Restore Art Auction Lion Mask

mixed media lion mask

lion mask patternNote: I recently created a new lion mask pattern for paper mache. It’s a lot more realistic than the whimsical mask I show you in the video above.  The downloadable lion mask pattern is made with cardboard pieces taped together, plus one layer of paper mache and that lovely raffia mane (made with a cheap table skirt).

And now, back to the original post:

This display mask is the first project I managed to finish in my new house in Volga, South Dakota. I’ll take it down to the Brookings Restore tomorrow, right after the varnish is dry and the brass washer has been hot-glued to the back to reinforce the hole I made to hang the mask.

It was fun having an “assignment,” of sorts. Since the art auction rules require that the artwork has to be made, at least in part, with items purchased at the Habitat for Humanity’s Restore, it pushed me to be a bit more inventive than usual. It was also fun walking around the store, looking at all the stuff they have in there. (While I was looking around at the Restore, I bought a really cute little reclining chair for $16!).

I didn’t show it in the video, but I actually took the larger electric cables apart by pulling the smaller wires out of the sheathing. For that reason, I ended up with a lot more wire than I thought I would, and the wires were nice bright colors. That gave me an excuse to go a bit wild with the paint job. He fits right in with the bright green walls in my kitchen. It might also help the lion to fit in with the other artwork that will be sold at the auction, since they’re encouraging children to participate. 😉

Old Woman – A Mask and a Few Accidental Experiments with Paper Mache Clay

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A few days ago I mentioned that we’re going to have a Mask Party here on the blog. (Thanks, Tejae, for the idea.)

To get us all in the mood, I made a mask of an old woman, using as a model a photograph by Edward Curtis. Maybe we should call it a disembodied head, instead of a mask. I might remove the back of the armature, (which was not covered with paper mache), and hang her on my wall — or I might make a scarecrow-like body and put her in front of the house for Halloween. I really haven’t decided yet.

Anyhow, the video shows how it was done. This is probably the fastest sculpture I’ve ever done with any kind of paper mache. I wasn’t trying to hurry, it just worked out that way.

OK, now it’s your turn. Are you in the Halloween mood yet?

Chimpanzee Bust – A Paper Mache Clay Experiment

paper mache chimp armature

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I seem to be in the mood for experiments this month. Most of my experiments have been out in the garden (no results to report yet), but yesterday it was cold and wet, so I decided to stay inside and do an experiment with paper mache clay. This experiment actually started a few weeks ago when I posted an article suggesting that very small children would have more fun with real clay (with paper mixed in) than with paper mache, simply because working with pottery-type clay is more intuitive. I pinched together a silly imitation toddler’s bear with some clay I had on hand, just to have a photo for the post.

That made me wonder if I could use paper mache clay over a pottery clay armature that could be made easier, faster, and more intuitively than the crumpled paper and masking tape forms we normally use. After all, why should little kids have all the fun? That pottery clay was sitting there, whispering “play with me, play with me…” How could I refuse?

So here’s what I did yesterday, with the help of some ordinary pottery clay and a helpful chimp. It’s an experiment, not a tutorial, but I’m sure you’ll immediately think of ways that you could use the same techniques in projects of your own. I was so happy with the results that I’ve already started a “real” sculpture, since the “experimental” sculpture worked so well from a technical standpoint.

Chimp Bust – the Experiment:

Chimpanzee Bust, Step 1
Chimpanzee Bust, Step 1 (photo ©

For the first step I used pottery clay to form an armature for my chimp. I wasn’t paying much attention to proportions or anatomy at this point, because I just wanted to know if the process would work. Like any armature, it needed to be made slightly smaller than the finished work because the paper mache clay would be applied over it.

Paper Mache Clay Chimp Bust, Step 2
Paper Mache Clay Chimp Bust, Step 2

Next, I put a very thin plastic bag over the wet clay. I used the kind of bag you get in the grocery store’s produce department. The plastic stuck to the damp clay, so no tape or other fasteners were needed. I used the plastic so the clay would stay clean and I could use it for another project.I completely surrounded the clay, including the bottom, to keep it from drying out.

Paper Mache Clay Chimp, Step 3
Paper Mache Clay Chimp, Step 3

I applied the paper mache clay directly over the plastic. Since I knew I’d be removing the supporting armature, I applied the clay more thickly than usual – about 1/4 inch.

Paper Mache Clay Chimp, Step 4
Paper Mache Clay Chimp, Step 4

I used expanded aluminum gutter screening for the ears, and continued to build up the details with the paper mache clay.

Paper Mache Clay Chimp, Step 5
Paper Mache Clay Chimp, Step 5

I cheated a bit and dried the chimp in the oven, at 200 F. It has been cold and damp in my part of the country, and it would take ages for the thick paper mache clay to dry on it’s own. I do not advise drying the clay any hotter than that, because it will make your house smell like hot plastic.

When the paper mache clay was dry, I turned the piece over and removed the damp pottery clay and the plastic bag. If the clay on the inside dried out, it would be almost impossible to remove. You can see in the photo below that the walls of the bust are fairly thin, but it was quite strong. I continued to build up the paper mache clay over the first layer, to add details like eyes and lips.

Paper Mache Clay Chimp - Inside View, with Dog
Paper Mache Clay Chimp – Inside View, with Dog

Once the second layer, with the details, was dry, I could see the potential of this technique (see photo below). Of course, the experimental bust was never intended to be finished, but I have already started a new one, which you can see in the background. This time I’ll paying attention to things like anatomy, proportions and design. He should be dry and painted in a few days. I’ll show you how it turns out.

Paper Mache Clay Experiment - Chimp Bust
Paper Mache Clay Experiment – Chimp Bust

I think this method would also work with traditional paper strips and paste, although I’m too lazy to try it. If you do, or if you’re experimenting with any paper mache project this week, be sure to let us know.

Art Projects in School – A Serious Question

I have some concerns about something I’ve learned from a few of the emails and comments I receive on this blog. The issue has to do with teachers, at all grade levels, assigning art projects to be done at home without teaching the students any of the skills they’ll need to successfully complete the assignments. This bothers me for several reasons, which I’ll go into below, but I’d really like to hear your opinion on the subject. What am I missing?

Here’s just two examples of what I’m hearing from readers (and I admit I have no way of knowing how common this is):

1. A high school student is studying medieval European culture in social studies class. Her assignment is to create a full-sized paper mache sculpture of a charging light draft horse, to be completed on her own time. Another student will create the armored knight to go on top of the horse. The student has never made anything with paper mache before, so she contacts me for some help.

2. A first-grader comes home and tells his mom that he needs to take a paper mache owl to school next Wednesday, and mom starts searching the web to find out how to do it.

I think you can guess from the general subject matter of this blog that I am very much in favor of art being taught in schools. In fact, I wish every student could learn art, music and dance at every grade, not only so they can have a well-rounded education, but because various art forms excite different parts of the brain than mathematics and language arts and history. Arts are important – no question about it.

However, there are two things the assignments I listed above have in common:

Read moreArt Projects in School – A Serious Question

Self-Publish an Illustrated Art Book, Part 3

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So – let’s say you’ve finished the manuscript of your illustrated art book. Now what? How do you transform your manuscript from a file on your computer into a real-life book that’s available for you to buy and sell yourself, or for the public to buy from

The company discussed in the video is actually the printing firm owned by Amazon. They can take your PDF file and have it available within a few short weeks. And your book’s listing will always say “Available for Immediate Shipping” because Amazon’s printing company will print it as soon as an order is placed on their website.

The book I mentioned in the video is Aiming at Amazon, by Aaron Shepard.

You can find here.

The printing company that will be printing our own book is Lightning Source Incorporated. They work only with publishers. Now class – how do you become a publisher? That’s right – you purchase your own ISBN.

CreateSpace has lower printing costs for books with interior color, Lightning Source (LSI) is less expensive for black and white books. Books printed by LSI are available to online and offline bookstores — they even sell directly to, something that CreateSpace doesn’t do even though they’re owned by Amazon.

The downside of LSI, even for black and white books, is that they will give you very little help in creating your files and setting up your account. They don’t want to work with people who don’t have good computer skills, and they aren’t set up to offer much technical assistance. This is the company that prints all the books for author services companies like AuthorHouse and

Edit, 9/21/2019: This post was written several years ago, and CreateSpace is now part of KDP Direct Publishing. You can find more up-to-date information about self-publishing here.

Self-Publish Your Illustrated Art Book, Part 2

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This is the second video in this series. In this one, I show you the software that I’m using to create my illustrated art how-to book. These are not usually recommended by self-publishing “experts,” (they usually prefer the much more expensive Adobe versions), but my total software investment was $100. Compare that to the total cost of Photoshop and InDesign at $1400, and you can see one of the reasons why I went with another brand.

I actually prefer the PhotoPlus X3 over Photoshop, and not just because it’s so much less expensive. I used Photoshop for years. It always made feel a bit incompetent, because there are so many fancy functions that I never learned how to use. I did learn how to do basic stuff, though — but I can do those things in PhotoPlus, too — and I think it’s actually easier to use.

Before you jump into self-publishing in a big way, remember to do some research first. This is especially important if you want to sell your book to the public. Certain types of books, like novels and illustrated childrens’ books, are not usually very easy to sell when they’re self-published. Non-fiction and how-to books are said to do better. However, there are lots of reasons to make a book, and profit is only one of them. It may not even be the most important one. But still, do some research before you start so you don’t run into any major surprises.

The book about creating a manuscript in Microsoft Word that I recommended in the video is Perfect Pages by Aaron Shepard. He also has a book that is geared towards new self-publishers who want to sell their books on

Do you know of an art book that’s been self-published, or do you have one you’d like us to know about? Tell us about it, so we can take a look. And please tell us about your experiences with the process too, good or bad.

How to Write and Self-Publish aHow-To Book – Part 1

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This video is the first of a short series showing you the tools I used to build my new book about paper mache clay.  If you’ve ever considered writing or illustrating a book, but you let the idea drift away because you thought it would cost too much money or it would just be too hard, be sure to watch this series.

If you have an idea for a book and you’d like to discuss it here, we’d love to hear about it.

Sculpt a Dragon with Paper Mache Clay, Part 2

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In this video I let you watch over my shoulder as I add paper mache clay to the dragon armature I made for a previous episode.

The dragon came out a little bumpier than usual, just because I was trying to hurry. The process of applying the paper mache clay is usually a nice slow, almost meditative process. However, when you know a few hundred people are watching, you tend to hurry things up — and now I’ll need to go back and do some sanding and carving to clean her up.

I’ll post an image of the dragon when she’s done.

Sculpt a Dragon – Part 1, the Armature

paper mache dragon pattern

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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.

Read moreSculpt a Dragon – Part 1, the Armature

Horse Sculpture – Project #7 from Paper Mache Book

Paper Mache Horse

This horse sculpture is the last project in my new book Make Animal Sculptures With Paper Mache Clay. (The video was made before the book came out – it is now available on

In the video you can see how I reinforced the legs so the armature is strong enough. A larger horse would need heavier wire, of course.

Now that this series is done, I get to play a little. Since my very first blog post, way back in November of 2008 was a paper mache dragon, I think it would be fun to make another one, using the techniques I’ve learned in the last 14 months. And maybe I’ll try a bit of whimsy, while I’m at it. I’ll take some photos to document the new dragon, and I’ll let you see him just as soon as it’s done.

I’m always a little surprised when I look at my stats, because that first dragon post is still one of the most popular paper mache tutorials on this site. It was made using the same materials and techniques that I taught myself to use about 50 years ago (yes, it’s been that long). Although it will be a lot easier to make my new one with an inside pattern and paper mache clay, (like I made the horse sculpture in today’s video), instead of paper strips and paste, the old methods definitely work.

‘Till then, enjoy.

African Elephant – Project #6 in New Paper Mache Book

Paper Mache Elephant

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This video is part of a series showing the projects in my new book Make Animal Sculptures With Paper Mache Clay. (The video was made before the book came out – it is now available on

This video is a bit longer than normal, because I wanted to show you how the paper mache clay is added to the armature of the elephant sculpture, and how you can add textures to the clay.

Only one more video in this series, and I should have it finished tomorrow. I decided to make the horse the last project in the book, because so many people seem to be intimidated by them

The elephant sculpture in this episode is obviously a lot smaller than the baby Asian elephant I made a few months ago. He was also a lot easier to make. The size isn’t really an issue, since larger sculptures simply take more time to do – they aren’t necessarily harder to make. The big improvement was the paper mache clay.

The bigger sculpture was covered in many layers of traditional paper mache strips and paste, and each one needed to dry. Then I had to form the features, and cover them with another layer of paper. And lastly, the wrinkles had to be added with one last layer of paper strips and paste (because it isn’t an elephant without wrinkles!).

The small elephant was made with only two layers of clay, as you see in the video, so many of the steps were eliminated. And the clay itself covers any irregularities in the underlying armature. Way easier. And more fun.

On a slightly unrelated note, I found out yesterday that my paper mache clay butterfly tutorial is being put to good use. Models are being made to show the life cycle of butterflies, and the finished models will be on display at the State Arboretum in Virginia. I’ll post a link so you can see photos that show how they turned out as soon as I hear back from them.

I’m also starting a list of links over in the right-hand column that point to artists who are starting to use my paper mache clay recipe in their work. If that includes you, or someone you know, please let me know so I can add a link to my blogroll. (Hey – why pass up a free link!)

Begging Dachshund – Project #5 in New Paper Mache Book

Paper Mache Dachshund

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This video is part of a series showing the projects in my new book Make Animal Sculptures With Paper Mache Clay. (The video was made before the book came out – it is now available on

In this video I introduce you to the fifth project in my upcoming paper mache book. The begging dachshund was designed to show readers how a flat pattern on the inside of an armature can be manipulated so the final sculpture has an interesting pose.

I borrowed the colors of my dachshund from one of the dogs living down the street from me. This breed is so popular I think almost everyone knows someone who would like to receive one of these sculptures as a gift. The sculpture itself doesn’t cost much money, (probably less than $5.00), but she’s precious because of the time and love that goes into making her.

She is a little hard to photograph because I designed her to be looking up at you. When she sits on a coffee table you look down at those big brown eyes – no wonder so many of these dogs end up being overweight…

Spring is happening all of a sudden here in our valley. I have a big shipment of hedge plants coming in the second week of April, so that means I’ll be out digging in the dirt. Fun stuff. But don’t worry – I’ll still be working hard to help Jessie to get this book finished.

Spotted Piglet – Project #4 in New Paper Mache Book

Paper Mache Piglet

African Animals Pattern Set.
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This video is part of a series showing the projects in my new book Make Animal Sculptures With Paper Mache Clay. (The video was made before the book came out – it is now available on

In this video, I introduce you to a spotted piglet. He’s the fourth project in my upcoming book Make Animal Sculptures with Paper Mache Clay.

In case you’re wondering, the term “KuneKune” refers to a rare breed of miniature pigs from New Zealand.

I took the dogs out to run on Mt. Emily this morning, and I discovered that I’m even more out of shape than I realized. I broke my toe a few months ago, and it slowed me down for quite a while. At my age, a month of being really, really lazy can make muscle tone disappear fast. I suppose I’m lucky that the dogs are as out of shape as I am, so it wasn’t hard to keep up with them.

When I got back I worked on my new email notification system – you can sign up using the form over there on the right of this page. Don’t miss out on a single video or tutorial.

Now I’m off to the hardware store, my favorite place for art supplies. Today I need to find some heavy wire or thin metal rods to use in the series of large horses I plan to make in the next few months. Wandering around a hardware store makes me happy – so many weird and wonderful things in there, and nice people, too. I hope your day has something fun to look forward to, as well.


Emperor Penguin Family, Project #3 in New Paper Mache Book

Penguin Family

African Animals Pattern Set.
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This video is part of a series showing the projects in my new book Make Animal Sculptures With Paper Mache Clay. (The video was made before the book came out – it is now available on

In this episode I show you how the emperor penguin family is made, using patterns, some Styrofoam cubes and a hot glue gun to attach the legs, and paper mache clay.

I suppose you’ve already noticed that I did some Spring cleaning on my blog. With all these new videos, it seemed like a good time to fix things that were broken with the latest WordPress update, and to give the old girl a new design. If you find anything that still needs to be fixed, please let me know.

Now, about these videos. As soon as the first series is done and you’ve seen all the projects that will be in my upcoming book (Jessie says we can expect the book to be available in May), I’ll start some short how-to videos. I can’t do an entire project — I don’t know how to make the tape run really, really fast the way Dan Reeder does it — but I can show you the individual steps and techniques that I use to make my paper mache clay sculptures. Things like applying the clay to the forms, making the forms, etc. If there’s any specific thing you’d like to know about, please tell me in the comments below. I’ll compile a list, and I’ll try to get to as many suggestions as I can.

Clownfish – Project #2 in New Paper Mache Book

Paper Mache Clownfish

African Animals Pattern Set.
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This video is part of a series showing the projects in my new book Make Animal Sculptures With Paper Mache Clay. (The video was made before the book came out — it is now available on

Sorry about the cat – very unprofessional of me. But at least she wasn’t making as much noise as usual…


Vintage Chicken – Project #1 in New Paper Mache Book

Vintage Chicken

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This video is part of a series showing the projects in my new book Make Animal Sculptures With Paper Mache Clay. (The video was made before the book came out – it is now available on

You haven’t heard much from me in the last three months, because I’ve been working so hard on the new paper mache book. I think it will be called Make Animal Sculptures from Paper Mache Clay. I’ll let you watch the video first, and then I’ll tell you a bit more about the book and what I hope you’ll learn from it in the section below the video:

As you can see, (I hope I’m obviously still trying to learn how to focus the video camera!) the first project in the book is fairly simple. I call it the practice chicken, because that’s exactly how I hope readers will use it.

(I actually thought up the idea of using videos in my posts because people claim it’s so much faster than writing. Hah! This one took me all day yesterday, and all morning today. I do hope they’ll be easier, and better, as I learn how to actually do it right. Wish me luck!)

I tend to buy lots of how-to books, and I think it’s frustrating to read a book all the way through and still not  feel that I know how to use the skills the author tried to teach me. That’s why I think it’s so important to start off learning each required skill by doing a real project. I think the best way to learn is by doing. I organized the book so that each project will be just a little more challenging, but all the projects will use the same basic skills so readers get lots of practice. I also encourage readers to try the new skills with their own projects. After all – the true success of any how-to book comes when the reader takes what they’ve learned to create something entirely their own.

Writing a book like this has been an incredible adventure. I’ve learned the value of doing things over (I used to hate doing things over – now I actually enjoy seeing how much better things turn out when you get a bit of practice…).

Just as soon as Jessie (my book designer/typesetter/general book-creation expert) is back from vacation – she took a bit of time off the book project to prepare for the exhibit of her oil paintings – I should have all the chapters completely written and all the photos taken. Then she’ll take over and turn it all into a book, which should be available on by the end of April.

Since my part of the book is almost all done, I’ll spend my free time learning how to make videos. After you’ve met all the characters in the book, I’ll start some short how-to videos to show you the basics of applying paper mache clay, building armatures with patterns, etc. Since I’m very  new at this video thing, feel free to offer advice on how I could do it better. (Yes, I will be working on the focus problem! )

And if there’s anything you’d like me to show you how to do (and if I can do it in about 6 minutes or less), your suggestions will be more than welcome. As always, I value your comments.

Paper Mache Sputnik – Ideas Needed

(Note 3/6/2010 – see how Suzy’s project turned out at the end of this post)

I received an email today from Suzy, asking for help with her daughter’s school project, and we’re hoping you can add to the suggestions I came up with. (I’m amazed by the number of people who are brought back to playing with paper mache in order to help their kids with their homework! I think the moms have more fun with these projects than the kids do!)

Anyway, here’s Suzy’s email. My answers are below. I’m hoping that you may have had actual experience making a round, metallic object (rockets, maybe?) and that you can offer more help than I could:

Wow! Thank you so much for your informative website! I enjoyed seeing the various sculptures you have made. I have searched the web over for a site such as yours. I am not artistic by any means and the last time I made a paper mache project was in elementary school!! Years later, here I am, my daughter in elementary school and an assigned science project.

The assignment is space missions and she chose the Sputnik I as her mission. The Sputnik was about the size of a basketball and of course very smooth as any any satellite would be. I can certainly use a balloon, beach ball, styrofoam ball, etc.The problem is that the Sputnik had 4 attached antennas that hang from the satellite almost like tentacles from a jellyfish.

If I use any of the items mentioned, I am limited to how I can attach these, and frankly, I am worried that the antennas will not stay in place. If I use paper mache, I could attach, I think, with hot glue gun, etc. Plus, I could also get the polished finish for the satellite that I seek. Then, just  finish with metallic silver spray paint.

Read morePaper Mache Sputnik – Ideas Needed

How to Protect Your Hands While Working with Paper Mache?

This morning Liz left a question on a previous post, and it’s one of those questions that you may be better at answering than I am. I’m sure she isn’t the only one who has hands that get dry when working with paper mache. Here’s her question:

I have a very practical and basic papier mache question. The skin on my hands is somewhat delicate (particularly in the winter) and I try to keep it happy. I keep wondering if PM artists just sacrifice the skin on their hands for their art or just how they protect their hands from deteriorating. I can’t imagine wearing even thin gloves to do PM. What do you do?

So – what would you do? Like told Liz, I’m not into self-sacrifice, but this just isn’t a problem I’ve run into. I do use Bag Balm on my hands when they get dry and cracked from gardening, (probably shows how old this country gal is getting), but is there a way to protect your hands from getting damaged in the first place? Any products that work really well, to protect the hands without making the sculptures all greasy, and without encasing the hands in latex? Your suggestions would be much appreciated.

Fear of Drawing? Sculpture Anxiety? Creative Block?

Do you have potential paintings or sculptures in your  mind that are so real you can close your eyes and touch the surface of the canvas, or walk entirely around the piece, exploring it’s every detail? Do you have a short story or a novel in your mind that’s so real you can see yourself turning the pages? Is something stopping you from actually creating it, so other people can see it, too?

I’ve started thinking about what my next sculpture should be, now that my book project is starting to wind down. And whenever I start thinking about what I should do next, three “old friends” keep trying to get my attention. These are the three sculptures that I’ve been living with, (only in my mind, of course), for at least 5 years.

Is there such a thing as artistic phobia? Sculpture anxiety? A fear of drawing? Do you have ideas that you fully intend to pursue, but you never seem to feel the time is right?

I thought it might be fun to talk about this issue, because you, too, might have a great masterpiece in your mind that’s trying to get out. If so, maybe we could offer each other some support. I admit that I have a mild superstition that prevents me from talking about the three sculptures that I would love to do, someday. I think it was Earnest Hemingway that started my superstition when he said a writer should never tell a story until he has it down on paper. So I don’t want to describe the works that I haven’t yet created, but I would like to talk about the possible reasons why that they haven’t been created yet.

Obviously, there may be practical reasons why we hesitate to tackle a project. This is particularly true if we know we need technical skill that we haven’t yet acquired. Skills take time to develop, and it would be disappointing to see our potential masterpiece created by an amateur. That has certainly been an issue for me, since I’ve only been sculpting full-time for about 14 months. Perhaps we need to take more classes, or read more books, or just get more hands-on experience before we tackle “the big one.”

But is there something else that stops us, too? A fear of failing? The possibility of discovering that we just don’t have what it takes? Do we blame our job, or our family obligations, or our health, when there’s really something else stopping us?

There are other circumstances that might be holding us back. For instance, you may live in a small house or apartment that simply doesn’t have room to create something as large as you imagine it. The materials might be too expensive. You might need a private space that can be locked, to keep out children who could be harmed by the art materials, and you simply don’t have that space. You might need private time, so your mind will be free to think up new possibilities, work on new solutions — and you simply can’t find the time. You may have a “real” job that leaves you creatively exhausted at the end of the day.

These are real obstacles — but can they be overcome?

I’ve decided to challenge myself in the next few months: I will consider every objection that keeps me from starting at least one of those sculptures, and then find a way to work around those objections. I will commit myself to learning the skills I need, no matter how long it will take. When I think up inventive reasons to procrastinate (and I know I will) I’ll try to ignore them. I will look the fear of failure in the face, and work through it. The sculptures will not be museum-quality when they’re done — they may not even be good enough to show anyone — and that’s got to be OK.

I’ll commit myself to creating those sculptures because it will open up the possibility for new ideas, for the next great challenges.

The first thing I’ll do is ask for some help from some friends who might be willing to pose for me. Once I’m over that hurdle, (asking for help goes against my nature), I’ll see what happens next.

Would you like to join me in the challenge? Is there a short story, or a painting, or a novel, or a sculpture that’s been haunting you for years? What do you  need to do first, so you can actually get started?  Let’s talk about it…

Reader Needs Help With Pinata

I just received an urgent request for help with a pinata project on the Paper Mache Recipe page, and I don’t have the answer. I’ve never made a pinata,and I’m hoping you can help. Please read the comment below and offer your suggestions:

Hello there!

First, I must say how truly gifted you are. These sculptures are AMAZING! I am not doing anything that intricate. I have made 3 large dinosaur egg pinatas for my daughters 7th birthday party. There will be about 39 kids in attendance. I made this by covering plastic trash bags (filled with more plastic bags) with paper mache (using the flour/water/salt/cinnamon recipe). I have done 2 layers of paper mache and it’s SLOWLY drying. I plan to spray paint them, then go back and add details with a paint brush = like adding a crack and a claw sticking out, etc. My goal is to give each kid a good whack at the pinata = so each pinata should be able to withhold about 13 whacks before cracking open. What can I do to strengthen them more? I have run out of time to do a 3rd coat as it seems to take longer and longer to dry. Thank you for any insight you can provide to me. – It’s much appreciated!

(The dino egg idea is really clever, don’t you think?)

Thanks in advance for your help. I know Suzanne will appreciate it.

Mixing Color–A Short Physics Lesson

I accidentally discovered Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green, by Michael Wilcox. I ordered the book on a whim, and it has now become one of the most important resources among all the books I own on the subject of art.

I decided to tell you about it, just in case your experience with mixing colors has been as disappointing as mine.

If you’re a professional artist who figured out color mixing years ago, this post won’t mean much to you. However, I struggled for years trying to understand why the colors I mixed for my paintings and craft projects never came out right. I was obviously doing something wrong. After reading this easy-to-understand book, I now realize that I didn’t understood the basic physics of color.

This was particularly upsetting to me because the animals I like to paint are often clothed in subtle, interesting shades that I couldn’t match on my palette.

After reading Wilcox’s book, I realized that I learned to mix colors the wrong way back in grade school. That’s when I learned that yellow and blue paint make green paint. Red and yellow make orange. Red and blue make violet.

It sounded so simple. So why couldn’t I mix these colors and make the hues I needed?

Since I didn’t understand the underlying physics of color, (and neither did my grade school teachers), most of the colors I tried to mix on my palette turned into mud.

If you mix blue and yellow paint you will get green–or something close to green. But it never seems to be the green you want. It’s very often a muddy, grayish stuff with a greenish cast–or it’s a brash, neon color that isn’t at all what your painting calls for.

Yellow and red do make orange, but what if you really wanted a muted, almost brown orange–or that specific hue that you see in a particular animal’s eyes or frog’s skin pattern? Just start adding this and that–and end up with a muddy color that’s almost, but not quite, the color you wanted.

Blue and red do make violet–or a grayish mud with a violet overtone, depending on which blue and red you mix together.

When you do manage to mix a color that’s perfect, will you be able to reproduce it next week? Only if you take very good notes, and frankly, I don’t know anyone who does. But maybe your memory is a lot better than mine.

Of course, if you’ve taken a university-level course in color mixing, you’ll think this whole post is silly. Your paintings and craft projects will be filled with exactly the right colors, both bold and subtle, and those colors make your creative spirit soar.

But you only have to stand in front of the display of artist’s paints at the art store, or the acrylic craft paints displayed at your local WalMart, to see that I’m not the only one who can’t figure out how to mix colors. Manufacturers make hundreds of different hues, just for us poor folks who can’t quite figure it out.

Even the vast array of pre-mixed colors available at the store won’t help you get those muted grays that are so important in many paintings.

So, if you’re anything like me, you seem to have several options:

  1. Never start a painting or craft project that doesn’t use pre-mixed colors available at the local store; or,
  2. Find a book that shows swatches of thousands of colors, along with the formula for each, and thumb through it endlessly to find the color you need; or,
  3. Start an ambitious project that requires subtle, interesting colors and then try to mix them on your palette by adding a bit of this, a bit of that–and then decide the muddy color you end up with is “close enough;” or,
  4. Just give up and announce that you can’t paint.

I’ve tried all these options, and none of them has been been very satisfying.

That’s why I’m so excited about the book Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green. Mr. Wilcox explains exactly why my previous attempts to mix colors was so often unsuccessful (his explanation goes against everything you learned about color in school), and then he shows how to mix exactly which colors you need–including those elusive grays–every single time, using a very small number of pigments. It’s not only easier to get the colors you want, but it’s also less expensive than buying a new hue every time you run into a difficult color.

Let’s talk about green, since it’s mentioned in the title of the book:

When blue and yellow light lands together on a white surface, green light bounces back. So it really is true, when speaking strictly of colored light, that blue and yellow make green.

However, a painting (or the surface of a painted craft project or paper mache sculpture) is not made up of light. It’s made from colored pigments that absorb or reflect light, which is an entirely different thing.

And that’s why trying to mix paint as though it were pure light simply doesn’t work. Your grade-school teacher may have insisted that it would work, but it won’t.

Mr. Wilcox explains this problem with a short physics lesson, which I’ll try to recreate here.

When white light hits a surface that has been painted blue, every color except blue is absorbed into the surface, and blue light is reflected back to your eyes. You knew this already, of course.

When white light hits a yellow surface, the same thing happens–except this time every color except yellow is absorbed, and yellow is reflected back to our eyes.

Mix all the colors on your palette together to make black, and the paint will absorb every color of light, so no light at all is reflected back to our eyes.

If colored paints were actually pure color (which they are not), every time you mix any two “pure” colors of paint together you would get black. The bits of blue in the blue paint would absorb the red and yellow light, and the bits of yellow paint would absorb the red and blue light. No light would escape from the paint, and you’d see a perfectly black surface.

This doesn’t really happen because paints aren’t pure. Some light does escape when we mix two colored paints together. The problem is, the color that escapes is often not really the color we wanted or expected.

So, let’s mix two colors that really do make green:

A greenish blue, like Cerulean blue, reflects mostly blue and a little bit of green.

A greenish yellow, like lemon yellow, reflects mostly yellow and a little bit of green.

Mix them together, and the blue and yellow (plus any red, purple, and orange) will be absorbed, just as one would expect. However, since both colors also a bit of green, the green from both pigments is able to escape from the paint surface and is reflected back into our eyes. You have just created green paint.

It isn’t the blue and yellow mixed together that made green–in fact, the blue and yellow cancel each other out. However, we do see green because green was reflected by both pigments.

This seems so obvious to me now, but until I read the explanation I just didn’t get it.

So what happens if we mix together a blue and yellow that reflect only a very tiny amount of green?

When you mix a violet blue, like Ultramarine, with a orangey yellow, like Cadmium Yellow Light, you end up with grey. There will be a greenish cast to your grey, and it may be exactly the grey your painting needs. However, if you didn’t want a muted gray with green overtones, you’ll end up adding a bit of this color and that color in order to “fix” it, and end up with mud.

Since no paint color is pure blue or yellow or red, every paint color will reflect a tiny amount of the other colors in the spectrum. Even Ultramarine blue and Cadmium Yellow will reflect a little bit of green. That’s why the grey or brown you end up with when they’re mixed will be a very muted green. There are times when that’s exactly what your painting needs.

One of the reasons that I’m so excited about this book is that it opens up many more species for me to sculpt with my paper mache clay. In the past I tended to avoid any critter that has a fur or skin pattern that I knew I wouldn’t be able to paint correctly. Now that I understand the basic physics behind colors, (and with the help of the color swatches in Wilcox’s book) I’m confident that I can move forward with my chosen medium.

Do you know of another book that helped you understand how to mix or use color in your crafts or paintings? If so, I’d love to hear about in the comments below.

Storing Paper Mache in Hot, Humid Climate???

How can you store paper mache Christmas ornaments so they’ll still be beautiful next year? Your suggestions are welcome.

Hi Everyone. A reader sent me a question I can’t answer, and I’m hoping you can help her out. She lives in Texas, and she wants to know the best way to protect a pair of paper mache snowmen she just found,. She normally puts her Christmas decorations in the attic, but she worries that the paper mache won’t survive the heat (or the humidity).

I live on the edge of a desert, so I am not the expert here. If you have any ideas at all, please post them below. I know Mary Jane will appreciate any help you can offer.

My New Makeshift Photo Studio

This post shows the new tabletop photo studio I set up for taking pictures of my paper mache animal sculptures. The total cost includes a new Fujifilm FinePix S1500 camera, new daylight florescent bulbs and colored fabrics to be used as “seamless” backdrops.

My little makeshift photo studio seems to work quite well for close-up photos of my sculptures. Since I spent the smallest amount of money I possibly could and still ended up with a very workable setup, I thought you, as a fellow artist, might be interested.

The total cost of my new “studio” was $247.55. Some of the parts were rummaged from my garage, so the costs of those items are not included in that total.

New Tabletop Studio for Photos of My Animal Sculptures
New Tabletop Studio for Photos of My Animal Sculptures


Before I could even begin setting up my little table-top studio I needed to buy a new camera. My old one couldn’t take photos at a high enough resolution for large prints, which are needed when taking photos that will be printed in a book. My 4 megapixel Canon Powershot A520 simply wasn’t up to the job, and its limitations were slowing down the creation of my new how-to book about using paper mache clay to create animal sculptures. (13 completely new projects planned – stay tuned…)

According to Steve Meltzer’s book Photographing Arts, Crafts & Collectibles, (a great book – highly recommended), I needed a camera with at least 8 megapixels, but my Canon has only 4. Some online research pointed me to the Fujifilm FinePix S1500, a 10 megapixel camera that has some of the automatic features that I really need.

Read moreMy New Makeshift Photo Studio

My Paper Mache Book Project, Suggestions Please…

This morning I received a comment from a reader who has been searching for a pattern she could use to make a monkey or gorilla in paper mache, like the patterns I’ve been creating for the elephant, panda, and others here on this blog. Unfortunately, I haven’t made the pattern she’s looking for yet, and as far as I know, this is the only place where you can find them. I may be wrong, but I believe I invented the idea of using patterns for papier mache sculptures.

For months now I’ve been intending to write a book that includes some of the patterns I’ve already created, with updated instructions using the less-messy paper mache clay instead of laminated paper and paste.

Read moreMy Paper Mache Book Project, Suggestions Please…