Weatherproof Paper Mache Clay for Outdoor Sculptures

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Play Video about Weatherproof paper mache clay recipe for outdoor sculptures

I’ve been experimenting with two new recipes for weatherproof paper mache clay.

I should have done these experiments way back in 2013, because that’s when Warren Eggleton wrote a guest post for this website. He showed us how he made his giant pots using a version of our paper mache clay recipe, with the addition of Portland cement.

The last time we heard from him, his pots had been outside for six years, in Australia.

  • I recently made a casting of a leaf with this mixture.
  • And I sculpted a garden toad to go on the leaf. The new sculptures will be left in my garden over the winter, to see how well they hold up

I made some changes to Warren’s version of weatherproof paper mache, just to make sure every batch comes out exactly the same.

I also created two different recipes. One of them contains all the usual ingredients for paper mache clay, but the flour is replaced with Portland cement.

The second recipe leaves out the drywall joint compound, because it’s hard for some people to find.

Note: You probably noticed when you watched my video that I kept mentioning that my new paper cement clay recipe is experimental! We haven’t had time to test it out in the real world, so we don’t know how well it will hold up in your climate. Please keep that in mind if you decide to make some outdoor sculptures with it.

We just found out that sculptor Lee Bell has written a brand new book that includes her own time-tested cement-based recipe. Her method has been used for years, and her sculptures appear in many public outdoor installations. If you would like to use a cement-based recipe that’s already been tested (and isn’t experimental like the one on this page) I recommend reading her book first.

I tested both of my new recipes by spreading small samples onto cardboard every 30 minutes, to see how long we could continue to use them before they stiffened up too much.

The mixtures will eventually get hard in the bowl because of the Portland cement, but I was able to continue using them for at least 3 hours, with the room temperature at 76° F (24.4 C).

Warren told us in his post that it will get stiff faster in warmer weather.

Test pieces for weatherproof paper mache clay recipe with drywall joint compound.

Test pieces for weatherproof paper mache clay recipe with drywall joint compound.

Test pieces for weatherproof paper mache clay recipe without drywall joint compound.

Test pieces for weatherproof paper mache clay recipe without drywall joint compound.

How the two recipes are different after they dry:

Difference in texture with paper mache clay for outdoor sculptures

The texture of the recipe that includes the drywall joint compound is smoother – you can see that in the test piece on the right in the image above. However, for an outdoor sculpture, the difference may be so small that it really doesn’t matter.

Try the recipe that you think you’d prefer, and put your sculpture out in the garden.

After it’s been out there for a few months or a year, please come back and let us know if the rain, snow or sun has caused any noticeable damage.

Weatherproof paper mache clay recipe with drywall joint compound:

Note – be sure to watch the video at the top of the page to see how the ingredients were measured and mixed. If you want to make a larger batch, you may want to mix it with a paint mixer attachment on an electric drill.

Mix together:

  • 1/2 cup drywall joint compound
  • 1/2 cup Elmer’s Glue-All (PVA glue)
  • 1/2 cup damp toilet paper or recycled paper*

Mix until there are no lumps of paper in the mixture. Then add and mix well:

  • 1 cup Portland cement.

*To see how to weigh the damp paper, watch the video on this page, starting at the 3:06 mark. You’ll need to scroll down the page to find the video. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, soak the paper in hot water, then squeeze out most of the water (but not all of it) and use 1/2 cup of the damp paper.

Weatherproof paper mache clay recipe without drywall joint compound:

Mix together:

  • 1/2 cup Elmer’s Glue-All (PVA glue)
  • 1/2 cup damp toilet paper or recycled paper*

Mix until there are no lumps of paper in the mixture. Then add and mix well:

  • 2/3 cup Portland cement.

More experiments needed!

Warren had great luck with his pots outdoors in Australia. But I can’t know if these recipes will work here in Minnesota until I make a sculpture and leave it outside to see how well it does in our crazy weather.

In fact, we all need to consider these experimental recipes until we’ve had a chance to try them ourselves, in our own climate.

If you experiment with one or both of the recipes, please come back after a few months and let us know how they worked! 🙂

45 thoughts on “Weatherproof Paper Mache Clay for Outdoor Sculptures”

  1. Hey, Jonni!
    Regarding your nouveau mache (the weatherproof mix), I wonder if a small amount of a lightweight aggregate such as perlite could be added to the recipe? Such a mix might fly close to becoming just another hypertufa recipe, I guess, but, then, hypertufa most certainly holds up to the weather. The perlite might make for an interesting rough texture, and it’s workable in its own way, being easily sandable (but do wear a mask if anybody tries it), if a smooth texture was desirable, and an aggregate in the recipe might even make it stronger.

    I wish I had time at present to experiment, but what are your thoughts on a tufa mache/hyper mache variation? And thanks again for sharing your recipes in the first place! What a wonderful and generous resource you’ve create with your site!

    Reply
    • Hi Johnny. I have no idea how the new recipe would work with the perlite added – but someone with a lot of cement experience might be able guess. When you do have a chance to do some experiments, I hope you’ll let us know how it works out. It sounds like you’ve got some experience with hypertufa. and it would be interesting to know how that method and this new recipe compare, from the perspective of someone who has played around with both.

      Reply
  2. I’ve been wondering how this weatherproof recipe compares to the ferrocement recipe you used for the stone face. Are there applications for which one is better than the other? I’m thinking of making faux bois pots which are at least 18” high and 12” in diameter. I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts.

    Reply
    • The biggest difference is that the cement I used for the stone face was developed by an expert in concrete, so you can expect it to handle the weather as well as any other concrete product. On the other hand, the paper cement clay that is in this post is an experimental version of my original paper mache clay. It isn’t concrete, and it’s experimental, so we won’t know how well it holds up until we have some pieces out in the garden for a year or more. Warren did make some pots with a recipe that is very close to this one, and he said they were outside for at least three years, but I don’t know if he actually planted anything in them or not. So – if you do try this recipe, consider your first effort to be an experiment. And remember that some experiments don’t work the way we want them to, so limit the amount of time you spend on it. If you need lots of pots, you might want to ask for advice from one of the makers on YouTube who create videos about faux bois pots.

      Reply
  3. That are wonderful news! There are so many outdoor applications I will test the new recipe right when I come home tonight. I live in Northern California and the test will be our winter.
    I love the long work time! You can make a bigger batch and can take your time to do your art work!!

    Reply
    • I haven’t tried that yet, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. But don’t take my word for it – do some experiments to see how well it sticks to the foam.

      Reply
  4. Hi Jonni,

    If the project is not completed in one sitting, can you add this same receipe mixture to the artwork project some days later to continue working on the project till finished?

    Reply
    • I haven’t tried it yet, but I should find out today or tomorrow when I finish my toad. I got sidetracked by a big project I needed to do in the garden, but that’s done now so I’ll get back to the studio soon. I really hope the new layer sticks to the old one – wish me luck! 🙂

      Reply
  5. The Pal Tiya Premium (cement based air dry clay) people recommend submersing the sculpture in water for at least a week(after 24 hrs under a plastic bag) or even a month if you want it stronger. If the sculpture is too big, wrap in wet towels and large plastic bags and rewet daily or as necessary. Also, prior to painting, spray with water and use a diluted paint for your first coat…cement is very porous and doing that will help it to soak into the sculpture…less paint cracking. I seal my sculptures with a cement sealer. I don’t know if it comes in matte, the one I have is rather glossy. I wonder if mural painters who paint on cement walls use any special sealer?
    I loved all the comments!

    Reply
    • Good tips, Eileen. Do you seal your Pal Tiya items first, and then paint them? Or do you paint and then seal? The lady at my local hardware store doesn’t have anything called ‘cement sealer,’ but she said she uses a clear coat spray on her concrete lions. I’m a little nervous about doing that after the varnish failure on my garden gnomes – but I probably just used the wrong varnish. We don’t put a sealer over the paint on our houses, but we also have to repaint them every so often. It would be nice if the color was actually integrated into the sculpture instead of just applied on top.

      And by the way, did you see that Lee Bell has a new book out, with her own cement recipe? I haven’t gotten to the part where she explains how her sculptures are colored, but what I have read so far is really good. Her new post is on the Daily Sculptors page. If you read her book, I’d be very interested to hear what you think of it. 🙂

      Reply
      • With Paltiya, you paint first, then seal. I use a product put out by Valspar called protective sealant. It is meant for cement floors or driveways. It is a large sized container for our purposes but since I do so many, I figured I would use it eventually. I have not had yellowing or peeling but the sculptures I don’t sell stay in the house and not in the open elements. For my first Paltiya sculpture, I used 2 coats of clear coat spray varnish and it looks just as good as when I first put it out about 4 years ago. I do tell the purchasers to spray with an acrylic varnish every 2 years to protect the paint. I have not done it myself but hey, do as I say, not as I do!
        I am intrigued with your new recipe. I need to try it out soon to see how it holds up here in Pa. Right now I need to get a few more sculptures done to be ready for 2 shows later this year. I can’t risk using your new recipe when I don’t know how they will hold up in Pa weather.
        I saw the post about Lee’s new book. Dare I explore yet another technique? Need to think on it.
        Oh, another way to color your cement based projects could be cement stains. I tried this on a Paltiya snail which turned out really well. Alas, my dog broke off all the antennas in her exuberant play!

        Reply
  6. Please take respiratory safety measures when working with Portland Cement = wear a respirator!

    Portland Cement is only considered dangerous to respiratory in its premix dust form & quickly looses this property when mixed, but during that process it’s common to stir up trouble if one neglects lung safety.

    Like with plumbing pipes Portland Cement dust can accumulate in lungs where it can absorb moisture & it gets around, so wear an appropriate dust mask which seals lightly around mouth & nose. This doesn’t need to be greatly expensive as commonly available construction dust masks are sufficient protection for working with dry concrete.

    My family have worked with Portland Cement as long as it has been available & with just a little precaution spent full careers with long lives using Portland Cement but we’ve also seen what happens when people don’t take this simple safety measure seriously. So take it frome someone in industry & “mask up” it’s a lot more fun!

    Reply
    • Good points, William. My dad worked in the concrete industry for years, and made a lot of concrete items for their garden after he retired. I don’t remember him ever wearing anything to protect his lungs, but I know he should have. Back in the day, things like that didn’t seem quite as important. At the moment, we all have masks in the house, and the ones I have on hand are rated for construction dust. They’re not expensive, so there’s no excuse to not use them when the cement dust is flying around.

      Reply
  7. This is a great opportunity for artists & crafters to learn about sculpting with concrete!

    First off Portland Cement is an inherently brittle binding material, hence a variety of reinforcement materials are generally used to increase its longevity (especially outdoors).
    Most common applications use sand and/or mortarmix but sawdust, peat, fiberglass fiber, bamboo, rebar, etc are added as medium between which Portland Cement binding properties holds its compound together in given shapes. That said basically these recipes are more like mortar than concrete slab so try adding in weather resistant materials like stone, brick, glass, tile etc, to see which hold up best outside.

    That said, concrete gets a lot of strength from thickness & reinforcement like chicken wire or hardware cloth. Such materials make great armature, just remember to have a 1/4 inch or more of (weatherproof paper mache) over all armature surfaces as less will be more prone to cracking.
    If the intent is to make a pot like those in Australia, then plan on a minimum of about an inch thickness overall with a chicken wire mesh roughly centered. Obviously as the thickness and overall size increase so do difficulty in mixing materials so plan accordingly (start small & work up).

    Concrete takes stanes well & most markets have reliable coloring sources available, yet common water-based house paints can be added by thinning the paint with water or other appropriate polymerizers. Consider looking up how to stane concrete on YouTube. Good sources for learning about coloring concrete are concrete counter-top books & concrete waterfall DYI information.

    When planning how thick to make a concrete based sculpture, consider its intended use & conditions it needs to resist. If what is intended is a free standing outdoor fish pond in Anchorage Alaska the sculpture should be thicker & better reinforced than what a decorative tortoise shell in Tucson Arizona would need. On average large reinforced decorative (house pots) would be best at between 1/2 inch to 1 inch thick whereas big outdoor planters usually start at 2 inches thick. That’s not to say a thinner structure won’t work but rather additional thickness and suitable reinforcement help larger sculptures survive in harsher climates.
    For comparison most big theme parks use similar compounds to these (weatherproof paper mache) formulas to build large facade tourists attractions like those at (Enchanted Forest near Salem Oregon & Disneyland in California-Florida-France-China-Japan): so getting to know how others use concrete in sculpture & industry may help any creative soul produce long lasting outdoor works of art.

    Reply
    • Thanks again for more excellent info, William. We really appreciate it. I’ve seen concrete stains sold for countertops and things like that. Is that the sort of stain you’re referring to?

      Reply
  8. oh my goodness I have just finished reading all of the comments to the waterproof paper mache and I am really looking forward to trying it. I am still at the original paper mache clay stage. I have yet to try the smooth porcelain recipe so the waterproof clay is on my bucket list. as someone said they have a small house I too have a small House, so it looks like I will be doing a lot of gardening moving flower pots and even my flowers to make room for sculptures. the weather here In Ireland can be heavy rain heavy snow , heavy hail, freezing cold , scorching heat, high winds all in one day. thank you for sharing

    Reply
    • Margaret, by house keeps getting smaller and smaller – or it seems to every time I make another sculpture. But it’s addictive! I’m definitely ready to start making some garden art. My little toad should go outside this week, and I’m going to do some experiments with Lee Bell’s cement-based recipe, too. She just came out with a new book, and told us about it on the Daily Sculptors page. I don’t know when I’ll get to try it, though – it looks like I’m going to have a bumper crop of tomatoes, and that means many days stuck in the kitchen canning them. (Sculpting is so much more fun! 🙂 )

      Reply
  9. Dear Jonny, you’re such a ourse of inspiration! I’m really happy that you haven’t give up on waterproof sculpture as I didn’t myself either even though so far I didn’t succeed with my giraffe. Since, I’ve tried your pumpkin recipe with 2 ducks but when I did put outside, the Color cracked really fast on the first one. I varnish the second with marine varnish to see if it’s better. I don’t know what was wrong. I also did a bear out of wood paste thinking it would be safe outside but I had to put it back inside for winter. Now it stay outside for the summer. I’ve also tried an ostrich with paverpol over paper mâche and after 6 months it collapsed inside even if the paverpol cover was still hard. I had look into Portland cement but got all mixed up with the different kind they have so I will look into it again and try to put a sculpture outside before winter. Here, we have big winter, lot of freezing rain and snow so it will really complement your testing. So I will let you know and thank again for not giving up! Have a great day!

    Reply
  10. hi Jonni
    Love all your videos. Thank you for your videos & sharing of knowledge.
    I am an animation Director & Caricature artist from India. I am Venturing in paper Mache sculpting for a personal project.
    I live in the very humid city of Mumbai (India) where it rains for 4 months and it is very humid all year. I want to make a mask of 2 feet for indoor wall. Which of your recipe would you recommend. I will be making the face/body armature using cardboard & aluminum Foil.

    Reply
    • Nupur, this new recipe that uses Portland cement in place of the flour might be a good choice for your project. With no flour, the fungi and bugs shouldn’t be very interested in it. Do try it out on a small project first, though, because it’s still in the experimental stage. And remember to let us see how it turns out – we’d love to see it. 🙂

      Reply
  11. This outdoor paper mâché is such a good idea. I have run out of room in my house and tiny studio. I wonder if in 3 hours is the mixture too hard to work on. Do you think the recipes lend themselves to an armature? I would think the cement mixture would be much heavier. What do you think Jonni?

    Reply
    • In my house at 72° F, the mixture was still workable after three hours. That will change, depending on the temperature in the room. I wouldn’t expect it to stay workable for much longer than that. I would definitely use an armature and put a thin layer of the mixture over the form, just like we do with the original paper mache clay recipe. And yes, it’s quite a bit heavier. Warren estimates that a sculpture made with the cement version of paper mache clay will be about 50% heavier.

      Reply
  12. I’ve had a little papermache apple hanging from a branch outside all winter and it’s doing great. What I did instead was coat it in boat varnish, so that’s another option if you don’t mind a really shiny surface. I also had a mask on the wall that was sealed with an acrylic binder actually sold for outdoors sealer for cement sculptures, but it diintegrated a little bit because it had some cracks at the top and got wet on the inside. After I took it inside it dried up and was as solid as before. Both made with scrap paper, white glue and joint compound.

    Reply
    • Thanks for letting us know, Pia. I intended to try some masonry sealer, but maybe I’ll try the LeakSeal that Linda used for her mushroom, instead. (That’s another idea from a guest post that I still haven’t tried!) I did try some marine varnish many years ago. I made a tortoise from paper mache clay, gave it several coats of marine varnish, and put it out in the garden where he was peaking out under a rhubarb leaf. It did just fine – until I moved him into the sun. Within days the varnish cracked, then it rained, and the tortoise was soggy. I didn’t know yet that I could bring it back inside and dry it out. I may have used the wrong brand, because other people have had good luck with it, as you have.

      Reply
  13. So excited that you revisited Warren’s project — I too have struggled to motivate myself to give it a go, but your news may just have cinched the deal!
    I have a brutally hot space in my sunny NC garden. Will send updates if I give it a try.

    Reply
  14. Thank you for posting this! I’m excited to try this out. There is a place I like to leave a sculpture just for fun outside called the UFO Watchtower in the San Luis Valley Southern Colorado. People drop stuff off stuff in a “space garden” and it’s just alot of fun seeing what everyone leaves. I know whatever I leave there maybe only makes it to 1/2 a year due to weather. This recipe could possibly be my answer for next year’s sculpture! Thank you! ?

    Reply
    • Your Space Garden sounds like a lot of fun! I wish we had something like that here. 🙂
      If you do try the new recipe, I hope you’ll let us know if it makes it through your Colorado winter.

      Reply
  15. Thank you Jonni Thank you Carol I will be trying this out…. I searched before for Portland cement some time back but never could find that particular brand name.

    again Thank you
    Sharon

    Reply
  16. Thank you I will try both these recipes. I will try Harry Rosens first as l live in australia. I am willing to try any new techniques. It is so much fun. I even get the grand kids interested.
    Thank you
    Margaret.

    Reply
  17. I’ve made hypertufa pots (one part each Portland cement, peat moss, vermiculite and water) and they have held up outside for two years. I live in the Pacific Northwest Washington and we get a lot of rain and some snow, not like Minnesota though! Looking forward to trying this also. One question, when making hypertufa it does need to cure, I wonder if it would be necessary for this project? Time will tell.

    Reply
    • Yes, Warren does say we need to let the paper mache clay with cement cure. And we wouldn’t want to dry it really fast, like putting it in the oven, because it needs to cure slowly. I probably didn’t give my little test pieces enough time before throwing them in the water, but I was in a hurry to see what would happen to them. 🙂

      Reply

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