Paper Mache Clay

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The recipe for paper mache clay

  • 1 1/2 cups damp toilet paper
  • 1 cup premixed drywall joint compound in a plastic tub (but not DAP brand joint compound)
  • 3/4 cup Elmer’s Glue-All or any PVA glue
  • 1/2 to 1 cup white flour (adjustable)
  • 2 tablespoons mineral oil (optional)

Note: If you have a kitchen scale, you can use this recipe with gram measurements.

What does it look like when it’s dry?

Paper Mache Clay Deer HeadGood question.

If you’d like to see what your sculpture might look like when you use this recipe, I finished most of my sculpture and mask patterns with it, or with a combination of this recipe and traditional paper strips and paste.

Yes, I do sometimes use both. The clay doesn’t like covering the sharp edges of ears, and it’s easier to wind narrow strips of paper and paste around long thin shapes. For everything else, I use paper mache clay or one of the variations of this recipe.

Why I Created the Recipe for Paper Mache Clay:

Ten years ago I became frustrated with traditional paper strips and paste. I couldn’t get fine details, like I could when sculpting with real clay. It took too much time to add all those layers of paper mache. And it was messy.

But I wanted to sculpt, and paper mache was the only affordable option.

That’s why I created this original (and still my favorite) recipe for paper mache clay. 

  • It’s affordable.
  • It uses common ingredients that you can find at your local DIY store or Walmart.
  • And it helps you create beautiful sculptures that you can be proud of. This is not the kind of paper mache you made back in grade school!

I put this recipe for paper mache clay on this blog and on YouTube about ten years ago. It has now been used by millions of people around the world, and I get emails and comments every day from people who tell me they love it!

How do you use it?

You use a knife to apply paper mache clay in a really thin layer over your armature, almost like frosting a cake.  You only need a very thin layer, becasue it dries hard and strong, even with as little as 1/8″ applied to your sculpture. 

How long will it last?

Once the material is completely dry, painted and sealed, it will last for years.

When it’s still in the bowl, it will last several days if you cover it tightly to keep it from drying out. Put it in the fridge if you can’t use it again for a week or two, because the organic materials in the recipe can attract mold while it’s still wet. If you want it to last longer, put it in the freezer, and it will last indefinitely. 

Can you sand it?

Yes, but I almost never do. Paper mache clay dries really hard, and sanding it is a pain in the rear. Plus, you need to wear a mask, because you don’t want the fine powder in your lungs.

And you probably want to do it outside, because that fine dust will go all over your house.

What do I do instead? I use drywall joint compound, which I always have on hand because it’s one of the main ingredients of the recipe. To see exactly how I do it, watch my video that shows you how to make paper mache smooth without sanding.

(And yes, it works with traditional paper strips and paste, too.)

When I really have to sand my paper clay I use my little electric sander.

Are there other options?

Yes, there are two other alternative recipes, and many people actually prefer them. Go ahead and try them all, and see which one you like best.

  1. If you live in a humid environment and you worry about mold and mildew, or if you’re allergic to gluten, check out the new recipe for paper mache clay without flour. It takes another small appliance to make it, but the final product works just as well as the original recipe on this page.
  2. If you like to create fine details, the way you might if you were using real clay or polymer clay, try the silky-smooth air dry clay recipe. It uses the same ingredients, plus corn starch, but there’s less paper in the mix so it’s great for detailed textures and details. Many readers have also used it in small silicone molds for jewelry, and they say it works well. I haven’t tried that yet, myself, so do some experiments to see if it works for you.

How to make paper mache clay:

Bowls and mixer for paper mache clay/

You’ll need several large bowls, some measuring cups, a spoon and an electric mixer.

Supplies for making paper mache clay.

The supplies you need for paper mache clay are:

Elmer’s Glue-All, or any PVA glue. Most white glue will work. The Clear Glue from the Elmer’s company also works.

Drywall joint compound – any brand except DAP. That brand doesn’t work because it turns into rubber when mixed with glue.

I buy my joint compound at Walmart. It works great for this recipe, and it’s much less expensive than most brands.

If you aren’t sure what joint compound is called in your country, click here.

Note: There is a warning on the joint compound container that says you should wear a mask when you sand it because it contains silica. Silica is a very hard mineral (most sand is made out of silica) and you don’t want the fine powder in your lungs. I never sand paper mache clay myself, but if you do, be sure to wear a mask. (You should wear a mask when you sand anything!)

To make your paper mache clay smooth without sanding, watch this video.

White flour. The flour thickens the paper mache by soaking up the water. If you can’t use the flour for any reason, you’ll want to use this variation of the paper mache clay recipe instead.

Toilet paper. Any brand will work, so buy the cheapest brand you can find. Some people use recycled paper that has been soaked in hot water and then chopped up with an electric blender. I haven’t tried that myself because I’m lazy and toilet paper is so much easier. But many people have told me that it works.

Mineral oil (baby oil) or linseed oil – this is totally optional. The oil changes the ‘feel’ of the paper mache clay while you’re working with it, but the recipe works just fine without it. Don’t uses boiled linseed oil if children will be helping you with your sculpture, because it contains chemicals.

Step 1: Soak and measure your paper.

Soaking toilet paper for paper mache clay.

The first thing we need to do is get our paper ready. We want about a cup and a quarter of wet paper. You can use any cup to measure with – it doesn’t have to be exact.

Put the paper in hot water to get it wet, and press it down into a measuring cup until you have about a cup and a quarter of wet paper. Then put it back in the hot water. You want all the paper fibers to be separated. Just swirl the paper around with your fingers and the toilet paper will completely fall apart.

Step 2: Press out the water.

You want to press most of the water out of the paper, but you have to be really careful that you don’t press out too much.

If you press out so much of the water that it’s almost dry, it won’t fall apart when you run your mixer. You’ll end up with big globs and bumpy lumps in your paper mache clay.

So go ahead and test it in your hand. Can you push it around and have it come apart, even though most of the water has been pressed out? Then you’re good to go.

Step 3: Add joint compound and glue to the paper mache clay mixture.

Now you can add the drywall joint compound and glue, and start mixing.

What is drywall joint compound? This product is made for the construction industry when they build interior walls. The joint compound is used to cover the edges between two sheets of drywall (also called gypsum board, plaster board and sheet rock). You’ll find it in the paint department at Walmart, or in any DIY store.

If you live in a country where they don’t make flat walls out of plasterboard or drywall, you won’t be able to find drywall joint compound in your stores.

A lot of people ask me, “Can you make paper mache clay without drywall joint compound?” No, you can’t – this recipe requires the joint compound.

If you can’t find the joint compound in your country or if you don’t want to use it, this site has projects that use the traditional paper mache mixture of softened paper and paste.

Mix your paper, joint compound and glue for several minutes. You want the mixer to tear all of the paper fibers apart so it’ll be nice and smooth.

Step 4: Add the flour.

Add flour to the paper mache clay mixture.

You’re going to use the white flour to thicken the paper mache clay. The flour soaks up the excess water in the mixture, and makes it easier to spread the paper mache or create sculpted details.

The amount of flour you need depends on how you want to use your paper mache clay, and how much water was left in the paper. Just keep adding more until you get the consistency you want.

For instance, if you want a really thin layer like I use when I’m covering my mask patterns, or when I want to create a hard solid surface with my first layer, I’ll use a  small amount of flour to make a really thin mixture of the paper mache clay.

Snowy owl made with paper mache clay.But when I want to add texture, or if I want to actually sculpt with the paper mache clay like I did with my snowy owl, then I’ll add more flour.

A note about the beaters: I add 1/2 cup of flour to start with, using the standard beaters. When I need more flour, I’ll switch to the dough hooks.

My mixer didn’t come with the dough hooks, like this one does, but I use some old ones I have from another mixer, and they fit.

If you don’t have the bread-mixing beaters, the paper mache clay has a tendency to crawl up the standard beaters. The mixture will also become very heavy, and could burn out the motor in a small mixer if you use the standard beaters.

Another option is to mix the flour in by hand.

An alternative to a kitchen mixer: If you need to mix up a lot of the paper mache at one time, perhaps for a workshop or a very large project, you can use a paint mixer attachment for an electric drill instead of a of a kitchen mixer, and a plastic pail instead of a bowl.

Step 5: Apply your paper mache clay to your armature.

Use a knife to spread a thin layer of paper mache clay over your armature. If you’ll be using the paper mache clay to add finer details, it’s easiest if you put on a thin layer first and let it dry. Then you have a solid surface for your final sculpting.

Almost any of the projects on this site can be made with paper mache clay. You’ll find them all in the Art Library.  There’s a link to that page at the top of the site, so you can always come back to it. That’s also where you’ll find other recipes, like the smooth air dry clay and the paper mache clay without flour.

For a fast start on a project, choose one of  my mask and sculpture patterns. Any of the patterns can be used with either paper strips and paste or this paper mache clay recipe.

Have fun!

DIY paper mache clay recipe

4,839 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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

    Reply
    • 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.)

      Reply
  7. 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?

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  8. 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

    Reply
  9. 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

    Reply
      • 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/

        Reply
        • 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.

          Reply
  10. 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.

    Reply
  11. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  12. 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  13. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  14. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  15. 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

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
      • 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!

        Reply
  16. 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! 🙂

    Reply
      • 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. 😉

        Reply
        • 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.

          Reply
  17. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply

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