Sculpt a Dragon – Part 1, the Armature

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.

The very first post on this blog, back in November of 2008, was a tutorial I wrote to show how to sculpt a dragon with traditional paper mache strips and paste. I thought it would be fun to make another one, using some of the techniques and materials that I’ve developed in the last 13 months. This video shows how the armature is made, using the pattern you can find down below the video.

You’re welcome to use the big-footed dragon pattern that I used to make the armature in the video, but you might have more fun making your own. To use this pattern, draw a grid on a piece of cardboard or foam board, and then draw the pattern onto the grid, one square at a time. The size of the squares on your grid will determine the size of your finished dragon.

Hint – a larger sculpture is actually easier to make, because the details are easier to work with. I regret making my armature so small.

Pattern for Dragon Sculpture
Pattern for Dragon Sculpture

If you make a dragon, please let us see it – you can add a photo to the comments below, but please keep them under 800 px wide and “save for web” in your photo editing software.

30 thoughts on “Sculpt a Dragon – Part 1, the Armature”

  1. hi jonni I love you Website and work I’m doing a project with my daughter for her school about Welsh myths and levents. there’s a legend about a battle between a red dragon and a white dragon so I’m going to attempt to make two using your method. I’ve not tryed anything like this before so fingers crossed and thanks for the inspiration x

    • What a wonderful project for you and your daughter to do! It should be quite challenging, and a lot of fun, too. And she’ll have something really special to keep when it’s done. I do hope you’ll let us see it when it’s done.

      • thanks we’re both looking foward to it and have over the half term to complete our project . we will post pics of how it turns turns out.
        thanks again.
        tomas and lily

  2. going to try making this during my school summer vacation… (teacher)… if it comes out good i’ll have my whole after school program working on this…wish me luck…^^

    I used photoshop to double the size of… will send you pictures.. if it looks good…

  3. Hi Jonni, I am making a dragon too. I am 10 years old. Right now my dragon looks like a dino….. But your video was very helpful! It says my pic is to large to send you, is there any other way I could send it to you?

  4. Hi jonni, I am making a dragon too. I am 10 years old and your video was helpful. Right now mine looks like a dino…

  5. Dear Jonnie,

    Lovely tutorial! I´m working on a larger scale dragon, but since I´m kind of a newbie, could you explain how you filled up the space around the legs and arms with paper? Did you use glue or one layer of paste and then you pushed the paper in, or something like that?

    Merry Christmas in advance,

  6. like alyshia I’m making a dragon to be strapped to my shoulder do you think I could use you tutorial with another pattern.

  7. Hello,
    I’ve been putting together a costume and your tutorials have been soo helpful. I was wondering if bigger wings on could be put on the armature while still being structurally sound when the paper clay is applied? thank you so very much

    • I’m not quite sure how to answer your question, without knowing more. Do you happen to have a photo you could post, so we could see the costume and where you want the wings attached?

      • this is my reference picture, the dragon itself will be strapped onto my shoulder and the wings curved a bit more

        • Alyshia, the photo didn’t come through. That’s usually caused by a file that’s too big. Please edit the photo to make it smaller, and try again – we’d love to see it.

  8. Jonni,
    I just wanted to say I found this inspiring. I stumbled over your dragon and website through youtube and am blown away. I do a weekly art blog on my website and I’m always looking for something new to try and show to people… when I am done with my current project, I’m definitely going to try one of yours:) I like your work so much, I’ll post your website on my blog. Thanks for the inspiration!

  9. hey, i love the fact that you have created your own material to work with to suit your needs and im thinking of doing a little experiment of my own, i’m creating a large sculpture and im thinking of mixing paraffin wax with your paper mache clay, do you think this could be a good combination, im debating in either applying your recipe first and then the wax or maybe just mixing them all together at once, im just worried that mixing your recipe with wax over a double boiler on low heat could work but i dont want to aggravate a hit the flash point, what do you think? i would love to hear your thoughts,
    Omani Hanmer xx

    • I have absolutely no idea what will happen if you try this combination, but I do hope you’ll tell us if you try it. I do often use wax as the final sealer, because it gives such a nice “organic” matte finish. If it’s added to the clay itself you’d definitely need to heat up the clay without actually causing a fire or drying out the clay to the point that it becomes a solid chunk of plastic. That’s going to be a challenge. Let us know how it works out.

  10. hello yes, i am new to the art of paper mache clay and i am making the mask with the clay and i am wondering if clay need layering in between, thank you

    • I use just one layer of clay, except in projects where it’s easier to make a base layer and then add the eyes and other details in a second layer. If you are making a hollow object, with solid armature inside for support, you’ll need a thicker layer than I normally use.

  11. hey!

    i am totally new to paper mache. i just made a drum sculpture from cardboard… silly enough, i put the paper mache over the cardboard and obviously it’s soaking wet… is there any way i can save it??? like, i have tried to set it up so that it can dry into shape, but is this going to keep happening as i layer the paper mache, or is it going to be ok once this layer has dried? also, does the paper mache hold its own shape, once there are like 5 or so layers, or will it just collapse? thanks so much for taking the time to answer, i love your site 🙂

    • Hi Barbie. Yes, the paper mache will dry hard, but subsequent layers will soften the layers underneath. Can you stuff the inside of your drum tightly with crumpled paper, so it will hold it’s shape until it’s dry?

      You might want to take a look at my African mask, which I built over cardboard. It probably has a similar shape to your drum. I don’t remember the cardboard getting wet enough to sag, though, so maybe you could cut back on the amount of paste you’re putting on, or thicken the paste with more flour.

      I hope you let us see your drum when it’s finished. That sounds like a really interesting project.

  12. So glad I found you! I’ve used paper mache to make everything from furniture to fake rocks. Here is a pic of the paper mache rocking horse I finished last night–I can’t take credit for the whole thing because I found the form in a trash can, all torn up. All I did was straighten it out, patch it up and put on the paper mache. Now that I look at the pics, I see that he still needs some work. I really want to make a life size horse like you did. And I will eventually have some questions about using paper mache clay, because I’ve not had very good luck with that in the past.

    • The horse turned out very nice. Paper mache can do wonderful things, can’t it? I hope you see my second dragon video, because it shows me applying the clay. I have never had much fun using the traditional paper mache pulp — the kind you make by soaking newspapers or boiling them, and then mushing them together with a binder. I think the new recipe is much easier to use.

  13. Hi,
    The reason I chose paper mache for a medium for my sculptures is because I wanted to work in a medium that is environmentally friendly…
    I am experimenting with used paper, newspapers, flyers, old used wire hangers, found cardboard [in behind office buildings I find are gold mines for this] then use old paper for the paper mache clay …etc… I want to know if you can use paper instead of tinfoil to fill-in?
    Also, do you have and other ideas for other products I can use??? Like maybe paper strips dipped in paste instead of the masking tape… etc…?????

    • Hi David. Sure, you can use little bits of paper instead of aluminum foil. I’ve done it for years. I just now started using the foil because it’s easier to work with small pieces. It also holds the bends really well, but if you use lots of tape, crumpled paper will hold it’s shape, too.

      But that brings us to the tape issue. I don’t know how you could use wet paper strips to hold the crumpled paper in place. Traditional paper strips and paste can be used over a paper and masking tape form, but wet paper has no strength at all. I think you would end up with a formless pile of paper and paste. Of course, I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

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