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Today’s guest post is by Marc Tsakiris, who made this amazing paper mache crocodile with his family. Thanks, Marc!
© 2020 Marc Tsakiris
My family and I always enjoyed the Peter Pan stories.
We particularly enjoyed the movie “Hook” in which Peter Pan is coerced into going back to Neverland forgetting who he was. In the movie there is a crocodile that has been stuffed and made into a clock at the direction of Captain Hook, who lost his hand to the beast. We gathered our inspiration from that.
Papier-mâché has always been an interest of mine. My first experience was creating a project for school with my younger sister and father at the age of eight.
Now I wanted to show my father how much cooler I was than him so me and my two sons decided to take on this project.
Of course, YouTube never existed in 1988 so I had an unfair advantage by following channels like Jonni’s.
We started the Croc project in 2018. My father suddenly passed that summer from pancreatic cancer. Needless to say, I wasn’t really in the mood to create for a while.
This year with the arrival of the pandemic, I had a long break from work. It was at that time my youngest said “you’ve been working on this crocodile for two years – what’s wrong with you? Are you ever going to finish it?”
That was all the motivation I needed. I told him we would finish it together. Although they seemed to lose interest a lot sooner than I did, we got quite a bit done over two months. This was to be a project with a story. Somewhat of a family heirloom. I hope to continue creating. It brings me comfort.
STEP 1 – Making the Croc’s Head:
This was originally supposed to be the head of a crocodile with a clock in its mouth, sort of like a taxidermy trophy on the wall. I started forming the basic shape of the head.
I balled up newspaper and layered it with Scotch tape as I had seen in a video on YouTube (Dan Reeders channel “Gourmet papier-mâché”). It was a good start for my project because he does a lot of dragons.
I used a lot of techniques inspired by his channel. After the basic shape was formed I started layering papier-mâché with the basic water and flour recipe. This took quite a bit of layers to make it the hardness I was looking for. I wish I had discovered Jonni’s channel sooner as I would have used her recipe for harder Mâché.
After desired strength I sliced laterally down the center of the head to separate the top and jaw. I then traced the inside shape of the jaws on cardboard and cut them out to create a flush look inside of the mouth rather than a recessed look like we see in the dragons.
I started forming some textures around the eyes, nose, and other lifted elements using aluminum foil, cardboard, tape, and hot glue. I had also allowed for a chamber where the eyes and nose are for some lights that I was planning to use.
It was at this time my Kids recommended we make a huge crocodile. The entire body. I then realized how long this was going to take.
STEP 2 – The Body:
I found a table top made of wood at the local hardware store. I figured I was going to use that as a base along with a 2 x 4 to hold up my Armature made from chicken wire.
I started rolling around the chicken wire trying to get a shape that would mimic that of a real crocodile. Thin at the top and bottom with a little belly in the middle.
I was actually surprised it It turned out as I stapled the back of the chicken wire to the 2 x 4. I started layering papier-mâché all around the Armature. This took forever. I still didn’t have the “strong Mâché “recipe. Too bad.
I didn’t take the Mâché all the way up because I wasn’t sure how I was going to position the head just yet.
STEP 3 – Arms and Legs:
I was sort of dreading the step because I was worried I wouldn’t get the arms and legs the way I wanted them. I really wanted to make sure that they were equal in proportion.
I used the same technique as the head. Balled up pieces of newspaper and layering them with scotch tape.
I taped some hangers on the arms and legs so that I could hook them into the chicken wire under the Mâché for added support. This anchored them in place while I taped and formed shoulders around the arms and legs using scotch tape and aluminum foil.
Although this was really starting to look massive, it was very light overall.
STEP 4 – Lights:
I really wanted to get the illuminated look in the eyes nose and mouth. I searched Amazon for some LED sets and found exactly what I was looking for. 66 feet with 200 yellow LED lights. Specifically featuring a long plug that could disconnect from the lights. This worked amazingly well.
I fed the plug that goes into the lights up through the base of the crocodile and out of where the head would go. So the plug that goes into the wall was hanging out the back of the croc where the tail would be essentially.
I started taping lights in bunches of 40 using black electrical tape. I fixated them with hot glue inside the cavities of the eyes and nose. I left a lot of lights for the mouth as well. We’ll get back to this in a sec.
Step 5 – Emergency!!!!!
I started to notice the structural integrity of my crocodile was at risk. The base started to come away from the croc and it was constantly leaning to the left or right.
While the project was getting heavier it was falling apart.
I secured the “back bone” onto the wood base with some more wood screws but I don’t think that did the trick.
That is when I thought of filling the entire body with “great stuff”. That’s right! That crazy foam in a can that you can’t get off your skin.
Around 25 cans later and there I was with a structurally sound crocodile without a head. The body was a lot heavier now although surprisingly still lightweight enough for me to carry it myself.
STEP 6 – The Jaw:
I glued the teeth into the top and bottom of the croc’s mouth. They were made using Fimo. It’s cool to use papier-mâché clay for teeth as well but I just like the overall finish of Fimo. Especially the natural color which mimics real teeth.
I had screwed a piece of 2 x 2 wood to the main back bone for supporting the jaw. I also cut a small square in the bottom jaw to allow for some lights to be placed inside. I finalized the jaw into place with scotch tape. I got the lighting inside the bottom jaw started to Mâché to hold it into place.
STEP 7 – Fingers and Toes:
I used “Activa fast Mâché” and glue for the fingers and toes. The finish was not smooth and it was very difficult working with the Activa. I learned later how to do that correctly.
STEP 8 – Attaching the Top of the Head:
At the very top of my 2 x 4 “back bone“ I had a plank of wood screwed to support the top of the head. Remember, I had lights in the top of the head so they were connected to the plug I had inserted before filling the body with foam.
After I positioned the head in place with scotch tape I started to Mâché the head for support. It was really starting to come together now!
STEP 9 – Body Support
I then covered the entire project in cloth Mâché. This was done using some glue and cotton sheet purchased from a fabric store. I later realized that I didn’t really need to do the step. I would have much rather used Jonni’s Papier-mâché clay recipe. I finally discovered her channel after this step while searching for the best way to create scales. Wish I had discovered it a lot sooner! .
STEP 10 – Scales – Oh No!!
This was stressing me out. After searching online and joining various groups on Facebook, I gave into the idea of doing individual scales.
I used Jonni’s Papier-mâché clay recipe for the front and back of the croc. She answered my email!!! It was just way too much area to cover with the Activa. It was so strong. This transformed the crocodile from a weak Mâché project you could poke at into a strong and structurally sound statue. She’s famous for a reason, people!
I attached the clay to the project using a spatula and I cut lines in it using a pizza cutter. My wife was not happy with me using her pampered chef products.
For individual scales I went back to the Activa Fast Mâché I had purchased from Amazon. After looking at a few videos on how to use it I finally got the hang of it. It should be mixed with hot water only and while using it you should keep your hands damp. Worked great for individual scales.
I went over the crocodile and tried to mimic the different types of scales for the different body parts after looking at a few pictures online.
STEP 11 – Paint:
It was hard to decide on what type of finish I would use. Should I make it a natural looking crocodile or something else?
I chose a gilded look. We painted the whole croc with some black Acrylic paint and went back over it with some gold paint. This allowed all of the scales and grooves to really pop.
Some areas were hard to get paint through the cracks of the scales so I diluted it with some water. Used a foam roller for the gold acrylic so that they wouldn’t go into the recessed areas between scales.
This was a fun project and definitely well worth the time put in. I remember walking into school with that papier-mâché rocket my dad and I had made. It was 30 years ago and I can’t seem to forget how excited all of my friends and even the teachers were to see something as impressive as that rocket. We are dedicating this project to the memory of my father. So that anyone who looks upon it with that same excitement can understand how truly amazing a person he was. Hopefully it will stay in the family for years to come. I wish you all the best. Keep creating!
“I suppose it’s like a ticking crocodile, isn’t it? Time is chasing after all of us”
J.M. Barrie- Peter Pan