The Whale o’ Love: Waterproof Paper Mache

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Paper mache whale bed

Today’s guest post is by Esther Rovin, who found a way to make waterproof paper mache. I can’t wait for Spring so I can give Esther’s method a try.

Waterproof Paper Mache “Whale o’ Love”

©2017 Esther Rovin

I am a Scenic artist and general crafty person. A friend of mine commissioned me to build a whale that was light weight, easy to move for 2 people, water proof and big enough for 2 people to sleep in.

I used Titebond III, a waterproof carpenters PVA glue, joint compound, flour and Acrylic clear additive (same consistency as thin glue) and a little water for the paste recipe.

Titebond III
Titebond III
Concrete Acrylic Fortifier
Concrete Acrylic Fortifier

We weren’t sure it would work but we were willing to try! We tried a sample submerged for 1/2 hour. It held up.

We started with welding a pencil rod frame, added chicken wire. We used nylon pantyhose on the tail and fins to enhance the shape of them. The mouth was trimmed with insulation foam for pipes.

Welded Frame for waterproof paper mache whale
Welded Frame for waterproof paper mache whale

We applied the first layer of newspaper with the waterproof paste. In between layers we watered down the Titebond III just enough so it brushed easily and applied this between every layer, inside and out. Let dry, added another layer, more glue, etc. we did this for 6 to 7 layers of paper.

Once the layers and last glue was applied we used plaster of Paris mixed with the clear acrylic fortifier (no water) as a sandable gesso. This product is available in any good hardware store and can be used for cement, plaster or grout.

The eyes are 7-ll big gulp lids, glued in and paper mache’d around to set.

The Whale o' Love: Waterproof Paper Mache
Nylon pantyhose on the tail and fin
The Whale o' Love: Waterproof Paper Mache
Paper Mache’ing the Outside of the Whale
Paper Mache Whale Ready to Paint
Whale Ready to Paint

Next the whale was primed inside and out using KILZ oil based primer (stinky and messy) tinted blue. This became our final coat as well.

We lined the interior over the chicken wire with paper mache applied the same as the outside and then spray glued a red fuzzy-ish vinyl lining.

Whale Primed, with Bed
Whale Primed, with Bed

The cheesy hippy flowers and hearts were spray painted and then the entire piece was given 3 coats of clear non-yellowing marine varnish.

A removable bed foam mattress bed was placed inside. We covered it with a custom made fuzzy velveteen duvet.

Waterproof Paper Mache Whale
Finished Waterproof Paper Mache Whale

The last time I talked with my friend it had held up outdoors for 2 years! And even been to the Burning Man Festival once (although a fin was damaged there.)

*Disclaimer: we live in LA and don’t get a lot of rain as some places. Also I’m not sure if its stored covered or in the open.

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16 thoughts on “The Whale o’ Love: Waterproof Paper Mache”

  1. Hi Jonni. You are incredibly talented. I am no artist but I can be a bit crafty. I have quickly caught on to the fun of paper mache making various props such as trees, rocks and giant gumdrops for my son’s schools post prom. I am getting ready to construct an 8 foot high waterfall using 2x4s, chicken wire and a cement / sand mixture. However, because of the size I would like to keep it as light weight as possible since it is for just one night. I came upon this post for the waterproof whale and I’m wondering if this may be a better method. Keep in mind it will be an actual running waterfall. Any suggestions you may have would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Lisa. I don’t think Lisa tested her whale under those circumstances, so I would be very doubtful. You might want to consider a thin layer of FlexBond mortar instead. It would fall through the large holes in the chicken wire, but you could cover the wire with crumpled foil to make some nice water shapes first, and then add the mortar. It should grab onto the dips and crevices in the crumpled foil, which would keep it from sliding off. These pumpkins were made with a mortar mix painted on with a brush, to protect a coat of plaster, and they said it worked. You wouldn’t want the plaster, but you might be able to use a brush over foil. You’ll want to test it, though, to make sure the substrate is strong enough for the weight.

  2. Jonni Good,
    I am a huge fan of yours. I actually made a paper mache’ life size football player. It was over 6′ tall& 245 pounds. (I will have to forward you a picture. I have to upload it from my old lap top.)I am now retired , I plan to do a lot more of ….? I used Valspar house paint & Marine Varnish. But the kids decided it was going in the bedroom.
    I personally want to thank-You for all the wonderful ideas.
    True Fan,
    Beni Jo Wright

    • Hi Beni. I’d love to see that football player – he must have been quite a conversation starter at your house! And we’d love to see your new work, when you have time to make some. I’m glad you’re enjoying the site.

  3. Thanks. Neat looking whale. When I do PM that needs to withstand the wet weather, I create the PM design (using the Titebond III for the glue) then coat it with Spar varnish. Then I paint it and coat it again with Spar varnish. Spar varnish is what is used on wooden boats. I never thought to add in the Concrete Acrylic Fortifier. I live in Ohio and we have lots of wet weather. There is even a cartoon about Ohioans standing on the edge of hell because we were too wet to be let in… I will research and may add in the Concrete Acrylic Fortifier. I am about to make some more outdoor items.

    • If you experiment with it, let us know how it turns out. I’ve always been concerned with making paper mache in the normal way and then adding a waterproof skin over it. Even the tiniest pinhole would allow water to get in and eventually melt the sculpture. But if the Titebond III would work if it was used just on the outside, that would be good to know. I know that Dan Reeder used it with his cloth mache and left the dragon outside in his Seattle front yard, so it may work the same way with paper.

    • Hi Susan, Unfortunately I dont remember an exact recipe as it was yeas ago. It was a standard equal parts (I think) to the consistancy of pancake mix. The varnish layers were thinned just enough to brush it easily.


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