Paper Mache Wasp Nest – Guest Post

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We have a guest post today showing us how to create a beautiful piece of art based on nature’s own paper mache artists. Marika mentions that her project took slightly longer than our three-hour challenge limit – but that’s OK with me. This project came out so nice, it looks like it took far longer than that.

Marika very kindly offered to submit a downloadable PDF version, with more photos.  You’ll definitely want to take a look at the photo that compares the real wasp nest with her paper mache version. It’s really hard to tell them apart! I’ll let Marika take over from here:

My name is Marika Aakala and I live in Finland with my husband. I am a ceramic artisan, bachelor of culture and arts and an occupational therapists. At the moment I work as an occupational therapist in a major rehabilitation centre in Finland.

As a child my main medium was drawing but as I grew up my interest was aimed more towards three dimensional sculpting and building, which is still my favourite thing in all of it’s different forms. I love making theatre puppets, masks and papier mache sculptures. Environment and safety are my main concerns and I do my best to use only natural materials whenever possible.

Now as an adult with more confidence, I am slowly reinforcing and gaining back my creative and artistic nature. On my free time I work actively with different art related projects. Right now I am a scenography trainee in a shadow puppet theatre project and it is really amazing learning experience to me! Sculpting and creating with my hands is a passion and a way of life that I could not live without. I thrive for designing / innovating ideas for my craft and sometimes it feels that I spend more time in designing than actually doing anything!

This project was inspired by Jonni’s Three-hour Challenge. I wanted to participate and was thinking what could I do. One day we were visiting our friends and we were planning to barbeque. Unfortunately there was a tiny wasp nest inside their outdoor grill, so we had to first remove it. I got to see it really close and really loved the colours and texture those tiny artists had made. That was the moment I realized that maybe I could try to make my own wasp nest to our wall and started planning.

Here I have listed how long it took to make it:

  • making paper mache: 15 min.
  • dyeing the paper mache: 30 min.
  • making the starch glue 10 min.
  • covering the balloon with paper: 20 min.
  • attaching the metal wire: 10 min
  • sculpting the outer layer: 30 min. + 60 min. + 50 min.
  • Total 3 hours and 45 minutes. So bit longer than recommended. I hope that it´s all right.

These are the materials needed:

  • Batch of Jonni’s Paper mache clay, but instead of white flour I used fine saw dust for texture, this is not necessary though.
  • One balloon
  • Permanent marking pencil
  • Acrylic paints (I used brown, yellow, red and black)
  • Metal wire and cutters
  • PVA glue
  • Rye flour paste (you can use any other starch to make the glue)
  • Some paper for the first layer
  • Metallic tool to spread the mache

These are the steps:

Paper Mache Wasp Nest
First Layer of Paper Mache Added

1. Make the paper mache according to Jonni’s paper mache clay recipe. If you want more texture, you could substitute the white flour with saw dust.

2. Divide the mache into as many patches as the number of colours you would like to have. I started with four but ended up using 6 different shades, because I realized that when dried, the colours look much darker!

3. Blow the balloon and make a knot. Push the knot inside the balloon and cover it with painters tape so that it is invisible.

4. Draw a doorway for your wasps with a permanent marker on the balloon.

5. Cover the balloon with one layer of brown paper. I did this to make sure that the loose coils of paper mache will stay on the balloon while I worked. Prepare some glue by mixing about three tablespoons of flour and 1 -½ cups of cold water. Bring to boil while mixing all the time and let to cool. Wet your paper and squeeze out all extra water. Tear in to smaller pieces and apply them with the starch glue. Let it dry out before continuing.

6. Make the wire loop for hanging your nest and attach it to your nest with PVA glue and some strong paper.

7. Start sculpting the outer layer. Make small coils and add them one by one using a metal tool. I started from the doorway and if I would do this all over again would probably start from the other end. The reason is that while you work with different colours at the same time, your hands get dirty very quickly and you will accidentally darken your lighter shades.

Adding Paper Mache Clay, Colored by Acrylic Paint
Adding Paper Mache Clay, Colored by Acrylic Paint

8. It might be best to work little by little and allow the nest to dry in between. I allowed my nest to dry three times and worked with it little by little. When your work is finished and dried completely, remove the balloon through the doorway.

I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial! I you have any questions, please feel free to ask me through commenting here or in my blog.

12 thoughts on “Paper Mache Wasp Nest – Guest Post”

  1. Marika,
    What a clever idea to tint the mache. Your nest is awesome. I scroll saw so I always have some sawdust on hand. I’ve used it as re-enforcement but I may just have to add some to the mix. Thank you for sharing your work/play.

  2. I’m glad someone tried using sawdust, because I have been mulling over whether to try adding some to my next project (I also live near a cabinet workshop that blows out huge piles of the stuff!). Thanks for sharing this project. I may not make a wasp’s nest, but its form and texture has sparked an idea for my next project.
    Your work is beautiful in form and color.

  3. Thank you so much Jonni! I really apreciate this opportunity you gave me. I am happy to hear that you liked my blog 🙂 It still needs many improvements and I am learning slowly. My visit to Leena Linnalaakso Shop was truly amazing and she has been working with paper mahce since 1990! I believe that she is an unique artist here in Finland, maybe even in whole Northen Europe. Even if we think globally I believe (based on my countles internet chearches) that there are not so many artists who use paper mache as their main medium, you included. Regardles its long history, I believe that paper mache is (nowadays) viewd as “cheap” in every country, here too. But there are these beacons of light like you and Leena who are shaping the view. I hope that in the future more artists will discover this ecofriendly, strong, yet guite challenging material.

  4. Wow Marika!
    What a fabulous sculpture and use of paper mache! Your post has given me so many ideas! I have been trying to find an elegant lampshade with an natural world/animal theme for my dining room for ages but never quite found the right thing-I’m sure I could make something like this and convert it to a shade.-I love the idea of dying the paper mache rather than painting it afterwards-its a lot more subtle and earthy than paint and lends itself to many more projects! It also helps you know when you have covered an area completely with a layer.
    I can see lots of possibilities for your method and I for one will be experimenting with all of them so Thankyou!-I’m already looking forward to your next post!

    • Thank you for your beautiful words Bwana! What an amazing idea to make a lampshade with this method. I would really like to see how it turned out, so please share it with us. I too love the unpainted paper mache surface. Thanks to Jonni´s recipe, the white mache (white when you use white toilet paper) seems to be ideal for experimenting with dyes 🙂

  5. Thanks. Marika! This is a delightful project. I also want to mention that you have a beautiful blog, and I loved your latest post about Leena Linnalaakso Shop and Studio. I wonder if someone could create a business like that here in the States? It seems that Americans see paper mache as “cheap,” rather than “art,” and it seems to be taking us a while to catch up to the European point of view. It’s inspiring, anyway.

    • Hi Jonni,

      I agree with your statement about people thinking that paper mache is a little cheap-however in this world of environmental awareness and energy saving consciousness we should all be shouting its praises!

      The carbon footprint of making paper mache is next to nothing. (If you don’t put them in the oven to dry!-note Jonni-you can get forgiveness on this one by always saying -“I cooked my lunch and then used the residual heat to dry my sculpture”-I’m sure that’s what you did anyway-another dual use of energy resources by paper mache artisans)
      Unlike bronze casting or ceramic sculpting there are no furnaces or kilns using up fuel and belching out toxic fumes and smoke and running up a huge carbon footprint. I for one have been guilty of this in the past turning on a table top kiln to fire a few small pieces!

      Don’t get me wrong -I’m not having a go at people who sculpt in bronze or ceramics (I have done it myself) I am just saying that paper mache artists and buyers of art don’t always think of the environmental impact of paper mache when they consider its “value”-and we are all paying for environmental impact on pretty much everything else we buy.

      Unlike fibreglass sculpting we don’t use dangerous resins and other chemicals in our manufacture process etc. Most of the materials we use are totally recycled elements that would have gone into the rubbish(trash) or end up polluting some natural area in a landfill site etc.

      I think we should all start singing the “Green” praises of paper mache and raise the profile of this fabulous form of art to its rightful level!

      I for one will be becoming an ambassador for its use-I spent nearly 4 hours at a wildlife art exhibition yesterday for Animal artists in the UK and the members and organisers were so impressed with what I said about resusing and recyling materials for sculpture (and only one of them had seen any of my work) they have invited me to exhibit a number of pieces at the next exhibition!

      So all artisans (and thats what we all are) of Paper Mache lets all work to raise the profile of this great art form, don’t forget-most paper mache pieces are OOOK (one of a kind) not like bronze where they charge you thousands of pounds to produce a “limited edition” where they just replicate from a mold in wax and send to the foundary to produce another-our pieces are all truly unique and if you apply this logic-they shold actually be priceless!

      Jonni-I hope you view this post in the context it was sent-we all need to raise the profile of PM to its rightful place and you for one are our greatest ambassador for doing it!

      • Congratulations for getting that offer to participate in the exhibition – that’s great! Be sure to send us a link when the time comes.

        I’m not entirely sure about the total environmental impact of the paper mache recipe, and that does concern me a little. The PVA glue is a form of plastic, of course, and I don’t know how the calcium carbonate in the joint compound is mined or what other ingredients it contains. But with that said, it’s still more environmentally friendly than many other sculptural mediums – and it’s not just cheap. It can also be used to make beautiful things, as both you and Marika have proven. I’ve been messing around with more expensive materials lately, and I’ve found that the expense id a real deterrent to the creative process.

      • I must also comment that the points made by Bwana are really those that made me to choose paper mache. Having a backgroung in ceramics I really agree with Bwana. Also the cheapness and availability atracted me alot 🙂 I have also been thinking about the PVA glue and joint compound that Jonni also mentioned. If only there were some natural way to replace them. Maybe there is and we still need to find it! Anyhou, as said earlyer, there are far more worse materials used for creating art.

        I really enjoy participating into this conversation and with this project I have learned to understand the benefits of internet. Here in Finland where I live it is hard to find someone equally interested on paper mache 😉 Thank you all very much!


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