This amazing paper mache Chimera sculpture was created by Cindy Williams. You may already know her from her awesome dragon guest 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 mâché 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 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.
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.
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.
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 mâché 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 mâché.
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.
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.
I wanted some serious snarl wrinkles on the lion’s muzzle.
To do this I found a recipe online for paper mâché 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 mâché 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 mâché 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.
I then taped the heads back on the body and began to paper mâché the whole thing with shop towel.
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 mâché? 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.
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 mâché 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.
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.
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.
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 mâché 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!
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 mâché 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 mâché to the snake’s head.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for reading this and happy paper maching!