Papier Mache Design Book – A Review

Review of Papier Mache Design Book by Monique Robert

My copy of Monique Robert’s new book, Papier-Mâché Design, arrived several days ago. I read it through in one sitting, getting up only for a few refills of coffee. I can’t wait to use some of the methods she describes.

This is definitely not for the grade-school art class–this is a serious book for people who are dedicated to creating 3-dimensional art.

I mention that right at the top of this review because most books on paper mache are written for a younger audience, and include step-by-step how-to instructions so you can make specific projects that will end up looking exactly like the ones the author made. However, Monique’s book will not show you the specifics of how she built that fantastic creature on the front of her book. She assumes the reader is a sculptor, with a mind already filled with creative ideas about projects the reader wants to build. She trusts you to absorb her methods into your own work.

Perhaps a better title for the book would have used the word “engineering,” rather than “design.” She includes unique techniques for making large, lightweight sculptures that are strong enough to hang from the ceiling or to ship to a distant gallery. Trust me–you won’t find these techniques described anywhere else. However, you’ll need to design your own sculptures.

Her techniques show you how to make your designs light and strong, but she doesn’t include actual design tips, as I understand the term.

Some of the ideas in the book that I intend to use immediately in my own future sculptures are:

  • Her method of balancing a sculpture so she can get realistic dynamic poses. So far, my own work has been limited to critters who have all four feet firmly planted on the ground. Her methods will free me to create figures that “move” more naturally.
  • Her method of creating life-like human hands. If you’ve ever attempted to draw or sculpt hands, you know this is one of an artist’s major challenges. Her instructions make this difficult operation seem easy. Many of the ideas I’ve had locked up in my mind for years include human figures that I’ve been afraid to try because I didn’t know this technique.
  • Her method of preparing sculptures to hang, including the way she reinforces her work and how she installs the wire hangers.

I was particularly struck by the fact that Monique sees things in her mind in a way that is very different from the way I do. That difference is probably why her method of building her sculptures is so different from the way I do it. Let me try to explain what I mean:

You’ve heard that people who carve sculptures out of stone often say they’re “liberating” a figure that they see in the stone. They feel they’re letting the figure out when they chip away the excess material. Inuit sculptors are rather well known for making this statement about their sculpting technique.

When I see a stone, I see a stone. There’s no figure inside it for me. That’s why I don’t carve stone–I build up figures out of clay or crumpled paper and masking tape, so the sculpture gradually appears. I don’t need to worry about removing or adding too much, because I work with more forgiving materials.

Monique seems to see things in a third way that I didn’t know about before. She creates hollow inner forms that will fit inside a finished sculpture, and then “draws” the actual skin of her sculptures in thin air. I can’t explain how she does this, although she shows the method very clearly in her book. The reason I can’t explain it is that I don’t personally have the ability to see the way she does. Instead of “liberating” a figure out of a solid piece of stone, she forms the shape of a figure that she sees in empty space. It’s a remarkable ability, and one I wish I had.

The result of her method is a very strong, highly detailed sculpture that is almost completely hollow, yet amazingly strong because of the geometric shapes inside the sculpture, the type of glue she uses instead of flour and water paste, and her method of building up shapes with the paper mache.

Because I can’t see a finished sculpture so clearly in my mind as she does, I would not be as successful using her complete method. However, there are many things in her book that I’ll be including in my own work, especially the larger pieces that I’ve been thinking about lately. One thing I’ve noticed is that every book on paper mache has something in it that can be incorporated in my own work to make the process easier or stronger. (For instance, I used some of Dan Reeder’s methods to build my bobcat and lion cubs, but they don’t look anything like his monsters.)

Monique’s book is important to me not because I can reproduce her methods exactly, but because reading it caused my mind to flood with new possibilities and ideas. If a how-to book doesn’t do that, what would be the point of reading it?

One last note: There are two groups who will find this book most illuminating:

  1. I highly recommend this book to a subset of folks who regularly use paper mache in their work to create airplanes and rockets and other structures that need to be both light and strong. If you’re one of these people, you’ll be especially excited about Monique’s illustrations of building a perfectly flat piece of paper mache. The resulting shape can be dried so that it has undulating waves, or it can be completely flat.  She uses this method for bird and dragon wings, but it would apply equally well to airplanes. Anyone who recognizes the strength of plywood will understand how strong laminated paper can be, especially if you use the glue she recommends.
  2. If you want to sculpt large pieces, and especially if you want them to be light enough to hang from the ceiling, her methods will be invaluable. You can utilize her method of creating a strong, hollow inner form, even if you don’t think you can create the skin the way she does, (and I’m pretty sure I can’t). One possibility that I’ll be experimenting with is to create the inner form as she recommends and then cover the hollow inner form with crumpled paper and masking tape to fill out the muscles and features. This feels more intuitive to me. The crumpled paper can then be covered  with either paper strips and her glue formula, or my paper mache clay. This method should create pieces even lighter than Dan Reeder’s hanging monsters, (and way lighter than my baby elephant, who weighs in at over 40 pounds), and there’s nothing to prevent someone from mixing the two methods to create an entirely new technique.

If you’ve read Moniques book, we’d all love to hear what you think. If you have your own favorite book and I haven’t found it yet, please tell us about it.

Review of Papier Mache Design Book by Monique Robert

31 thoughts on “Papier Mache Design Book – A Review”

  1. Hey Jonni- did you know that Monique actually posted my own “review” of her book. I think I sent it to her directly as an e-mail, and she must have liked it because it’s on her site. See her site for my review. Yours, Joanne

    P.S. – I was really quite flattered!

    • I didn’t know that. Monique’s book is still one of my favorites – and yet I still haven’t used her ideas to make a large sculpture. One of these days…

      • Hi Jonni,
        I went to Monique’s website to order the book and I could not find the book for sale. I looked for over an hour. How did you find it?

          • Hello Everyone! The book is definitely going to be available again; I’ve changed publishers and it will be available on Amazon soon! Sorry about the dely~! Keep an eye out and you can order it within a few weeks.

            Thanks for all your wonderful comments and keep on mache-ing!


            Monique Robert

  2. Hello Jonni, My name is Sharon Turner from Sacramento, CA. I have been “lurking” around your site for some time, now. I have been reading your blog in eager anticipation about larger projects and have your book on papier mache animals on my Kindle. I am a novice at papier mache, having NEVER worked with it, but I am a good study when I put my mind to it. I really appreciate your wonderful recipe.
    I have a rather large project coming up and it must be completed by October 2012. I am required to make a ‘nearly’ life-size Mermaid for a Christmas tree decoration. I do not have many constraints regarding this figure. It can be an adult, a pre-teen, child or infant mermaid. I had been looking for a manikin to use for part of it and had planned to adapt the form with other media. Manikins are not conducive to this project. I have decided to do it, instead, must be papier mache. I will need only to create a head, neck, shoulders, arms, bust, and on down to hips. The tail will be posable and of foam wire and fabric, and will be adheared to the torso. Do you have any suggestions for me regarding size, type of armature, kind of paints to finish the figure? I really admire the level of sophistication in your craft, heretofore nearly every item I had seen made of papier mache looked like it was made in pre-school. My project is not for sale or profit, but a voluntary project, however. I am insistent on doing as professional job as possible, The fact that one is not being paid for something does not mean it should me half-done. I would like to have pride in its acomplishment. Thank you for any advice you can share and thank you for your blog and all you have shared with us.

    • Sharon, one of our readers, Michael Jacobson, sent in a guest post showing how he built an armature for a figure sculpture, and it may be just what you need. You would need to find someone willing to let you cover them with plastic and duct tape, of course.

      If I did a full-sized figure and I didn’t have a handy model, I think I’d use cardboard patterns, just like I did in the book. If you hold the knees, elbows, and other joint together with pins or something that lets you move them around, you could position the pattern the way you want her, and then pad her with crumpled paper and masking tape. If you want, you could even use a plastic mask form to get you started on the facial features, although most mask forms that show women’s faces don’t seem very realistic. It would be a start, though.

      Good luck with your project. And be sure to let us see it when it’s done.

  3. Hi!! This is Ms. Manisha from India. We would be celebrating Lord Ganesha festival in India next month.

    We are planning for eco friendly idols of the lord for this ceremony.

    Since our concept is to go green, we have planned for Paper Mache idol, but we have doubt about how stable would be the 2-3 ft idol, it should be flimsy and easy to carry.

    The event will be for 2 days, but from the day the idol is made till the immersion which would be idealy min 5-7 days should not get damage as we belief that this leads to bad luck.

    Pls advice if any special care or instructions are to be taken while making the receipe or the idol and during the celebration.

    await to hear desperately from you, kindly revert urgently

    Thanks and regards,
    Manisha D Nirmal.

    • I’m not sure how “green” it would be, but I suggest that you make a chicken wire armature, because you need strength without weight. I normally make my sculptures with armatures made out of crumpled paper and masking tape, but they can get heavy when they’re as large as you need. If you make the armature with chicken wire instead, then cover the wire with masking tape and then at least 10 layers of paper mache, your sculpture should be strong enough to be moved around if you’re reasonably careful. In case of rain, the sculpture would need to have a strong protective coating, and marine varnish (spar varnish) that is used to protect wooden boats is the most waterproof. However, it’s made from plastics or petrochemicals, so it might not fit your needs. If preventing damage is really important, I’d suggest that you use it anyway, just to be safe.

      I hope your event is a great success.

  4. Thanks for this review! I just bought the book as I want to make wavy sculptures to attach fabrics to and I cannot figure out it! It sounds from your review that I’ll get that and some hanging information that I could also use. I am looking forward to your book coming out, too. I love the elephant I just saw in your video.

  5. My school is doing a Paper-Mache maracas. It is very fun! We put about 7 coats of Mache on and let that dry, then we took paper towels dunked it in the mache and worked it like clay forming noses, eyes, ears, and mouths then we used an Exacto knife to cut a hole in the bottom and stuck in our choice of beans, bead, or pea gravel the beads sounds the best. Next we stuck a stick in the hole and mached around the top about 12 times to fasten it in. then we painted the balloon and it turned out really cool.

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  6. You guys are so pathetic you sit around on the computer all day making paper mache desighn books, GET A LIFE! and instead of writing about it acctually do it!!!!!!!!!

  7. A very intriguing review, Jonni! Makes me very curious to read more about her techniques.
    Making a sculpture sturdy enough to withstand shipping, and also light enough not to cost a fortune to ship sounds like it would pay for the book right off the bat!

  8. Hello Joni, I just want to thank you again ( I put a comment in your ‘papier mache clay’ section) for commenting on my book. It will be added to my contacts page as soon as it comes up. It’s a wonderful review and will help to show the public more of what the book is about.

    cheers, Monique Robert 🙂

    • Hello Monique – I love your book and the resulting sculpture that is possible following your steps. I immediately tried your method and made my version of a snow leopard that is completely hollow and light. I think it came out presentable. Let me know if you or anyone on this site would like to see it. Not all of your suggestions were utilized but many were. There are about eight hollow pieces inside my leopard that were hot glued together and then covered with strips of the wood glue paper. I used blank newsprint to keep it less messy, and it actually looked pretty good unpainted – kind of like wood. Then I painted it – thanks for the “adult” method of doing paper mache.

      • Hi Joanne. I’m afraid Monique might not see your comments here on this page, but I know she’d love to know how much you enjoyed her book. (She’d probably appreciate a review on her amazon.com page, too).

        If you’d like to send your comments directly to Monique so you’re sure she reads them, you can contact her through her website at MoniqueRobertStudios.com

    • Thank you Jonni, I read his blog about his technique and I agree, I believe that this will be the best way to go about it. I was quite interested in his unique approach to filling all the little nooks, crannies, wrinkles and fingers. I would never have thought about the window foam. I researched the foams on the Home Depot site and ruled out the first one I saw for &6.00+ which said it covered about 500+ linear feet, because according to their disclaimer, it might not be safe to use, or to be around heat (a Christmas tree has a certain amount of heat due to the lights). That left two others – one for $5.00+ and one for $11.00+; neither one addressed the coverage per can, but the $5.00 can had the largest capacity, so I believe I will go with that one (he never addressed the amount of foam he used, nor tape, so I am not sure how much to purchase of those items, however I am hoping that you can tell me how much of your wonderful Papier Mache Clay I would need; one plastic pail or two? My disability requires me to be horizontal many hours of the day – due to medication for pain- so If it takes me longer than I anticipate, would it be a good idea to have an extra pail on hand (non-mixed up) in case the mixed one dries out? How long is the shelf life, sealed, after mixing? Also, another point, is it necessary to have both the crumpled newspapers AND the foam? (As I believe I said, I have never worked with this medium). I will be happy to share my progress and bumpy roads with you. I appreciate your taking this time with me – I know you are a busy Lady – which reminds me, I’ve meant to ask before, what kind of chickens have you? They really are quite beautiful. I’s love to send a photo of them to my sister and partner in crime, JoClare. She is really besotted with them. Doesn’t own any of them but loves them dearly. .: Sharon Turner

      • Hi Sharon. I don’t know what kind of foam Monique uses. I know it’s impossible to get off a brand new down jacket – I learned the hard way about 15 years ago. 😉

        I use crumpled paper instead of foam, but I’m starting to think about using the foam instead, just because it would sometimes be less expensive than all the masking tape. And it should go faster, too. I get impatient. I don’t know how big your piece is (you probably told me, but I forgot). I think I made four of my little vintage chickens out of one recipe, which uses less than a cup of both the joint compound and the glue. I keep my left-over clay in the fridge, covered with plastic, so it will last at least a week before mold finds it. You only put on about 1/8 to 1/4 inch of clay over the armature, so it should dry in a day or two, as long as it’s in a warm place.

        My chickens are Light Brahmas. They’re wonderful birds. They don’t have the sqabbles among themselves that so many chickens do, and they talk all the time – but quietly. They only make noise when they’re thinking about laying an egg. My neighbors love seeing them out in my yard. Tell your sister to get her some – they’re great.

        • Hello again!

          In regards to the type of foam I use; I don’t know exactly what you’re doing Sharon, but Jonni suggests I can help you here, so I’ll give it my best shot!

          If you want to carve and stick something on a piece, then flexible pipe insulation foam is really good if you want to adhere it to a larger curved surface. Spray foam insulation is more expensive and much harder to control, wasting much of it if you have to carve it down to almost nothing to fill in a space.

          Let me know if this helps!

          Monique Robert

  9. I’m so glad I found this site! I’m about to undertake a fairly large project (for me anyway). I’ve been asked to make a Bonhomme costume for a school winter carnival. Bonhomme is the snowman ambassador of the Quebec carnival. I’m going to make a paper mache head for Bonhomme. My question is regarding the final painting step. I’d like to make it look as if it were made of snow, with a sort of gritty texture. Do you have any suggestions for what I could add to the paint (latex) to accomplish this?

    Any other tips? I’m just starting out. Thanks!

    • Hi Maureen. I did a quick online search, and it looks like some people add fine sand to their white acrylic paint, to give your Bonhomme costume a snow-like texture. (As you can see, I did a quick Google search to see what your costume will look like. The carnival sounds like a lot of fun!) I also searched an online art store and found some white glitter paint that would work really well to give your snowman that distinctive sparkle. You might be able to find some snow-like glitter at a local craft store, and then just sprinkle it on your wet acrylic paint, or add it when you apply your finish coat of varnish. To get a sparkle, the glitter would need to be above any paint or varnish film.

      Does anyone else have any ideas that Maureen might use?

      • maybe after applying your gesso blend a quick sprinkle of that fake snow in a bag. its like shredded plastic bag. for a fluffier look

      • like all these idea to creat new design for my collection.My own company United Alamgeer Exports is dealing with Papier Machie items and I have 50 artistic workers and i really enjoy my work and welcome all these creative work.


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