Paper Mache Clay


Looking for great ideas for your next paper mache project or a gift idea? Check out my patterns and videos for masks, animal sculptures and faux trophy mounts.


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.

Note: Drywall joint compound is produced for the construction industry and is not edible! Do not use this recipe if you’re working with small children who may put the paper mache clay in their mouths, and don’t use it to make toys for babies. It’s also important to wear a mask if you sand your paper mache clay after it dries, because the calcium carbonate in the joint compound is mined in areas that also contain silica, and fine silica dust is not good for your lungs.

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.

 


Looking for great ideas for your next paper mache project or a gift idea? Check out my patterns and videos for masks, animal sculptures and faux trophy mounts.


4,666 thoughts on “Paper Mache Clay

  1. Hey Jonni, I’d just like to say thank you for creating and sharing such an amazing product! Here’s a picture of something I have created with it!

    • Hi Chris. Your log is so realistic – that bark texture is really amazing. Can you tell us a bit about this sculpture? What will you be using it for? And what technique did you use to get that nice texture?

  2. Hi Jonni,

    I’ve been doing artsy stuff for decades, I stumbled on your site while researching my latest Halloween project and I love it! You’re great!

    Normally, I sculpt in clay, mold, and then create the finished product with one of Smooth-On’s products. This year I’m doing something bigger and decided to do it in paper mache to cut down on the cost.

    Anyway, I haven’t worked with PM clay and I’m wondering how much shrinkage to account for. I probably won’t make the entire head out of PM clay as it would take too long to dry, so If I use the clay to cover a semi-rigid form, how much shrinkage should I expect? If the form is more rigid, will the clay crack when drying?

    Thanks,
    Tal

    • Hi Tal. The pm clay does need to be used almost the same way you would use traditional paper strips and paste. That means you need an armature underneath, at least until the pm clay dries. And it needs to be applied thinly, so it can dry all the way through. When it’s used over an armature there is some shrinkage, although I’ve never tested it to find out the exact percentage. A form that can shrink slightly with the pm clay is the kind I normally use. Crumpled foil held together with hot glue works really well. So does crumpled paper and masking tape. However, you can use a rigid form, like a mask form. I haven’t had a problem with cracking, but if you do get small cracks you can always repair them with a little more paper mache clay.

  3. Hi. I make primitive folk art signs. If I sculpt a silhouette and make a relief out of paper mache clay, and use a wood plaque as the base, will the paper mache clay stick to the wood? Do I have to pick it up once it’s dried, and apply additional glue? Thank you!

    • Hi Aly. I think the paper mache clay will stick, because it’s made out of glue and joint compound, plus flour – all of them are sticky. But I don’t know how well it will stick over time. I do know the sign will always have to stay inside, because the clay isn’t waterproof. Do your signs usually go outside? If so, you might want to consider epoxy clay, instead.

  4. Hello Jonni,
    I have been a fan of yours for several years now. I started out trying to sculpt with paper mache and paste only…then I stumbled upon your recipe. I have been sculpting on and off since! So, I want to say thank you and invite you to be a part of my life now too. I am putting together a blog and want to link you to it and welcome you to stop by and check out my stuff now and again.

    ?

    • Hi Jamie. I’m so glad you’re enjoying your new art form. And thanks for offering to link to my site – all links are welcome. Speaking of links, do you have a web address that you’d like to share, so we can see your new blog?

  5. Hi, jonni
    I read your recipe and must try it, after our holiday,because I have to buy the joint compound.
    Mostly i’m not working with paper clay, but I tried to make clay that can stand outside.I took toilet paper and instead white glue I added Powertex, that it a textile hardener .Only 2 marerials, but it stands outside, already,more than 5 years.
    I’m sure that you can make a better clay, with your experience, but it works.
    I’m the Powertex distributor in Israel ,and mostly I work with fabric.I told some paper mashed artists about my experience and they begun to use powertex for sculptures that they want to keep outside.
    I hope that it will help you ,too.

    • Thank you, Hasia. I haven’t tried the product yet, but I have heard good things about it. I do hope to give it a try someday. I looked online to see if we could get it here in the US, and I found two products – Powertex Fabric Hardener, and Powertex Stone. Can you tell us what the difference is? Is only one of them waterproof? Do you think one of them could be used on the outside of a paper mache clay sculpture to completely seal against the weather?

      • In an email, Hasia told me that she was talking about the fabric softener, not the stone product. Eileen’s been trying to get me to try Paverpol, too. One of these days!

  6. Hey Jonni! I’m going to start teaching art at a community center next month, and I thought papier mache would be a fun and inexpensive activity to do there. However, it’s not very easy to find premixed joint compound in my country unless it’s those huge tubs used in construction, which are super expensive. Are there any ways to make pmc without this ingredient that don’t end up too papery or easy to break?

    • Hi Angelo. The paper mache clay recipe does require the pre-mixed joint compound. Or you could buy the powdered kind (one that takes a long time to harden) and mix it yourself. I haven’t actually tried that, but I’ve been told it works. I don’t know of any other product that will produce a mixture that works the same way as the original paper mache clay recipe. For many years people used paper pulp mixed with some kind of paste. It doesn’t give you the same results, but many people love working with it. You can find a lot of tutorials and projects using this material at http://www.papiermache.co.uk/

      And paper strips and paste can also be used to create beautiful works of art. It takes more time and patience, but the traditional methods shouldn’t be discounted.

      Good luck with your class!

  7. oi jonni
    meu nome é laecio
    moro no brasil,a muito tempo vejo suas obras de ARTES.
    Parabéns pelo seu belo trabalho
    Admiro muito esculturas papel mache,já fiz algunhas ,mas não com
    essa perfeição.

  8. want to try to use your Paper Mache Clay recipe in a 2 part ceramic mold any pointers you could give me thanks in advance…it looks like the one in the picture

    • Hi Kevin. The paper mache clay will stick to plaster if you don’t use a very good release. It will stick so hard that you’d never be able to get it out. To get the pm clay to work in a plaster mold you would want to seal the mold with shellac, and then use a very good release. Smooth-on makes a good universal release that should work, although it could leave an oil residue on the surface of the casting. Needless to say, you’d never be able to use your mold for ceramics again.

      But there’s also one additional problem. Paper mache clay doesn’t work very well in any kind of mold, even silicon. The high paper content causes air to get trapped next to the mold, and the surface of the casting will be pitted. Many people do use the smooth air dry clay recipe in silicone molds, though, and they say it works well. It’s essentially the same ingredients but with a much lower paper content. I have not tried it myself, though. It will shrink, about as much as ceramic slip.

  9. Hi Jonni,
    I have been browsing through your website and I think that your work is fabulous. Is there any way to order your books except through Amazon? I don’t feel comfortable using credit card , paypal, etc over the Internet. Would you accept American Postal Money Orders As payment? I live in Regina Saskatchewan.
    Cheers, Marielle

    • Hi Marielle. I don’t carry an inventory of books because they’re all sold through Amazon. They print and sell them for me, and ship them directly to you. I’m not able to accept orders myself. I’m afraid you’ll need to use the link to the amazon.ca page I gave you before. Perhaps one of your family members has an amazon account, and they’d be willing to order it for you.

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