What I’ve Been Doing Instead of Paper Mache

And a creative question for you — that also has nothing whatsoever to do with paper mache…

Garden Window Installed, Just in Time for Snow
Garden Window Installed, Just in Time for Snow

Last month I started making some big changes to the front of my house, and the project has taken up most of my creative energy. That’s my excuse for not producing any paper mache sculptures lately.

First, I decided to hire someone to take down a roof thingy that extended from the front door over the front walk and out to the mailbox – the thing is impossible to describe, and I took no “before” photos, but now I wish I had. Once the structure was reduced to a small stack of lumber, I started to design a garden window to increase the amount of light coming into my enclosed front porch. I wanted to use as much of the used lumber as I could. I tried Google Sketch-Up, which is much easier to use than I thought it would be.

Garden Window from Inside, With Tomatoes
Garden Window from Inside, With Tomatoes

I have absolutely no carpentry skills whatsoever, and I have never once been able to measure a board accurately or cut one straight. However, the window did get finished, and although it looks quite rough and no carpenter should ever be allowed to see it, it does work. I built the window frame on my back deck and moved it out to the front as soon as the bottom support was finished.

Of course, we got some snow the day after the Solexx plastic was attached to the frame. (Sun for the first time yesterday – finally!)

I sharpened my shovel yesterday and started digging up the rest of the front yard. It’s looking more like a farm every day. I bought some 20′ rebar to make arches for the runner beans, and I can’t wait for the weather to warm up so I can plant them. And the chickens are doing well – 4 eggs a day, every day, since the middle of January.

The chicken’s outside run has a layer of straw and leaves about 8 to 10 inches deep. It keeps them busy scratching for the worms underneath, and they’re turning it into a very nice mulch that should make the veggies happy. I also let them out in the yard to search for grass and bugs for a few hours every day (when there’s no snow…) and I’m currently busy fencing off the garden so they won’t eat the peas before I do.

Light Brahma Chickens on Deep Litter
Light Brahma Chickens on Deep Litter

See – I have been busy. Not much time for paper mache lately, but I keep coming up with ideas for later.

Speaking of ideas, remember to submit your ideas for the Practical Paper Mache project. We need as many ideas as we can get before the May 30 deadline. Which reminds me – I don’t think I’ve told you about Deyana’s paper mache boat. Click on that link and go check it out – the kids are loving it.

Now, for that creative question:

I saw an idea over on the Transition Town Totnes website that I really liked – but from what I can see on their site, the idea didn’t really go anywhere. I thought I’d share the idea with you and see if you can come up with some suggestions that would help make a similar program work here, in my town.Or in yours, too, if you think the idea is good enough.

This is really similar to what we’re already doing on this blog with the Practical Paper Mache project, but doing it locally. Everyone has a skill or knowledge that other people would like to learn, and most people enjoy teaching their skills to other people. Getting the teachers and learners matched up is the challenge. For instance, I’d like to learn a bit about welding, and I’d like to re-learn how to knit. I have a real hankering from some home-made wool socks. I would enjoy teaching a few people how to do a bit of paper mache, or how to keep some chickens happy.

A formal classroom isn’t needed for that kind of skill-sharing, and no tuition should be needed. Just a few new friends showing each other how to do things that will make their lives more interesting.

So – here’s the place where your suggestions would be great. My concerns with starting something like that are:

  • If the skill-sharing program revolves around a website, how do you get the word out around town without spending any money?
  • How do you keep the program very informal, so no one person is “in charge,” except for the person who keeps the website updated?
  • How can people feel comfortable sharing their skills in their own homes or gardens, when they may not know the people who come to learn? This a safety issue, especially since many of the best teachers will probably be elderly. Conducting the classes at a senior center would work for some things, but not for tree pruning or herb gardening…
  • How can a website be set up so that it’s easy to submit a request for a teacher, or for a teacher to announce an informal class? Has anyone seen a website that does this sort of thing well?
  • And, most importantly, do you think this idea could work? If it was set up in your town, do you think you’d personally be willing to participate? What kinds of skills would you be willing to share with your neighbors, and what skills would you like to learn?

So get your thinking caps on. Keep your practical paper mache projects coming, and chime in below if you have any ideas for how to set up this skill-sharing project. I’ve never done anything like this on a local level (oddly enough, websites are easier for me on an international scale, because I haven’t really learned much about local search. And, being a hermit doesn’t help much, either…).

OK – your turn. Add your suggestions in the comment box below.

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19 thoughts on “What I’ve Been Doing Instead of Paper Mache

  1. I am making your pig our of your book. I can’t seem to get the eyes right. Is their a video of you doing the eyes. I love your book and have made the chicken, and it turned out to be very cute. Thank you for sharing your talent.

    • Hi Maxine. I didn’t make a video when I created the pig, but I have a suggestion – if you can take a close-up photo of your pig at this stage in his development and upload it into a comment, I might be able to offer some pointers. Other readers might have some suggestions, too. I think that would be kind of fun, actually. Do you happen to have a digital camera?

      • I suggest painting on a flat surface first.

        Whenever I get ready to paint eyes (which I also learned from Jonni’s book and site), I ‘warm up’ by painting on a flat surface first. This way I can remind myself about the technique, get the timing right for painting/removing the glaze, and also tweak eye colors.

        Then when I feel good about the eyes I’ve painted on paper, meaning they look like eyes to me, and I can do 2 in a row that look pretty similar, I move on to painting on a rounder surface.

        I found trying to learn on a round surface first was just too many variables for me.

  2. Maybe you could take inspiration from the Seattle Free School. http://seattlefreeschool.org

    It was somebody’s great idea; classes don’t take place online, however, but it’s a great community builder. Like the name says, it’s free, and classes cover anything anyone wants to teach.

  3. Hi Jonni. I’m Sharon’s daughter as mentioned in the above posts and wanted to pass on a few websites of things I have found that are doing what you seem to be dreaming of, maybe in some form at least. Hopefully the http’s will show on here, or you can copy and paste them into your browser.
    Friends of mine who live in Oakland just posted this on Facebook the other day:
    http://iuhoakland.com/index.html It’s the Institute of Urban Homesteading for Oakland, but I’m sure other chapters are brewing.
    Also, there seem to be a lot of these “freeskools” popping up. Here is one example to explore: http://freeskool.org/ click on the link for the “active list of freeskools.”
    Where i live, there is a little neighborhood right outside of midtown and downtown called Oak Park and the residents there started doing a crop swap each summer and hosting classes and films at a nearby art gallery. It’s a pretty wonderful thing they have going and it really pulls the community together: http://www.oakparkcropswap.org/index.php
    And lastly, there’s this: http://www.skillshare.com/

    Hopefully that gives you some inspiration! Take a look at my website if you want some ideas on fermenting. there are so many tutorials on youtube. My favorite book is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. Happy surfing!

    • These are fantastic resources – thank you so much for sharing the links. I’ll take some time tomorrow to go over them. I had heard of the skillshare group, but the others are all new to me.

  4. Not sure if this is the right way to post a question, but here goes. My wife has asked me to make her a large dragonfly wallhanging to match the dragonfly print on our shower curtain. I have been experimenting with wax paper and parchment paper for the wings, both of which are translucent and crinkle nicely, with the wrinkle edges selectively taking up a brief wash of dilute paint for nice vein effect. However, addition of glue to make layers firm has been problematic (buckling, uneven adhesion). Any suggestions? I saw your Jan 2010 post on butterfly wings, but I would like to the wings to be translucent rather than opaque. Thanks.

    • Corn Dog, I think I’d use a spray varnish instead of glue to firm up the wings. An oil-based spray varnish shouldn’t cause the buckling that is giving you a problem. Of course, I haven’t tried it, but it seems like it should work. It will also help protect the wings from moisture if it will be hanging in the bathroom, where steam can be a real problem for paper mache.

      This sounds like a great project – as soon as I read your comment I started to want a giant dragonfly of my own. I do hope you’ll show us your dragonfly when it’s done.

  5. Hey Jonni! i’m going to reply in order of the bullets.
    * Create a website specific to your town’s project. put up a few fliers with info and the website’s adressin your library or local grocery store and spread the word!
    *Have a big group of peopole help get everything orgainized, set a time and place, andget materials, and have the teachers be incharge of thier own individual classes.
    *Don’t do it at homes or gardens. go to the park or baseball fields and just bring a potted plant and a pot to show pruning and herb planting. or just ask the park or fiels if you could prune one of thier trees and/or plant some herbs there. they probably won’t mind.
    *I’ve got no idea about how to do a website, but i’ll send my friend over. she might have some ideas. then again you can just Google “Make my own free website” and see where that takes you… as for picking teachers and students and what not set up submission boxes for each around town and on the website and then just organize them~pick set times for each teacher if there is more than onefor each subject they could take shifts and tell the ”students” who the teachers will be and what times they’ll be there.
    *i’d definitely participate in an activity like that. i’d like to learn to paint a little better, some new dance moves :), how to landscape, remodel rooms, arrange flowers, etc. i really love this idea. my friends and i might try this within our church group and work our way bigger from there. i’ll let you know if it works out!
    Good luck everybody!!
    ~Leah

    • Good ideas, Leah. Good luck with your church group – I’d love to hear how that goes.

      Here in our town we’re lucky when it comes to art instruction. The university has upper level classes, and we have a fairly new community art center that holds classes all the time. They have them in the old Carnegie library. I’ve considered volunteering ther, but the commitment to show up several times a week for several months is rather daunting to someone who hasn’t owned a watch in five years… I think I’d prefer something more informal. And garden-oriented, perhaps.

  6. Hi Jonni
    Personally I’ve not had any experience with what I’m thinking you are looking to create locally. But, I have a thought or two that maybe you can chew on.

    First let me say that my daughter had an idea to begin free (in her home) classes in our area with a venture that is a driving force for her… natural food fermenting. How she approached that was by talking then sending emails to friends and family. Her response was ZIP. No one seemed interested or had the time. So of course starting a venture that has a chance to get off the ground requires enough interest so that people are willing to invest time. Seems finding that out is the first priority.

    We live in a pretty large city and people here seem to prefer paying in dollars rather than paying in time. But you never know until you get those feelers out there. Like possibly running a small ad in the local paper, flyers at church, in local places of business…which include your plan ideas and contact number. Even if you start small, it’s a beginning and people do barter and trade their talent and skills. So, since you would like to learn to weld, possibly running that ad out there offering what you want to trade or barter in return might be the 1st step to begin.

    • Good points, Sharon. I wish your daughter lived closer – I’d love to learn natural food fermenting. I have a book on the subject on my wish list, but book learning isn’t the same.

      • Wish you lived close too. I’d enjoy getting involved in your venture.

        This is off the topic here, I picked up your book last month and can’t get your paper mache recipe right. First time mixing it up the toilet paper seemed to stay in hard lumps in a few places. Thought maybe I squeezed out too much water. The second time, I squeezed less water out and the “clay” was too mushy and sticky. I will try it again…sometime. Do you have any hints as to why I’m getting these problems with the recipe?

        BTW, I’m working on a project and hope to have a pic sent before the cut off date of the 30th.

        • Sharon, I’ve noticed that some brands of toilet paper take longer to soften in water. Try using hot water from the tap, completely cover the paper, and let it sit for 5 minutes or so. You might need to pour out the water through a strainer to keep it from all going down the drain. Then press out enough water so it no longer drips, but don’t press it into a tight ball – you’ll notice that it’s probably half-way between the two previous efforts, not too dry and not too wet. It’s rather hard to describe…

          I can’t wait to see the project you’re working on. The submissions have slowed down this last week – maybe a few hints at spring has turned everyone’s mind to playing outside. Keep them coming!

          • It also just occurred to me – If you don’t mind getting your hands in the clay, you can reach in and manipulate the lumps with your fingers. I’ve needed to do that a few times since my old mixer broke. The new one has beaters that aren’t designed very well, and the paper tends to slip through them without hitting the beaters, and sometimes they aren’t broken up properly. If there are still some lumps I go in and mush around by hand, squishing the lumps to break up the paper fibers. If you use the linseed oil I suggest that you use some latex gloves if you decide to try it.

            • Thank you Jonni,

              You’re right, first batch I squeezed the paper in tight fists to get as much water out as possible. I tried to break up the lumps but they were like hard rocks…so I used it as is.

              The 2nd batch I just pressed the paper through the strainer and retained way too much moisture. Adding the other ingredients just made it soggier so I added more flour, then more flour to try to stiffen the clay. What that did only made it stickier.

              I will try it again. The project I’m working on is the old glue paper strips…layer upon layer…takes SOOO long to dry. But I’m about ready to add paint. Yay

  7. Hmmm – I just had a thought. Perhaps someone could tape these little informal classes, and add them to the new website. Then, even if few people show up on the day of the class, people with busy schedules could still learn from their neighbors. But this is turning into a bigger project, isn’t it? It would be rather nice, though. My dad put up a video of his concrete leaves, and a video of his wife Dianne’s astilbe border, over 6,000 people have seen them. Too bad I broke my video camera last month…

    • One more thing (boy, I’m rather wordy today, aren’t I?)…

      I have been receiving a ton of unwanted emails recently. It seems that a hacker got inside the database of a bank where I once had a credit card, years ago, and the bank kept my address and email on file – probably so they could send their “offers” in the mail two or three times a week. (I always wondered why I got so much junk mail from that bank.) Evidently, my email address has now been shared with all the evil people selling all those nice medications – you know which ones…

      Anyhoo – with my email filters working overtime, it’s always possible that something that I actually want to read will get automatically filed with the junk – and there’s so much of it that I don’t have time to go back through the pile. If you sent an email to me recently and I didn’t reply, that’s probably why. Just try again, and put “Paper Mache” in the subject line so it’s easier for me to spot. Or, better yet, just add a comment here on the blog.

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