Paper Mache Horse, Day 12

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Important Note: I used drywall (plaster board) for the pattern on this project, just to see if it would work. It didn’t! Use cardboard, instead. I also used Super Sculpey as the form for the head and I forgot to remove it after the paper mache was dry, like I should have. The oil in the modeling clay seeped through the paint and ruined part of his face. It took about a year for the spot to show, but then it just kept getting bigger. I also used Super Sculpey for my giraffe head -but I did it right that time, and cut the head open to remove the clay. Live and learn. 😉

Paper Mache Horse, Almost Done
Paper Mache Horse, Almost Done

It’s finally looking like a horse! It’s been almost two weeks already.

Here’s what I did yesterday and today:

  • Rebuilt the face with Super Sculpeysee the note at the top of the page. I didn’t take the Super Sculpey out of my sculpture, and the oil in the clay seeped out into the paper and ruined the painted finish. If you use any kind of modeling clay for your mold, you need to remove it by cutting the dried paper mache down the middle, take out the clay, and then put the head back together with more paper strips and paste.
  • Covered the plastic clay with one to two layers of paper mache
  • Added the mane and tail
Checking with Mirror
Checking with Mirror

Getting Both Sides The Same

I have a hard time getting my sculptures symmetrical. Sometimes being a little lopsided adds character to a paper mache animal sculpture. However, I do like to check to see if both sides of the face are the same, and the easiest way to do this is with a mirror.

Adding Paper and Paste to Details
Adding Paper and Paste to Details

Adding Paper and Paste to Details

It’s easy to lose the details when you use paper mache over clay. I exaggerate the indentations when I’m modeling with the Sculpey, especially the finer details like the eye and nose. Then very thin strips of paper are pasted over the clay, and I use a modeling tool to carefully press the paper into the grooves. I’m going to leave the Sculpey inside the head, so I only used one layer of newsprint over the eyes and muzzle. The other areas of the head got a second layer of brown paper and paste.

Mane and Tail

I wasn’t sure until today what I’d use to make the mane and tail. A reader suggested that plaster casting strips would work, and a photo she sent me of her own paper mache horse made with this material proved that it works quite well. However, I decided that I like the textural contrast of something soft added to a hard paper mache sculpture, so I looked around for another material to use.

I came very close to taking a trip to the local Walmart to browse the aisles in search of good tail material when I remembered the burlap I recently purchased to cover my worm bins. There was a little left over, and I decided it would be perfect for my sculpture, after a little bit of work.

  1. For the mane I doubled over two pieces of burlap and crudely stitched them together along one side.
  2. Then I pulled out all the threads that were parallel to the stitching. This left a “brush” of stiff burlap “hair.”
  3. I cut along the folds and removed most of the material on the two inside pieces of burlap.
  4. Then I applied a very heavy coat of carpenters’ glue to the material. This was for two purposes – to glue the individual threads together at the base of the mane so they wouldn’t easily fall out, and to provide a wide surface of strong glue to hold the mane onto the neck.
  5. The two long edges were pressed onto the neck and flattened out. Then two layers of paper mache strips were added to securely fasten the mane to the neck.
  6. Then I covered the mane with plastic wrap to protect it while I finish the ears, sand and paint the horse. The plastic will be removed when the sculpture is finished. She’ll probably need a haircut, since foals have much shorter manes than adult horses.

The sequence is shown below:

Burlap Mane, Step 1
Burlap Mane, Step 1
Burlap Mane, Step 2
Burlap Mane, Step 2
Burlap Mane, Step 3
Burlap Mane, Step 4
Burlap Mane, Step 5

The tail was done essentially the same way.

  1. Long strips of burlap scraps were sewed together and then rolled up to form a cylindar at the end that’s attached to the horse’s rear end.
  2. Threads were removed, leaving a long brush of “hair” sticking out below the stitching.
  3. I opened up the cylindar and removed as much material from the inside as I could without causing it to unravel.
  4. Then a big glob of glue was pressed into the material to hold the individual hairs together before pressing the tail onto the horse.
  5. Paper mache layers were added to cover the burlap that was flattened out on the horse’s rear. I used several layers of paper and extended them a long ways out from the tail, in order to create as solid a connection as I could.

You can see how this looks in the images below:

Burlap Tail, Step 1
Burlap Tail, Step 2
Burlap Tail, Step 3

Before I go any further I’ll also cover the tail with plastic wrap so it won’t get paste and paint in it. To see what the mane and tail look like now, before their final haircut, check the photo at the top of this post.

My next task is to sand the sculpture, cover it with gesso, and paint those adorable appaloosa spots!

20 thoughts on “Paper Mache Horse, Day 12”

  1. Hi Jonni – I can see that the detail and artistry in this makes for a very time-consuming process. Is there any way of creating some sort of mould so that a series of them could be created. I ask because I’m actually trying to get about 20 paper mache horses for children/ community groups to decorate (around a foot high each).

    • Hi Alanna. You can use silicone to make a mold, but a four-legged mold is fairly tricky. You might find a YouTube video that would help. The horse in my book is a quite a lot easier and faster to make than the one on this page – I did a lot of experimentation when I made this one, and the one in the book uses only the most efficient methods. You might take a look at it before making your original horse.

      How soon do all 20 paper mache horses need to be done?

      • Thanks Jonni – but I’m just not capable of making such things. I’m really thinking of paying to getting them made. But I’m after them in about a month. I don’t suppose you might be able to help? I don’t need them all at once.

        • Alanna, I’m afraid I can’t help. I’ve started writing my second novel, and it’s taking most of my time. There are a few people on making paper mache horses, and one of them might be able to make them for you. Original art does take quite a lot of time, so it may be rather expensive. It would be faster to make one original, make a silicone mold, and pour the copies using liquid resin. Perhaps you could find an art student or teacher nearby who could help you with your project?

  2. Hi Jonni, I seem to be interested in you paper mache horse, i have a few questions of my own before i star a life size colt of my own. Okay, so what kind of paper mache do you use? if you don’t buy the paper mache, than how do you make it?what kind of wood do you use for the armature? what would you do if you crumple the news paper to much and it turns out lumpy? sorry for all of these questions, i just want to do well on this project i will be doing with my mother. pleas respond soon


    • Hi Lindsey. If I did another colt, I’d use the paper mache clay recipe, which you can find here. You can use heavy cardboard for the armature, or light plywood. If you use the paper mache clay, it will help smooth out the bumps made by the crumpled paper armature. If you use the cardboard for the armature, be sure to make it stronger by using some heavy wire. You might want to watch this video, about the horse sculpture that’s in my paper mache book. The horse is much smaller than the one you have in mind, but the principles still apply. It shows you how the legs are made stronger with wire.

    • I actually “cooked” the super sculpey under a 100 watt light. That’s no something I recommend, though. If I did this project over, I would make the head the same way I made the body, with crumpled paper and masking tape. Then I’d add some details with the joint compound. Then you don’t have to mess with cooking the sculpey or removing it. If you left it in uncooked the oil would eventually seep out into your paper mache and discolor it (I did that once, and ruined a project).

  3. I have to agree with Kathy you have taken paper mache to a whole new level. I was looking for a site to give me some instruction and stumbled upon your work.
    I do not know many who would share their process so thoroughly. Thank you.
    I don’t know where you are from but I would love to take classes from you and with this site I guess I will.

    • Thanks, Marcia. Classes do sound like fun, but I live in a very small town, so I doubt I’d get many students. However, I am thinking about writing a book when I can find the time.

  4. Just found your site looking for articles on improving website traffic – What a bonus! Your artwork is fabulous, you take paper mache to a whole new level.
    Thanks for sharing the creative process as well as the final creation. I have put a link to your site on my blog – this is truly worth sharing.


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