Paper Mache Angler Fish – Wilburine

We have a guest post today from Rich Helms, who shows us how he made Wilburine. I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it. Be sure to read all the way to the bottom of the post, and then visit his blog for more details.

Thank you, Rich, for sharing this with us!

©2016 Rich Helms

Wilburine is a teenage girl angler fish. The dominant features are the mouth, teeth and braces. While researching angler fish gills, I made a surprising discovery. The ferocious version of angler fish is female. The male is 1/10th the size and latches on to the female to become a parasite. So, Wilbur became Wilburine.

1. Tail-Covered
1. Tail-Covered

Wilburine started as a classic paper mache balloon using brown kraft paper towels and a white resin glue mixture.

Get a fast start on your next paper mache project or hand-made gift with Jonni’s easy downloadable patterns for masks, animal sculptures and faux trophy mounts. The patterns help you create a beautiful work of art, even if you’ve never sculpted anything before.

Inside the Mouth

For the mouth interior, I used a piece of a little girl’s tube top glued to the inside lip, a cardboard tongue covered in a sock, and a mixture of acrylic paint and chopped egg-carton pulp. The cloth was then soaked with a glue/water mixture before painting with a thinned acrylic paint.

2. All-lower-teeth-glued-in-place
2. All-lower-teeth-glued-in-place

Making the Teeth

For teeth, I thought about using Fimo. Fimo is a name for a brand of polymer clay made by the German company Staedtler. My concern was they were too thick for my fish. I had a thought – why not bend water soaked coffee stirs and cut them into teeth?

3. Gluing-on-lower-braces
3. Gluing-on-lower-braces

Adding Braces

Once the lower teeth were glued on, I started posting pictures of the progress on Facebook. The fish gained a name, Wilbur, and people commented. A friend said he needed braces for his teeth. As the back story on Wilbur grew, I decided he did need braces, not to make his teeth straighter, but more crooked. After all, he is supposed to be a ferocious fish. I looked up braces and figured I would get some silver cube-shaped beads, wire and glue them on.

4. Building-Eyelids
4. Building-Eyelids

Building the Eyes

I did not want the eyes to look cute. I like the conflict in the look of a ferocious fish with braces. Eyes are very important, as they are often the first focus of attention on a face.

5. Smooth-head-top
5. Smooth-head-top

The ridge above the eye gave me an interesting idea. The separation between the fish head and the body is the hard bony flap that covers and protects the gills. In my Mahi Mahi paper mache fish, it is just a ridge that I painted. Using the shoe laces, I thought why not build a proper ridge that would represent the operculum?

6. Fin
6. Fin


I tried making fins several times. I ended up devising a way to make them off of the body and then attach them. This made it easier to try shapes and looks without having to remove them.

7. Wilburine Finished
7. Wilburine Finished

Angler fish colour is not visually very exciting so the paint job is basic. I used naples yellow for the base with touches of yellow and red oxide.

Details on Wilburine’s construction can be found on my blog.

Rich Helms

8 thoughts on “Paper Mache Angler Fish – Wilburine”

  1. Rich, this is fantastic! Can you give us the recipe you used for your paper mache? It turned out so nice and thin. You mentioned a white resin glue mixture, but can you give some more details?

  2. Hi Jonni,

    I’m a big fan of your site, which is very informative! I’m getting married at the end of June, and had an idea for a large paper mache structure that I would use in our Photo Booth. It’s a tribute to one of my favorite paintings by Rene Magritte (photo below) and it’d be a five or six-foot tall flower! I plan on using a study frame and attaching paper mache petals to it, but making the petals pretty shallow and faking depth when I paint by using a darker red in the shadowy sections. I’m wondering if you have any hints on what might make a good structure to form petals out of? I think I could use chicken wire, especially for the petals on the ground, but otherwise it might be too heavy. Is there a light material to paper mache on that could be bent or formed to hold the curved shape of a petal, or at lease the petal’s edge? Also, and I totally insane to think this could be done?

    Thanks for any help you can offer, and thanks for your wonderful site!


    • Hi Alexandra. No, you’re not insane, and it can be done. I would create forms for the petals, and remove the dried paper mache from the forms when they’re dry. That way, you don’t have the problem of the weight. You can make a form with chicken wire covered with masking tape, or crumpled aluminum foil held together with masking tape, or crumpled paper, (with masking tape…) or found objects. If you use brown paper, like Rich did when he made Wilburine, you won’t need very many layers of paper.

      If you feel the edges would need to be reinforced, you can use aluminum wire, which is easy to bend.

      Good luck with it. I would love to see how it turns out.

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