Make Paper Mache Clay Smooth Without Sanding

This method of making paper mache clay really smooth is so easy, it really doesn’t need much more explanation beyond what’s in the video. But just in case you’d rather read instead of watch, here’s how it’s done.

Now, before I get to the steps I should mention that many people use a thin layer of paper mache clay for their first layer, and then they mix up a batch of the Silky-Smooth Air Dry Clay to use as the final layer. That’s how Rex made his pumpkins, and you can see his post here.

But I’m lazy, and I’m always in a hurry to finish a project. This method of smoothing the PM Clay with a rubber spatula and drywall joint compound is much easier and faster, so this is how I’ll be doing it from now on.

Step 1 – Apply a thin coat of paper mache clay over your armature.

In this image I’m using the new recipe for paper mache clay that doesn’t use any flour, but you can do the same thing with the original recipe. (I know the image makes it look like I’m working in the dark, but that’s because I bought a new camera and I was still learning how to use it. 🙂 )

Adding a thin layer of paper mache clay to the giraffe armature.

I never measure the thickness of the layer of paper mache clay I apply. I just make sure none of the armature is showing through. Both of the recipes for paper mache will dry very hard and strong.

Make sure your paper mache clay is completely dry all the way through before you move to the next step.

Step 2: Apply a super-thin layer of drywall joint compound with a rubber spatula.

Apply joint compound to make the paper mache clay smooth.

You could also use a knife to apply the drywall joint compound, but the flexible spatula makes it so much easier. It doesn’t leave any marks, and you can push the joint compound deep into the dips in the paper mache clay without leaving very much joint compound on the surface. This way, you aren’t adding much weight to the sculpture, and the joint compound dries quickly.

For this project I wanted a lot of texture on the mane and ear tufts, so I didn’t add any joint compound to those areas.

Step 3: “Sand” the joint compound with a lightly damp rag or towel.

Using a damp rag to smooth the joint compound on the paper mache clay sculpture.

Drywall joint compound can be smoothed with a damp rag. In fact, this is how I “sand” joint compound when I’m doing a small remodeling project around the house. The benefit of doing it this way is that you don’t end up with that fine dust all over the place, and you don’t have to wear a mask to keep it out of your lungs.

Sanding joint compound on paper mache clay giraffe.If you absolutely can’t help yourself and you just have to use sandpaper, you can use a sandpaper sponge, like I’m showing here. But I just did this for the picture – I would never sand joint compound (or anything else) in the house. It makes a big mess and I hate wearing a mask.

You must use a mask if you sand drywall joint compound Read the label! No mask is needed if you use the damp towel, instead.

Step 4: Apply one coat of acrylic gesso.

Applying acrylic gesso to paper mache giraffe.

Acrylic gesso is like a primer for acrylic paint. All acrylic paint companies also make gesso, and I think you can even buy it in the craft department at WalMart. It protects the drywall joint compound, seals the sculpture, and creates a really nice white ground for your paint. The colors you add will be much brighter and cleaner if you put the gesso on first.

In the video my daughter made when she painted the cow mask, she pointed out that gesso also saves paint. On many types of surfaces, much of your acrylic paint would be absorbed into the canvas or paper mache, and you’d need to use more paint to get nice bright colors.

Allow the gesso to dry completely before painting.

Step 5: Paint your sculpture.

Paper mache clay giraffe sculpture, painted.

After the gesso is dry, your paper mache clay sculpture is, essentially, a three-dimensional canvas. If you’re making an animal sculpture, as I almost always do, you can find excellent painting tutorials on YouTube for your particular animal.

Painting a sculpted animal is quite a bit easier than painting the same animal on canvas because you don’t have to worry about getting the shadows right. The light from your lamps or windows will cast natural shadows.

The giraffe pattern is now available, by the way. If you’d like to make one of your own, you can find it here.

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Smooth paper mache without sanding

51 thoughts on “Make Paper Mache Clay Smooth Without Sanding”

  1. I’m working on a paper mache creature for a small mardi gras parade. We covered a shark pool float in two layers of paper strips and paste. Then, we added a layer of duct tape and another layer of paper strips. We’re running low on time and I was wondering if adding the dry wall join compound, gesso, then painting will give us a structurally sound shark. I know it’s difficult to tell without looking at it, but in your opinion does this sound like it will be enough? We hope that it will last for next year’s parade as well.

    • Hi Carolyn. The joint compound has no structural strength at all. The paper mache clay recipe, which contains drywall joint compound, paper and glue, is very strong, and a thin coat would be enough to make a very long-lasting structure. The joint compound was used in this post just for filling in a few shallow dips in the texture, but it doesn’t add any strength.

        • You’ll need to give it several days, at least. I like to use a very thin, almost paper-thin layer, so it will dry quickly. If you can put it in a place where it’s warm and air is moving, that will help. For such a large item, you’ll find that the top dries fastest. The moisture tends to migrate down towards the lower parts, so test in many areas to make sure it’s all dry before you paint it.

  2. I have fiberglass push molds used for reproduction fish.
    what do i would have to use for a mold release so that the mache wont stick ?

    • You’d need to experiment with different types of oils. Petroleum jelly might work – but test the pieces after they dry to make sure the oil doesn’t make it difficult to paint them. Most people who use my recipes with molds use the smoother air dry clay recipe with silicone molds, with don’t require a release.

  3. I saw on your YouTube video and joint compunds and how dap doesn’t work with paper mache, what other bands would you recommend?


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