Papier Mache in the Caribbean – US Virgin Islands

tnToday we have a guest post from Carolyn of St. Croix. She shows us some small sculptures she makes with an adapted version of my air dry clay recipe, and discusses some problems that are unique to paper mache artists who work in humid climates. She also shows us how she makes her delightful paper mache fish, using balloons. Thanks for the post, Carolyn!

By the way, the beautiful photo at the top of the blog is of Frederiksted, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands.  Amazing …

©2016 Carolyn of St. Croix

My first professional experience with papier mâché came in college where I learned the art of making molds and applying shredded paper paste to create forms.  Before that, I was used to making balloon “armatures” and using them as pinatas, etc.  Nonetheless, I became enthralled with the many aspects of fiber usage and never thought I would turn this knowledge into a profitable hobby/venture today.

Here in the Caribbean, the sun seems to shine brighter and even hotter than before when I was young.  It is the perfect setting for all kind of solar energy pursuits and of course the less costliest and most efficient way of drying or preserving my papier mâché artworks.  I am also an art teacher in a public school and offer afterschool and summer camp sessions where I teach alot about making recyclable items using different types of paper pasting methods.

We do a lot of environment and gardening activities so the making of paper pots or garden art fits in well with our Garden School theme (the name of our non profit organization school).

I have been actively making our locally infamous Caribbean cultural icon , a Moko Jumbie ornament, since 1989.  Immediately after Hurricane Hugo hit the islands that year, our electricity was out for a long time.  During times like that there is a lot of time to live and act more « down to earth » and my creative juices flowed like a river.  I utilized my skills to create my first free hanging ornaments using crotchet and hand sewing techniquies.   I felt the « spirit » so to speak of Moko Jumbie throughout the land….Good over Evil….making my artwork help me to remain focused and calm while rebuilding our home.

Later on I sculpted clay and created cast plaster molds that I still use today to apply the wonderful Smooth-On recipes and more that I learned about and practiced from the UltimatePaperMache website.

Jonni Good has created the perfect platform for users of this art medium and helped me immensely over the years with solving questions, getting useful tips and so much more.   I was grateful and enthused to write this article to show what I have done and involve other paper artists to respond and share with me some tips I can use to enhance my artwork further.

For example, her air-dry clay recipe that contains flour and cornstarch came out great for creating my Mokos in molds.

The disaster came after the shoppe I consigned them to called me one day to inform me that  ‘something’  was eating my pieces.  Ugh !!

I went on Jonni’s blog and found others who had somewhat similar experiences and helped me come up with a solution to the dilemma.  Outside of some reader suggested additives that I could have used, Jonni suggested a different mixture and measurement of glue and joint compound mixed with shredded paper which works out perfectly for my needs.

My new project is to create ‘twirling’ tropical fish.

I use balloons as my base and apply the standard paste prepared newspaper strips, but I would like to achieve a smooth ceramic-like finish to it before letting it completely dry in the sun.  I found that two layers of newspaper is sufficient to keep the shape and that if I let those two dry out and try to add a next layer the following day, the form collapses and ruins the roundness of the piece !  So I am going to experiment with a gooier, slip-like mixture that can adequately smooth the rough edges before it dries completely without collapsing or bursting the balloon.  I just need a good (bug free – lol) recipe to do this .

Any suggestions?  Visit my FaceBook page and scroll around to see my works in progress, etc.  You can messenger me there or email me at [email protected].

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15 thoughts on “Papier Mache in the Caribbean – US Virgin Islands

  1. Hi! I’m in a humid climate and about to embark on a birch tree in my living room. I have a chicken wire armature all ready and I’m pretty sure I’ll use the clay with a tissue paper finish to try and mimicking the fine peeling bark. Yikes! What is eating the clay??? And what should I add to stop that? I’m really curious.

    • Is the clay still wet, in the bowl? Or, is it wet, and on the armature? I don’t live in a humid climate, so I don’t know all the bugs and fungi that live in your area, and might like to chew on the clay. However, some people have experimented with adding more paper to the mix and leaving the flour out entirely, just as the author of this post did in the Caribbean, and it seems to stop many of the problems. Give it a try, and see what happens.

      • Hi Jenni! (I feel like I’m talking to a movie star!) I haven’t mixed the clay. I was referring to the guest post issues and wondering if I will have the same troubles. After more research I’m thinking I should be OK but was wondering what she learned about additives and if I should consider something like that. The tree is around a post that is literally the center of our living space. Other concerns are children and cats that love to scratch. My plane is to build it with your clay, finish it with the tissue paper and paint… And then deal it with an epoxy resin layer. What do you think? I wish I could send a picture of where I’m at! Looking good so far.

          • Uggh! Auto correct! “Hi JONNI!” not JENNI!

            I will see if I can figure out how to post a picture. I’m not very tech savvy but I’d love to share!


  2. Beautiful figurines! What is the mixture you used that didn’t get eaten, Carolyn? I’m living in the tropics, too, and would like to prevent that from happening.
    Thank you.

    • Hi BARBARA,, Thanks for your comment,. I used the smooth on air dry clay recipe with both flour and cornstarch. I tried getting exact measurements as the recipe stated. JJonni suggested to eliminate the bug problem that I use more shredded toilet paper while not using the flour or cornstarch. And that’s what I did! It works fine and the mixture hardens quickly.

      Again, it’s the silky smooth air dry recipe without the “edibles” and more shredded toilet paper til you achieve your desired consistency.

      I am in the process of creating an online store with items I make. You are welcome to visit it. Please share your artwork with me too.


  3. How wonderful! Love those happy characters in all of their colorful splendor! Also enjoyed the happy, spinning fishies.

    • Absolutely Ann! I can’t wait to try out Jonni’s suggestion that I use her gesso recipe of just easy glue and joint compound. My only concern there is that the weightiness of the gesso won’t misshapen the hollowed form. She suggested drying out the newspapered balloon and then applying the gesso. I’ll try both ways – one completely dried balloon and one before it dries. I’ll let you know the outcome.

      If it works, I’m adding some tropical beauties to my webstore!

      • I’ve been working on a balloon using a gesso recipe. I thinned out some joint compound with white glue to make a paste which I applied over two layers of pasted newspapers. i let it dry overnite and the next day I turned it upright and completed pasting the gaps I could not reach. In this instance I just applied strips of papers with the gesso. It is now hanging in the sun to dry completely. And, oh yeah, the balloon has not BURST!!! I’ll share more process photos if you email me!

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