Paper Mache Bluebirds – A 7-Hour Gift Project

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.

This has always been one of the most popular posts on this site. The project is easy, and the results are lovely. These birds have been used as gifts, tree ornaments, and even wedding favors! If you prefer to use the paper mache clay instead of paper strips and paste, you can see a newer version of this post here. These birds could also be made with the brand new air dry clay recipe, if you’d like to add more detail or have a smoother finish.

Project Difficulty Level: Fairly Easy (and fast!).

Today’s paper mache project, these two little bluebirds, started out as a challenge to myself. I wanted to find out if it was possible to create a paper mache gift in just one day. I managed it in seven hours, with plenty of time while the birds were drying to eat lunch, work on a video for this site (coming soon…) and throw a ball for my dog.

My inspiration for these two little figurines were a pair of doves I gave to my mother when I was a child, (about 50 years ago), and a tiny soapstone quail my daughter gave me when she was in grade school. Since both of these gifts have stayed around all these years, I decided that a pair of birds (if they turned out nice) could be a perfect gift for someone who appreciates hand-crafted art.

To challenge myself and to make this project more fun, I pretended that the gift needed to be wrapped and presented tomorrow. I started at 10 am and took the final photo, shown above, at 5:15 pm. And I think they’re adorable.

[Note (added 5/28/09): This project works for other kinds of birds, too, so pick the colors of your own favorite backyard friends. See a paper mache junco (a type of sparrow) here.]

Step One:

The first thing I needed to do was choose a species of bird. I chose the Colorado bluebird because they have a simple shape and just two colors (plus the black for the beak and eyes, of course). If the shape was simplified considerably they would still be recognized as bluebirds. I did an image search on Google to find examples to use as models for my project.

I didn’t want to be drawn into putting too much detail on the birds – I wanted them to be as simple as possible. To keep from being sidetracked by too much detail I made two very simple sketches to work from, and didn’t look at the photos again until it came time to choose a color for the birds.

Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 1
Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 1 & 2

Step 2:

The next step was to make two bodies of newsprint. I used one page of a tabloid-sized newspaper for each ball and taped them tightly with masking tape. The two balls are the size and shape of a small chicken egg.

Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 2
Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 3

Step 3:

Now I needed some heads. I first cut out two beak shapes from cardboard, and then used 1/4 sheet of tabloid-sized newsprint for each head.

Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 4
Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 4

Step 4:

I taped the head balles tightly with masking tape, and included a beak in each one. Then the heads were flattened slightly (so their shape from the side is an oval), and taped them to the birds. One bird’s head is in an upright position, as shown above, and one bird’s head was attached so that it appears to be looking at the ground. Take a look at the large photo at the top of this post to see what I mean.

Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 5
Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 5

Step 5:

Now the birds need a flat bottom so they’ll sit nicely on a shelf. I cut two small ovals from heavy cardboard and taped one to the bottom of each bird.

Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 6
Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 6

Step 6:

Now we need some bluebird tails. Colorado bluebirds do have fairly short tails, according to the photos I found, but I made my tails even shorter. This helps to simplify the shape. I cut two tails from cardboard. They are sort of “W” shaped, with a crescent shape cut out at the top to help them fit next to the bird’s rear-end. The tails were taped securely to each bird.

Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 7
Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 7

Step 7:

Now I wanted wing tips, which will cross slightly over the tail. I cut out the wing tips and taped them to the birds.

Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 8
Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 8

Step 8:

The wing tips have now been taped on, just above the tail. The very ends of the wings cross each other. Once the paper mache has been added, the edges will be much smoother.

Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 8
Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 9

Step 9:

I now add two layers of newsprint and paper mache paste, made from flour and water. Each layer needs to be done in two steps – first, do one side, then the other, so you always have a dry side to rest the bird on. To speed up the drying, I put the birds on a cookie sheet in my oven, set to 225 F. Each layer takes at least 30 minutes to dry.

The difficult parts are around the tail, where I used one of my Loew Cornell Clay Tools to push the wet paper down between the wings and tail (a toothpick or small knife would probably work as well); and getting the paper strips to lie flat against the curve at the top of the heads. I used very thin strips in these areas, and smoothed down each piece of paper as much as possible before putting them aside to dry.

In the photo above, you can see the birds with both coats of paper mache applied and dry. The birds are lightly sanded to get rid of any high spots and they’re now ready for a “skin coat.”

Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 9
Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 9

Step 9:

The skin coat is used to smooth the sculptures and to add color. The first two or three layers are made from the flour and water paste that is left over from the paper layers, with a bit of carpenter’s glue and a small amount of white paint added. Regular Elmer’s glue would probably work, too. The glue’s purpose is to prevent the layer of paste from cracking when it dries on the outside of the figurines. I didn’t measure anything, but I started out with about 1/4 cup of regular paste and added about a tablespoon of glue.

The white paint helps the paste to be more opaque. I put on two layers of white paste.

Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 10
Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 10

Step 10:

Use a broad brush to add the skin coat in thin layers to each bird. The birds are too difficult to handle if you put the paste on the entire bird at one time, so I had to do one side first, then put the bird back in the oven at 225 F to dry. While the first bird dried I put the skin coat on half of the second bird. The birds dried in about 20 minutes each time.

I then sanded the birds again, to make them as smooth as possible before adding the blue paste.

Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 11
Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 11

Step 11:

Now we’re ready to add the color. The birds could simply be painted, but I decided to use another layer of skin coat for the color. I used the paste left over from the last step, which has some white in it already, and added a touch of phthalocyanine blue acrylic paint. (I set aside just a bit of white paste for the bird’s “bloomers.”)

Two layers of this blue paste was added to the birds, leaving a patch white below their tails.

Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 12
Paper Mache Bluebirds, Step 12

When the blue paste was dry the birds were very lightly sanded one last time, and I then turned them upside down and put one last coat of white paste to the area under the tail and to the bottom of the figurines. Then I used a wet finger to blend the white paint into the blue so there isn’t a stark line dividing the colors.

I used black acrylic craft paint for the beaks. I don’t have a brush small enough for the tiny black eyes, so I made a “brush” from a match – the kind you get in restaurants. I used just a corner of the torn end of the match dipped in black paint for each eye. When the black was dry I found a needle in my junk drawer and dipped it in white paint. I touched this tiny amount of white paint to each eye for a reflection – the eyes won’t look “alive” without this.

When all the color was dry I added a coat of water-based verathane. And the result:

Completed Paper Mache Bluebirds
Completed Paper Mache Bluebirds

Finished Paper Mache Bluebirds:

Done, even with all that drying time, in seven hours. You can see from the photo that I sanded one of the birds just a touch too much, and the white shows through the blue on it’s side. If I hadn’t been in such a hurry (just to see if it could be done…) I would have repaired it with more blue paste. Since I was in a hurry, I’m going to pretend I did it on purpose.

If I needed more presents, (and if I had nothing else to do), I could have made several more pairs of bluebirds in the same amount of time – using the downtime while the layers of paste dried in the oven. In fact, with just 14 more days ’till Christmas, I might make a few more of these little gems for the people on my list who appreciate hand-crafted gifts.

103 thoughts on “Paper Mache Bluebirds – A 7-Hour Gift Project”

  1. Thank you so much for all of your inspiring blogs.

    I am especially interested in making figures to go outside in my garden area. Are sculptures made by your method water, or should I say, weather proof?

    If not, can you suggest a recipe that is? As my first project, I’d like to make the little blue birds, as a gift to my best friend for her to put into her garden.

    I usually work in miniature but your tutorials have inspired me to attempt some life size animals. Again, thanks and please don’t stop publishing!

    Dona

    Reply
    • Hi Dona. I haven’t found any way to waterproof paper mache, and every time I try it, I lose my sculpture to the weather. However, I have made a few waterproof sculptures out of cement, and I hope to be doing more this summer. The best recipes I’ve found are by Andrew Goss, and they seem to be just as easy to work with as the paper mache clay recipe on this site. You can find a link to Andrew’s recipes and a video showing one of my first attempts at outdoor sculpture here.

      I think little cement bluebirds would be really fun out in the yard. They could be cast in molds, since they’re so small, and then painted. Or each one could be made by hand, which would make them even more special. For something that small, you could make the armature with aluminum foil and just add a layer of the cement mixture over it. There’s a company in New Zealand that has some great videos on how to use the foil armatures with fiber-reinforced cement, here.

      Reply
      • Thanks for such a speedy response. I’ll check out the cement possibility. I currently make stained glass garden stones using Quikrete vinyl cement patcher. That’s pretty fine to work with and sets up quickly.
        I totally love all your projects.

        Reply
  2. Hola Jonni, Nunca había hecho ninguna escultura,gracias a tu página y al turorial, hice estos pajaritos, el jilguero de 7 colores fué el primero, luego por segunda vez hice un cardenal, por eso me salió mas prolijo.Saludos desde Argentina!!!

    Reply
  3. abito in italia , a roma . Ho trovato questo progetto veramente delizioso. L’ho realizzato con mia grande sorpresa sono venuti benissimo. Grazie infinite per questo vostro regalo. un saluto a jonni che mi ha fatto scoprire un mondo meravigliso.

    Reply
  4. Thank you for sharing your stunning ideas.

    We are from South Africa. My best friend & I have a Womans Ministry where we use creativity as a outlet and to help the ladies focus on their ability to create and consentrate on how special the have been created. In conjuction we also minister to them (once a month- where we create) and the same group of ladies go to local orphanages to bring gifts to children (also once a month where we share with the kids). I am looking for easy – short time projects to share with them and take home. These are NOT art classes but are merely used as insperational outlets for our members. I aim at using easy to find, afordable resources as we are not doing this at a profit. Many thanks again.

    Reply
  5. Thank you a lot for sharing. Your birds are so lovely. I’m going to give it a try and make a few for my classroom next week…

    Reply
  6. Hi I was looking for a basic project of bird to start with for Eastern deco as a first attempt to papier mache. Thank you very much for sharing your “how to” It will give me confidence to start

    Reply
  7. ~ I happened upon you by searching paper mache’. Your little bluebirds are adorable. I have never done paper mache’ and am wanted to learn. Your instructions are incredible, thank you so much for sharing all your techniques! ?

    Reply
      • Yes, lots of people put paper mache over chicken wire. You’ll need to use pieces of paper that are large enough to cover enough area so they don’t fall through the holes. And you’ll probably need to cover the area on top and allow it to dry, and then turn the piece so the next area can be covered without the wet paper (it’s heavy) won’t fall off.

        Reply
  8. I love the inspiration for your project. I am going to try making these for my sons baptism and use them as decor. If they turn out nice I will try to upload pictures. Thank you soo much for all your tutorials.
    ps. I am also in the process of gathering materials to make a large egg to use it as a prop for my sons photo shoot 🙂
    [img]http://ultimatepapermache.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/egg.jpg[/img]

    Reply
  9. The birds are wonderful! Any chance I could use a small image in a lesson for local teachers with credit to you, of course, and your website URL? I work part-time for a small non-profit art museum in Springville, Utah.

    Reply
  10. Jonni, I really loved those little birds, they are so cute, have to try!! Thank you so much for been so generous sharing with us all those tutorials 🙂 Congrats for your book! BTW, I will try your paper mache clay recipe and show what I will make. Warm hugs from Brazil, Chris

    Reply
  11. hi..jonni…………..i am Tarveen from India………these blue birds are very beautiful..and intersting too…….i was looking for a good design for my paper mache competetion……and i think this is the best one represent……thanx…..again jonni….

    Reply
  12. I’m looking to make a fake fireplace in one of our Sunday School rooms. I thought I would just make ramdon “rocks” out of paper mache but I don’t know what to use for a form. The “stones” would just be 1/2 of a “stone” as it would be glued flat to the wall. Any ideas of what to use? I’ve never done any of this before but I have a creative bend so I think if I could get a good starting form, I’d be on my way. Pat

    Reply
    • Hi Pat. You might want to try using the sheets of foam that are sold at the hardware store for insulation. If the stones were cut out of the foam and the faces slightly distressed to make them rock-like, they could then be covered with paper mache paper and paste. An alternate idea would be to cover the foam with a thin layer of the paper mache clay, and then use a real rock as a stamp to give the surface a very realistic surface. I haven’t tried it myself, but it sounds like it would work. You would probably need to check the fire rating on the foam if it’s going to be placed in a public area with kids, but that’s way beyond my expertise.

      Reply
  13. Hi Jonni,
    I recently discovered and fell in love with your blog 🙂 I am making these bluebirds and am about to paint them! However, I couldn’t find verathane at Michael’s so I got Mod Podge Matte. Do you think it is an appropriate substitute? I’ve included some links below

    http://www.michaels.com/Mod-Podge%C2%AE-Matte/cp0371,default,pd.html?start=13&cgid=products-craftpainting-mediumsandvarnishes

    http://www.modpodgerocksblog.com/2009/07/mod-podge-formula-guide-youve-been.html

    Reply
    • Yes, the Mod Podge will work. I think it goes on thicker than acrylic varnish or verathane, but that might actually make the birds seem more luminous.

      Enjoy!

      Reply
  14. what do you mean by sand? i want to try this because the birds look awesome… Immediate response will be very much appreciated.. Thank You.

    Reply

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