Lifelike Paper Mache Octopus – Complete Tutorial

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How Cindy made her paper mache octopus.

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

  1. Cindy, your octopus is incredible! Your detailed description of how you created this awesome creature and the beautiful photos made me so glad I received Jonni’s email about your post. Making and applying all those suckers ..can’t imagine how time consuming and finger burning that was. Thank you so much for sharing and for also telling us how an octopus swims. Loved it.

    And thank you, Jonni, for enabling us to see this work of art

  2. Absolutely incredible. Your workmanship is perfect. The octopus is one of my favorite creatures and you have duplicated, such a life like one, in paper mache. Beautiful !!!!!

  3. Amazing work! Thanks for sharin WIP photos. Looks like it was tons of work, but definitely worth all the little details.

  4. Awesome. I love octos and this is an incredible sculpture. Would love to have one on my wall too. 🙂

  5. Congratulations Cindy, your Octopus is fantastic and so realistic. It is a credit to you. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.
    Cheers, Fran

  6. I LOVE this creature! You are very clever and experienced! As someone else commented, where do you order the eyes from please. I think the eyes are the most important thing to look realistic on paper mache.
    Congratulations on a fabulous work of art!


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