Awesome Chimera Made with Paper Mache

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Paper mache chimera tutorial

This amazing paper mache Chimera sculpture was created by Cindy Williams. You may already know her from her awesome dragon post and her lifelike paper mache octopus. If you love to sculpt, you won’t want to miss a word of this tutorial!

© 2019 Cindy Williams

How I Made the Three-Headed Chimera with Paper Mache

Here’s the story of the paper mâchĂ© chimera.  It began many years ago, and for the life of me I can no longer remember why I chose a chimera.  Perhaps for a challenge?  Well, I got it! 

This sculpture took me 4 years to complete and I definitely remember not knowing how I was going to do all of it when I started – especially the lion’s mane.  So, here’s some highlights and tips that I figured out and used along the way. 

Getting started on the Chimera sculpture …

It started out simply enough with paper heads – one each for the lion, snake, and goat. 

Using photos of the respective animals that I found online, I started taping newspaper (lots and lots of it) together with masking tape. 

A tip on tape: I have used just about every kind of masking tape invented and hands down I prefer Scotch 3M masking tape, which you can find in several sizes at Home Depot. 

As you can see, it started out really, really rough.  Just tape and newspaper, not many details, just getting the basic look and dimensions. 

Starting the armature for the chimera, by making the lion's head.

Starting on the body …

Next, I started building the body.  The plan was to have the goat coming out of the shoulders of the lion and the snake coming out of the wall separately.  Again, the only technique here is masking tape, newspaper, and time. 

At this point, the goat and lion are attached – that would later change. 

Chimera armature, Lion and Goat.

Creating wire supports …

A note on the lion’s and goat’s ears and tongues: to make these, I bent wire into the outer shape of the ear/tongue and simply wrapped masking tape around the wire until I got the rough shape, then pad as desired with bits of newspaper and more tape. 

The whole thing is mounted to the wall with a very strong bike hook that I found on Amazon.

Wire bent to support the goat and lion tongues on the chimera sculpture.

Now, off with the heads! 

Once I had the rough look of the lion and goat together, I decided to cut off the heads to work on them separately.  It was just easier than trying to work with them attached to a great big body.  This theme of “make it up as you go along” and “it’s just paper!” would continue throughout the entire project. 

Adding detail with paper mache and Super Sculpey …

I worked a bit more on the dimensions and look of the heads and then it was time to start adding detail.  For this part, I abandoned the newspaper and tape and moved onto materials that would yield better details.  The lion’s nose and teeth (and later on, claws) are made from Super Sculpey clay.

Lion head armature closeup, with Super Sculpey teeth and nose.

Sculpting the lion’s teeth …

I looked at pictures of teeth online and then spent several hours carefully replicating them. 

One of the most common questions people ask is, where did you get the lion teeth?!  I reply, the lion tooth store, of course.   

Next, it was time to start the paper mâchĂ© process. 

I used blue shop towels as the “paper” and just a regular, unmeasured paste mixture of Elmer’s white glue, flour, and water. 

A note on the shop towel: you can find them in any auto parts store and be sure to rip the straight edges off before using to create seamless paper mâchĂ©. 

Here’s a picture of the lion head freshly paper mached and waiting to dry.  I covered the teeth and nose to keep them clean in the process.  And the paint brushes are marking where the ears go.

Adding paper mache to the lion's head.

Once the heads were dry, it was time to add more detail. 

I ordered the eyes online from a taxidermy store.  The lion eyes are actual taxidermy lion eyes, the goat eyes are albino deer eyes, and the snake eyes came from an artist on Etsy. 

Setting the eyes was tedious and time consuming BUT it had to have the right look. 

Once the lion eyes were set, I used Super Sculpey (pinkish color) for the upper part of the brow and used Magic Sculpt two-part resin clay for the eyelids (grayish color).  The Super Sculpey needs to be removed and cooked, but the Magic Sculpt hardens in place in about 45 minutes. 

Adding the eye to the Chimera's Lion head.
Magic-Sculpt epoxy clay, for details on the chimera sculpture.

I wanted some serious snarl wrinkles on the lion’s muzzle. 

To do this I found a recipe online for paper mâchĂ© clay.  Basically, the recipe can be summarized as follows:

Mix 6 parts flour, 1 part white glue with 1 part liquid starch and mix it up with some water until it feels like regular paper mache paste.  Then add 1 part joint compound and mix that in. 

Then comes the interesting part.  Get an electric mixer (I recommend having a dedicated art mixer, don’t use the one you make cookies with!) and mix in bits of cellulose insulation until you can make a ball that when squeezed, doesn’t ooze, isn’t too sticky, but doesn’t crack apart. 

You can find cellulose insulation at a hardware store, and it looks like shredded newspaper.  Watch the video and experiment, or simply use one of Jonni’s paper mâchĂ© clay recipes instead! 

Another tip – when working with this particular clay, it will stick to your fingers, so dip them in a separately made, regular paper mâchĂ© glue/water/flour mixture as you go. 

Because the clay was somewhat sticky, and somewhat fragile before it dries, I did the wrinkles one at a time, allowing each to dry before adding the next. 

The clay will keep in the fridge covered for a few days, so you don’t have to constantly make up more. 

So, that’s how I did the snarl wrinkles on the lion as well as the bumps on the goat horns and some wrinkles around the eyes and muzzle (the goat nose is Magic Sculpt and the teeth are Super Sculpey). 

A note for the future – this paper mâché clay recipe is good, but a bit on the heavy side, perhaps something else would have worked better.

Wrinkles and muzzle detail on the paper mache lion head.
The ridges on the goat's horns, and sketches on the paper mache for future wrinkles to make him look angry.

I then taped the heads back on the body and began to paper mâchĂ© the whole thing with shop towel. 

The goat and lion armatures attached together for the Chimera sculpture, and the lion claws added.

Getting out the saw …

Somewhere just before this step I had decided the lion’s front arms and neck were too short, so I literally lopped those off and extended them.  Make it up as you go along, and it’s only paper!

Time to answer the age-old question of how do you make hair with paper mâchĂ©?  I had no idea how I was going to do this, then one day my sister sent me a link to a video.  You can (and should) watch too. This Japanese artist uses tightly rolled strands of newspaper to create her art.  Watch the video and try it out! 

Tips for making the “fur” for the paper mache lion and goat manes:

  • One, it is not as easy as she makes it look, but don’t worry, after several hundred strands you will be a pro too. 
  • Two, try smaller lengths of newspaper at the start, they are easier than long lengths. 
  • Three, there are different kinds of newspaper, some roll better than others. 
  • Four, you need to roll the wet newspaper on a piece of wood – seriously, it makes a difference.  A nice rough plank of wood works great. 
  • Five, I am not sure if she just used straight water, but I moistened my newspaper with an unmeasured mixture of water and white glue – just enough glue to make the water cloudy. 

Make a pile of strands until you can’t stand it anymore, then let them dry.  Once dry, bend and cut the strands to your desired length and use wood glue to fasten them onto the sculpture. 

Attaching the mane to the goat …

For the goat mane, I poked little holes in neck with a drill and glued the strands into the holes one at a time.

Adding a paper mache mane to the Chimera's goat head.
Showing the curve of the neck on the goat's head.

And now the coolest thing (I think) about this sculpture – the lion’s mane. 

Even though I had already made the goat’s mane, the lion’s mane was definitely more complicated and 3D. 

I fumbled around for a while, then decided to create some underlying hair shapes that I could glue strands to.  In other words, I didn’t want to make the mane out of 100% strands, it would take way too many of them. 

So, it was back to newspaper and tape to make the hair shapes, then I would paper mâchĂ© the shapes with shop towel, let dry, and then glue them onto the lion’s neck with a hot glue gun. 

This process went on and on, and making the hair shapes became something like a 3D puzzle. 

Creating the lion's mane with paper mache quills.
Continuing to fill out the details on the Chimera's lion.

Once the hair pieces were all in place, it was strand time. 

I can’t even begin to tell you how long this took.  Let’s put it this way – about a third of the way through the mane I wished I hadn’t started down this path. 

Once dried, the strands have their own shape and don’t necessarily want to stay put.  To keep them in place, I would glue several on and tape them down.  I would move onto another part of the mane until the first area dried, then I would come back to that area and glue some more strands.  

For each strand you have to get the right length, perhaps bend it a little, apply glue, place on mane, and tape it down if needed.  Repeat times a hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand?!  Anyways, as the process went on, the effect was definitely worth it in the end.

Detail of the paper quills used for the paper mache lion's mane.
All hte quills set into the paper mache lion, to create an awesome mane.

Once the mane was on, the sculpture was quite heavy, nearly 50 lbs. 

It became difficult for me to lift it on and off the wall, so it was time to do some more chopping! 

I cut the goat off the lion, hollowed it out as much as I could, then went to work making it fit as a separate piece using some PVC pipe.  Next, the lion’s arms got chopped off (again) and I hollowed out the body and arms. 

A look at the make-shift studio where Cindy created her paper mache Chimera.
Making changes to the paper mache sculpture.

A tip:

In hindsight, instead of using so much paper in the center of the sculpture, why not throw something like empty plastic bottles (or other lightweight material) in there to save on paper and help hollow it out later?  Live and learn, I guess. 

Starting on the snake ..

At this point I made the snake body out of tape and newspaper, and once the paper mâchĂ© had dried, I hollowed out the center by cutting it into sections and then taped/mached the hollowed-out snake back together again. 

For the first time, I had all three animals on the wall and looking at it, the bend of the goat’s neck was blocking the view of the face.  So, you guessed it, off with the head! 

I adjusted the position, then taped and re-mached it back into place.  Hey, make it up as you go and it’s only paper!

The neck of the snake is attached to the Chimera's lion and goat head armatures.

Snake scales …

During the time I was finishing the lion’s mane I also began to make the snake scales for the body. 

To do this I folded up a square of shop towel up several times until I made a series of smaller folded squares.

Then I would free hand cut out the scale shapes so that each scale could also be folded (double thickness creates better scales).  

Just as the lion’s mane was one strand at a time, I would paper mâchĂ© each scale one at a time.  Tedious, yes, but very satisfying over time. 

For the snake head I roughed out the scales on a piece of shop towel, then used rubber cement to glue another sheet of shop towel under the one with scales drawn on it.  Once dry, cut out the scales, which now have double thickness, and paper mâchĂ© to the snake’s head.

Snake scales made with paper mache.
Snake head with scales made with paper mache.

At long last, it was time to prime and paint.  

I used gesso to prime the entire thing then it was onto Golden Acrylic paint, my favorite acrylic brand. 

All three heads of the chimera sculpture finally together iin the armature, goat, snake and lion.

Painting the Chimera …

Golden paints are expensive, but trust me, you get what you pay for! 

I don’t have a lot of painting in progress pictures, but the basic strategy is this – start out with the lightest color, then add the next darkest, then the next darkest, and so on. 

As you add darker colors, you can wipe away areas that you want to remain lighter, and over time and layers of paint, you get an awesome shaded/stained effect.  Perhaps this effect is best illustrated with the snake.

The paper mache snake head, starting to paint.
Details of the paper mache snake head.

A tip on painting:

The lion’s mane continued to pose a challenge, and I quickly discovered that getting paint between the strands and into all the nooks and crannies of the mane was very, very hard. 

In fact, I used brown spray paint to get into the most remote nooks!  In hindsight, I should have painted the hair shapes first, THEN glued the strands on. 

the lion’s mane continued to pose a challenge, and I quickly discovered that getting paint between the strands and into all the nooks and crannies of the mane was very, very hard.  In fact, I used brown spray paint to get into the most remote nooks!  In hindsight, I should have painted the hair shapes first, THEN glued the strands on. 

Finally, after 4 long years, it was done. 

Paper mache chimera sculpture.
Side view of the paper mache chimera, with a closeup of the lion's head and mane.
Snarling lion's head on the paper mache Chimera.
Angry goat head on the paper mache Chimera sculpture.
Paper mache snake head on the Cindy William's Chimera sculpture.

All three animals can be separated, which is super useful when you need to move it. 

The lion hangs on the wall via the bike hook I showed earlier.  The goat has a PVC pipe that slides into another pipe which sits inside the lion’s body.  And the snake is attached with super strong magnets to a board on the wall, which is shaped to fit inside the base of the snake. 

I hope you found this helpful!  Remember, make it up as you go and it’s just paper! Don’t be afraid to chop, alter, hollow out, scrap, and change as you go along.   

37 thoughts on “Awesome Chimera Made with Paper Mache”

  1. I think I will try using watered down white glue instead of flour as I don’t want it to attract critters, although I think I will be adding either das or apoxie clay to my top layer. These look amazing. I’m trying to decide on a method for the eyes on my unicorn and creatures I’ll be making. Buy or make with resin. Still thinking.

  2. truly incredible, thanks for sharing your work, for showing such a fantastic mystical chimera !!!

    P.D. I hope you understand, it’s translated into Google.

  3. This looks absolutely incredible, my favourite details are the scales on the snake and the eyes on all three head. Brilliant work that is truly inspiring! It may even push me to try something like this myself. Thank you.

  4. Cindy, truly a remarkable work. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I’m definitely coming back and dissect your piece. This is a gem of a work. Great.

    (And I appreciate your use of a saw!) Thanks so much.

  5. Cindy, Wow! I learned so much from this post! Your dedication and technique are impressive and admirable. Thank you so much for this- your inspiring chimera is amazing!

  6. Outstanding! Such great work…better be after a gazillion hours! Wow.

    The saw part, love it. I’ve done my share of beheadings. It’s just paper!

    For fur, I went with faux fur and geez Louise, a couple hundred hours later I learned the value of a good respirator. Sure it’s “no-kill taxidermy” but a lot of dinosaurs died to make her shiny coat.

    I’m doing a winged serpent next, thanks for sharing your scales technique!

    • Wow, Jonas. What museum is that going to? I kept making exclamatory comments until my dog looked at me like I was crazy. That is one of the best things I have ever seen in the world. Thank you for sharing it.

      Is it permissible to threaten your life if you don’t show us your winged serpent? Send the boogeyman after you? Something. Can’t you put this on the Daily Sculptor page?

  7. Fantastic art work. Many thanks for providing those pictures and the way you manufactured Chimera. Best wishes.

  8. Amazing work, amazing painting, amazing imagination, talent, and of course, patience. Thank you so much for sharing your process. I always feel bad that it takes me so long to do even a simple sculpture. Thank you so much for giving me a better perspective!


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