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

4,763 thoughts on “Paper Mache Clay”

  1. Thanks for the great site and this recipe. It got me back into experimenting with paper mache techniques and I’m having a ball.

    I make the clay using a bucket and mud mixer attachment for my drill. (The mud mixer attachment was ~$5 at Home Depot which was cheaper than buying a studio-only kitchen mixer.) Also, I start with just the dry toilet paper and then add water as I need (which eliminates my needing to squeeze it out later.)

    In my last batch, I used chalk (calcium carbonate) instead of flour. I ended up using twice as much chalk, trying to get the texture right … but the cool thing, and what I wanted I wanted to share … is that the mix hasn’t gone ‘bad’ yet.

    I made this batch on 4/16, and normally my batches lasted less than a week. This batch, however, is still going strong, with no signs of spoilage (no mold, no growth, no stink.)

    Yay … and thought you’d want to know.

    Have you played with adding things other than flour?

    – b

  2. Hiya Jonni

    I am thinking on using paper mache clay for my toad puppet’s head – for creating those lovely warts and defined eyebrow ridges :D.
    I was just wondering how long it takes for the paper mache clay to dry. Do I need to put it in a kiln?

    Thank you

    Hannah

    • Hi Hanna. You don’t need a kiln – this isn’t real clay, after all. The amount of time it will take to dry depends on the thickness that the paper mache clay has been applied to your puppet’s head, the temperature and humidity in the room, etc. Be sure to give it plenty of time to dry all the way through – it will dry on the outside first.

  3. thanks Jonni…….This is going to be my first grandchild, so I want to make his jungle theme room look it’s best. :o) I’m visiting my daughter so I still have a month before I head back home. Hope I get it completed in time. Will show pics when I’m done. :o)

  4. Hi…..Stumbled across this site and love what you do with your paperclay recipe! I am currently working on creating a 6 ft tall giraffe for my first grandchild’s room. I’ve created the sculpture out of chicken wire…..almost done. :o) I thought I’d cover it with paper mache using newspaper and using the clay to fill in gaps and facial features. Hope this works out for me. I think it’ll be some time before I get it completed but hope to finish within a month! :o) Thanks so much for the clay recipe…..can’t wait to try it.

    Judy

    • Hi Judy. Your plan, using paper mache strips for the large areas and the paper mache clay for details will work very well. I sure hope you show us your giraffe when it’s done.

  5. jonni
    hi again! i am using your clay and teaching it to a class of 6-12 year olds. and i am so excited for them to enjoy it as well!! thanks for sharing this once again i can’t thank you enough.
    on a side note we have finally got into our house and am starting to get in to the art community here by teaching community art classes as there are no art classes provided through the school, in reference to your earlier postings. i will be teaching an after school program for highschoolers as well …
    just had to share.
    take care.. and i will post some pictures of the kids in action!!

  6. My project is to make an almost street wide “Flying Eagle using 3 poles to hold it it up and as light as possible.
    The Eagle head that is 3ft wide with it’s mouth open showing the tongue. This my first Eagle and I would like to know the simplest way to craft the head shape before I use the “clay”.

    • Wow – an eagle head three feet wide – I assume you’re going to make the wings outspread, and I’m glad you didn’t ask me for advice on that, since it would need an engineering degree.

      I would suggest that you make a form, using whatever things you can find, in the shape of your bird’s head, and cover it with chicken wire. (An exercise ball might be the right size). I’d use at least three layers of traditional paper mache strips and paste over the wire to give yourself a solid base before adding any clay. Then, when your paper mache is all dry and hard, remove the supporting form, so you end up with a hollow head. If the paper mache is well supported by the wire, it should work just fine.

      For the open mouth issue, see Dan Reeder’s monster book.

  7. have you tried mixing Durham’s rock hard water putty in your clay mixture? I have used this material just with water but I am looking for structural strength and this might be a replacement for the joint compound…?
    Could the rock hard putty be used as a paper mache agent instead of the water, paper and flower mix? added just one of the pics of my costume- head is paper mache!!

    • Wow – nice costume. Kind of scary…

      I have not used the water putty. Doesn’t it harden rather quickly? If you do an experiment, please let us know how it turns out.

  8. Hi Jonni,

    I have a question. I was trying to make some pendants with the clay doing one side, letting it dry and flipping over to cover the other side. The problem is the sides aren’t melding together because one side being dry before the other. The pendants were probably about as thick as your butterfly project, but you don’t seem to have that problem. What am I doing wrong? I believe I will try and string them and just cover them in one go unless you have a better idea?

    Thanks,

    Cynthia Devening

    • Hi Cynthia. I’m not quite sure what you mean. Is the second (back) layer not bonding with the cardboard? Or are you skipping the cardboard, in which case the second layer is not bonding with the first layer of clay? You might want to reduce or eliminate the flour in your clay to make it a little stickier. Other than that, I can’t imagine why it isn’t working.

      • Opps, I kept checking back at the wrong comment area! The clay is going over the edge of the cardboard on the sides so yes the second layer isn’t bonding with the first layer. I will try eliminating the flour ( I shouldn’t be using it anyway because of a gluten intolerance). I made a couple more pendants and covered everything in one layer which was kind of tricky but worked. Thanks for the response! I will post a picture when they are all finished.

  9. Hi Jonni,

    I wanted to thank you for this simple and affordable recipe. I am a middle school art teacher and I am trying this out with my basic2 class. We are working on alebrijes. I knew we wouldn’t be able to do traditional wood carving but I didn’t want to use strip and paste because most inexperienced young artists tend to have limited success with creating smooth surfaces with it.

    So far the kids have just gotten their armatures started but I have a few that will be ready for clay tomorrow. I think I’m as excited as they are! If you’d like I would be glad to send pictures and the lesson plan for other teachers who stumble upon your site in their research.

    • Yes, we definitely want to see how the project turns out, and I know many teachers would be grateful for the lesson plan you used, if you’re willing to share it. You can send me an email if you have more than one image you’d like to show off. Good luck with the sculptures – I hope they all come out great.

  10. Hi Jonni

    Am enjoying your website. Did a papier mache years ago and am anxious to try it out again. My question to you is will flour possibly mold? I live in a very humid environment, so I thought maybe I should use wallpaper paste instead? or is my concern unfounded? Thanks.

    • Hi Donna. The anti-fungal agents in wallpaper paste might be a good idea in your area. I live in a semi-arid region of the country, so the flour isn’t a problem here as long as the sculptures are fully dry before they’re finished.

      Good luck with your project.

  11. Hi
    Great site. Your paper mache recipe is similar to my own so I thought I’d chime in & say that I’ve used several different kinds of paper shredded junk mail, newspaper etc. and it works out fine.
    I also use clove oil to avoid any mold problems.
    rachael

  12. Hey Jonnie,

    I just wanted to say that you have a wonderful website and that I will definitely use the paper mache clay for any future projects. However, I have a question. Do you have to use joint compound or is it optional? Thanks a lot.

    • Hi Jeffrey. Thanks for the nice comments. For your question, there are no “rules” in paper mache. However, if you make the clay without the joint compound, it will just be a mixture of toilet paper and Elmer’s glue. That would dry very hard, but I can’t imagine that it would be much fun to work with. However, I’ve done a lot of home remodeling, and I like working with joint compound, so maybe I’m prejudiced. My suggestion is that you try it both ways and find out if your version works as well as mine. Then be sure to come back and tell us what you find out!

  13. Hello
    just wanted to compliment you- your blog is one of the best artist resources I have come across in a long time! I am a painter, but was researching for my mother, who has never sculpted but wants to create a large scale giraffe. Your blog is fabulous, filled with good information and suggestions to try, and your art is beautiful as well. You are now definitely a “Favorite”!
    Thanks for all you’re doing,
    amy

  14. hi jonni, my 6 year old is making a sculpture of a maryland blue crab. i found your recipe for paper mache- it sounds fun to work with. will you please suggest the material, if any, he should use for the inside of his sculpture. he is a beginner and very excited about this project. thank you. amber

    • Hi Amber. A crab is a fairly complicated shape, and I would consider it an advanced project. I don’t suppose your son could be talked into doing an easier project, just for practice?

      If I were to make something like this, I’d draw the crab on a piece of heavy cardboard, including the legs. Then perhaps you could cut three pieces of light wire for him, long enough to go from the end of one claw, over the body, and to the end of the opposite claw. Tape these wires onto the cardboard to reinforce the thin legs. Then just add a bit of crumpled paper to the top of the crab and his legs, taping it on firmly with masking tape. Once the shape is nicely rounded out, it can be covered with the clay. You’d want to do just the top first, let it dry, and then do the bottom. After all the clay is dry, it can be painted with acrylic craft paint.

      I assume your son is old enough to know he shouldn’t eat the clay. Good luck with it.

      • hi jonni, my son has his heart set on a blue crab. this project is for a first grade “research project”. your suggestions are awesome. thank you. I will let you know how it turns out. amber

  15. Hi,

    Well, that is good to know, but my box actually had a plastic bag of already mixed, so I didn’t have to worry so much. But good to know I could have mixed it. I just didn’t know since I hadnt bought it before,

    Thanks so much,
    Carmen

  16. I bought the boiled this time, but I bought a box of ready mix of the joint compound, was that right or should I have bought the tub that looks like it is already mixed up? I just didn’t think about it at first.

      • Hi Carmen. The product you bought will work just fine – you don’t need to make another trip to the hardware store. Just mix it with water according to the directions on the package, so you have a cup full of mixed joint compound. Then go ahead and use it just like the pre-mixed product I used in the video.

  17. I was wondering about the Linseed oil. There are things about raw and “boiled” linseed oil. From what I gather it seems that the “boiled” linseed oil would be the one desired for this? Just making sure before I try it.
    Thanks,
    Carmen

    • Hi Carmen,

      The boiled linseed oil is the one I use, but that’s because it’s much cheaper to buy it at the hardware store instead of the art store. I have not experimented with raw linseed oil. If you decide to try it, please let us know how it turns out.

  18. I have a question for you since Thurston James’s excellent book, The Prop Builder’s Molding and Casting Handbook, doesn’t talk about Joint compound:
    How well does it do in molds? (Latex and Silicone?)
    Will it stick to the mold? Does the Linseed Oil have a chance of eating away at a mold from multiple uses? Will I need to use soap, petroleum jelly, or wax (as in the case of a plaster mold with paper mache) to make it not stick?

    I’m interested because I’ve been on a paper mache mask making kick and I’m planning on making molds to make copies of some of the masks. That way I won’t have to re-build the structure over again with newspaper and tape or clay over a plaster face. Yep, water-based clay works as a blank just like wood for making masks. Just let it dry all the way through like paper mache. Once dry, you have to dig out the clay from the shell. You can’t do very detailed shapes or marks on the clay since the strips and layers cover it up. But it does get the basic shape needed (snouts, noses, brows).

    • I have tried the clay in latex molds, and it doesn’t stick. However, I think I’d use a very light application of release, just in case.

      The linseed oil’s acids should be neutralized by the calcium in the joint compound – but I’m not a chemist, so don’t take my word for it. You’re doing something that is far more advanced than anything I’ve done with the clay to date. I’m afraid that means you’re the “volunteer” who does some experimenting for the rest of us.

      Be sure to let us see one of your masks when it’s done.

      • would like to know is window screens are a surface to work on or a surface for paper mache and if other papers are usable in the recipe such as rice paper or tissue paper. Also, if you want to thick and have texture will it sturdy enough. Are you using regular artist linseed oil or linseed oil brought in a hardware store.
        thanks alot
        deb

        • Hi Deb. I’m not quite sure what you mean about the window screens. I have not tried any other type of paper in the recipe, but if you do, please let us know how it turns out. I use boiled linseed oil from the hardware store.

          The clay will dry very hard and strong, and you can add textures if you want.

  19. Is there another oil besides linseed that can be substituted? I realize you said it would dry without it, but I want to do it right the first time I try it.

    • Several people have suggested other oils, but they were making their suggestions without actually doing any experiments to find out if they work. If you’re concerned about the oil for any reason, or if you just can’t find it, just leave it out. You will notice very little difference.

  20. Hi I have just found your site by accident and I would love to havea go Jonni but I live in the Uk and I was wondering what joint compound actually is please?

    Thank you so much.

    Debie x

    • I’ve been told that the product is called “joint filler” in the UK. The clerk at the hardware store should be able to help you if you tell him that you need the pre-mixed product that’s used to cover the joints between pieces of plaster board or wall board, when new walls are made. Don’t get anything that’s labeled “fast setting” or your clay will harden while it’s still in the bowl.

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