Painting the Dragon – Finally!

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Dragon Head

The dragon is finally finished! I can’t believe how easy it was to find the right color of paint for the dragon at the Restore. Painting this fellow with artist’s acrylics would have cost a small fortune.

By the way, I learned this week that latex paint doesn’t actually have any latex in it – it’s really acrylic paint. I suppose that’s why I was able to add a bit of yellow acrylic paint to the orange latex to make a brighter orange, and it worked just fine. Now I can see why Dan Reeder uses latex paint. If you can’t find the right colors at the Restore, you can still get “sample” sizes at Lowe’s for just a few dollars. Now I know where I’m going to be shopping for my paint from now on.

Once again, I want to thank Jammed Joker – whoever you may be – for posting the drawing I used on the dragon. I hope you didn’t think I forgot about it – I’ve been thinking about your drawing for six months!

See all of the videos showing how the paper mache clay dragon was made:

86 thoughts on “Painting the Dragon – Finally!”

  1. I love this dragon, and the color choice! Do keep us alerted to any color changes, as I love the idea of using paint samples, but also like knowing the additional info on them in the comments.

    Question: you do many larger sculptures, how do you deal with space issues? As in “where in my house can I fit this in” kind of issues? One of the things that’s kept from playing around with larger sculptures is that sort of space issue, and I’ve moved from a larger to smaller space recently so am trying to work on coming up with smaller things rather than larger. But it is terribly fun to make something big every so often. But I suppose the same question could be said for places/space to hang things on the wall – and I always seem to run into that, no matter where I live!

    • Space issues – yes, excellent question! I’m trying to figure out how to give my dragon away, since there’s no way it fits in my house. I guess we either have to start making things that can safely stay outside, or give things away, or sell them, or build smaller. I really am at a point where any new item I keep will have to replace one of the older ones that I still love, and I think that is slowing down the creative process. And I keep thinking I need to sell the three-bedroom house I bought last year (huge mistake!) and move into a smaller house again. Ideas, anyone?

  2. Jonni, and anyone interested in finishing a paper mache for outdoors.

    I’ve been doing a little research on varnishes applied to paper mache and left outdoors. The most interesting site was: http://www.papiermache.co.uk/articles/waterproofing-papier-mache/6/

    This woman did an experiment leaving paper mache objects out in the British weather for a year. It is long (6 pages), but I found it interesting. The link above takes you to the last page where she gives her results.

    Basically, anything water solvent did not hold up. The winner of her six projects (all created and painted the same way) was Yacht varnish, which lasted a year. At that point she took it in. The next best was exterior varnish (lasted 11 months). Gloss paint for outdoor, 9 months. Outdoor acrylic paint, 7 months. and the three water solvent paints (PVA, Paverpol) only lasted a short while.

    I keep returning to your video on finishing projects — making sure the project is DRY before putting a finish coating on it. She mentioned that the base of the sculptures was the first to go on all sculptures.

    Rust-Oleum NeverWet makes a two-can spray (expensive) that repels water really well. The problem with it is that is has a cloudy look. They are working on a transparent product.

    I am understanding better than this is tricky because of the WIND, rain, UVA light, etc. I’m hoping to find other stuff, but this is it so far. This lady took a scientific approach to her study.

    Thanks again for everything.

    • Thanks, Rex. A few years ago I read that article, and I tried the marine varnish on my tortoise. It held up well to rain as long as it was in the shade. Then I moved him into the sun, and the varnish crackled within a month. I was living in eastern Oregon at the time, in a mountain valley within a few miles from near-desert conditions, and the intensity of the sun may have caused the problem. I also didn’t think to check the label to see if my varnish had any kind of UV protection. I really admire the way that the author tested all those ideas, though – it greatly reduces the need to do the failed experiments over again. And I’m glad you mentioned that the Paverpol didn’t work – that’s one expensive test we don’t need to do over. 😉

  3. I agree, it would be great if you come up with a way to have the better feel in the hand, making it easier to work with, and have the weather proofing ability…you go girl, we are all excited to see what you come up with!!!

  4. I want one
    Jonni thought I’d mention…around Easter time I stopped at the grocery store here (Sacramento, California) it was a Raley’s. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the chain. Outside the store they have a garden supply set up. What caught by eye was a cement bunny planter, maybe a little over 12″. The bunny was an exact replica of your Ballerina Bunny. I mean EXACT. She was attached to the pot. I was going to check it out, find a name, but forgot when I left the store. There were quite a few. When I went back this month, of course they were gone….

    • Interesting – where did they put the planting pot? Below the bunny’s feet? If you ever see one again, I hope you’ll get a photo – I’d love to see it.

      • I regret I didn’t examine it closely. It was one of those kind of trips to the grocery store. Daughter dropped me off to snatch up items we needed for … something or other. Fast in and out. Anyway….
        The ballerina bunny was part of the side of the pot. Her heads and maybe shoulders extended higher than the rim. I mentioned it last night to my neighbor and he said he remembered seeing them too. Caught his attention. Really cute.
        Sorry, I don’t have one of the portable phones that snap pictures. Only use a land line.

        • Oh well – it was still nice to hear about it. I saw a wonderful concrete garden bench in a local farm supply store – it was a life-sized, hyper-realistic sow, with a flat spot on top for people to sit on. I wanted so bad to show it to my dad, who makes concrete benches. But of course when I went back to the store it was gone. Sigh…

          • I’ve seen many of the animal concrete benches at the flea market. Pricey but I’d love to have one. Must buy a truck first.
            Are you still planning to help your dad write that book on creating concrete head planters?

          • That is why I try to take my little Nikon that fits into my purse at all times. It is always a fact that when you see something that you like or are intrigued with, it will be gone when you come back. Sometimes opportunities come with the moment right now. Unfortunately, experience has taught me that.

  5. That is a fantastic dragon. I love the colors and the painting. There are many interesting things about your demonstration, not least among them that latex paint is acrylic. I love the dragon. (I like it so much that I wonder if I have to go back and change out the green glass in my dragon to red. Never considered that. I tried blue in the wings and didn’t like it.)

    It would be really neat to make stuff for outdoors. I know they test stuff, but I have no idea. If they can tell how long photo paper will hold up, they ought to be able to test other stuff. I’ll see if I can find anything. The wind is blowing crazy here today, so that is another consideration.

    Thanks so much, Jonni.

    (I’ve started a rhino. I’m not liking his shape at the moment, but we’ll see where it goes!)

    • Jim and Xan had some good input about the latex paint – maybe I’m not quite as sold on it any more. But boy, for big stuff, it sure does cut down on the costs.

      Have we seen your dragon? If so, forgive me for my forgetfulness – and feel free to show it to us again. 🙂

    • And I look forward to seeing your rhino – and if you do figure out how they test things and say how many years they last, I would love to hear about it. I thought maybe a chemistry teacher might know – but it’s probably a specialized field, involving all sorts of machinery and computers and whatever. (See – I really don’t know anything about the testing process.)

      • I may be pleading for help with the rhino. I don’t like his face! The body I hope I can deal with.

        I know with photographic paper they had all those light thingys that would gesstimate how long paper would retain an image, so hopefully they could tell that about sunlight and paints, coatings, etc.

  6. LOVE the dragon paint-job (and all!) It has the feel of fire, which is appropriate, of course.

    Another note on latex (house) paints. When I was a sign painter, I learned that even out-door house paints do not have the color permanence that you can choose with artist paints (by paying attention to the permanence ratings on the paints themselves). I have a lot of signs in a small town in coastal California that have aged well or not-so-much, and the ones that have lost the most are always the ones I used house-paints on. Besides, they have different handling qualities (more liquid, less opaque, less able to sustain detail). But, for a craft item that will stay indoors, out of sunlight, and if they do what you want them to do, what the heck, right? Whatever works! 🙂

    • Good to know, Xan. This is useful info, for sure. Now we have to weight the reduced price with the reduced permanence –

      Did you ever use a UV filtering varnish over your house-painted signs? Would that help make the colors last longer?

      • When I was sign-painting, I never heard about UV varnish. I wish I had! There were a couple signs I did early on with a lot of detail and shading, basically paintings, that didn’t fare too well because of my beginner’s ignorance.

    • So Xan what type of paint lasted the best on your signs. I was trying to find if you said what it was. I’m doing concrete yard art.

      • Hi Julie. The enamel sign paints by 1 Shot: http://www.1shot.com/home.html were the only reliable paints I used. The latex house paints all degraded over time and exposure (some got chalky, some faded, or both). But, the sign paints are expensive and toxic, so not really suitable for painting a whole large sculpture. Personally, I would just use whatever paint suits your budget, knowing that you’ll probably have to repaint it at intervals. Think of it as an opportunity to change it up. 🙂 Reds and yellows seem to be the most fugitive colors. Maybe a UV-blocking varnish would help, but I know nothing about that for outdoor use.

        • If you do decide to use 1 Shot paints, make sure you read their FAQ page, as I just did. Good info there I wish I’d known years ago! Still, even in my ignorant use of their products, the signs lasted longer than the businesses in many cases. 😉

    • So Xan what type of paint lasted the best on your signs? I was trying to find if you said what it was. I’m doing concrete yard art.

  7. Jonni love the dragon. You are such an inspiration! Thank you so much for sharing your talents. Have a wonderful day!

  8. Hi Jonni, I’ve posted my statue of my Labradoodle last time and since then I’m so hooked on paper mache clay that I’ve made 11 animals: giraffe, elephant, chimp. monkey, panda bear , dolphin, penguin, rabbits, turtle! I can’t stop. as soon as I can put up my pics, I’ll send them. Thanks so much for introducing me to this art. Sincerely, Dee

  9. remember, concrete gets stronger over several days if kept wet…kind of interesting, you want to use the least amount of water to mix it, but then keep it wet as long as possible…one study I read showed increased strength if kept wet for 6 months….but really about one week is good, 28 days is great!! just a bit of trivia to add to the brain….also, if you can find it, this product might be the perfect thing to cover the pieces in http://www.quikrete.com/productlines/QuickwallSurfaceBondingCement.asp
    it has concrete fibers. I have used it to cover large exercise balls to make the fun water features…it is what I am experimenting with to use to cover items..the fiber makes it very strong, and it is amazingly light…might be helpful…


    • Hi Deborah. I agree – that product is great. I made my lion head with it. And Julie used it for her mountain lion. But for some weird reason, I don’t like the way it feels when I’m working with it. I want it to feel like clay and, naturally, it doesn’t. A tactile thing, I guess.

  10. Jonni This looks amazing, I love your finished dragon! It’s gorgeous. I wish we were neighbors, you are such a blast. Can’t wait to follow along with the yard art.

  11. I love your dragon and the very dragon-y expression on her (or his) face. He (she?)) looks like a character from a book!

      • Maybe they aren’t either ‘he’ or ‘she’ — could explain why we just don’t see too many in the wild. LOL

  12. I can’t wait to hear about Garden safe work. I have so many Mermaid designs including a 7ft one that is in my home that I wish to transform to a mailbox holder.
    Please keep me posted as I have many ideas.

  13. The dragon is fabulous! I just love every creative step and thought you put into this piece. If dragons really existed, you nailed it!

  14. GREAT job.
    I am eager to follow how you adapt for outside, as that is a huge interest.
    I have been thinking I would use your recipe and then put the WalCrete concrete product on top..glad you are going to do the experimenting for me..I will look forward to your results…may thanks

    • Thanks. And about those experiments – I wonder how I’m going to do the testing to see how long or how well the new recipe holds up in the weather? I do think that whatever we use will need some sort of waterproofing product, too. If they seal concrete to protect it from the elements, I can’t see why we could get away with doing without some extra coat of protection.

      If anyone has any ideas about how we can speed up the testing process (instead of just leaving something outside for a few years and seeing what happens to it) please let me know. Your ideas are always appreciated!

      • Gerald’s Outdoor Mache Pulp
        6 cups flour
        1 cup liquid starch
        1 cup mineral oil
        1 cup white vinegar
        2 cups exterior wood glue
        2 cups exterior latex paint primer
        2 cups of drywall joint compound (ready mixed)

        Mix together thoroughly with a drill and heavy duty paint mixer.

        Start adding well drained pulped newspaper and mix everything until the mixture is firm and workable. If it is too dry, a little water can be added and if it’s too wet, additional flour can be added.

        This makes about four gallons of Mache Pulp, it lasts me about 5 days, then I am mixing more.

        Add to sculpture about a half inch thick with very rough texture let dry very well.
        Add second layer with rough texture and let dry very well.
        Add third layer and detail with desired texture.
        Prime with 2 coats high quality exterior latex primer.
        Detail paint with latex or acrylic paint.
        Seal with Marine Spar Varnish.

        I have several Halloween Pumpkins and a Gargoyle that have been on my porch for 2 months for the last 3 years the rain, snow and sunshine have had little effect on them. I have had one paper mache stone in my garden for 3 years now and still looks good, I do water it along with my flowers but it still does not grow.

        • Thanks, Gerald! Do you add any sort of waterproof coating to your outdoor sculptures, or have any problems with critters munching on them? And those thick layers – how long do they take to dry?

          • Right now with 65 to 79 degree temps with sun about a day and a half to dry. When the temp is above 90 in the summer I can put a layer on in the morning and again before going to bed. Inside in the winter with fans it can be several days.

            When doing spring cleaning in the flower garden I found that mice had made a nest inside my hollow paper mache stone, they didn’t eat it beyond a taste. I guess I’ll close the bottom before next winter.

            The Marine Spar Varnish is the only sealer that I am using. But I am always looking for better or less expensive.

            Last year I made a 14 foot tall Witch for Halloween she weighed about 250 pounds, much less than the 2800 pound 12 foot concrete statue placed in Kansas City by another artist.

            • Thanks Gerald. Last week I purchased the materials to make a modified “monster mud” concoction, (haven’t had a chance to do anything with them yet). I was thinking I’d use the latex paint and joint compound, plus paper, but no flour or cornstarch. It sounds like it might end up being very similar to your mixture – although I’m also going to drive down to the pottery store for some powdered clay, and use that to thicken the mix instead of the flour. Your mixture sounds really promising though, and you already know it works – would you be interested in writing up a guest post so more people see your recipe, and maybe some photos of the pieces you made with it, if you don’t mind sharing it with the world? Do you have a name for your recipe yet?

          • I have been down a long path to find ways to place Halloween and Christmas sculptures on the porch or in the yard for 2 months each year.

            I started with monster mud over strip paper mache with fair results. Got 2 years before they were to weak to use again.

            I have used powdered clay and for me it did not have enough benefit over flower to justify the added cost.

            I found your site here to be very helpful for doing detailed sculpts. I also found Stolloween’s site and found that we were on a very similar path. He has some wonderful videos that would be helpful for someone wanting to learn this method of Pulp Mache.

            I will work at getting progress photos and finished photos done. But now I must get back to work on the 100 + sculpts I have to have done by the end of July

          • I have 100 Grotesque Heads and matching hands to make for Halloween Haunted Houses. Also 30 sculpted face pumpkins. I am doing 14 life size and larger abstract body sculpts for a Gallery Show.

            The Gallery show sets up the end of July the rest I have until the end of August to get ready. I have 30 heads completed.

            • Wow – what a busy guy you are! Do you have a website or some other way that we can see your work?

        • Hi there, I just wanted to say that i love your work, your blog, your enthusiasm and your humor. I am a big fan and one day i may get around to trying your techniques. Thank you for all of the great videos and wonderful ideas. I love the dragon and could not believe how life like he is. You are such an inspiration and long may you continue to be.

  15. The dragon is fantastic! You always amaze me . . . when does the dragon book go to press? Can I sign up for your class?

    About paint samples. Forget if it was at Lowes. Sherwin-Williams or Ace Hardware, but I was told the those neat little pre-mixed sample color containers are merely intended for sample use. They have the same visual look as regular paint, yet the binder (base) is left out. Therefore they have no adhesion and should be considered as temporary.

    What are you going to make next?

    Finished my first wheeled clay figure. Note the wheels do not turn. It is/was not intended as a toy. It is a craft “sit-pretty.”

    • Jim, that is adorable. My sculpture has been going on for so long as I have concept problems. I know what I want but the process is bogging me down. It is to big for my skill level, but I am going to finish it. Even I would like to know when. This one is a great conversation piece.

    • Interesting – no wonder the samples are so cheap. And I’m glad that pooch gets to go for a ride in the car – great sculpture, Jim.

  16. Jonni I was really so excited to see your finished dragon. It is so big and what a wonderful look. Love the colors you chose. Now what are you going to do with him?
    I can hardly wait to see what you do with the outside garden paperclay. I will be looking for sure to see what you do with it. I would love to have some garden art too.
    Love watching you work.

  17. Jonni, that turned out beautifully. I never get tired of seeing the talent this site has engendered. I hope that dragon finds a good home either some where else or in your garden.

    • Thanks, Christine. Unfortunately, the dragon can’t go outside in the garden. I didn’t even bother trying to waterproof him, because the wind blows 30 to 50 mph on a regular basis, and with those unfurled wings he wouldn’t stand a chance. I guess that’s another thing I have to think about when I do make something for my garden art experiment. Note to self: Worry about wind – in addition to sun, rain, snow and the freeze-thaw cycle. And bird poop. And male dogs. (It’s so much easier hanging something on the wall!) 😉

  18. He is WONDERFUL ! I hope Jamjoker checks in to see it. Now, where will he go? Nice job on the whole project.

    • Fortunately, my “dragon collaborator” did watch the video out on YouTube. Now going by the name Quixotic Jam. Let’s just call her (him?) “Jam,” for short. I can’t get over how nice those colors worked, and I love the spots!

  19. He is amazing! The colours are perfect? I don’t think I am brave enough to attempt something that large. Thank you so much for sharing your talent and encouraging others to create in the wonderful art of paper mache.


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