Soul’s Paper Mache Dolphin Sculpture – Guest Tutorial

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Soul offered to show us how to make a paper mache dolphin sculpture. The final “skin” was made in a very inventive way, and looks surprisingly realistic. Click on the images to see them full sized.

I’ll let Soul take it from here:

Jonni invited me to share a guest post with you all on how I made my paper mache dolphin.

This is only my second big project after making the baby elephant that Jonni so gracefully has shared the pattern of. So the next challenge was trying to make something for which I created my own pattern.

I am still a novice myself but truly enjoy the journey of discovery that paper mache offers. So far I have only worked with material I already have lying around the house, turning ‘trash’ into treasure. So if there is a project you would like to do be creative and do not limit yourself to the materials listed.

Also keep in mind that I am not a professional artist and have no experience in writing tutorials. This is only my second project I finished and I am blissfully unburdened by any knowledge or experience of what does or doesn’t work yet, and what may or may not be smart choices long term. I feel honored that Jonni asked me to do a guest post for you all but just know that whatever I describe may very well not be the best way to do things, it simply describes the way I did things.

Soul’s Paper Mache Dolphin

The dolphin measures in a straight line from nose to tail 110 cm and 45 cm from side flipper to side flipper. The total weight for me came to round about 1500 gram.

For the dolphin I used:
Soft-board leftovers from floor underlay (for the base pattern)
Plastic containers and bottles (for filling and building shape)
Wallpaper glue leftovers
Boxing and masking tape
Construction tape (for the skin)
Double sided tape
Glass pebbles (for the eyes)
Sail ring (for attaching the string)
Sturdy plastic strips to braid into string (from bag a mattress came in)
Keyring and clip

Tools I used:
Photoshop (any other program that helps to put a grid on a picture will work too)
Pencil, chalk, markers
Pattern paper (if you don’t have pattern paper, drawing a grid on the base material will work too)
Electric jig saw
Sharp knife

I started looking up all kinds of pictures of dolphins to use for the base pattern and for working on the details.
In Photoshop I put in the picture and adjusted the grid to fit the size of my pattern paper and soft-board to get the maximum size for the material available.

The base pattern comes in four pieces:
The body (excluding the tail and side flippers)
Two side flippers
The tail piece

From the grid it is easy to draw the base pattern on the pattern paper. Of course it is also possible to draw straight on the base material.

However, having a pattern will save time if you ever want to repeat the project or want to pass it on to someone else. I’ve cut out the pattern pieces to easily outline them on the base board with a piece of chalk, pencil or marker.

Step 1 -
Step 1 –

Then used the jigsaw to saw out the pieces. Soft-board is very brittle and breaks easily so I do recommend using an electric jigsaw, if you can get one, and to take it slow. The advantage of soft-board is that it is very light and will keep the weight down considerably. Since this is a project to hang from the ceiling, weight is something to consider. Paper mache will ensure it will still have plenty of strength once it is fully done.

Step 2 - Then I used the jigsaw to saw out the pieces. Soft-board is very brittle and breaks easily so I do recommend using an electric jigsaw, if you can get one, and to take it slow. The advantage of soft-board is that it is very light and will keep the weight down considerably. Since this is a project to hang from the ceiling, weight is something to consider. Paper mache will ensure it will still have plenty of strength once it is fully done.
Step 2 –

For the side flippers make sure to put some extra length on them to be able to work them into the body later on so you don’t have difficulty attaching them to the body.

For the tail piece, saw in a split where tail and tail fin meet so that you can horizontally attach the fin to the body.

Step 3 -
Step 3 –

By attaching some empty containers to the body that have a flat side it helps to give the base some stability when putting it upright. And it gives a space to put the side flippers in. Every empty space means saving weight! Empty containers are a great way to start building up shape and to give some more strength to parts that are vulnerable. I used an empty plastic bottle to help secure the tail fin connection and to get the basic shape for the tail.

Step 4
Step 4

I’ve used crumpled up paper and as many plastic containers as I could get in there to start building the basic shape. To keep everything together in between I use tape and strips of newspaper soaked in the wallpaper glue. The only thing to keep in mind is to give it plenty of time in between to dry. Personally I like to use gloves to wipe of the excess glue so I can just take of the gloves if I quickly need to do something else in between and not worry about getting everything else messy.

Step 5 -
Step 5 –

Don’t worry about shape to much in the beginning. Since the only really solid part is the base you can always cut away pieces and put extra on. You just want to get a basic shape that looks like a dolphin where you can work from for details.

Step 6 -
Step 6 –

Then it is time to start studying your subject a little more. Watching you tube videos and doing image searches can help a lot to learn a little more about how all separate features can be build up to give your project more character and detail.

Step 7 -
Step 7 –

Cheeks, jawline, curves etc, you can put as much detail in as you want. Make sure to look at it from all directions from a distance from time to time.

Step 8 -
Step 8 –

If it is a project you want to be able to hang make sure to think about a way how and where to attach early on in the process. However also keep in mind that the weight of the final project will decide how the balance will be when it hangs.

Since the soft-board is so brittle I didn’t really trust it to hold the weight if I would simply make a hole in it so I decided to use some old copper sail rings on both sides to give some extra strength.

Step 9 -
Step 9 –

To make sure the rings would stay into place I made a paste with left over soft-board mixed with wall paper glue to secure it in place.

Step 10 -
Step 10 –

To make a semi see through string I cut six heavy plastic strips from a bag where a mattress was shipped in, and braided those into a string. Attached a ring and a clip and hung it from my chandelier to see if either dolphin, chandelier, or both would come down. I do recommend hanging it for a while to make sure it is sturdy enough. In the meantime the paste gets a chance to dry and there are more opportunities to study it from all sides now that it is floating mid air. I can recommend lying underneath it and dreaming away while the dolphin is ‘swimming’ above you. From a hanging point it is also easier to work on all sides.

Step 11 -
Step 11 –

For the eyes I used some glass pebbles that I made black on the top outside using a waterproof marker. I left a small speck open in the center to give the eye a little bit more life to it. For attaching it to the body I used gray construction tape that would allow me to easily shape eyelids and not have to worry later on about getting paint on the eyes. You can make eyelids more life like by folding part of the tape over so that it doesn’t just become flat surface but an actual lid that lies around the eyes.

Step 12 -
Step 12 –

After that I started making the blow hole since that would have to be shaped out into the body.

Step 13 -
Step 13 –

Since the construction tape looks so much like dolphin skin I let go of the idea to paint the dolphin and took up the challenge to just simply totally cover it in tape. A warning might be in place that according to some more experienced paper mache fellow artist this might cause problems when the project is exposed to a lot of sunlight or heat since the tape might start to peel then. I still decided to give it a go since I used that same tape for outdoors repairs ages ago and those where still doing pretty OK and have withstood all kinds of weather and lots of water.

Not all tape is the same though. It is good to consider if you want to make things to last ‘forever’ or if you just want to have a fun recycling project that can be enjoyed for the time that it lasts or that can be repaired in between. Also be aware that in the end result it will show that it is covered in tape and won’t give the same perfect surface as a sanded and painted project. However it will probably be more suitable for a kid’s room since it can easily be wiped down and repaired if needed, has a nice shimmer and a ‘real’ dolphin skin feel.

Step 14 -
Step 14 –

If you ever wanted to swim with dolphins but don’t have that in reach, now you can in your own back yard without even getting wet!

Think of all the fun ways you can turn this into family pics or maybe even unique school group photo’s. I can recommend to go through all the tutorials and posts that Jonni is sharing with the world on this wonderful site and hopefully my post has helped to inspire some of you to take the plunge and dive into the world of paper mache, it’s FUN!

Step 15 -
Step 15 –

The end!

Thanks, Soul!

20 thoughts on “Soul’s Paper Mache Dolphin Sculpture – Guest Tutorial”

  1. I have not ever made a sculpture like this before,i am making a large dolphin for my niece and I have it put together, and I was going to do regular paper mache but after doing research there is a chance it could eventually get mold or bugs and I know she plans on having it a long while so I didn’t want to do it that way, so as one of the people who made one of the other dolphins she used wall paper glue, so for the first layer I did the same, only problem is it is not making the project any thicker/stronger which it ultimately needs, what would you suggest to use that won’t cause any bugs/mold…ever. Any advice or suggestions are appreciated. PS I love your work

    • One type of paste that mold doesn’t seem to like is the Elmer’s Art Paste (methyl cellulose). A small box makes up a lot of paste, but it never seems to go bad. Any paste that will stick paper together should make a strong sculpture, if you use enough layers. You can use the brown paper that paper bags are made out of to make it stronger with fewer layers – you can buy brown paper on a roll in the paint department of a hardware store or WalMart.

      Another way to make sure you don’t get bugs or mold is to seal the sculpture when it’s completely dry. It will keep the sculpture from soaking up water from damp air, which could cause mold, and bugs will be less likely to be attracted to the varnished sculpture. I’ve never actually had a problem with bugs on my sculptures, but I know they can be a problem in some parts of the world.

  2. Soul,
    I love the idea of using cast off plastic containers to take up space inside your form. I have never tried that. What exactly is “construction tape”?
    Nice job on your dolphin. I love the way he turned out!

    • Thank you Patti. Construction tape is like Duct Tape. It’s very flexible and strong tape. Someone even commented on a different board that they actually use that on real dolphins when they have wounds that need to heal. Haven’t looked into it so don’t know if that is a myth or for real. It feels much like skin and easy to wipe down so ideal for kidsrooms.

  3. Hi, this is ‘Lewie’, named after and dedicated to Shona Lewendon, the founder of the ‘Olympic Dolphins Campaign’, he was used to hang from the stage to represent captivity for our ‘Dolphin Awareness Campaign’ at Federation Square in Melbourne Australia that was held recently, he was around 6 foot long and weighed about 25kg and was my first attempt at this sort of thing, I usually work with clay and on a lot smaller scale! Although I did have some difficulties, like with acquiring the right materials for the cast ( shop towels), I improvised using kitchen towels but it didn’t turn out thick and hard enough, it was to flimsy and crushed in from the weight in places, so if there was a next time, I wouldn’t cut a plaster cast off ( similar to Jonnie’s Rhino), rather give the armature a good coat of paper clay, then once hardened, pull the inner paper out of an opening and then close it back up, flippers and fluke (tail) were reinforced using thick wire coat hangers and his face was done using Jonnie’s fabulous Air-Dry Clay, then finished using acrylic paints and a high gloss for that ‘Wet affect’…although I ran out of time and would of liked to add more detail, like muscle tone on the sides of his belly and fix a few lumps and bumps with sanding, he turned out rather well and made an impressive statement!…thank you Jonnie for your help and your wonderful Paper Mache recipes ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh, and he now has a wonderful new home with the ‘Cove Guardians’ from Sea Shepherd in Melb, and will be used for future events!

  4. This dolphin turned out beautifully and the best thing this ca be easily adapted to different styles of
    crafting. But you are right, this can use almost any shapes you have around the house and still come up with a neat sculpture.

  5. Nice job Soul! I can not believe this was only your 2nd project. You have a gift! The tutorial was nice and planned out well. Thanks.

    • Thanks Eileen. I’m glad you like the tutorial!

      I was pretty surprised when Jonni asked me to do a guest post. It’s a very experimental project and I’m so new at this all yet but truly enjoy using materials that would otherwise end up in the trash. Being able to use things lying around the house and not having to buy any material to be able to craft things like this is a nice bonus ๐Ÿ˜€

      There is so much we can reuse instead of dumping in landfills. It’s a gift to ourselves and to mother nature.

      I love working with paper mache, you can’t really go wrong, it’s so easy to adjust things if they happen to not turn out the way you would like them to be.

      Thanks again for your nice comment!


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