Paper Mache + Decoupage = Amazing!

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Today we have a guest post by Natalie Wargin, a painter, sculptor and digital artist. She agreed to show us how her decoupaged bowls are made, and she also describes her technique for building tables completely out of paper. I’ve never seen anything like it. Thanks, Natalie!

©2015 Natalie Wargin

I began working with paper mache in 2002 as a direct result of an interest in decoupage.  I had done a few decoupage projects and started to think that it would be nice if, rather than decorating existing surfaces, I decoupaged objects that I had made myself.  That way the entire project would be original.  I got some books and started making bowls using the layered newspaper and white glue technique that many of us learned as children.  It was so relaxing and satisfying — I got hooked.


In addition to making bowls in a mold I also like to create more random shapes.  I build cardboard armatures from lightweight tag stock and cover those with gluey newspaper strips.  I add bases so the pieces will sit nicely.  These I often cover with anaglypta paper, the ornately embossed wall paper.  Once a piece is dry I sand and gesso and use acrylic paints for a background color.  Then I decoupage using images that I find or paint.  I like to use metallic paints for shimmery interest.  Once the piece is finished and dry it gets several light coats of a water soluable matte varnish.  Then I run a gilding pen along the edge of the bowl as a final touch.




I’ve always love faux bois and wondered if I could achieve a similar effect with paper mache.  I make a small wire mesh amature and attache this to the piece with a glue gun.  I cover the wire mesh with paper mache and manipulate it with a skewer to suggest knot holes and bark.  Doing this with paper mache pulp results in a rough branch. You can get finer results using paper clay.


In 2007 I started making tables completely from paper.  I start with a corrugated armature that’s covered with newspaper strip paper mache.  The table top is gessoed, painted, and decoupaged like my other pieces. The legs start out as corrugated that is then covered with wire mesh to which I apply paper mache pulp. I work the pulp in the faux bois method.  When that’s dry I go back with more paint to darken knot holes and add hints of moss.  The tables get several coats of a solvent based varnish.  They need the protection that a heavier varnish provides.  My tables function the way any table would while not being very heavy.



My paper mache work has been featured in Midwest Living Magazine, Orange County Home Magazine and the Chicago Tribune. One of my tables, a fairy tale demilune, appears in two books: Tables and 500 Tables: Inspiring Interpretations of Function & Style, by Lark Books.

You can see more of my work on my website or in my Etsy shop.

49 thoughts on “Paper Mache + Decoupage = Amazing!”

  1. Your work is beautiful… my question is, how do you get smooth surface…Your pieces with the decopage antique wallpaper seem to be on a smooth surface. Is it sanding …. do you have any suggestions. thank you

    • I’m not sure if Natalie is still watching this post or not – she wrote it for us several years ago. I hope she is, though, because it’s a great question. Now that you bring it up, I’d like to know, too. 🙂

      • thank jonni…. hope we can get some info on the experts of this technique… thank you Jessica

  2. Hey Natalie,
    your work is amazing! Bellissimo. I’ve just a question. You say that your print images that you like and store on your computer but that napkins are too fragile. What kind of paper, then, do you use (if you can say it, of course) and do you print your images with a laser print or…. Sorry for asking and, again, complimenti!!!!

  3. Absolutely incredible! I was actually poking around for a paper mache recipe for furniture/large scale work, so it’s inspiring to see someone doing it so beautifully. May I ask, when you mention the “newspaper and white glue technique,” do you mean just a mixture of watered down white glue (+newspaper strips), or do you include flour in your recipe? The technique I learned as a wee bairn included flour, but I’m wondering if that will rot.

    • Hi BP. I’m not sure if Natalie is still watching her post, so I’ll jump in here. I’m pretty sure she would not use flour, because the flour would leave a film on top of her paper. A cooked flour and water paste is almost as transparent as white glue, but you wouldn’t add the glue to a cooked flour and water paste, so I’m going to guess that she really means just glue and water.

      Have fun!

    • You’re right, Jonni. I do use slightly watered down white glue and newspaper strips exclusively. I have never used flour. I’ve heard from a couple of people that paper mache done with flour might rot or attract bugs. I also think that the white glue adds some strength which can only come in handy, especially with larger pieces.

      • You’re correct about attracting bugs which is why I use a few drops of homemade mint oil in the flour/water/glue mixture. My question Natalie is, have you ever used a homemade white glue recipe for your pieces? You must go through quite a bit of the stuff. Absolutely love your work!

        • Hi Dawn,
          No, I’ve never used homemade white glue. The mint oil sounds like a great idea though. I typically buy Elmer’s by the gallon. I pour a smallish amount of glue into a resealable ziploc plastic container and dilute it. The ratio is probably close to 50/50. If I have any glue mixture left when I’m done for the day I just put the lid on the container and it stays useable until next time. Maybe I’ll have to add a little more water. But I try not to waste and I think a gallon of glue lasts quite a while.
          So glad you like my work. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Hi Jonny,

    I have used some of your recepies for my project and was very happy with the result. Thanks!
    I do have one query though. I wanted a clear matt finish for some of my projects which i could not achieve. I am planning to start a 3 feet doll that will have a clear matt finish. Can you suggest some good product that i can get online? As i stay in India the shipping cost becomes an added expense so if you can suggest something that i can get in Mumbai it will be of great help. Also considering the size of the doll, do you think i should use a spray can or should i use a brush for the varnish?

    • I use an acrylic matte varnish, Golden brand, and I’m happy with it. But some people have said it still has too much shine for their taste. On the other hand, on several conversations we’ve had here about this issue, nobody has really recommended a brand that was totally shine-free. If you have a local art store, the products they have there would probably be just as good as anything you bought online and had shipped to you. On the other hand, this doll-maker I just found online said the spray products work best because brushing on a varnish will make them too thick. So maybe that’s the trick – just find a brand locally that comes in a spray can, and try it out on a test piece.

  5. Probably not the right place to post this question but I am in desperate need of some advice please. I have varnished some of my bowls with Marine Varnish. What a mistake. They are shiny beyond belief. Horrible. I read online that going over them with a matte varnish will bring the shine down but – and here’s the big problem I live in Guatemala – there’s no Home Depot here or even an art supply store. The only matte varnish I can find is Lanco Polyeurethane varnish which the sellers claim is matte and I don’t believe them. The can says nothing about matte only the sticker label. It also says on the can to sand off any gloss. Heck it’s paper mache – won’t work. My question is do you have any solutions for me? My products look garish and nothing like what I want. I really messed up. I have thought of coating them with Modge Podge (?) and then re coating with a spray varnish that is much less shiny. Any help will be appreciated. Please and thank you.

    • Hi Dawn. Are the bowls really thin, just a few layers of paper mache? If not, would it be possible to use a very fine sandpaper and a very light touch to knock some of the shine off your varnish? Then, if you can find a supplier, a matte finish should stick to the lightly sanded Marine varnish. I found one sold by Krylon that is intended to be used as a matte top coat on art:

      And they have one with a super-matte finish to protect chalk paint:

      I haven’t used Mod Podge, so I can’t say if that would help. The ads say it’s an all-in one glue, sealer and finish, so it might hold on to your gloss varnish. Is the varnish oil based, or water based? That might affect the adhesion of the next coat that’s applied.

      I don’t think I’m being terribly useful, though – sorry. I suggest that you move your question over to the Daily Sculptors page, which has more subscribers. Someone there may know of a product you could find locally to remove the shine.

      • This problem actually resolved itself Jonni, and thank you for your suggestions. Apparently a couple of coats of gloss varnish is recommended before applying matte varnish (at least on paintings) and this can of Lanco polyeurethane matte varnish I have works like a charm over the gloss. No more glare!

  6. Hi all, I am new here, found the site quite by accident…a happy accident! I would very much love to do something like this. I was wondering where do you get good decoupage prints? I search high and low for magazines that is loaded with good stuff only to be disappointed. Any suggestions? I have sources for old magazines and new so please drop some titles on me Thanks!! My style is kind of bohemian and I can dig florals and abstracts. Thanks so much. I am so on to trying this!!

    • My stash of images is a combination of things I’ve painted or photographed as well as copyright free items from places like Dover. They have lots of nice books you can pull things from. I scan the things I like and store them in folders on my computer and when I need them I can size them or shift the colors accordingly. This also allows me to print images on paper that I’m comfortable working with.

  7. Natalie, While I enjoy creating with papier mache I also wonder if there is a place, a way to sell my work for anyone of interest? I’m looking at turning my mache work into a business.
    Could you help?

    • Several years ago, when I was living in Chicago, I was doing a lot of paper mache work and to sell my pieces I exhibited at a number of nice craft shows. The “One Of A Kind” show at the Merchandise Mart was a great venue for me. I pretty much sold all the pieces I had with me and it also put me in touch with some interior designers who were interested in the larger pieces and the tables. I don’t know what kind of work you do so it’s hard for me to say if this approach would work for you but craft fairs might be an idea. Do you have an online shop? I have also sold paper mache pieces through my Etsy shop. I hope these suggestions help!

  8. I was fascinated with your beautiful work. Thought how can I use this with my dolls and now have my thinking cap on. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful work and advise.

  9. Hi Natalie and Jonni, these are some of my very early bowls I made a few years ago. I wanted to do some designing with decorative paper napkins and see how they come out. These are more simplistic than Natalie’s but they were my earliest attempts at decoupage.

    • Hi again Christine, I can see that you like lots of color. I think the first “chalice” piece is interesting. I’ve never worked with napkins — seems like it might be tricky since the paper is kind of fragile.

      • Well Natalie, it takes a kind of finesse, but once you get to know how to put it on, it is not that hard. I take the layers apart and only use the printed side to put on the bowl. It is kind of fragile and you really need a gentle touch but it is workable.

    • They look amazing. As soon as the days are warmer and brighter I am determined to try usng some of my napkins to decoupage a paper bowl.

  10. Oh Wow, how utterly beautiful and inspiring. I had never even though to make furniture but now I am determined to try that. Thank you for sharing, I love craft minded people. xxx

  11. ‘Deceptively simple’ springs to mind. The colours, the shapes, the designs, they all works together so nicely. Amazing work.

  12. WOW, WOW, WOW, Natalie!!!! Your bowls and furniture are SO beautiful and are a true work of art! I absolutely love how unique each one is. I too would love to see you do a video tutorial. Your talent is so amazing…what a gift!

    • Well, a second request for a tutorial. I’ll have to see what I can do! These comments are so lovely. When I lived in Chicago I showed my paper mache pieces at a number of craft fairs but I haven’t done that once since I moved to New York. Maybe I should rethink that. I truly appreciate all the kind words!

  13. Natalie, your work is beautiful. I love how you combine your unique bowl designs with your illustrations. Thanks so much for sharing your work. You are an inspiration!

  14. Natalie, these pieces are gorgeous and your talent amazing. Do you have a tutorial on how you make the furniture? I saw a book on Amazon on how to do that but the cost was amazing as well as in very costly.

    • Christine, I’m so glad you like my things! I don’t have a tutorial on making the furniture but that’s certainly something I will think about. Your the first person that’s asked!

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