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.

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.

 



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4,638 thoughts on “Paper Mache Clay

  1. Hi, I live in Japan. They have powder gypsum plaster here that you just add water too. Would that be ok to use? Or the sheetrock setting-type powder from amazon? The premixed buckets from amazon can’t be shipped here. Thanks

    • Hi Sabrina. The plaster probably won’t work – it will harden in the bowl instead of waiting for you to finish applying it to your sculpture. If you can find the slowest Sheetrock joint compound powder (the minutes it takes to set are usually listed on the package) I think it would work. Several people have told me it does, but I haven’t tried it myself. Mix a small amount according to the package directions and then add the other ingredients in the paper mache clay recipe. And be sure to let us know how it works for you!

  2. I made my paper mache & paper clay Jack Skellington head waterproof by spraying him with multiple layers of Plasti-Dip before using an outdoor primer, acrylic paint and satin acrylic outdoor varnish. The Plasti-Dip made him a lot more resilient as well.

    • That’s good news, Jeni. I just did a fast Google search, and it looks like the Plasti-dip brand has several different products. Is this the one you used? And is there a special brand you used for the primer? And one more really important question – or maybe two: Do you have a photo of your Jack Skellington that you’d be willing to share with us, and how long was Jack outside?

    • I’m sure any Plasti-Dip will work but I used the spray can version. As for the primer, I can’t remember which one I used but I know it was either a spray can of Rustoleum or Kilz. Modern Masters Clear Sealer in Matte is my newest “rave about” product that I used it to seal our wood planked shower walls and ceiling. I love it and I am getting ready to seal a mache Beetlejuice Sandworm that I’m making for my daughter. It’s not cheap but I trust it enough to seal my Plast-Dipped outdoor mache pieces.
      Anyway, here’s Jack. ?

  3. Hi Jonni,
    I’ve taken on a monster of building an 8′ tree for my new grandsons nursey. The theam is Neverland. I’m ready to add the texture using your recipe, my question is can I add acrylic paint to the mixture? Covering an this monster (it’s actually pretty good looking if I say so myself) then having to base color paint it would be much easier if I could add the paint pigment first.
    I’m apologize if the answer is somewhere in a previous post .

    Thank you for all your information and videos!!
    Respectfully ,
    Debra Lee

    • Hi Debra. You can add acrylic paint, but the white of the drywall joint compound will turn any color pastel. You could paint over the tree with latex house paint, though. It’s much less expensive. I should also note that the drywall joint compound and the mineral oil are not intended to be eaten. I doubt that your grandson would chew on his tree, but you never know… 🙂

  4. Hi again Jonni, I contacted you prior to my exhibition, to ask some questions about your paper mache clay recipe. Have since created my artwork, had the exhibition, and am still smiling. You are an artistic genius! Your medium is absolutely fabulous to work with. My Mother Earth Goddess was a huge success, and has led to some very interesting phone calls & offers. I’m still smiling 🙂 I tried to download a pic, though alas, IT is not my forte. Seems my photo is ‘too big’, so it won’t load. If you’d like to see images of her, she is on my face book page. I can’t find the words to thank you for not only creating such a fabulous product, though for sharing it with all of us. So I’ll simply send a giant “Thank You!” With great big smiles, Lindy 🙂 xxx

      • Have tried the theory of downloading to fb, then saving them to my pc, then attempting to upload again. Have 3 pics. Fingers crossed 🙂

      • Last pic of my Paper Mache Clay Mother Earth. Again Jonni, had so much fun using the medium you created…you are officially BRILLIANT! 🙂 Thank you xxx

          • Hi again Jonni, Yes, definitely influenced by the years of research during one of my Uni majors (Women’s Studies) 🙂 As she is my first venture into both paper mache & sculpture, no website to sell my 1 sculpture (the other 2 exhibition pieces were lino print & acrylic on canvas). However, thanks for asking. We also live in a tiny historic town, the last in our state (Victoria) without electricity (or water, or sewerage), so spending lots of time on the computer is not as easily done as for most. I exaggerate. Really, we live in such a glorious setting (historic township set amidst 7000 hectares of National Park) that we honestly don’t stay indoors much. Too busy outside with the kangaroos, koalas, eagles, owls, etc. We’re old, not insane 🙂
            Though must admit, have enjoyed working with your medium so much, especially how well it gives form to my visions, that I’m itching to have another go. Again, am sending you a heart-full of thanks…for your creative genius, tenacity, and your generosity in sharing your journey with us all. Truly looking forward to seeing what your latest artistic adventure may be! With big Steiglitz smiles, Lindy 🙂 xxx

  5. Hi, i have done my degree in fine arts and looking to work freelance, i like your recipe, its simple and best!
    I have some questions, like
    what are the best colours for paper mâche clay you use ?
    can i colour it without varnish layer?

    • Most of us use acrylic paint over the paper mache clay, but any paint that can be used over paper should work. I often paint directly over unsealed paper mache clay, but it does leave a slight variation in color because the different ingredients absorb paint differently. If you need a nice clean ground, use an acrylic gesso before painting.

  6. Is it possible to make one on these paper mache clays but in a liquid form? not water liquid but pourable (and smooth) into a plaster mould, and would I need anything to make it release from the mould as the form would be hollow not solid once dry
    air drying would be great for the mache as I don’t have a oven/kiln to dry them.

    • Hi Gaz. I have tried find a way to reproduce the Li Qua Che product. It works the way you describe (except you don’t use a release with it.) I’ve never found a mixture that would work. I think it’s possible that the Li Qua Che is made with paper fibers and latex, but that’s just a wild guess. The paper mache clay recipe is made with three different things that stick very tightly to plaster – the glue, the joint compound, and the wet paper. If you use a release that keeps it from sticking it will all flow down to the bottom of your mold instead of creating a shell.

      I made a video of the Li Qua Che used in a plaster mold. You can see it here.

      • Hi Jonni, I have heard of Li Qua Che, never tried it I used to use one called PA3 from Germany but it was expensive (import tax and all that) and I only make them as a hobby. Guess my search will continue for a homemade version 😉

        • If you find one, please let us know. I get a lot of questions about this, and I’d love to find the magic recipe. In the meantime, you might also want to see the plaster and paper “instant paper mache” recipe I use in silicone molds. The molds are more expensive, but the castings are really cheap. Not as easy to use as the pourable product, and it would be pretty hard to get it to work in a two-part mold because the plaster hardens too fast. But it might give you some ideas.

  7. Jonni,
    Thank you for all your knowledge you share with us. I have so many ideas I don’t know where to begin. But I have some pictures of some finished projects.

  8. Hi Jonni,

    Would you recommend using paper mache clay over an armature when making a faux taxidermy head or using the traditional paper mache paste and newspaper strips on the armature?

    Thank you for your time and your website!

    Kind regards,
    Anthony

    • Hi Anthony. I’ve done it both ways. My bear and my jackrabbit, but I used paper mache clay for the elephant. It’s really just a matter of personal preference. The main point for any wall-mounted sculpture is to make them as light as possible. If you do use the paper mache clay, just put on a thin coat (which I always recommend anyway).

        • Michele, I don’t work with polymer clay so I’m the wrong person to ask. I just never got the hang of it. The polymer clay piece might come unstuck in the oven, but that’s just a guess. I do know you wouldn’t want to bake anything made with paper mache clay any hotter than 200° F, because the smell of burning Elmer’s glue is not nice. Many people use polymer clay details like teeth and claws with the paper mache clay, but I don’t know how they do it. The next time I see something made that way I’ll ask them to show us how they did it.

    • I made a new sculpture and she’s perfect. Finished yesterday around 5pm. She feels dry but… squishy underneath. The form I use was primarily paper covered with aluminum foil and tape. I hope the form wasn’t too soft?? Would covering her in another layer of clay make her firmer?

      • Hi Michele. If you used the paper mache clay and the layer is at least 1/8″, and it’s still squishy, it means that there’s still moisture trapped inside the sculpture. It will feel perfectly dry on the outside when there’s still moisture on the inside. Put it in front of a fan or over a heating vent and give it a few more days. If you used a paper thin layer and you know for sure that it’s dry all the way through, then a thicker layer would help.

  9. Jonni,
    Thank you so much for everything. For sharing your knowledge with the world, for being a great artist, and an inspiration to us all. I started working with paper maché a couple of years ago after watching one of your videos. I am hooked with paper maché. It is my preferred medium, and every time I don’t know how to do something I come back to your videos. You are an amizing sculptor, and such a wonderful human being. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Thank you Yazmin. Those were very kind words. I love those horses at the top of your Facebook page, by the way. Are they made with paper pulp? The texture, the color, the shapes – they’re just great. Do you sell your work?

      • Yes, those are paper pulp, thank you for the nice comments. Selling… that is really hard for me, pricing the pieces is tough. I have sold a few small ones, but I’m never sure if the price is too low, too high, or if it’s right. But everything is a learning process. This year I want to keep working on improving my work, and gain more exposure. 🙂

  10. Hola, soy de Colombia podrías dar otro nombre a los ingredientes de la mezcla ya que aca no se consiguen esas marcas. Gracias

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

  13. 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! 🙂

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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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