Question about Foam and Paper Mache, and My First “Review”

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This will be a quick post this morning. First, I received a question from a reader that I can’t answer, but if someone else out there has some experience and can shed some light on this issue, I would like to know, too. Here’s the email:

Hello from Cape Town, South Africa Jonni!

I just wanted to thank you for a fantastic website.  Yours is by far the nicest papier mache sites I’ve found to date and I’m very excited about trying out your paper clay recipe.  I was hoping you might have some tips for me on getting papier mache to adhere to polystyrene/styrofoam.  I’ve found it to be a great material to shape for a base structure, but my paper always wants to peel away from it. I use a standard wallpaper glue, though I mix it to a slightly stronger concentrate.  Any advice will be most appreciated J

Kind regards,


Suggestions, anyone?

Next, it’s time to show you the working draft of my new mask book’s cover. I don’t believe anyone voted for the duck, but he does add some nice color. The other masks were high on the list of responses I received on previous posts – I want to thank everyone who offered their ideas and input. And now, what do you think about the cover? (I made the image small because that’s the size it will be seen in Amazon.com’s search results).

And finally, I wanted to share my very first “review.” I sent the first few chapters out to a few friends, and Sharon Moreno sent back the following comment. I got such a kick out of it, I just had to share it with you. (I love it when people get my jokes!)

How to Make Masks 2
Page 12 from How to Make Masks

Hi Jonni,
Your book is GREAT. I must tell you my favorite images are on page 12. When I came to the picture of your face covered in foil I started chuckling. When I got to the picture of you taking the mask off that was stuck to your hair I was roaring with laughter. Had to step away from the computer a bit to get myself under control. That was awhile ago and writing this brings it all back and I can’t stop laughing. I want you to know I love having fun with our artistic endeavors. Thank you for the fun and the honor of your trust in forwarding on to me these portions of your up-coming, sure to be best seller, paper mache book.

The page Sharon referred to is this one, where I show how to make a simple mask form using aluminum foil and duct tape. That was a fun page to write, but, for obvious reasons, I felt a bit weird doing it in my living room in front of my picture window (the best light in the house for pictures). Some of my neighbors probably think I’m getting a bit old for such foolishness…

That’s all for today. Anyone have an answer for Mieke?

53 thoughts on “Question about Foam and Paper Mache, and My First “Review””

  1. First – this comment is for Nancy Wall – that is some impressive dog! Love the details and the obvious painstaking work you put into it. Reminds me of the time I made a basset hound paper mache sculpture. It came out very good, but when I got tired of looking at it I put it out to garbage – and I don’t have a super large place so had to get rid of him – don’t you know he was picked up and displayed in my lobby for everyone to admire – guess someone liked him enough to retrieve him – by now he is in paper mache doggy heaven.

    Questions Nancy – you obviously are a pro – do you use regular white glue on the foam first to get the clay to adhere, and how do you sculpt the foam in the first place?

    Jonni – question for you or anyone who can answer – Have you ever worked over stiff styrofoam with your clay – in other words you sculpt the foam that you purchase in craft stores – then clay over? Also has anyone used the new hot knives available for this method of foam sculpting? Are there any health hazards involved, with fumes, etc.?

    • Hi Joanne. I haven’t tried that, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. I have a book that shows how people use foam with Creative Paperclay (which, the author says, contains volcanic ash and wood pulp. Hmmm – I live fairly close to Mt. St Helens…)

      The author did not use any glue to get the paperclay to stick to the foam.

      When I tried using the fast-setting paper mache paste over the flexible foam without using a release, it bonded so tightly that the foam came apart when I tried to pull the paper mache away from it. I assume it was the Elmer’s glue that was hanging on so tight. The paper mache clay recipe should do the same, I think – but we won’t know until you try it.

      • Joanne, I think you mentioned that you have Monique’s book … yes? She uses carved foam for hands and things. I’m sure I’ve mached over foam, but more recently have done so over plastic. I just brush on a layer of paste (has white glue in it, diluted white glue would be fine) put on a layer of strip mache (or tape, but I’m cheap, and patient so I use strip mache instead), all around the foam piece, and then let it dry. Then clay over that. The clay will stick to the paper, and the paper (which shrinks a little as it dries) is basically shrink wrapped around the foam or plastic.

        Also … the Halloween Haunt community carves foam all the time. They (we?) use the pink and blue foam insulation panels that you buy at Home Depot or Lowes, etc. — much better value for your money. And then use knives, saws, dremel, or hot tools to cut and carve. I had a hot knife, but stopped using it because of fumes (and cutting with a blade was easier anyway.) I’m told the hot wire knives are a pleasure to use tho, and will consider one when I get back to those kinds of projects.

        Terra is one of my favorites in terms of creating foam-based sculpture. Here’s a discussion thread of her hellhound. The pic of the hot wire tool is one the 2nd page.


  2. Quick question. How do you dispose of your plaster water? You fill a bucket with water, and use that to rinse and clean your glue bowl, and brushes, because you don’t want plaster in your pipes. What do you do with your bucket of plaster water?

    — b

    • Good question. I throw it outside, in a spot where it won’t make any bushes unhappy. Not under the blueberries, obviously. I usually put it in an area where I don’t really want anything to grow, like near a fence. It isn’t toxic, but it’s got a lot of calcium in it, so anything that needs an acid soil would be killed by the plaster water.

  3. Mieke in South Africa – (Jonni should be impressed that you write all the way from there). I know that I am. Here’s my suggestion for styrofoam as the base for your sculpture. I am pretty sure that if you “paint” a generous layer of half PVC white glue/half water on the styro base, thus waterproofing it, you will be good to go for the rest of your process. Try this and let me know the result. Best of luck. Yours, Joanne

  4. Hi Mieke,
    Either an Acrylic Gel or an Acrylic Matte Medium (not to be confused for glazing medium) will easily bond to the polystyrene. Just apply a thin coat with a paint brush and let it dry completely then apply a second coat. Drying time will vary according to your climate. This works with large structures as well. What happens is that some of the acrylic will embed into the foams tiny fibers as a new ground or outer surface develops with the first coat. The second coat provides the final ground for the paper mache to easily bond with. Hope this helps.

  5. To glue styrofoam typically I use low temp hot glue. It works like a charm and shouldn’t harm pink or blue insulation foams. To get paper clay to stick to the surface try gesso, just like what you would use to prep a canvas for painting. It’s quick and easy and should provide enough tooth for the clay to grab onto.

    • Thanks, John. Those are easy solutions. By the way, I really like your site. Did you build it? How did you do the nice drop-downs in your nav bar?

      • Thanks! Weebly.com is great! They allow you to build your own website and will even host it for free! You choose from their large selection of templates and then customize it to our liking. It’s really easy to do, just point and click. They’ll even allow you to use your own domain name. (jeez! I sound like an infomercial) I recommend it to all my friends. I think it works really well for artists websites. Try it out, if you have any questions feel free to email me.

  6. Hi Mieke,
    I’m in Durban, and have found the local ingredients to match Jonni’s American ones, give me a shout on 082 941 3501.
    Wood glue works better on Styrofoam….tho it does take ages to dry.

  7. I love the book cover, you added all my favorites and they stand out in small thumbnail. I look forward to that book.

  8. Thanks Jonni and Skwirl! 🙂 It is a very tedious and frustrating process, but I do love the way it comes out.

    Once I’m finished with this fella, I’ll make a slideshow video of the process with explanations. I’ll be posting it on my blog. Stay tuned.

  9. Mieke, I haven’t tested it out, but I reckon if you wrap your structure in masking tape, the clay should stick to it. I’ve used stacks of tape on my wyvern sculpture, and the clay had no problems adhering to it. Best of luck!

    Jonni… Congrats! Love the cover. 🙂 I have no doubt it’ll be a hit like your other books.
    Your site has been such an inspiration to me… Your paper clay and gesso recipes are awesome! The final product is just so strong that it can even be carved! I’ve taken the paper-maché to a new level by using a Dremel to add shapes and details to the sculpture. Here is the results so far.

    • Looks great!
      Most of the detail in this dog sculpture was done with a dremel tool. Took a long time but I think it was well worth it. The only foam I used for him was craft foam sheets for his ears

      • If you have any interest in doing a guest post, you can send images (and your article) to me directly. I know all of us would love to see more of your work – and your process, if you’re willing to share your secrets. In fact, if you wrote a book I’d be first in line to buy one. 😉

      • Nancy, that’s awesome! Not just your sculptural finesse, but your attention to subtleties in the painting! I wish I could see this in person, and get an even closer look, particularly at his eyes. Great thought, to use a dremel. Congrats on a really neat portrait!

      • Wowzer! That is gorgeous, Nancy! Do you have a website or blog? I’d love to see more of your pet sculptures. That is just simply awesome! 😀

  10. [img]http://ultimatepapermache.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/0014.jpg[/img]
    I do pet sculptures. The dog on the right is one that I did. I sometimes use styrofoam as part of the armature. Tapeing over the foam usually does the trick. Wallpaper paste, I have found, isn’t strong enough for a tight hold. Using a white glue works better for me. Good luck on your project.

      • Hi Jonni,
        I am working on my web site and it should be up soon. I’ll keep you posted. I don’t carve the foam but rather use pieces to bulk up areas. I use mostly newspaper to give form to the dog. I tried to send a photo example of the construction but the file was too large. I used some foam in the skirt of this lady but mostly newspaper.

      • I have to say Nancy very very impressed with your dog. Would love to see some more of your work, if at all possible.
        Love the book cover Jonni, good luck with it.

  11. Mieke
    I love to make smaller “people” using Joni’s clay
    so I don’t want to use tape and add any more texture to it .
    I began with a foam ‘egg’ for the head -I pressed a ‘blob’ (technical term) at a time presing as I smeared it as long as it would smear. Then I added extra clay part ly on partly off the first application. 100% of the foam egg was not covered so I dampemed my hands a little and gently patted and smoothed as much as I could. I allowed the clay to dry some then continued to apply more untill I was happy with the coverage.
    I work on more than projectGood Luck ! at a time so waiting for it to dry was no problem.
    PS I loved the other tips !

  12. I use foam that I get from work. My fellow co-workers know that I use all kinds of material to do my paper mache projects. When new machiney come in I always get the packing material. I also get plastic sheets that I use instead of news paper. I just wrap it good with masking tape and they come out good. This horse just have plastic inside of it along with cardboard.

  13. Meike, I have used styrofoam armatures. I think I end up covering a lot of it with paper and/or aluminum foil for bulking out/things added on…. so I think that by this point most, if not all, the styroafoam is covered by masking tape anyway. Then I do a couple of layers of phone book newsprint strips adhered with a 1:1 mixutre of water and pva (white) glue. I then use commerical pulp product on top of this.

    However, I just remembered a few Christmases ago (’09) I made snowman head ornaments and just applied the pulp onto the styrofoam ball directly without any problems. They still look great!

    If you are having trouble having the paper stick to the styroam, I would switch adhesives. Plain old white school glue (pva) works well.

    Good luck,
    Lisa 🙂

  14. Can’t wait – when will this new treasure be available? Also, I am so jealous – wish I was as enterprising as you are – always wanted to sell my work (oil paintings, sculptures, etc. and the list goes on an on) – Jonni – were’nt you considering something along the lines of member readers of your site selling their work here as long as they set up their own pay pal accounts? Anyway, sorry to bother you – your creative process should never be interrupted!! As always — love and admire everything you do. Yours, Joanne

    • Hi Joanne. I’m waiting on a few things, but I do hope to have the book published by the end of the month. In plenty of time for Mardi Gras 😉 .

      I think we may have discussed selling sculptures here, but I’m not sure we could compete with etsy.com. We’ll have to think about it a bit more. Ideas, anyone?

  15. Mieke,

    There’s few things that stick to plastic and all are difficult because they are solvents with a hunger for plastic.

    I suggest you hot glue (the low temperature type because you’ll meld the plastic) a very light weight, fine screening cloth or metal weave to your base. The screen need only be tack glued to hold it in place until the paper mache develops it’s own shape. Mechanically, I see no reason why you would need an absolute, forever bond. Woodland Scenics sells a low temperature hot glue and an appropriate glue gun through hobby shops. Most big box craft chain stores sell a smaller and cheaper low temp glue gun and sticks.

    This is a simple answer. It may or may not be right for you.

    Good luck.


    • Thanks, Jim – I never would have thought of that. I wonder if you could use the webbed tape that’s sold for wallboard joints. It has stickum on the back. I know that foam builders use something similar when they cover their sculptures and signs with their foam coats (which appear to be gypsum or cement, and are sometimes waterproof – something I also want to experiment with someday.)

  16. Hi Mieke! I am working on a piece right now with two large styrofoam balls and what I did was cover them with masking tape. I also used Jonni’s clay for the first time on top of the tape and it worked GREAT!

      • I cover cardboard with masking tape also, it seems to keep it from absorbing so much moisture, and also glass, especially thin glass, that way if it breaks it’s still contained.
        Of course this pic was taken before the clay and I ran out before I got the whole thing covered, but I love your clay Jonni! The only thing I had a problem with was getting it smooth especially between all those body parts! It was hard getting the knife at the right angle, but I had a little jelly knife so I used that and it was much better!

    • Hi Mieke! Ialso use foam as a base, in order to help the pulp stick to it, i always poke a few holes in the foam ( not all the way through, a couple of inches would do), then fill the holes with paper pulp, cover the rest of the foam with the pulp and when the whole lot dries, the pulp you put in the holes act like wall plugs and wedges the dried pulp solid to your form, best of luck

  17. Dear Jonni,
    Good for you in showing the actual process of making the paper mache mask. It is really important for people to see that creative processes are often messy, filled with learning while doing, etc. and not just something for coffee table books of finished products. I have recently joined a puppet theater, I am the oldest person in it by far, and the one thing that the other puppeteers can’t get over is my willingness to try new things, etc.
    In the past few months, I have learned a lot about paper mache, unusual things to use for frames, etc, some of the puppets are really big- have never done much in paper mache before, but now I love it. I think learning new things, being willing to be a beginner, allowing for mistakes, is what keeps me feeling young. Good luck with your next book.

    • Thanks, Barbara. A puppet theater sounds like fun – what a treat to have something like that nearby that you can join. I’m sure they’re lucky to have you.


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