Paper Mache Clay


Get a fast start on your next paper mache project or hand-made gift with Jonni’s easy downloadable patterns for masks, animal sculptures and faux trophy mounts. The patterns help you create a beautiful work of art, even if you’ve never sculpted anything before.


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.

 


Get a fast start on your next paper mache project or hand-made gift with Jonni’s easy downloadable patterns for masks, animal sculptures and faux trophy mounts. The patterns help you create a beautiful work of art, even if you’ve never sculpted anything before.


4,686 thoughts on “Paper Mache Clay”

  1. Is the linseed oil necessary, I am helping my six year old make a jackrabbit for school we stuffed plastic bags and used masking tape to shape the body, than I thought we could cover it with the clay, although I have all the ingredients but the linseed oil. Will it still work?
    Thanks for your help
    Julie

    • Hi Julie. No, you don’t need the linseed oil. You don’t need the flour, either. The clay will still harden successfully without either ingredient.

  2. Hi just a quick question, what is joint compound that you use in your paper mache clay? I’m from Australia so I wonder if it might be under a different name here, what is it used for?

    Thanks.

    • Hi Gabby. Another reader from Australia told us the product is called joint finish. When you go to the hardware store, tell the clerk you need the product that comes in a plastic tub, and it’s used to cover the space between plaster wallboard when walls are made. The clerk should be able to figure out what you’re talking about. Get the pre-mixed product, not the dry powder or the “fast-setting” product, because they won’t work.

  3. Hi Jonni,

    Here is a photo of my Paper clay object. I call “Lean on me” and is 16 inches tall. After sanding it; I primed it and spray painted it in a granite look. I love it!
    Thanks for the recipe!
    Eunice

  4. Dear Jonni,
    When I came upon your clay, my roommate was so happy (I had left old smelly rotten paper mache mix in the room for days & I hadn’t noticed). I too, was also happy- so much that I created a heart (after a few butterfly lessons)!

    http://www.rxnn.net/word/create/heart/

    Also, I didn’t have linseed oil when making it- does it make a big difference to the clay?

    • Wow. Excellent job on the heart, and wonderful photos of the process all along the way. Just in case other readers may be expecting a simple Valentine’s day heart, like I was, Roxanne actually created an anatomically correct human heart with paper mache clay. Definitely go see how she did it on her site.

  5. Thanks for the recipe. I tried it out tonight. Mixed by hand because don’t have a hand mixer, but it worked out okay I think. Waiting for it to dry now. Great instructions!

  6. Now that I’ve read a bit more here, I am remembering all the art projects I did in highschool that involved paper mache. I made a larger than life bird-man that the principal wanted in his office window(for a while). I named my bird-man Leroy. He was purple and yellow. After a while he moved home. If family stayed in the bedroom where he was ‘living’ -he scared the daylights outta them! He had a nice chicken wire armature, so I guess it was only natural he’d be a bird-man….
    You’ve inspired me so much here that I’m heading for my studio to get my hands in some clay. Then-off to make the toilet paper clay!! Yipee!! Thanks!!
    ~Debra

    • You’re certainly welcome. I hope you’ll let us see what you come up with. (And I’m totally jealous. Studio? I take over my whole house when I work, including the kitchen table. Maybe I’ll fix up the garage this year so I can say the words “my studio” with a straight face.)

  7. You rock for doing this dude!!!! I got a project in 3 weeks and this is great to use!!!!! Thanks a mill!!!!

  8. hey i found your web pg @ recommendation from my art teacher about papier mache recipes. I really like the papier mache clay but was wondering how strong is it bc i wanted to make a pinata that my fellow high schoolers can enjoy trying to break (and the regular papier mache didn’t stand a chance against my 12 yr old brother).
    would the clay be ok to use on my pinata or would it beat the high schoolers?

    • Hi Liz. I thought pinatas are supposed to break?

      Actually, I don’t know the answer to your question. I do sometimes drop my sculptures on the floor, but they have solid armatures inside so they don’t break. I once tested the clay to see how strong it is by putting it over a ball-shaped armature of crumpled paper and masking tape. I used about 1/8″ of clay over the paper and let it dry. Then I threw it fairly hard onto the concrete sidewalk in front of my house, and it didn’t crack.

      However, I think a hollow pinata would break. You might want to watch out for flying fragments, though. If you try it, tell us how your experiment turned out!

  9. Joanni, Thank you so very much for letting me copy your paper mache clay recipe. I will let you know how my project, a dress form, comes out. Best to you! Tome

  10. Hi,
    I found your site a month ago.
    You asked for a picture of what I made with your paper mache clay.
    Well here she is.
    Thank you!
    Rona

      • Hi,
        No, I didn’t use a mold for the head.
        The doll body, arms, legs and the head are made from cloth. The face, hair and upper bust are from the clay. The funny part is that I made the hair from a bad batch of clay. It was my first attempt and it was flakey like tuna. I used a cheap glue. But the result on the hair was great. You can see the process here: http://moonlightandimagination3.blogspot.com/

        • Lovely. I put your website on my blogroll–I hope everyone takes a minute or two to go check it out. I hope the doll show was worthwhile for you. You have a very nice display. I sometimes miss going to arts and craft fairs myself. Maybe I should make up a few smaller, transportable sculptures and get back into it, just for fun.

  11. I was wondering if there was a way to have a printer friendly version of this?
    Wonderful tutorial…looking very forward to working with this new medium.
    Thank you so very much for sharing. I will send you a picture as soon as I have created something.

  12. FUN! Thank you. I can tell that I’m going to love working with this paperclay. Here are pictures of the two leaves I made using this clay. The leaves were just a practice project to see how I liked the clay, how it dried, etc.

    I also made a starfish… I used the microwave to dry the starfish as it was a time critical project … it came out great.

    Can’t wait to play some more.

    • The leaves turned out great. I’ll be sure to tell my dad about them.

      An the microwave idea was interesting – Hmmm… I might have to try that.

  13. Hi Jonni! Well, yesterday I whipped up (literally) a batch of your paperclay to try out. I kind of combined your Dads concrete leaf idea with your paperclay idea for my first trial project, a simple grapetree leaf. I spread the clay on the back side (veiny) of the leaf and sit it in the sun to dry… but… after several hours it was still damp. So… I stuck it in the low heat oven for about 20 minutes and baked it dry. Can you overbake this stuff? I think it may still have a little moisture in it and I’m wanting to stick it back in the oven. The layer is probably 1/8 inch thick. Also, I live in the tropics so most of my traditional strip pm dries fast outside in the sun… do you think the paperclay would eventually dry in the sun? I hate to have to use the oven all the time (and wouldn’t be able to for large pieces).
    I love the workability of the clay…. every little vein showed nicely ….

    Great job on the videos and book… looking forward to my amazon purchase of it! 🙂

    paper mache leaf

    • Hi Laura. What a great idea – you get the look of the leaf, but without the heavy weight of the concrete.

      Yes, the clay will dry in the sun. There’s a possibility that it might curl – I have not had much sun here this winter, so I haven’t tried it yet. However, it should act pretty much the same as traditional paper strips and paste. I usually leave my pieces near a heat register to dry overnight, but some pieces take longer if the clay is thicker in spots.

  14. Hi Jonni
    I had a question about using silhouette and a grid.
    Have you ever taken a picture, say of a family pet, and then applied your grid to that?

    also, have you ever had to use a silhouette of the top down as well as side, for instance in a form that looks to be in movement, or turning to face its side?.
    hope that last question is clear.

    Mike.

    • Hi Mike. Yes, I’ve used a photo as the basis for a sculpture, and it works very well as long as the photo is taken from the side, with no foreshortening.

      I have not used a pattern that looks quite like you describe, but I do bend the patterns and twist them to give a sculpture a more dynamic posture. And I quite often cut off a head and turn it so it’s looking in a different direction. I’m working on a video showing some of these things now (a re-do of my dragon) and it should be online as soon as the clay dries.

  15. Hey Jonni!
    I’m fascinated and hopeful about the results I got from following your recipe. One question: I’m using a plastic mold I made of a person’s face. It’s taking a VERY long time to dry, probably at least in part because of how thickly I lined the mold. Do you have any thoughts about whether this thing will pop OUT of the mold when it’s dry? I think getting things to actually stick to plastic is challenging. I surely do hope I haven’t discovered something that DOES stick. Opinions?

    Oh, BTW, I found that CostCo’s Kirkland brand of double-ply toilet paper ends up being 2 1/2 cups of damp, smashed paper.

    • Hi Kathy. I’ve never tried to use the clay in a plastic mold. I have used latex molds, (the faces on all the lion cubs were pre-molded before the cubs were assembled) and the clay popped out just fine when it was dry. Of course, the latex bends a bit, and that helps if there are underhangs. Also, the lay will shrink just a little, which also helps it to come out of the mold.

      The clay only needs to be 1/8 to 1/4″ thick. When it’s placed in a mold, the side towards the mold has no contact with air, so it tends to dry more slowly.

      Thanks for the tip on the CostCo brand – that sounds like a good bargain.

  16. Hi there! I need to make a couple of masquerade masks but don’t want to use the store bought plastic ones; I want something that is custom-fitted to my customers’ faces! Can I use this as I would papier mache and smear it (over saran wrap of course) on their face to get the shape?

    Also, can you lightly sand this to smooth edges and bumps? Thanks so much for a great site!

    ~Paige

    • Hi Paige. I can easily answer your last question. The answer is yes, you can sand it. If you want a really smooth, porcelain-like surface, you can use a home-made gesso (1 tablespoon joint compound, 1 teaspoon Elmer’s Glue-All) and sand that between coats.

      The custom-fitting is going to be more problematic, because the product may shrink just enough to make the mask too small, or it may warp while drying. The only way to find out for sure is to do some experimenting. In other words, give it a try. And if you do, please let us know if it works or not!

      It sounds like you have a business making masks. Do you have a website so we can see them?

      • I wish I had a business! I just have fun and make things for friends and family. This will be my first foray into masks.
        Maybe I can do a traditional papier mache mold and cover it in the clay. I like the pliability option with the clay.
        Thanks!

  17. Just in regards to your comment about not knowing if children would be likely to eat the compound or not… I am a Grade 4 teacher, and my students are not very likely to eat any kind of art material. They are 10 years old, though, so younger children (5 year old kindergarteners, for example) might be curious to see how it tastes. Hope this helps! 🙂

      • I’m in Canada, and I just made up a batch using Lepage White Glue from the hardware store and something called drywall filler. It seems to have worked fine so far! My grade fours will try it out tomorrow, I’ll let you know how it goes. 😉

        • Great – we’d love to see how the projects turn out. Let us know what the kids think about using the clay, too – it would be interesting to see if they prefer the clay or traditional paper and paste.

  18. I have been so excited by all the amazing things I have seen and read on your web site. Thank you so much for sharing!

    I teach a homeschooled group of youngsters each week and was planning on using your paper mache clay for my maskmaking group. I made a huge amount ahead of time last night, thinking ahead, for my Wednesday class (it was Sunday yesterday). Now I read that it may snow on Tuesday night, which may in turn cancel Wednesday. Would it be possible to save this clay in the refrigerator, freezer, or cold garage? We have not had snow all winter and what do you know (the one week I prepare for class ahead of time and not the last minute).

    What would you suggest?

    • Hi Melissa. I’ve been able to keep my clay usable for several weeks just by keeping it in a plastic container with a fitted lid. I believe the joint compound may have a mold inhibitor in it (one more reason why the clay isn’t a good material for children who are young enough to eat their art materials).

      We would all love to see the masks your group makes, so I hope you take a picture when they’re done, and share it with us.

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