Snowy Owl Sculpture, Part 4 – Feathers

Looking for great ideas for your next paper mache project or a gift idea? Check out my patterns and videos for masks, animal sculptures and faux trophy mounts.


The snowy owl is coming along, but slowly. I got sidetracked with a project that I started back in June, and just rediscovered. Does that ever happen to you?

In the last post I showed you how I added a thin layer of paper mache clay to the snowy owl armature. The first layer gives you a nice surface to work on while adding details, like feathers.

Snowy Owl Feathers, Step 1
Snowy Owl Feathers, Step 1

I started the feathers by adding another thin layer of paper mache clay and then I used a large spoon to form the shapes of the smaller feathers on the shoulders. I used a knife to form the edges of the longer wing feathers.

I changed the paper mache clay recipe a little bit, more or less by accident, and got a slightly smoother clay for the details. I just added a little more glue and a little more flour, and mixed really well. You can play around with the proportions in the recipe to get the feel you want.

Snowy Owl Feathers, Step 2
Snowy Owl Feathers, Step 2

When the basic shapes were outlined, I turned the spoon upside down and used the handle to give the feathers a bit more definition. My owl will only be seen from a distance, since it will eventually be mounted on a post in the back yard (if my latest weatherproofing scheme works, and if I can figure out a way to keep it from scaring the chickens…).

Since it won’t be seen up close, I’m not taking much time to get the feather patterns “right.” This wouldn’t do for a science project or for a sculpture that will be judged by anyone, but for my back yard a stylized approach is fine. (If you need more detail and precision, just do a Google image search for the individual owl parts, and use the hundreds of photos as models.)

Snowy Owl Feathers, Step 3
Snowy Owl Feathers, Step 3

To soften the shoulder feathers a bit, I waited a few hours until the clay set up a little, and then put a piece of plastic wrap over the feathers and carefully smoothed them through the plastic. This made them lie flatter. If you have a cold owl, you might prefer to rough them up a bit.

Snowy Owl Feathers, Step 5
Snowy Owl Feathers, Step 4

In this photo you can see the wing feathers beginning to appear.

Snowy Owl Feathers, Step 5
Snowy Owl Feathers, Step 5

This is how they look now, with the left wing and tail pretty much done. For finer detail, like the individual strands in each feather, you can use a stiff brush when you add a thick gesso, after the clay is dry.

Snowy Owl Eyes, Step 1
Snowy Owl Eyes, Step 1

I modeled two eyes and a beak, and let them dry before working more on the face. When I added these two balls, I thought they were too big. Now, I know they’re actually too small. The beak was too small, too, but it was easy to enlarge when the face feathers went on.

Snowy Owl Eyes, Step 2
Snowy Owl Eyes, Step 2

This is how far I’ve gotten on the face. More work needs to be done, but I’ll let her sit on top of the fridge and glare at me while the feathers dry. The face feathers are soft so they don’t have much definition. I just added a thin layer of clay with a knife, and scootched it around a bit.

If the snowy owl comes out OK when she’s finished, I’ll put all these separate posts together in a downloadable PDF so they’ll be easier to follow.

By the way, since the stores are filling up with Christmas stuff, I think it might be fun to start suggesting some projects for home-made presents. I don’t personally “do” Christmas any more, because the commercialization takes all the fun out of the holliday. (I still haven’t figured out how to get the relatives to take me off their lists, though…) If you have ideas for nice presents that we could make with paper mache, or if you have an idea but aren’t quite sure how to do it, let us know. Maybe we can start a new tradition.

The rest of the posts in this series:

22 thoughts on “Snowy Owl Sculpture, Part 4 – Feathers

  1. So cute,So Nice ,So wonderfull !!! I ´ ll try it since i ´ll have a bit more time !!!!
    ( hope Not so much error in my texte:))) i understand more than i can write)
    Thanks a lot for that lesson !
    Merci beaucoup de France!!!

  2. I have never done any paper mache before but need to make large boulders for my church’s VBS program. Could you explain to me the best way to do this?
    Thanks!!

    • If the boulders are just decorative and nobody will try to sit on them, you can make a basic shape out of chicken wire and cover it with big pieces of torn newsprint, held together with flour and water paste. After you have four or five layers, you can let it dry completely, and then paint it.

      If people might sit on them, chicken wire probably won’t be safe – the boulder would collapse and cut ends of the wire would poke through.

  3. Jonni

    I have ordered your book through Amazon, but in the mean time I wrote down the “clay” recipe. My question is – Do you use already prepared joint compound or the powder? Did you try plaster of paris instead of joint compound?

    • Hi Brenda. I hope you enjoy the book. I use the prepared joint compound. If you use the powdered form instead, mix it according to the package instructions before continuing with the recipe.

      I don’t use plaster because plaster hardens too fast for me. I can’t work quickly enough before plaster would be too crumbly to work with, and I’d have to hurry so I could run outside and clean out the bowl and knife before the plaster hardened. The joint compound dries naturally, and only gets hard when it’s dry. It doesn’t harden through chemical process the way plaster does. Some people use plaster with white glue to make a final gesso, but I haven’t tried that, either.

      Enjoy!

  4. Hi Jonni,

    Your website, and especially the owl inspired me to create our Christmas display window using your techniques and recycled materials. I purchased your book and made the owl off your website. We had a Northern Light Espresso Bar paper mache party at my house yesterday to create our animal woods scene including a 40″ Wolf, Owl, some mice, a hedgehog, a couple of mushrooms, etc. We have to have the whole thing done by this Friday (yikes), so we are facing some crunch time but I am certain we will pull it off. I will send some photos when it is done. Thanks for the inspiration! Julie

    • Wow – that’s really inspiring. And you finished your owl a lot faster than I did – mine is still glaring at me from on top of the refrigerator. I’ve been working extremely hard to finish a project I started back in June (a coloring book for people who are passionate about endangered animals) and it was sent off to the printers just a few minutes ago. Now I can get back to my owl. I do hope you’ll let us all see your entire window, because it sounds like a fabulous idea.

      • I promised to share the final results of our Christmas window display. We created a “Woodland Cafe.” The wolf is in our logo so he was a natural. I am happy to say that our window won the “Scrantastic” award for window displays in downtown Scranton PA. This project was a labor of love, but the team work made it happen. I wanted to share some photos with you. Thanks so much Jonni for introducing me to a craft that I found I love. 🙂
        (Hope this link works) Happy New Year!
        http://imgur.com/a/j9fDy

        • Wow – what a great display. I hope it brought in lots of new customers to your store.

          To see all of the photos in Julie’s gallery, be sure to click on the link in her comment above, and then scroll down to see them all. Very inspiring!

  5. HI!
    I just stumbeled on too this website thrue a link from a weddingplanning site I hangaround since my wedding this summer… there was a girl there who liked to your elephant tutorial cose she wanted to make a elephant arch to get married under… anyway none of this is important.
    I have been struggeling with my art trying to find a medium I like working in that I have talent for and that is not so expensive. And of course it’s papier maché I’ve done stuff in it but mostly boulders for theatre sets and stuff like that! But of course I could make skulptures out of it! Thank you! thank you sooooo much! you might just have saved my sanity!

  6. Jonni, thanks for the info. I am doing somewhat similar on my eagle. I need to take some pics.
    For a Christmas gift for a friend I have plans to attempt to make models of her two horses. The horses are quite special her and one of them, the mother of the other, is getting on up in age. So I think this would be a really neat gift for a lady that has everything.

  7. Jonni, did you misnumber the steps for the owl? I can’t find Part #4? Am enjoying your work! 🙂

    • Oops – I sure did. I think I’ve been sitting at this computer for too many hours today. Both the brain and the behind are going numb 🙂

      I fixed it. This is now officially Step 4, (not 5). Thanks for letting me know.

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