Paper Mache Humpback Whale Sculpture Tutorial – Guest Post

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Paper Mache Humpback Whale Sculpture Tutorial - Guest PostWe have another guest post by Basil Hammerton, a paper mache sculptor from New Zealand. You may remember him as the author of the recent post about how to get a great elephant skin texture in paper mache. He first showed us this whale sculpture on the Daily Sculptors Page, and I asked if he would be willing to show us how they were made. I am so happy he agreed – thanks, Basil!

Be sure to click on the images, to see them full-sized, and with Basil’s notes.

©2015 Basil Hammerton

How to Make a Humpback Whale Wall Sculpture with Paper Mache Clay

My first attempt at making my own armature started with a line drawing of one humpback whale. For the mother I multiplied all the dimensions by three and for the calf by 1.2. The calf was made following the same process so I will describe the process once knowing you will need to repeat it on a smaller scale for the calf.

Paper Mache Humpback Whale Sculpture Tutorial - Guest Post

Paper Mache Humpback Whale Sculpture Tutorial - Guest Post

The flippers and tail were done separately and added to the body later. Once the basic armature was finished, I filled it all out with bubble wrap. This worked really well as it packed nice and tight and was firm under the masking tape. I added a flat piece of card for the top of the head too but as I was working from a one dimension drawing I had to guess the size of this, which wasn’t too hard as by this stage I had already filled the body shape out.

Paper Mache Humpback Whale Sculpture Tutorial - Guest Post

Paper Mache Humpback Whale Sculpture Tutorial - Guest Post

Paper Mache Humpback Whale Sculpture Tutorial - Guest Post

Next a covering of masking tape. I added wire to the tail and bent it to the desired curve then attached it to the body with masking tape. I also added wire to the flippers so as to give them a more realistic curve and left the wire protruding two inches to help fixing them to the body. I like to do at least one layer of paper strips even if I am going to be applying paper mache clay as this allows it all to firm up really nicely and gives the paper clay a nice surface to adhere to.Paper Mache Humpback Whale Sculpture Tutorial - Guest Post


When finished and on display I wanted to have them swimming free of the wall or where ever they would be displayed and needed a fixing to accommodate this. I remembered I still had part of a mobile phone vehicle windscreen mount so decided to see if this would work. The weight of the finished whales needed to be dispersed over a larger area than just the small area of the mount so I attached part of the mount to a piece of 6 mm MDF board which I feathered out at the edges. This was then epoxied onto the paper strips, it would not only balance everything out but would not be seen once the whales were on the wall. It was about then that I thought it might be difficult mounting it all to the wall without dropping or damaging them so I came up with the idea of the backing board. Then all that needed to be done was for the backing board to be hung like a picture. Not entirely happy with this and may change it to some sort of pedestal arrangement.

Paper Mache Humpback Whale Sculpture Tutorial - Guest Post

Paper Mache Humpback Whale Sculpture Tutorial - Guest Post


Time for the first layer of clay, no detail at this stage, just enough to get to the overall shape I was after. Once this was dry I added another layer into which I added the detail of the throat pleats, eyes, mouth and lips etc. The callouses on the mother were small bean bag polystyrene filler balls and on the calf they were very small beads which I robbed from my fly tying bench.

Then one coat of gesso and once dry this was sanded back adding any extra details needed and smoothing out other areas. Then finally a very thin coat of gesso to fill any remaining imperfections.

To add the flippers I carefully drilled a very small hole into the side where they would be located, epoxied the wire and poked it into the hole. Once the epoxy was dry, ( I only use the 5 minute epoxy as I am too impatient to wait for the 24 hour stuff to go off and I know from my fishing rod building that the 5 minute stuff is ultimately stronger anyway), I covered the join with clay adding muscle structure and then the two layers of gesso over this. I also applied quite a bit of clay under the flippers for support as this would not be seen in the finished product.

Paper Mache Humpback Whale Sculpture Tutorial - Guest Post

Then it was time to paint everything. The whales were easy as they were basically just two colours, grey and white. I tried to add blue reflections of the light coming down through the water onto their backs, not sure if I fully achieved this result. The backing board was painted to give the effect of looking up at the underside of the ocean surface with sunlight shinning down through the water column. Once everything was painted I then attached the calf to the mother using a piece of 6mm dowel. I drilled a hole in both and epoxied half of the dowel into the calf, once set I then epoxied the other half into the mother. Unfortunately I did not get the balance right and they wanted to tip back rather than dive down so I drilled a 3mm hole through the back board where I wanted the mothers tail flukes to sit and also drilled a fine hole into her inside tail fluke. Then I epoxied a small panel pin and inserted it through from behind into both holes. Once set this solved the problem. I was a little afraid of using a power drill to drill into the paper clay but found if I was very careful and had the drill on its slowest setting everything went well.

The humpbacks were complete.

The finished sculpture of the Humpback Whale Family..

I have not gone into too much detail regarding the backing board but for those of you who would like to know how it was done here is a brief description. It is basically a piece of 16mm plywood cut to size with two picture hanging loops on either side at the back. First well primed with an acrylic undercoat then a coat of artists gesso followed by the painting you can see on it.

Also I have not included any photos of the whale painting process because basically I didn’t take any. Once I got to this stage I was enjoying myself too much to stop and before I knew it they were painted, so I apologize for this but as I explained earlier it was really easy as they were only two colours. So don’t let this frighten you, I too have not had much experience at acrylic painting. Give it a go you too may surprise yourself.


4 thoughts on “Paper Mache Humpback Whale Sculpture Tutorial – Guest Post”

  1. Amazing that you posted this, because for many months now I have had plans to make a paper mache humpback whale. Just wasn’t sure where to start, especially for the armature. Thank you for posting this!

  2. WOW. Thank you for showing the process in creating this stunning piece, Basil. I’m inspired to break out some joint compound now.


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