Relief Sculpture Warping, need suggestions!

Question from Shelby Braun

This project is with 9th grade students. I have them cut, paste, and glue materials like paper towel, cardboard, mat board scraps, sometimes tape and wire to create their “armature” relief surface. We use straight Elmer’s to adhere these pieces to a canvas board that is pre-primed. The canvas boards are student grade and usually purchased from Blick or Sax.

After their pieces are dry we then use a mixture of part Elmer’s and part water to paper mache the surface since they discontinued the preferred Elmer’s paper mache paste! I have them use a brush to brush on the glue then lay down a light layer of white napkin or toilet paper to get that textured surface as well as sealing in the constructed pieces. This is the step that we see the most warping. Some projects barely warp and others warp so bad they are curved inward and will stand up on their own!!! The photo shows a more “gentle” warping than most.

I just can’t figure it out! I tried to watch the students to see who is applying more/less glue but really they all use about the same. I also tried to see who is gluing more relief pieces prior but I see more warping starting with the final paper mache surface. Some canvas boards warp more with the more cardboard matboard used, like larger pieces of those seem to “shrink” when drying.

Since they discontinued the Elmer’s paper mache paste I have tried to use flour with the glue and water but it is too thick for this relief and also extremely hard to keep in the classroom for extended days. I have also purchased Lineco pure wheat starch but it is not affordable. Do you think the combo of glue and water is the cause? Should I try a more expensive glue like a PVA to reduce the shrinkage?

THANK YOU!!!! This is such a great project I appreciate your feedback!
– Shelby, Indiana Art Teacher grades 7-12

Relief sculpture
Student relief sculpture

3 thoughts on “Relief Sculpture Warping, need suggestions!”

  1. Warping generally occurs when only one side gets wet. To avoid this I usually put a layer of glue on the back side and when dry I also do the front. PVA glue with no water. I made a similar project many years ago on a cardboard backing and there is no warping.

  2. Hi Shelby. As I told you in an email, I don’t know how to prevent the warping, and I really hope one of our readers has an answer for you. However, I do have two posts about a relatively inexpensive alternative to Elmer’s Art Paste. You can see the link in the “related posts” section above. Be sure to also scroll down that page and find the link to a second post that explains how to make sure it’s still sticky after storing it for awhile. I don’t know that it would stop your warping problem though – good luck on finding a solution!


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