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!

If you love giraffes but you don’t have a house big enough for a life-sized sculpture, click here for a faster, easier giraffe project.

©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:

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


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!.

64 thoughts on “How Michele Made Her Paper Mache Giraffe”

  1. Amazing! I am not so gifted. I am trying to make a vintage airplane for my son. I made it out of foam core and poster board. I will be paper macheing it tonight and I have a few questions. What can I expect it to look like once the paper maché is done. How do I cover it. I would like it to look realistic. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Hi Vanessa. If you would like the paper mache to be nice and smooth, like a real airplane, you can sand the paper mache lightly and then add a coat or two of either home-made gesso (joint compound mixed with Elmer’s Glue-All to a brushable consistency) or acrylic gesso from the art store. This can also be lightly sanded. Then you can paint the airplane in any colors you like. The shapes, of course, will be determined by the shapes of the foam.

      Be sure to let us see the airplane when it’s done.

  2. I’m sorry that my message posted twice. I didn’t think that my first message went through. I have not used paverpole…yet! I did find another waterproof coating from Paverpole that happens to be a powder that you mix with water that’s called Paverplast. It is supposed to make artwork waterproof for outdoor display. You can find it at this web site:

    Hope this helps!

  3. hi jonni paverpol is a fabric hardner but i’m one to experiment , for the bear i mixed pp in a small container then i add toilet tissue [cheap] mixed it like icing a cake then with a small paint spatula spread it on in small rough peaks i also added some powdered pigment colour when first mixing takes a while but looks good .

    yes i paint it on papermache it does give it a plastic like look though, i used a small 500 ml bottle and still had some left , not cheap but for special projects outside it works for me have tried to up load an alpaca i made last year under body was your ppmache clay with paverpol used as a sealer befor gluing strands of a floor mop on for hair

    • Hi Sally. I would love to see that alpaca! If you tried to upload it, but it didn’t work, the image probably needs to be smaller. If you don’t have a program that will do that for you, you can use this free image resizer. I do hope you’ll try again!

  4. hi jonni re paverpol i have used a lot of this product i made a paper mache flower painted it with acrylic house paint sealed it with 4 coats of clear pp and it has been in all weather for 5 yrs with no sign of wear. i also use it on fabric that too stays out doors. a bear[ calico] covered in toilet paper mixed with paverpol has been sitting in amongst the agapanthas for 5 yrs and still looks fabulous will send a pic when we get a fine day sally australia

    • Hi Sally. I thought Paverpol was a product for making fabric stiff. Are you just painting it over the paper mache, without using any fabric at all?

    • And one more question (I hope you don’t mind being our resident Paverpol expert. 🙂 ) It looks like the fabric hardener costs about $28 US for around two cups (500 gm) of material. How much did you use for your bear? Is it a about the size of a typical Teddy bear? And when you say you mixed the paper with the Paverpol, does that mean you used the combination like the more traditional paper pulp, in a layer over your bear?

    • Sally, thanks for your comments. Would love to see the outside sculpture you did and paint and had coated with 4 coats of paverpol. Wish you will be able to post some of your work, it look very promising and also surprising. I did a class of paverpol twice, and we were told to apply a varnish to the sculpture if we plan to put it outside so I guess with the experience you did, a few layers of paverpol act as a varnish as well. Would be great!

      • hi michele sorry don’t have a pic right now will have to visit the buyer for a coffee and take one , but i will be making another one in the shape of a lilly in the next few weeks will post that then and will try to remember to take photos as i go , but i’m a bit impatient for pics and my studio is always messy messy messy with paper mache cement and mosaic sculptures for our local art and craft events but so lucky to have such a large space to play

        • That’s fine Sally, thank for your answer, will be looking forward to see your next sculpture whenever it’s ready. Meanwhile, I saw the pictures you send and like them. About the Alpaca, I love your idea of using mop hair. Did you put it into paverpol or you had already put your paverpol under and glue the mop hair on top of it? And about your bear, did you paint it or you use a bronze paverpol? Thank you very much for the details you’re givng us, i will definitively try paverpol again although I’m looking for a solution that would be less expensive.

          • HI alpaca i paverpoled the body with 3 coats as i wanted the mop hair to age and wrinkle like a real alp does well thats the theory
            the bear i always buy the clear pp and then the small tubs of powder pigments that way i control the shade but it does need a really good stir and again while using. i have also used bondcrete a type of glue thats add to cement to stop mold [i think] it is semi water roof can be hose cleaned but items need to be kept under patio . i can look at container if you like

  5. Please please don’t ever again say “I’m not an artist”. Not only are you an artist but you are a darn good one.

    On the waterproofing: Polyurethane sealer. Also known as PU floor sealer. Take the water based. For instance:
    It is not as expensive as epoxy but has very similar properties. It may even be better as it has the water base. Epoxy may damage your paint job.

    • Hi Puppy. Have you tried using the Polyurethane sealer on an outdoor sculpture? I worry about the sun causing it to crack, which would let the water get in. If you’ve used it yourself, could you tell us how long your sealed pieces have been outside, and how often you need to reseal them?

  6. Hi Jonni!
    Have you ever heard of a product called Paverpole before? I was at a doll and teddy bear show in Ohio the weekend before last and it was there that I first heard of it and actually saw an artist that used it. Apparently it’s waterproof and can be used on fabric, paper mache and other mediums. You can google, “Paverpole” to learn more about it and also visit this web site:

    I will be curious to hear what you think!
    Blessings to all!
    Janet Gernand
    Daleville, Indiana

    • Hi Janet. I haven’t used Paverpol, but several people have mentioned it. Have you used it outside yourself? I tried to find an answer to Michele’s question about whether or not you need to use a sealer on top of it, and I saw on this site (PDF) the following, which I find a little confusing:

      Sealing: Paverpol can be used for exterior applications. Paverpol pieces should be completely dry before putting them outdoors. For best results Paverpol intended for areas with high humidity or that have been painted with acrylic paint should be sealed with a high quality, exterior grade, water-based sealer that contains UV inhibitors, such as Josefine Varnishes, formulated especially to work with Paverpol. Routine inspection, cleaning and possible re-sealing may be necessary to extend the life of your outdoor sculpture. A matt finish may be applied to Paverlppol, once it is completely dry. Once completely dry., Paverpol is able to withstand extreme frost. Paverpol artwork is weather resistant, capable of withstanding rain, wind, sun, snow and frost.

      So, the part that confuses me is the claim that it’s completely weatherproof and can handle both rain and sun, but it also should be sealed with a special varnish. I think I’ve heard that any plastic will break down in the sun, eventually.

  7. Michelle, GREAT GIRAFFE!! What a lovely piece of work. The face is so tender, how nice to get that kind of expression. You are very artistic, even if the “artist” label is difficult to take on. You’ve crossed the Rubicon. ; )
    About paper and being outside… in a sprinkle I think you wouldn’t have had issues but, with the overall humidity and deluges… no matter two or three coats of shellack will not keep the weather from deteriorating it. If it were an indoor (on rainy/snowy) days, and outside on low humidity days, you’d probably be fine. But what a heart ache to see it continue to melt down, after so much heart and soul in it. Screened in Front porch maybe?… it’d still have humidity. I’m afraid for the dragon I made for a friend as well. It’s got double layers of sealant but, if she allows it to get soaked, I’ll be mending the little thing this rainy season. Good luck to you. Make more stuff!

    • Thanks everybody for your nice comments. I Will for sure keep on searching a solution or expériment with cement in à Near future. We heard about pal tyia but so far it is not ship to Canada. Although the interesting thing about Paper is the low cost if you want to make large pieces.

      Marvin and Jonni, thanks, i Will look the water base resin and search for avenue in that direction as it may be a solution. Use it with Cotton would be a similar approach as paverpol which i try twice. Although i like the result, i haven’t been able to paint it as i did for my giraffe.

      Sally, you did use paverpol as a sealant, was it the paverpol itself or the varnish they seem to gave? And did that protect the color from the australien sun as Well as from the rain?

  8. Amazing:stuffed with bottles, papers,toilet rolls,tin foil and whatever is lying around, then there she is all wonderful,tall and elegant. Isn’t art a little magic place!
    Thanks Michele

  9. Hello Jonni and fellow artists! While attending a doll and teddy bear show in Ohio last weekend, I was introduced to a sculpting medium called Paverpole….has anyone here heard of it before? Anyway, It might be the solution that you are looking for when making paper mache….or fabric….waterproof for outdoor display. Here is a link where you can learn more about it:
    You might try googling “paverpole” to see what comes up. Pinterest also has some interesting Paverpole pins.
    I am hoping to give it a try SOON. God bless everyone!
    Janet Gernand from Indiana

  10. I will have to live for ever to make all of the projects i see on jonni’s site , now have to add a giraffe to the list super big congratulations she is incredibly lovely .isint wonderful that we can share information from all the world incredible thanks to jonni ‘s love of art . i have had good luck with paverpol as a sealer needs 3-4 coats tho and not too cheap lasted 5yrs so far

    sally from australia

  11. The giraffe is fantastic! I was wondering (since I have not sculpted with paper mache before), how you attach balled-up newspaper to the body of a sculpture, for filling in and shaping? Do you hot glue each piece of newspaper in?

    • Cat, thanks. I used a lot of masking tape and i also tried some spray glue which sometime was easier depending the shape. I hot glue mostly the panel and the wood but i didn’t think it was necessary for the Paper.

  12. Michele your giraffe is adorable! I just love his face and attitude. I was so sad about your giraffe’s injury. You’ve done an exceptional job on him. How tall is he? The only solution for outdoor display I’ve come up with is cement on my pieces. I just read j.t.s solution about using salt (how much salt do you use j.t?) and that sounds like a good idea. I use clorox for mold but if it goes outside it gets cement. My biggest complaint about using cement is that I can’t get the fine detail I like. Pretty much when I apply cement it’s a challenge to just get the cement in place. I have to get all the detail I can in the paper mache stage and even then it doesn’t always come threw. The paper mâché sculpture is my armature and I wouldn’t be doing larger outdoor pieces if I hadn’t found Jonni’s website. She’s an inspiration.

    • Thank Julie, i tried to put cément on the hoof but my cément didn’t stay on and start fallait apart. but i’ve seen the beautiful sculptures you did with cement and i Will give it another try. I was also concern by the painting you can do on it, i though Colors were limited but i know nothing about it. I’m also following jonni’s experiment on it so Will see.

      • Hi Michele,
        You have to have something for the cement to hang onto. Afer I put pm on the paper and tape sculpture I go back when the pm is tacky and rough it up and create lots of peaks for the cement to hold on to. Even then it’s tough. You might have to put cement on each side at a time. Gravity is difficult to fight against. After the first side is dried and you flip it to do the other side use a bonding agent so the new cement will attach to the already applied cement. I use house paint or even art paint and seal it with concrete sealer to help protect it. I don’t put heavy layers of straight paint but thin it so it will obsorb into the cement and not peal off. You’re doing fantastic! I’m so impressed. I just love everyone’s art on Jonni’s website. I love the humor and the talent that is out there. Good luck to all of you and again thank you Jonni!

  13. This giraffe fairly leaps off the computer screen–so I can imagine how magnificent the real deal is. Thank you so much for sharing your process. Thank you also for sharing your results as far as rain. It would be great to know if there’s a practical solution to the weather issues.
    Fantastic work!!!!

  14. Thank you for sharing your journey. She turn out beautifully. Hope you get the leg repaired to your satisfaction. Who says you’re not an artist?! Good work.

  15. Michele, she came out gorgeous and really is a work of art. But the unfortunate truth, making paper mache waterproof has been a hard one to come by, as Jonni and many of the other sculptors have found out. Even Charta the goddess got her innards wet and needed some tlc. It is up to that pot of luck some people had in the past that made their pieces last a few years outside. I was wondering, if you were going to do something like this again for an outside piece, would a thin layer of cement help in the weathering of your sculpture?

  16. I diagree with Michele. I think she is both an artist and a sculptor. I say the giraffe is clear evidence of that fact. Very well done.

    Moisture damage really is a problem with papier mache outdoors. I did some papier mache fish for my garden several years ago and had problems with both moisture damage and mold – inspite of of having sealed them with lots of varnish.

    I suspect that sunlight causes micro cracks in the varnish which then allow moisture to penetrate into the structure. Once the mosture is under the varnish, it makes the perfect environment for mold and the end result is a total mess.

    I think we need to use something other than papier mache for work that is intended to go outdoors. I know that Joni is now experimenting with cement. However I have a feeling that something which is resin based may be better. Anything which is naturally water proof should help solve the problem.

    My son Eric is a professional mask artist / performer. While working with him on several projects I was exposed to some of the professional materials avaialble today. These we found in a sculptors supply company in Toronto, Canada. Most are quite expensive and are very technique specific.

    Some of these materials are water based resins, and so are less, smelly and less toxic to work with than conventional resins.

    I suspect that with some expermenting hobbistis could find and combine materials that will provide acceptable results at a lower cost, and still be durable enough to go outdoors.

    Cotton saturated with resin comes to mind as a replacement for paper and glue. Perhaps even resign mixed with paper and containing an agent to slow drying used like paper clay. I’m just offering ideas for consideration.

    • Good ideas, Marvin. And I agree when you say Michele is both an artist and a sculptor – I was hoping someone would point that out!

      I tried a water-based resin several years ago when I made my chimpanzee, and it worked well, but it does take some practice, some very new skills, and a considerable amount of money. But it’s lightweight and waterproof, and paintable. Some amazing life-like dinosaurs and wildlife have been made with it for outdoor displays, and I would love to be able to afford playing with it some more. The cotton idea you have is interesting – have you tried it yet? And is there a website where we could see some of your son’s masks?

    • I am basically a painter, both on slabs of wood and wall murals. #1. Salt in the papier mache inhibits the growth of mold. #2. I use latex paint and mix it with artists acrylics and water colors without problems.
      I’ve made masks mostly but love to look at the sculptures on your website here. Salt in the papier mache is cheap. I haven’t had to use it when I used wall paper sizing though for the glue factor in the P.M. However if you use flour, salt is a must.

    • Has anyone heard of Pal Tiya ..?? It is outdoor sculpting clay. It has not reached our shores yet but when it does I will let you know. Google it I think you will love it and it solves all our outdoor sculpting needs!
      Dorothy Daily

  17. Madame,
    Votre girafe est magnifique. Je viens voir de temps en temps vos derniers “posts” et je suis toujours aussi admirative de la qualité de votre travail. J’admire également cette générosité avec laquelle vous partagez vos trucs et vos façons de faire. Je suis fan! Belle continuité!

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