Paper Mache Recipes, Tips, Techniques, and Experiments

Paper Mache Clay



Several years ago I developed a new recipe for a sculptural material I call “paper mache clay.”

This material is so easy to use and so easy to make that the recipe has now gone “viral” and is being used by artists all over the world. The video above is an update, just to give you a better idea about how to actually use the clay. The original video is below, and if you scroll down you’ll find the recipe in written form, as well.

It might be a bit more accurate to call this material “home-made air-dried cellulose-reinforced polymer clay,” but that’s way too hard to say (or type!), so for now, let’s just call it paper mache clay.

Make Animal Sculptures with Paper Mache ClayThe first video below shows how to make the paper mache clay, and the second video answers some common questions that I’ve received from readers since I first developed this recipe. Below the videos you’ll find the recipe written out, and a few comments about how it’s used. (This recipe is the basis for my book “Make Animal Sculptures with Paper Mache Clay.”)

Since the book came out, I’ve received many questions about the materials used in the paper mache clay, and I answered many of them on this page.

How to Use Your Paper Mache Clay

I usually make mine fairly thin by using less flour than the recipe calls for, so it can be spread over an armature like frosting,  – but you can also add more flour to make it thicker when you want more control over the modeling process. The clay dries extremely hard when applied in a very thin layer (1/8 to 1/4″ thick), and it seems to dry much faster than traditional paper mache pulp. Even with a thin layer, you’ll need to give it plenty of time to dry, just like regular paper strips and paste.

Paper Mache Clay on Snow Leopard Sculpture

Paper Mache Clay Made Thick Enough for Modeling Details

As you can see above, the clay can be modeled into fairly fine details. Using the clay for modeling feels much more intuitive than creating sculptures with paper strips and paste, and once the clay is dry it is a pleasure to paint.

If you need an even smoother material, try my Silky-Smooth Air Dry Clay. You still need an armature for the air dry clay, but there’s less paper in the recipe so it dries smoother and it’s easier to sand.


Baby Giraffe Print

 

If you like animal art, check out Jonni’s new Baby Giraffe print. It will make you smile.

 


The Recipe for Paper Mache Clay

Drywall Joint CompoundThe ingredients  are inexpensive, and can be found at your local grocery store and hardware store. You will need:

  • Cheap Toilet Paper (measure the wet paper pulp as instructed in the video, and use 1 1/4 cups – some rolls contain more paper than needed)
  • 1 cup Drywall Joint compound from the hardware store or Walmart. (Get premixed “regular,” that comes in a plastic tub, not the dry powder form.)
    Note:  The DAP brand does not work. It will turn your pm clay into a rubbery mess. All other brands will work just fine.
  • 1/2 cup White Flour
  • 2 tablespoons Mineral Oil or Linseed Oil. I now recommend Mineral Oil (Baby Oil) because it’s easier to find, and it’s safer to use if kids are helping with your project. Can’t find either one? Just leave it out. The recipe works just fine without it.

See the video above for details on making your clay. And if you try this recipe, please let us all know what you think of it–and also please share a photo of your finished work. We’d love to see how it comes out.

Making Your Paper Mache Clay

Tools:

You’ll also need a large bowl, (use one with high sides so you don’t splatter clay on your cupboards), an electric mixer, a measuring cup and a tablespoon measure. To keep t he finished clay from drying out, you’ll need an air-tight container. The recipe makes approximately 1 quart of paper mache clay.

Note about Toilet Paper:

Unfortunately, the people who make toilet paper don’t expect us to turn their product into great works of art, so they see no reason to include the kind of information that would make things a lot easier for us.

I use a brand called “Angel Soft,” in the “regular” 2-ply rolls. I buy it at my local Wal-Mart. Each roll contains approximately 1 1/4 cup of paper, which I measured by wetting the paper, squeezing out the water, and then firmly squishing it into a measuring cup. They change things sometimes, so you’ll still want to measure the wet paper. And if you find a brand that’s cheaper, go ahead and buy it – the brand doesn’t matter at all.

Since brands differ so much, the first time you make this recipe you should take a few minutes to find out how much paper is in the first roll. Then adjust the recipe if your brand don’t contain about 1 1/4 cup of paper. Fortunately, this is not a chemistry experiment or rocket science – if your mixture contains a little more paper than mine, or a little less, your sculptures will still be stunning.

Step 1. Fill a high-sided bowl with warm water. Remove the toilet paper from the roll and throw it into the water. Push down on the paper to make sure all of it gets wet.

Step 2. Then pick up the paper and squeeze out as much water as you can. Pour the water out of the bowl and put your paper mass back in.

Step 3. You will want to break the paper into chunks about 1″ across. This will allow your mixer to move around the pieces and break them apart.

Step 4. Add all the ingredients to the bowl and mix, using an electric mixer. The mixer will pull the fibers of the toilet paper apart and turn it into pulp. Continue to mix for at least 3 minutes to make sure all the paper has been mixed in with the other ingredients. If you still see some lumps, use a fork or your fingers (with the mixer turned off!) to break them apart, and then mix some more.

Your paper mache clay is now ready to use. It will look a bit like cookie dough – but don’t eat it!

If you don’t plan to use your clay right away, place it in an airtight container to keep it from drying out. The clay should stay usable for 5 days or more, if you keep it covered. The recipe makes about 1 quart.

Important note:

I’m often asked if it’s possible to waterproof a sculpture made with this recipe, so the sculpture can be left outside. I’ve tried a lot of products to see if I could find one that would work, and they have all failed miserably. This recipe is intended for use inside only.

For outdoor sculptures, I recommend the use of epoxy clay. Watch this video to see how I made a made of a squirrel sculpture that has been sitting outside in Minnesota weather for a year now, including unrelenting weeks of rain and -30° winter temps, and it’s still doing just fine.

 



You may also like:

How I painted the Unicorn.Unicorn Pattern
Hyena Mask PatternHyena Mask Pattern
Life Sized Paper Mache Baby ElephantLife-Sized Baby Elephant

4,590 Comments

  • Hello,My clay always cracks during drying process.I use wheat flour for white flour and also use lime(used in plastering of walls) as joint compound .Could this b affecting

    • Hi Nicholas. It sounds like you’re altering the recipe in ways that I haven’t experimented with. The only way to find out if your alterations are causing the problem is to try the original version, as written, and see what happens. Joint compound contains a lot of different ingredients, and the version we use is the pre-mixed kind. When you say ‘wheat flour,’ do you mean regular white flour for making breads and pastries, or whole wheat flour?

  • Jonni,
    Ok. I made my first batch and wonder if I did it correctly….
    When putting the clay on my armature, it’s impossible to “smooth” out with a knife or frosting spatula, as the fibers break immediately. I was able to smooth it with my fingers by schmooshing and tapping the clay into place. Id say it took me about 7 minutes for my tiny armature and already the clay was drying.
    Could I need less flour? More glue?
    I measured everything.
    Maybe I didn’t soak the toilet paper long enough?
    I used a generic brand and measured it after expressing out the water.
    While getting the clay ready to put away, if call it the consistency of bread dough, tho not as sticky and a little more substance.
    Thoughts???

    • Michele, is it possible that you used the DAP brand of joint compound? It tends to make the clay quite stiff, almost rubbery. That might also be why your clay is drying so quickly. I’m not quite what you mean by the fibers breaking, because they should be extremely fine and they should be completely mixed in with the other ingredients. In fact, it should be difficult to see any fibers at all. The paper does tend to make this recipe a little more bumpy than the air dry clay recipe, though, because there’s more paper int he mix.

      You might want to try putting some of the clay into another bowl and adding equal amounts of joint compound and glue. Mix for several minutes, and see if it comes out in a better consistency. If it does, you can do the same thing with all of the clay. If it stays too stiff, then check the label on your joint compound. Some store brands are made by DAP, and there are a couple of brands in Canada that have the same issues (although I can’t remember the brands right now). Let us know if you find out.

      • It wasn’t DAP but it could have been made by them, i suppose. Fot it from walmart. Brand is proform professional.
        However.
        It dried perfectly fine and I’m getting ready to paint! Made 2 more of my sculptures and they’re drying now.
        Do you typically need to sand them or do tou paint yours with the rough texture/is it just a preference?
        I’m hoping to paint directly without a primer but am prepared to do multiple coats. Here is a photo of my first lady…

        • I’ve used the Walmart brand a lot, and it doesn’t cause any problems. As for sanding, I tend to avoid it because I like the texture. If you want your pieces to be a lot smoother, some people use the air dry clay recipe, in a very thin layer, over their dried paper mache clay. It’s a lot easier to make smooth with a damp finger when you apply it, and then you can avoid the sanding. If you scroll down near the bottom of Rex Winn’s guest post about pumpkins, you’ll see how much smoother it can be.

          Your photo didn’t come through, I’m afraid. Take a look at the tips on editing photos to make them smaller at the top of the Daily Sculptors page, and then please try again. We’d love to see it.

  • What a wonderful website and blog. Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise, recipes and tips! I look forward to moving on from my attempts (resulting in balloons covered in mouldy newspaper) to some of the methods you have beautifully described herein! 🙂

  • Can newspaper be used in place of toilet paper? I like to reuse/recycle and .y father in law works for the local newspaper and we literally tons on hand.

  • Hello Jonni,
    I want to make a hard case for a musical instrument, i want to use paper mache techniques for that. Could you please give me some recommendations for a strong case? Is this clay recipe suitable for that purpose?
    thank you

    • Hi Nes. The clay will dry very hard, but could crack (like thin hard plastic) if it gets bent after it dries. There may also be some difficulty getting a flat surface – if you put any wet material over cardboard or even plywood and let it dry, it tends to warp. I probably wouldn’t choose it for the basic construction, but you can use it to make very nice sculpted details. Perhaps one of my readers has some ideas for you.

  • Hi Jonni. I’ve been using your paper clay for a while now and I’m having a problem with odor. Pretty soon after I make the clay it start to smell really bad. I don’t know if it’s mold or something to do with the paper i’m using (I’m using printer paper from old documents I melted in water with bleach). The smell is really strong and sour, with a hint of the baby oil fragrance.

    Any help you can give on this problem would be hugely appreciated.

    • Max, I’ve never had this happen, but there are some possible reasons for it. If it happens right after you mix up the clay, then one of the products you’re using must have already gone bad. There should be very little odor. If the smell shows up a day after it’s mixed, you’re probably getting some yeast growth in your mixture, and it’s eating the wet flour. You might try adding some salt, which will slow down yeast. (I’ve had this happen with paper mache paste, but never in the paper mache clay). But if it’s showing up in two or three days, or a week, then you’re getting mold. You can keep your mixed wet paper mache clay in the refrigerator to slow this down. To keep it even longer, stick it in the freezer.

      If it’s happening after the pm clay is applied to your armature, you’re putting it on too thick and it isn’t getting a chance to dry fast enough. Neither mold nor yeast can live without water, so if that’s happening, use thinner layers and dry your pm clay in front of a fan.

      I hope this helps.

    • Max, I had the same problem with my first batch of pm clay. If you’re using joint compound in your mix, that could be the culprit. The joint compound I had smelled bad like a port-a-potty. I added some bleach and used new joint compound. Much better.

      • Andreon, thanks so much for coming to the rescue – I knew there had to be a reasonable explanation. And you’re right – if the joint compound sat at the store for too long it could have started to grow mold or ferment. I’ve never had it happen straight from the store (thank goodness) but I have had opened containers go bad on me if I kept them too long.

        • Hello Jonni,
          That’s exactly what I did. I let the container of joint compound sit too long and it went bad. I do a smell test in Walmart to assure it’s fresh, too. My PM clay batches have been sitting for over a month. No mold or odors. I don’t recommend in warmer temperatures.
          Happy crafting!

    • I use old printer paper that is shredded also. I have made several batches and mine has been sitting for a week or longer sometimes. I never have had issues with odor. I do not use bleach so maybe this is the issue. I just let my paper shreds sit in water over night then use emulsifier to blend it. otherwise maybe it is another product you are adding in? I use joint compound, elmers glue, corn starch, baby oil.

      • Kandis, I used the same ingredients as yours. I didn’t know what joint compound was supposed to smell like and I used bad joint compound. I dumped the batch back into a pan and added a little bleach. It killed the odor greatly. No problems on drying. I don’t need bleach now because I know joint compound should be used immediately or checked occasionally.

  • Hi Jonni…we are making the Indian Elephant that you described for a community float over in Eastern Washington. If we choose to use the Paper Mache Clay would we just mix it up and use it over the masking tape or would you recommend us doing it over some layers of regular paper mache that has dried? Also – the look of the paper towels to give the skin texture looks great! Would this work to lay it on the clay as well? Thank you – Kim

    • Hi Kim. You live in my old stomping grounds. I grew up in Eastern Washington. I hope you’re having a nice winter.

      As for your questions, you don’t need to use any paper strips and paste if you’re using the paper mache clay. It will dry very hard, and it will cover any irregularities on the skin of your elephant. Also, you can use the paper towels over the paper mache clay. Let the pm clay dry really well, and then thin the pm clay you have left over with a mixture of water and glue. Then you’ll have a nice thick paste for you towel skin that will let you form nice ridges and wrinkles, and when it dries it will support the towel. I did this with the elephant wall hanging. You can see me doing it in this video, starting about minute 1:24.

      Have fun. And be sure to take a photo of your elephant when it’s done and share it with us, so we can see how it comes out.

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