Paper Mache Bunny – 3 Experiments in One

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This week I’ve been doing more experiments, while also playing around with modeling clay portraits. The portraits were just for me, because I’m trying to learn how to do it. You can see a few (and also see what our fellow sculptors have been up to this week) on our Daily Sculptors page.

All of my experiments have involved the same little bunny – the one shown here. I wanted to find out:

  1. If a foam shape can be used as a permanent armature for a paper mache sculpture, so that a design could be reproduced without starting from scratch, and
  2. If flexible foam can be used as a re-usable form for a paper mache mask, even if it has deep undercuts, and
  3. If a UV-absorbing varnish can effectively waterproof paper mache, without causing color changes, yellowing, cracking, or other problems over time.

We won’t know how well the varnish works until the bunny has been outside for a few months, but the foam portion of the experiment went well. Here’s what I did:

I made the little bunny with modeling clay, and then created the silicone mold and a plaster of Paris support mold, shown below. I had a piece of corrugated plastic left over from building my greenhouse window last year, so I used it for the base of the mold. I used hot glue to attach the base to the silicone mold, and then clamped them all together, just to make there was  a tight seal.

Silicone Bunny Mold
Silicone Bunny Mold

Two part flexible foam was mixed up and poured into the mold, and allowed to set. It was ready to come out of the mold in about 30 minutes.

Foam Bunny
Foam Bunny

For the bunny shown here, I covered the foam bunny with one layer of fast-setting paper mache paste and blue Scott shop towels. I did not use a release, so the paper mache stuck fast to the foam. The recipe and method of using the paste and shop towels are in the videos about how to make a Pantalone mask. It would have been better to add two layers of paper mache, but I only used one.

Foam Bunny Covered with Paper Mache
Foam Bunny Covered with Paper Mache

The bunny was painted when the paper mache was dry, and this morning I coated it with a solvent-based acrylic varnish with anti-UV properties. The varnish is supposed to be waterproof, and it’s intended for outside use. It’s made by Pebeo. I’m sure there are other UV-absorber varnishes out there that would also work.

Some people use spar varnish over the final layer of paint, but when I tried that the sun cracked the varnish and it all chipped off. Rich uses spar varnish under the paint, right on top of the paper mache. He then paints, and then uses deck sealer over the paint. (I hope he’ll correct me if I got this wrong.) He says he’s had really good luck with this system of waterproofing paper mache. But, just to be a contrarian, I wanted to see if this anti-UV varnish could be used effectively after the paper mache is painted, without any other form of protection. We shall see.

I’ll stick him out under the lilac bush when the varnish is dry. Wish him luck – he may need it. :)

Paper Mache Bunny
Paper Mache Bunny

I’m happy with the way the paper mache covered the foam. I didn’t actually design the original clay model with this in mind, so the details were not exaggerated the way they should have been if I were thinking ahead. (That’s why I only used one layer of paper mache.)

However, since the foam was flexible, it was possible to press the pasted shop towels deep into the lines around the eyes and toes, so he still looks very close to the original. I think it’s possible that I could have used the second layer of paper mache without losing all the detail.

I don’t think this system would be terribly useful for most people, but I think if someone sold paper mache items and had one particular design that needed to be made over and over again, having the foam core ready-made could be a real time-saver. But the piece would need to sell for a price that covered the extra expense of the silicone mold and the foam.

I can also see this being used to make just one copy of a modeling clay sculpture with paper mache, if the piece was “important” enough. The molds and foam are expensive, but not as expensive as bronze, by any means. (I may actually try that, if I ever make a figure sculpture worth saving for posterity.)

Now – for the final question: Can you use flexible foam for a re-usable mask form? To find out, I used a release on another foam bunny, and covered it with paper mache. When the paper mache was hard, I carefully pulled the foam out. It worked, even though there are deep undercuts around the ears and under the chin.

Inside of Paper Mache Bunny
Inside of Paper Mache Bunny

This is also something that wouldn’t be terribly useful for most artists. However, I can imagine a theater prop-maker needing masks for an entire Greek chorus, and needing all of them to be the same. Other mold methods would usually work just fine, but if there are deep undercuts and the mask-maker doesn’t want to use multi-part molds, this method would work rather well. Or if you need several elephants or masks with large antlers, you could combine both ideas – leave the foam inside the horns or trunk, while removing the foam from the face area.

I ended up with more bunnies than any one person needs, but I learned a few things and I had fun with it, even though I’m not quite sure how I’ll ever use what I learned. Someday, though, I’ll bet this will come in handy…

17 thoughts on “Paper Mache Bunny – 3 Experiments in One”

    • I think so, if you use the proper release. The foam is incredibly sticky, and will bond with almost anything if a release isn’t used. The people who sell you the foam will be able to tell you what kind of release to use. This YouTube channel has some really good videos showing how to cast foam.

  1. I just added a photo to the post, of the bunny sitting out in the garden surrounded by lamb’s ears. He looks nice out there – now I might have to make a faun to go with him. But I think I’ll wait to see how well he holds up.

  2. This was a pleasure to read through. A real thrill! Love it! :-)

    Why? Because I can get my sister in on this now. ***Paper Mache Animal Fever!***

    She has been doing rabbit rescue for a years now and this might be a perfect way to tempt her into crafting with me.

    We currently have 3 rescued bunnies( all different breeds) in a room we designated as * THE BUNNY ROOM*.

    Any of them would be great to choose as her model! If it comes out really nice, it would be great to auction off for the large( but innundated) rabbit rescue for our area.

    Isn’t it nice when art can be not just beautiful- but help others as well?

  3. Years ago, I worked for a company that made sand-cast aluminum and brass thingamabobs. Designing to ensure no undercuts at all was … very limiting! Could you really use a mold like this (the negative) for metals?

    • No, the foam would melt. However, I think they do have flexible mold materials, perhaps silicone, that will take fairly high temperatures. Or you could do it the old-fashioned way, and do lost wax.

      You have a very unusual resume, Xan. Comic book colorist, sand-casting factory, portrait artist…

      • Well of course it would. Duh. You mentioned using brass, but you must have another mold material in mind for that. I wonder if silicon would take that kind of heat? That would be something!
        I just spent some time trying to find any of my old designs online. There were several, to my surprise! Here’s one I’m not too embarrassed by, just for fun: http://www.gardentones.com/Flora-amp-Fauna-Solid-Brass-Chickadee-Knocker/p/10125
        Resume! Ha! You left out sign-painter, post-office worker, food-service, retail ….. The starving artist medley! ;)

        • Nice knocker. Now we know why your “bronze” dog came out so well. You had a bit of practice. So you weren’t making engine parts at that company, as I, for some reason, supposed. (My factory experience was making electrical harnesses for a boat-building factory, sticking keys on computer keyboards, and bagging up products for a bean soup company. Both the boat company and the keyboard company sent all the jobs to Mexico while I worked for them, but the soup company somehow avoided my jinx).

          The mention of bronze in the post was just to remind folks that foam and silicone are less expensive than foundry work, even though they’re much more expensive than paper mache materials. It’s all relative.

          How are the preparations for the dog rescue fundraiser coming along?

          • At least that “bronze dog” I didn’t have to worry about casting, or having the mold carvers wreck my carefully drawn designs. I happen to recall that your resume is much more varied than mine. You should put that in your “about me” section!

            The fundraiser is ready to rock and roll on Friday, April 20th, 9am Pacific time! For those of you just joining us, Jonni (and I, and 5 MORE artists) are auctioning our skills to make pet portraits for the winning bidders. Jonni is making one of her masks! That’s so cool! A portrait mask! What will you do if you get a pet fish to portrait-ize, Jonni?? (Here’s more detail, for those who might be interested: http://borntorun-gsr.blogspot.com/p/news.html Anyone can bid and win!)

            Hijack over. ;)

            • I think a goldfish would be much easier to do than a greyhound. Those long noses are really intimidating to me. I know farm dogs and bull dogs, but the sighthounds are a whole ‘nother thing. I think this is going to be a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to see how it all turns out. I hope your group makes a ton of money – it’s such a worthy cause.

              I’ve had rabbits on the brain lately. I wonder if our Humane Society has any? One can never have too many critters, right?

            • Nah! The long noses make them easy to exaggerate or caricature. Just let the schnozzleness expand! ;)

              We saw some bunnies on our walk yesterday that surprised us. They looked like escaped (or dumped?) domestic rabbits, very pretty, white and spots. I can’t imagine they’d survive the predators here being so flashy! I wish them luck, there in the berry brambles.

            • Bunnies are smarter than people think. Maybe not smart enough to elude a greyhound, but they might do surprisingly well. Isn’t there an island close to you where someone let a few giant rabbits loose, and now the place is wall-to-wall bunnies? Near Anacortes, I think.

            • Well, there is Australia! I don’t know about the island out here. Hadn’t heard about that. I do know there is a small residential community “next door” with what appear to be domestic rabbits living free. We like to walk the dogs up there, and see them going about their business from time to time.

  4. Fascinating!!! Thanks for sharing this technique.
    My Glossy Ibis is nearly finished. I will post a photo soon.
    I started a drawing class 2 weeks ago. I am learning that I don’t know a thing about drawing but can actually use the pencils and tools to draw something recognizable. We have not progressed beyond circular objects!!!


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