Lifelike Paper Mache Octopus – Complete Tutorial

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This paper mache octopus and the guest post below were created by Cindy Williams. Thanks, Cindy!

The story of the paper octopus.

©2020 Cindy Williams

Octopuses are amazing animals. They have three hearts and a donut shaped brain. Their blood is copper based (instead of iron based), thereby making it blue. They can change the color and shape of their skin instantaneously. An octopus can squeeze down to fit through an opening the size of its eye, which is the only inflexible part of its body. And perhaps best of all, it’s OK to say octopuses or octopi.

So of course, I had to make one out of paper! The project started with crumpled newspaper and masking tape. I wrapped wire coat hangers with tin foil to make the tentacles. All my projects tend to start from computer pictures and simple beginnings.

Doing research for the paper mache octopus

Next, I got a basic feel for how the octopus would sit on the wall by literally taping it to the wall.

Creating the armature for a paper mache octopus

Once I had a general sense of how that would work, I took all the tentacles off, beefed them up as needed with more tin foil and tape and then used shop towels to paper mache them.

Creating the octopus arms

Once the tentacles were dry, I found it necessary to label them with numbers, or I would hopelessly mix them up. Then with some hot glue and tape, I attached the tentacles to the body. Since space was limited where the tentacles all came together, I attached one or two arms at a time, applied paper mache, and let them dry before attaching more. After all the tentacles were on, it was time to paper mache the body too. Once that was all done, I threw it on the wall again to make sure it still had the right look. If a tentacle didn’t sit right, I would simply make a cut all around where I wanted it to pivot, swivel it around, tape it up, and paper mache it in the correct position.

Paper mache added to the octopus

Now for some details. The webbing between tentacles is done by stringing wire between them and then using shop towels to mache the web space. The little frills on the arms are pieces of tin foil taped on then paper mached.

Adding frills to the octopus sculpture

Octopuses swim by squirting water out of a siphon, which is kind of like nature’s little underwater jet propeller. I made a little siphon out of crumpled up newspaper and tape. Then I paper mached the siphon shape, let it dry, cut it in half, hollowed it out, and paper mached the hollowed out siphon. To date, the siphon remains free – it can be pulled out! Also, at this stage I drew some guidelines on the legs for the suction cups to follow.

Octopus sculpture with siphon

It seems as though every paper mache project I do has some repetitive, time consuming element to it and this project provided me with hours of work as I made over 400 suction cups. To do this I picked three pipes of different sizes. The biggest suction cups were made by taking a piece of PVC pipe, taping a single sheet of newspaper to it (to prevent the paper mache from directly contacting the pipe and thus sticking to it), and applying paper mache to the PVC pipe. When it was dry, the paper mache tube slid off the PVC pipe and could then be cut into dozens of little circles. I took these hollow circles and one by one hot glued them to the tentacles. Then I came back and paper mached each circle, and poked a little hole in it too… cause you know, that’s how octopus suckers look. Repeat times 400.

Making suckers for the octupus sculpture
Sculpting suckers on the paper mache octopus

To make the head look better, I added some tin foil fins, taped them in place and paper mached them. I also added a little texture to the head and eye area by using home-made paper mache clay.

Adding texture to the octopus

I ordered glass octopus eyes online (where apparently you can get anything, including glass octopus eyes) and used a resin clay to get them to fit just right. The resin clay is called Magic Sculpt and I love it for eyes because it air dries and is easy to work with.

Glass eyes for the octopus

Then it was painting and more painting. My paint strategy includes picking out a few colors then working light to dark, wiping areas with a paper towel to get an awesome shading effect. I also discovered that a neat effect occurs when you water paint down – it produces spots, which in the case of an octopus, I found fitting. From here it was just patience and persistence until I finally had it all done. Thanks for reading this. I always get a kick out of how rough these projects start out – it feels like turning trash into art!

Painting the paper mache octopus
Paper mache octopus
Octopus sculpture on the wall
Highly Detailed Paper Mache Octopus

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71 thoughts on “Lifelike Paper Mache Octopus – Complete Tutorial”

  1. I would love to know how much the sculpture weighs. What a beautiful artwork that commands admiration. Thank you for sharing your skills. I am inspired and when we break up from school from the Easter holidays, I intend to create a gorgeous octopus like yours for my art classroom. YOU ARE AMAZING!

    • It’s probably somewhat light even though it’s big because it’s paper machet which makes it easy to hang in wall. I only know cause I paper macheted a 7 foot megaladon shark which was intended to be hung from the ceiling

  2. Wow, wow and WOW ?. Absolutely love this … came across your website through Pinterest. I design my own animal files and was wondering how to made them stronger like I have seen pop up everywhere. Now I have new way of bringing the animals to life.

    Best regards,

  3. That’s amazing. I’m working in an After School this summer and the theme is the ocean. You’re octopus is just what I was looking for, it’s BEAUTIFUL, love it. I’m going to try it.

  4. This is truly fantastic and amazing! I can’t imagine how many hours it took overall, but we’ll worth it.
    One small pedantic note – octopi is incorrect as it is a Latin pluralisation whereas octopus is a Greek word and therefore should adopt the Greek pluralisation (which is octopuses, or even octopodes if you want)

  5. I love you octopus and the step by step instruction. I do have one question how did you hang it?
    Thanks so much

  6. Seu trabalho é maravilhoso!
    Estava procurando uma figura de polvo, para fazer em cerâmica plástica e encontrei o teu.
    Vou me inspirar nele.

  7. Wow! Wow! Wow! Thank you for the tutorial. Your Octopus is so realistic and I love the paintjob! Just amazing. How did you hang it?

  8. Thank you Cindy. Amazing piece you created. I did a prototype in fabric. This looks like a much better approach. My will have a steampunk vibe. Yours is stunning! Thank you again, Helen

  9. OMG!!!!

    I am on my 3rd try right now at 3.5-4ft “octopus legs” that will wrap around a mirror… its a very old, very thin mirror and so far they are all too heavy from the airdry clay… headed for the tinfoil now!!!! :)

  10. I am making a paper mâché octopus for our wall right now. The armature is almost complete. I was so happy to find this on your site this evening because I have not figured out how to make the suction cups. This helps a lot. I need to figure out how to mount it, though. I know it will be heavy. This one is beautiful!

    • Different sizes of rubber tubing or old garden hose. Even aquarium airlines and the suction cups on the bottom of the dollar store bath mats can work well for that.

  11. I love your work. Thank you for generously sharing the entire process about how you made the octopus. I may try to make one myself. You have inspired me!!

  12. I was dreaming last night about being at a paper mache workshop so this morning I knew I had to do a little research. Your post on Pinterest is what I clicked on first! The octopus is my amauka. This piece honors it well. I really appreciate you starting out telling of this animal’s unique traits. I am basically a glass artist mostly doing mosaics and have been wanting to do some more 3D pieces. You have given me some ideas about armature. Thank you for the generosity of sharing so much of your process!

  13. Yes! Cindy has made amazing papier-mâché art! Her first was a dragon! Was beyond ! Then a 3 headed monster goat, snake and lion head with one body!
    She moved away, had lost touch! Now octopus of amazing Quality again!
    Thank you Cindy, for your talent of making paper come to life!
    Rhonda Snyder

  14. Wow! Your Octopus is fantastic!!
    Wonderful job Jonni. I can always count on you to turn out something wonderful !


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