My Paper Mache Calf Experiment

This is a reader-supported site. When you buy through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commission. Thanks for your support! :)

African Animals Pattern Set.
Save $10
when you buy this three-pattern set. Use the patterns to create memorable gifts, or to bring a little bit of Africa to your own home

This week I hurried to finish this little Holstein calf, sleeping on a base that represents the hills and coastal mountains of  Oregon. The calf itself was first built with newsprint and masking tape. To see how this is done, visit the paper mache dragon post.

I experimented a little with this sculpture. I wanted the finished piece to have more weight than paper mache alone would give it – for some reason I decided that a sculpture weighing only a few ounces couldn’t be considered a “serious” sculpture. To get the extra weight I made the base out of plasterboard – the stuff that covers almost all the walls in our houses.

I got the weight I wanted, but encountered an unexpected problem – the finish coats, (see the baby whale tutorial for details) crackled, but only on the base. This probably happened because plaster draws water, and probably made the finish coats dry unevenly from the inside out. Since nothing I did stopped this from happening, I decided to consider it a happy accident and accented the crackles with an antiquing glaze.

Crackles in Decorative Coat
Crackles in Decorative Coat

The problem with this solution is that the crackled finish is held together with the final protective coat of Verathane. I hope it holds together, but there is no guarantee. If you have a suggestion for how to add some weight to a paper mache sculpture that works a little better, please let us know in the comments below.

One of the best parts of sculpting with paper mache is the opportunity to try something new – but one has to expect the unexpected when experimenting with techniques and materials that haven’t been used before. I find that not only acceptable but truly exciting – and I also believe that the best learning experiences come from our mistakes.

The calf itself also offered plenty of learning opportunities. Frankly, a standing calf would have been easier to sculpt, because of those long, bony legs folded up under the calf. Straight legs would have been easier.

Calf, sleeping
Calf, sleeping

To get the proportions as close to ‘right’ as possible, I searched the web for photos of young calves taken from as many angles as possible. Even with all those photos to look at, it took three tries with the crumpled paper and masking tape to come up with the calf I eventually covered with paper strips and flour paste.

(Note – if you need to remove a head or cut a paper mache sculpture in half to make adjustments, a bread knife works quite well if you’re still in the masking tape stage, or if only one or two layers of paper mache have been added. If more layers than that are already on your sculpture, you may need a saw.)

Although it can’t be seen in the photo, I also experimented with adding rub-on metallic color, which I purchased last year from Georgies in Portland. This was the first opportunity I’ve had to use them. I used the Golden White metallic color over the light wash of color on the mountains, and on the calf. I am quite pleased with the result.

I don’t yet know what my next project will be, but I think it’s going to be quite a bit bigger than anything I’ve done before. I’m toying with the idea of an almost life-sized baby giraffe, or perhaps a Galapagos turtle. (But if I keep playing around with paper mache, I may soon need a bigger house!)

3 thoughts on “My Paper Mache Calf Experiment”

  1. I just saw this site while looking for ways to preserve rooster I made. I have been making paper mache w/my students and decided to make one as a gift. Instead of painting it, I pasted a collage of paper in colrs that I wanted my rooster to have. i checked on how you made your birds and discovered that I make my figures, the way you did yours. I enjoyed your stuff.

  2. We like the calf sculpture. Not sure what a lifesize giraffe will look like. Where will your next house be?

    We miss you here – in Tacoma – on Christmas Sunday. Maybe next year?

    Becky, Dianne, Robin


Leave a Comment