Santa Portrait Mask, Made with Paper Mache Clay

Get a fast start on your next paper mache project or hand-made gift with Jonni’s easy downloadable patterns for masks, animal sculptures and faux trophy mounts. The patterns help you create a beautiful work of art, even if you’ve never sculpted anything before.

Paper Mache Clay Santa

Paper Mache Santa made with Paper Mache Clay

I made this Santa several years ago during my first blizzard after moving to the Midwest. It was a fun project, and really got me into the mood of the holidays. You’ll see from the comments below that this is an older post, but it was time to give him some updates. Besides – when does Santa go out of style?I’m not sure what to call this project, exactly. Is it a wall sculpture? A mask? If your front door is protected from rain, snow and wind, you could put him there, to welcome your holiday guests. Then what would he be – a wreath replacement? So, I decided to stop dithering, and I’m calling it a Santa Portrait Mask.

Hint: If you’d like to make this Santa waterproof, I’d recommend using Apoxie Sculpt or any brand of epoxy clay instead of the paper mache clay.

My Santa is about 12″ tall, but you can make your Santa any size you like. He’s built over a simple form made out of crumpled paper, a plastic bag with a few strips of masking tape, some wet clay (you could use any modeling clay, too), and plastic wrap. Then I finished him with paper mache clay. You could use paper strips and paste instead, but it wouldn’t be as easy to get the details. Another option is the Smoother Air Dry Clay recipe, if you like to add finer details and you want a smoother surface on Santa. (By the way, you can now find all of my special recipes if you click on the Art Library link at the top of the site.)

You can paint your Santa with acrylic paints.

Step One:

I started out by stuffing some crumpled paper inside a plastic bag, and then I taped the bag to my worktop.  The shape was somewhat Santa-like, with a wider bottom than top because of the beard.

Plastic bag filled with crumpled paper
Plastic bag filled with crumpled paper

Step Two:

Then I added a thin layer of wet clay from the pottery supply store to the basic form, so I could work out a bit more detail before starting in with the paper mache clay. I prefer using the WED clay for projects like this, because it doesn’t dry out as fast as normal wet clay, so you have longer to work. Unfortunately, my local pottery supply store doesn’t carry it, and the shipping costs for wet clay are way too high if you only want to do one project. My next choice would be Sargent Art Plastilina, because it’s quite soft and easy to use (and much cheaper than most oil-based clay), and you can use it again for another project once you’re done with Santa.

Covering form with wet clay
Covering form with wet clay


Creating basic shapes with clay
Creating basic shapes with clay

You can see from the photo above that I didn’t get carried away with any details, and I made no attempt to smooth out the shapes. I did that when I added the paper mache clay. Besides, the plastic wrap would cover most fine details, anyway. I did add the hat, depressions for the eye sockets, the nose, cheeks, and mustache.

Step Three:

The wet clay was covered with some plastic wrap to separate it from the paper mache clay that will go on top.

Clay covered with plastic wrap

Step Four:

The paper mache clay then goes on over the plastic wrap. I used a very thin layer, except where I sculpted the eyes. If you’re making a waterproof Santa so you can put him on your front door, use Apoxie Sculpt for this step. You would need to apply it with your fingers instead of a knife, and you’ll want to use gloves.

Covering plastic with paper mache clay
Covering plastic with paper mache clay

Step Five:

To make the eyes, I just made a balls out of aluminum foil, pressed them into the wet paper mache clay, and covered them with a thin layer of the PM clay. Then I added a thin strip of PM clay for the upper eyelid, and used a knife to create a thin lower lid at the bottom of each eyeball.

Balls of paper mache clay added for eyes
Balls of paper mache clay added for eyes


Eyelids added

Step Six:

The last step was to add some texture for the beard. While the paper mache clay is still damp, you can use a lightly damp sponge to smooth the face. You can also use a knife dipped in a mixture of white glue and water (the mixture makes the knife slick, so it slides over the paper mache clay).

Adding texture the beard

Santa, Before Painting:

PM Clay waiting to dry
PM Clay waiting to dry

Step Seven:

Allow your Santa to dry for several days. He will dry faster if you put him in front of a fan, or over a heating vent. When my Santa was dry, I removed the paper and clay form, pulled out the plastic wrap, and then I added another thin layer of paper mache clay to the underside. I did this because there were a few spots where my first layer was much too thin. The additional layer on the back took care of that, and it made the piece strong enough to hold up–I figured it would be going in and out of boxes for storage, and I wanted it to be extra-strong. I used the back of a spoon to add the layer on the back, so I could reach into the deepest parts and make it reasonably smooth. After that, he needs to dry again, but it will go faster this time.

Adding Paper Mache Clay to the Back of Santa's Face
Adding Paper Mache Clay to the Back of Santa’s Face

Continued on This Page …

22 thoughts on “Santa Portrait Mask, Made with Paper Mache Clay”

  1. I like the santa you did, it looks really good. I got your recipe for Paper Mache Clay from your site, and I made a mask of my own. I believe I missed a step though, because i didn’t put anything over the foam Mannequin head i was using to form it. Will it come off easily or do I am i going to possibly break the Mask when i attempt to remove it?

    • I don’t know if the pm clay will stick to the Styrofoam or not. You may end up chipping the Mannequin head when you remove the mask, especially if you let the mask dry hard. Let us know how it turns out.

      • Luck favored me! I was able to get the mask off of the styrofoam head without doing serious damage to the mask or the head it was stuck on. It was completely dry too, I used a nail file, the thin metal ones that are like a dollar, and with care and patience was able to remove the mask! YAY!

      • Hi Jonni,

        I want to thank you for this tutorial. I am also making a paper mache santa and this helped me quite a bit. Thank you so much, I have learned a whole lot from you. I watch your stuff all the time. I will be happy to show off my reindeer when I complete it. Thanks again, Lisa

  2. Jonni I love your art, thanks for sharing your techniques! I just finished my first large paper mache project and I will utilize some of your tips in my future projects.

    My husband built the wood armature then I shaped chicken wire around it and used pre-paste gauze strips. I had a lot of left-over heads ( I make angel head wall-hangings) that came out funny shaped so I used them on this tree. I used acrylic paints as well as antiquing medium, moss from the dollar store and foliage arranged in Styrofoam from the craft store (could have made my own but..)

    In the future I’d like to make outdoor items but am afraid the elements will hurt them, where do I buy the marine poly coating? And is that sufficient for something that will be attached to a building?

    Thanks for sharing, here’s a photo of “ANCESTREE”

    • Your “tree” looks great! You can get marine varnish at any hardware store (it’s also called Spar varnish.) My one experience with marine varnish didn’t work out very well, because the summer sun caused the varnish to crack. They do make some that prevents UV damage, but you’d need to read the label more carefully than I did.

  3. Thanks Jonni
    I am quite proud if it….I have to say…Ha!
    No he won’t be going outside….I did hear you say on one of your videos that if it was to go outside that I could use marine varnish to protect him… thanks for that advice…..I want to make a mother black bear with her 2 cubs some day so I probably will be using the marine varnish then…….I just wish I had more time to work on these but my dog is alone all day while I’m at work so we spend most of the evenings and days off outside chewing treats…lol…..I’ll be able to start my bear wooden frames outside while he chew’s away!!!….My neighbour has a Shih tzu and wants me to make a paper masher “Kiwi”…..she is having him sheared and saving the fur…..!!!…Not sure what I got myself into this time……lol….here’s a pic of what my donkey looked like febore I painted him……I liked it better that way but the donkey that carried Jesus was grey so this one had to be grey!!!

    • As I mentioned to Diane, my own experiment with marine varnish wasn’t very successful, but other people have great luck with it. I think my next outside experiment will start with deck sealer over the dried paper mache, then I’ll paint, then use a good varnish with UV inhibitor. The Clear Guard lacquer from Sculpt Nouveau seems to come well recommended, and I received a free sample, so that’s what I’ll try.

      And I do have one big question for you – how do you know what color the donkey was?

      • Well I think it was a Sicilian Donkey which is grey with the cross on it’s back!!!….but who knows I wasn’t there…..and nobody I know was either!!…..k…I just “Googled” and saw some grey ones, brown ones and multi-colored ones……lets just say that the one that carried Marie in our nativity walk was grey!!!!…lol

  4. Hi Jonni
    I wasn’t too sure where to post this and don’t know if you even remember me but here’s a pic of my first PM project that you wanted to see once it was finished……the lady I made it for is quite delighted with it…..I said I would make her a lifesize Camel next summer for her Nativity Scene…..she almost dropped to her knees…..Ha!!!

    • You’re donkey turned out great, Shirley. Even the fur is realistic. Will it be going outside?

      (I can’t wait to see that camel – what weird and wonderful creatures they are!)

  5. Love your stuff! I’ve been a multimedia crafter for ever, have made some piñata with paper mâché , but your clay sounds great to work with, much lighter to work with than clay I use for pottery too! I have to try it soon! Can’t wait to see Santa when you finish him! Stay warm!

  6. I am so inspired by your website and all of your creations! My son and I are under the weather today with colds, but still have enough energy to “do something”. I didn’t realize you could use tools to make details (like in Santa’s beard) until I saw this. Your PM clay is amazing!

    We’d been to your site before so we came back to get inspired and as soon as I’m done typing this, we’re off to PM land! My son wanted me to attach a picture of the very first thing we made out of PM a few years ago. Not a lot of detail, but more than just a big circle. As soon as I feel better I will go get the necessary items to make your PM clay. The possibilities will be endless. Thank you for sharing your talent with the rest of us.

  7. Awww! i love y our Santa. I can’t wait to see how he finishes up. Good luck in the snow. Wish it would cool off here in Sunny Florida. Muggy, wet and HOT!

  8. Wow, this is really GOOD! Loved seeing your process and amazed that from that rough clay foundation comes this wonderful neat face.

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