Make Paper Mache Clay Smooth Without Sanding

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cat mask pattern
paper mache cat mask smoothed with drywall joint compound.

It can be difficult to make paper mache smooth – even when you’re using my famous paper mache clay recipe. Fortunately, this method of making paper mache clay really smooth is really easy. In fact, it works just as well with the traditional paper strips and paste.

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.

If you’d like to watch this on video, scroll down below.

Step 1 – Apply a thin coat of paper mache 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, with the silky-smooth air dry clay recipe, or with paper strips and paste.  (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.

Here’s a video showing how to make paper mache smooth with drywall joint compound:

Play Video

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

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

  1. Fantastic!!! I’m so happy I came across your YouTube channel, thank you very much! For making this. Would this work to finish a pregnancy belly cast (plaster material)?

  2. This method may be the missing key to a current project. But I can not find this brand of ‘ProForm’ joint compound in my city to purchase. Would SheetRock or Dap brands joint compound work as well? Or is there another brand you have used?

    Hoping for the same smooth results.

  3. The wet rag “sanding” technique is brilliant! I had a tough time with the silky smooth PM recipe, but I didn’t have a scale. This will definitely be put into practice.

  4. Holy moly, what a revelation. I’m in the midst of a project and unhappy with the current texture…so excited to try this method to create a smoother surface! I thought I’d be adding more layers and dry sanding…this looks much more effective. Thanks so much! I’ll update with a “how it went” post after I complete the next steps. 🙂

  5. Hi Jonni,
    After years of playing around with PM, I’m committed to improving the craft of working with the materials and have 2 questions:
    1) Am I the only person whose work is punctured with tiny holes made by tiny round bugs? How do I prevent this?
    2. I will use your method for a smooth finish with drywall, thank you, but am also seeking a glass-like finish and have had good luck with an epoxy resin mix. Do you have a better idea? Thanks so much!


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