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.

 



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4,532 Comments

      • Jonni,
        Wondering if you have ever used the paper mache clay on canvas to create a 3 dimensional image or images? If so how did you adhere the clay to the canvas?
        With gratitude,
        Laura

        • Hi Laura. I have not tried it. It might work, and I think other people have tried it, but I can’t remember how they did it. My concern is that canvas is flexible, and the paper mache clay is not. Do a small test, using an extra canvas, and see if it hold tight after it dries. Paper mache clay is quite sticky, but I can’t guarantee that it will hold on to the canvas after it’s dry, so be sure to do a test to make sure.

  • I’m super excited to start playing with this! Ingenious! It seems to work better as a layer for details…I am assuming. What do you recommend for the framework of the shape? I’ve been playing with wire but it doesn’t give me enough surface to build on. Also it adds a lot of weight. I definitely could use some experienced advice. I do more floral type shapes.

  • I’ve been making embellishments for my Christmas gift tags — some from Crayola Model Magic and some from the basic papier mache recipe above, which dried very hard. I’m using Crafter’s Clay molds, Mod Podge molds, and fondant molds. I’d like something somewhere between the two — more papery, since I need to trim the edges of the pieces after they dry. Should I leave out part of (or maybe all of) the joint compound?

    • Gosh – I don’t know. It does dry hard, but that’s because it’s normally used in sculpting. It almost sounds like your project would work well with paper pulp without any of the additional ingredients. Or perhaps with just enough Elmer’s Art Paste to hold the paper together. Then if you pressed the edges out, you could get those deckled edges that you find on hand-made paper. I’ve never done any paper casting, though – maybe there are some videos about it on YouTube. I hope you’ll let us see how your tags come out when they’re done.

  • Hi Jonni! I so enjoy all of your videos on youtube!! I have watched your “Paper Mache Dragon – Adding the Paper Mache Clay” video. The consistency of the clay seemed softer and easier to spread than the clay in the above video. Even though you are using the same recipe, did you alter the amounts of any of the ingredients to make it softer? I’m ready to give this a try, but the thickness in the video is not the consistency I need for my project. I would be eternally grateful for any insight. Keep making beautiful things!

  • How flexible/brittle is the dried result? Does it bend or break first? How much punishment can it take?

    (I’m wanting to make a half-mask, and after my first version, made of Fimo air-drying clay, snapped down the nose, I’m wondering how well this would hold up)

    • Hi Tamsin. This dries hard, almost like plastic – but a thin piece will break if bent. I usually make my masks with the shop towel mache, or if I’m lazy I use plaster cloth. Both will bend a little, and are more comfortable to wear if you finish the back nice and smooth. That’s hard to do with the paper mache clay, because it’s so hard.

  • Hi! Thank you for the wonderful tutorials. I am a complete amateur, but I’m making my son’s Halloween costume. He’s going to by Jack Skellington from the Nightmare Before Christmas. I already completed the base structure for his head using a rubber ball balloon and 5 layers of old school paper mache. Now I want to make it more secure and I’m not sure if I should use your Paper Clay recipe or your Air Dry Clay. What do you suggest?

    • Hi Carla. The paper mache clay recipe is stronger, and it’s sticky so you can quickly smooth it on over your dried paper mache. The air dry clay is a variation of the same recipe, but it’s smoother, and it isn’t as sticky. If you need nice smooth features, use the air dry clay, but you might need to brush some Elmer’s glue onto the paper mache first, to make sure it sticks.

      Have fun – this is going to be a great project. I hope you’ll let us see it when it’s done.

  • Dear Jonni,

    Thanks a lot for your paper clay recipe. But i am from Dutch. Do you know what joint compound is in the Netherlands. I really do not know. Even if i search on the internet. I will find voegmiddel. But i do think it is not the same.

    • Hi Shirley. I don’t know what it’s called in the Netherlands, but one way to find out is to do a YouTube search for drywall joint compound. You’ll see videos that show you have builders use it when they’re making new walls out of sheets of drywall. Then you can go to your local DIY store and describe the process, and they should know exactly what you need. As them for the pre-mixed drywall joint compound, not the powdered kind.

    • Hi Shirley,

      Have you found already something?

      I am looking for the same thing. I found Knauf sheetrock – fill & finish light 20kg but it is pretty expensive compared to the US pricing (around 35 euro – 41 dollar). Plus you can only buy it at a professional store (need KvK).

      I am still looking for an alternative that is less expensive.

    • Yes, some people have told me that it works. You need to soak the paper longer to get it to fall apart, and the result won’t be quite as smooth, but it works.

  • Hi Jonni… I have made a large head with regular paper mache now I want to add features…. nose, ears, must ache will your dry clay work for this ? Thank you Karen

    • Hi Karen. The air dry clay recipe isn’t very sticky, so you will probably need to brush some PVA glue (Elmer’s in the US) onto your dried paper mache first. You can mix the glue with water to make it easier to spread. Then add your air day clay. If you use the paper mache clay recipe on this page, you won’t need the glue to get it to stick, but the final details won’t be quite as smooth.

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