The recipe for paper mache clay
- 1 1/4 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?
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, like the wire inside bird legs.
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, because 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.
- 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.
- 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:
You’ll need several large bowls, some measuring cups, a spoon and an electric mixer.
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 instead. In fact, ever since the toilet paper shortage in early 2020, more and more people have made the recipe with old newspapers or the brown paper that Amazon.com uses inside it’s cartons. The texture of the final mix may be slightly different, but recycled paper works just fine. To see a video about using recycled paper in paper mache clay, click here.
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 use boiled linseed oil if children will be helping you with your sculpture, because it contains chemicals.
Step 1: Soak and measure your paper.
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.
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.
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.