I don’t have time to create a tutorial this week – I’m rushing to complete a paper mache sculpture for an Art About Agriculture contest sponsored by OSU. This will be the first art contest I’ve ever entered (I made my living as an artist many years ago, but no contests…) I’m making a sleeping Holstein calf on a base that represents the pasture and hills around the Tillamook valley – where they make that great ice cream and cheese. Wish me luck!
While I’m waiting for my sculpture to dry I thought I’d jot down a few comments about paper mache as an art form. Everyone experiences this material in grade school or kindergarten, but few people use it as a “serious” art form. I think there are good reasons for that.
First, paper mache, the laminated type made from torn paper and paste, cannot be sculpted by itself. It can only create a “skin” around something that has already been sculpted using another medium, or around form that is found around the house like a bowl or a balloon.
And for this reason, I think that paper mache doesn’t feel like a “natural” art medium. Give a child a sheet of paper and she will look around for a crayon to draw with. Give a child a lump of clay and he immediately begins to form it into a cat or face or train. Often the only thing people remember about their early paper mache projects is the mess.
To make it feel more natural, many people make a pulp out of wet paper and an adhesive, so the material can be used a bit like clay. This pulp can be formed (with wire or other armature inside), and some artists have created beautiful sculptures with this material. Beginners tend to find paper mache pulp frustrating as a sculptural medium because it dries so slowly – and the slow drying process can lead to the formation of mold if steps are not taken to prevent it. It is also difficult to create fine details because the paper has a fairly rough and bumpy texture. You can use this texture to add interest to your sculpture, but it can be frustrating, too. I must admit that I don’t have the patience for paper mache pulp.
To make a smoother, more finely-detailed sculpture, I find it easier to use laminated paper stripsand paste over a form. The resulting layers of paper are very strong – even a few layers will be hard enough to sand or drill, so they dry reasonably fast. But what should one use as the basic form?
If you’re just starting out with this medium, I recommend that you use something solid for your form, even if you want your finished piece to be hollow, like a pinata or piggy bank. Once several layers of paper and paste have dried you can easily saw it in two, remove the interior form, and then put it back together with more paper strips.
Why use a solid form instead of the more popular balloons? Because something solid is so much easier to hold onto.
As you can see from most of the tutorials on this site, I prefer to do my sculpting with crumpled newsprint and masking tape. I make ears with thin cardboard, and the piggy bank’s interior is made from an old salt container, but I use crumpled paper and masking tape whenever I can.
There are three benefits of using paper and masking tape for the form:
- You can create any shape you want, so your final piece will be a true expression of your own creativity – you aren’t limited by the shape of a balloon or bowl.
- Your sculpted crumpled paper will be solid and easy to hold while you add your paper strips.
- The crumpled paper will add considerable strength to your final sculpture, so only a few layers of paper and paste are needed unless the inner form will eventually be removed.
One problem with crumpled paper as an armature is that you will have lots of bumps and edges that you didn’t really want, unless you use lots of tape. I use tons of tape, so my crumpled paper sculpture is as close as possible to the shape I want my finished project.
Another problem is that it takes a long time before you can see how your finished sculpture will really look. There is always a point in every project when I despair that this thing can never turn out right. (And sometimes that turns out to be true – my first effort at a sculpture for that art contest ended up in the trash).
Then, usually after the second layer of paper has been added, the sculpture seems to come to life. I use brown Kraft paper for my second layer so that there will be no distracting print, and I can really see the shape and form of the sculpture for the first time.
Then, of course, comes the worry that the paint or final finish won’t turn out the way you want, but that’s a problem for another post. For now, I need to get back to my Holstein calf for that contest. I’ll put up a photo of it when it’s done.
If you have any ideas about paper mache as an art form, or if you have a favorite item that you like to use for the inner form, please let us know in the comments below.