Recycled Cardboard Paper Mache – Guest Post

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.

celtic cross tn

A short time ago Eileen Gallagher posted a photo of her “Desert Dweller” mask, made with recycled cardboard, and several of us asked her to write a guest post so we could see the entire process. She graciously agreed. Her post is below.

©Eileen Gallagher

Hello everyone,

Recently I have been fooling around with a variation of Jonni’s paper mache clay.  Instead of using toilet paper, I tried recycled cardboard, or maybe it is pressed cardboard. I got a small appliance that was packed in this material and when I saw it, I was intrigued with the texture and wondered what I could do with a rougher texture.  Jonni is a great one for experimenting so I thought I would take a cue from her and try something new.


  • recycled or pressed cardboard
  • water
  • basin
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Boiled linseed oil
  • drill with attached paint mixer bit
  • colander or sieve
  • armature

Step 1– obtain some recycled or pressed cardboard.(pic 1)


Step 2- soak the pieces in warm water to soften. It will soften up nicely as soon as it gets wet.  This makes step 3 easier.

Cardboard Soaking
Cardboard Soaking

Step 3- break up the oddly shaped pieces into small pieces.  Soak over night in the water to ensure it soaks through all the cardboard.

Soaking Cardboard
Soaking Cardboard

Step 4- the next day, gather your supplies and tools.


Step 5- drain the saturated cardboard and slightly squeeze out most of the water.  You will find tiny bits of plastic and different colored paper in it.  This is OK, I removed the plastic as I was sculpting but just left the bits of colored paper as I knew I would be painting over it anyway. It will look clumpy at this stage.

Drained Cardboard
Drained Cardboard

Step 6- place wet cardboard back into the basin and add about 1/3 cup Elmer’s glue and 2 TBS linseed oil.  Then using the drill with paint mixer attachment, mix until all the cardboard is shredded to a consistency that you think you can work with, perhaps about 10 minutes. The finished product will clump together into a ball much like Jonni’s clay. Add more glue if you want it smoother.

Mixed Clay
Mixed Clay

Step 7- start applying to your armature.  You will need to use your hands for this (wear gloves if you object to the linseed oil), tools felt too clumsy and it was difficult to get it to stay together at first.  You can go back and add the detail after you have much of it applied.  You will also need to put a thicker layer on than Jonni’s clay.  I did about a 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.  Go back and add details with tools if desired at this stage.  In this pic I used a plastic mask covered with saran wrap and applied some clay to it.  The left side has some textures added with tools.

Clay Being Added to Armature
Clay Being Added to Armature

After you have the basic armature covered as you would like, let dry with a fan or by a heating vent.  It takes a lot longer to dry than Jonni’s clay. Perhaps 24 hrs.

If you have more details that you would like to add, you can put more on after it dries.  It takes some effort to make it adhere to the dried cardboard but is easily done with a bit of watered down glue.  Also, If you want a smoother clay, simply add more glue and mix it well.  The texture comes out almost as smooth as Jonni’s clay.

Some differences from Jonni’s clay- it takes longer to dry, comes out much rougher in texture, it seems lighter in weight, the junctures where you added wet to dry may be more noticeable if you are not careful.

Here are the 2 projects I have completed with this cardboard clay:

Desert Dweller
Desert Dweller
Celtic Cross
Celtic Cross

The cross was completed in several layers.  I covered the whole armature first, let dry, then added the Celtic knot features on top.  It was probably harder to sculpt the details using this clay but I wanted that weathered look….and got it.

The mask was done putting a thick layer of this clay on the face using a plastic mask as the armature, and carving out the textures while the first layer was still wet.  When that was dry, I added the clothing armature with newspaper and used much more glue to the cardboard pulp to get a burlap type texture.  The difference between the 2 textures really helped make the piece.

With both of these pieces, after they dried, I did a layer of gesso, and painted with acrylic paint, then varnish as usual.

So, that’s it.  I would be glad to clarify or answer any questions.  Sometime when you need a more weathered look to a sculpture, I hope you try it out.

15 thoughts on “Recycled Cardboard Paper Mache – Guest Post”

  1. What would you say the ratio of wet cardboard to Glue and Linseed oil is? You recommend using “about 1/3 cup Elmer’s glue and 2 TBS linseed oil” but I’m not sure how much cardboard you started out with. Thanks!

  2. Not at all. in a matter of fact if a piece is to big for the light tent, I made this contraption out of PVC pipe. Now this is my first experiment with this as I have refined my techniques I am putting a small booklet to be released soon for everyone. But this will give you the basic idea. I really liked researching PVC furniture and this gave me an idea. these photos are the first version of that idea. I wanted to see how I could photograph outside in the noon sun and use that as a light source without the harsh shadows. I used a sheet that I wish I could cut up but it was still usable. The results were at least encouraging but the lower shadows needed more light. I made an aluminum covered cardboard reflector and it improved the photo, but it showed the fact I needed to experiment more to understand how to use it to its best angle. I used the vessel to show scale on my deck in the hot noon sun to show how the shadows are stark. If you take a look at the complete structure, the back has two sides as that was the best way to make it stronger and more balanced. I did not do that on the front part as I thought at the time it was not needed. I was wrong. I brought the PVC light table inside and I put a big piece of wood on top of it to make a table while I was not using it. The front side being so weak, everything came apart and all my stuff fell to the ground. I took it apart and made it with the two sides like the back and now it is sturdy as can be and I can stand on it and not fall. Lesson learned. What I have learned since then, is I do not need to have a top cloth if all I want to do is photograph from the sides. If the piece is huge just make a square with the PVC and make legs to balance it and put cloth tightly around the square and you can move it in any direction you want. this will help lighten the shadows a lot. PVC is so cheap and it is versatile. This also will make it a lot easier to set up.

    • Very cool Christine. When reading this I had an idea for us lazy bones…do you think if you placed a card table on it’s side and covered the underside of the table with fabric or paper, the sides and top with a sheet, you could get the same effect? I can’t wait for your booklet. You have such a help to us all.

    • Yes Eileen you can. The concept is still the same. What I like about this set up once it is made, you can use it every time and the prep time goes down dramatically. The light table is now my table which by the way is now my art table. I am now making one again out of PVC pipe but with a new way of covering it. Even cardboard can be used without making the whole tent. One large boxes make a two squares cut out and put a cloth or tracing paper on the side and find a way to set it up straight and you can put those away and use anytime and anyway you want. These are just ideas but it will improve your photography and give you the freedom of size constraints and avoid the harsh shadows..

  3. Eileen, thank you for all the details. It is indeed greatly inspiring to use mostly recycled materials to create something new. I will try out your recipe for some skin textures soon.

  4. I love the idea of the cartons for the clay. Any ideas where I can find a lot of them for a big project that I am working on. I have brought shredded paper from the trash at a print shop. But where is a good place to find these cartons that people throw out.

  5. Wonderful, Thanks for sharing the specifics, I’ve a mind to make a Celtic style cross for the yard or front entry, great job!

  6. Thanks for showing this great technique. You are so creative! 🙂 I was wondering if this would work incorporated with Jonni’s clay for added texture? By that I mean maybe as a top layer to add that weathered look to maybe an animal’s hide or fur. I was also thinking it would add a lot if you were covering something to make it look like bark or stone.

    • I don’t see why you can’t mix and match the clays that you use. I do it all the time with both of Jonni’s clays. I did find out that if you just add more glue to this cardboard clay, it came out almost as smooth as Jonni’s clay and you could sculpt details very well with it. It also lightened the color of it. I was almost going to leave the mask unpainted for a while because it looked really cool with the dark face and the lighter colored head covering. I finally decided to paint it as the junctures of where I added extra clay were too noticeable to me. But, that being said, how interesting it would be if you used the dark cardboard, then Jonni’s nice white clay on top. You have sparked an idea!

    • Not yet, but I don’t see why they wouldn’t work. Isn’t it great to be able to say that you use all recycled materials with exception of the paint? Now if we could just figure out how to recycle paint! Thanks everyone for the nice comments.

  7. Great post Eileen, thanks so much for the detailed description of how you accomplished the texture. A very creative way to recycle cardboard. This weathered texture would have looked great on a gargoyle cat that I made.

  8. Eileen, thank you, thank you very much. This post really clarifies your technique and it is fascinating and it shows what cardboard you used. This will go into my techniques book that I have been getting off the internet. It is a great post.

    • You are welcome. You know Christine, I was thinking of you as I was photographing the procedures, I used the light box for the ones that I could and they turned out well. I never thought I would need to photograph Elmer’s and linseed oil though! I made the light box a while ago when there was so much discussion about lighting, and you were gracious enough to share your expertise. Thanks for that. Now when I am too lazy to set it all up, I wonder if you will disapprove!

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