice to work with. It isn’t easy to get the ingredients in small quantities, unfortunately. Getting everything mixed together in the right proportions would be really nice – but I don’t think the Paltya people are selling in the US quite yet.

  4. last one hope i’m not to boring you all alian is made with jonnis clay over a plastic wine barrel bladder the kind used in hotels ; bulk on tap sales its about 3ft tall [90cm] made to go in school art room

  5. my dragon inspired by jonni made with jonnis method [cardboard foil etc] but in the clay i used sawdust as i was short of compound and it was free. the wings are paverpol and acrylic paint thanks jonni for your artistic sharing

  6. this is the paverpol and tissue paper bear sitting it is about 40cm it has been out side for 4yrs all weathers but not snow we don’t get that cold here the base is a calico/ cotton bear

    • Sally,the bear is gorgeous and I do love the texture of the fur. It is so cute and being outside for 4 years is a milestone for your sculpture. I guess the waterproofing is in mixing the paverpol in the tissue itself to make it waterproof.

  7. i hope this photo works think i need lessons

    the alpaca is made with an old reindeer frame covered with jonnis clay paverpol and floor mop hair

    • Thanks, Sally! And no, of course you’re not boring us – we love seeing your sculptures. I’m really taken with that alpaca, and all that long flowing hair. Nicely done!

      • Hi

        A couple of years ago i saw a side stool paper mache in the shape of tortoise. Basically it was a paper mache tortoise with its shell flat to act as stool. I was hoping to find a template for that.

        • Did you see it here, on this site? One of my readers may have put a photo in the comment section, but I don’t remember it. I don’t know where you could get a template for something like that. You will probably need to sculpt it from scratch, using your memory and resource photos of the type of tortoise you want to make.

    • Sally, the alpaca is adorable. The use of a mop to make the hair is a stroke of genius. I will call the art form of the 21st century the era of recycling. Paper mache has come a very long way and it is now an established medium as far as the art community is concerned.

      • thanks christine for both comments had lots of fun with the alpaca took hours as each strand had to be put on one by one to get the right shape and fall . i love the challenge of making something from recycled materials and try to add something in most projects i have a large pile of might be handy objects and lucky to live in a very small country town often find something left at the door regards

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