Make a Paper Mache Statue
Learn How to Make a Paper Mache Statue with Step-by-Step Photos
I will show you how create a paper mache statue. This tutorial will give you the basics, so you can create anything you desire with this incredibly diverse craft. Like French fries, Paper Mache is not actually French. Paper Mache literally translates to chewed-up paper due to the appearance of the paper pulp. Despite the French name, paper mache has a long history in Asia where it was famously used to make lacquered boxes.
I used plastic bottles, cereal boxes, and duck tape, mostly items that would have done in the trash. Paper Mache is a wonderful medium, it's free, non-toxic, and great to do with kids. No fancy equipment required! Paper Mache is so fun and so easy! You probably already have everything you need to get started.
The materials are free and every week you get more in the mail! Everyone has their own methods and these instructions are more like guidelines. There are NO rules. Just creativity and fun. Start saving those newspapers!
*All images and designs are my own.
Materials and Supplies
Everything you need for a paper mache project
From the Kitchen
- Cornstarch or Liquid Starch
- Old Bowls and utensils
- Bamboo skewers optional
From the Toolbox
- Old Scissors
- Utility knife
- Dremel or drill
- Tape, duct tape and masking tape.
- Glue gun (optional I don't use one)
From around the House
- White glue
- Fan (helpful for drying but not necessary)
- Plastic and Styrofoam containers
- Lots of newspaper
Paper Mache Paste Recipe
Next to paper strips, the paper mache paste is the most important ingredient for a successful project. This kid-friendly paper mache paste recipe uses non-toxic ingredients that you probably already have at home. Good quality paper mache paste is slippery and chunk-free.
Paper Mache Paste
To make any quantity of paper paste, use a ratio of one part flour to four parts water.
I use 1/4 C measurements to create a decent amount of paste that I can use before it spoils.
Mix a small amount of water with four. Boil remaining water, add flour and cook until transparent.
Inspiration for Creating The Armature
The sub-structure for your statue.
An armature is a simple frame used support a sculpture. The armature defines the shape of the finished statue. The armature also gives the newspaper strips something to stick to.
For this example I'm making a gargoyle. The beauty of gargoyles is they can be any combination of animals, in other words, they don't have to like any real animal. If you already have an idea in your head, great, just make a quick sketch. If not, begin by looking at inspiration pictures like I did. I looked at photos of the gargoyles on the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I also looked at pictures of lions, because I wanted the stature to have a similar to feel to marble "guarding" lions placed on the sides of driveways and stairways.
Before making the armature, look at your rough sketch to establish the body shape. In my case this was an S-shape.
Sketch of Your Statue
For the armature, I used several kinds of injection-molded coffee containers, half gallon milk containers, coke bottles, and cardboard. The curvy shape of plastic coke bottles made great "muscular" arms, some paper mache artists swear by the thin foam used in food and meat containers. By all means, materials you have on hand. Part of the fun is being resourceful and finding the perfect material for the desired effect.
I started by establishing the "S" shaped body. The top of a two liter soda bottle fit perfectly into the handle of the coffee container, so I taped that together. Hot glue can also be used during construction, instead of or with tape. I started off with masking tape, but ended up using duck tape, because it is stickier and the woven fiber makes the structure stronger.
Building Your Armature
In general it is good to weigh down the base of your sculpture. Play with the features, come back to it later and see if everything look well proportioned. For the example I had to totally redo the upper body and neck (the latter was non existent!)
One skewer runs vertically through the armature, like a spine. Holes were drilled through all of the plastic bottles.
Skewers are very handy for making shoulders. Ideally use a rubber band or a paper ring to draw a level horizontal line where the shoulders should be. Mark two points directly across from each other to drill.
Bringing Out the Features and Building On Your Design
The easiest way to add features is to draw the shape on copy paper, cut out the shape and drape it over the armature to test the fit. The best materials for making features are cardboard and plastic milk containers.
I cut slits into the milk container and then taped the ears in place. I shortened the head by cutting it in half and then pushing the portions inside each other, like a box, until it was the correct length.
The horns are made from cones of newspaper taped and bent into curves. I made two plus-shaped cuts into the skull where the horns will poke out from and then taped them in place. A pocket knife or other utility blade works well for cutting plastic.
Plastic is very slippery, making it very easy to lose control of your blade. Never underestimate the danger of tools. Even that pair of dull craft scissors could send you to the ER. Always supervise your children during paper mache projects and do all of the cutting yourself.
Prepare Your Paper Mache Paste
Once your armature is ready, you can begin applying the paper mache strips.
Start Stripping! (No Pun Intended!)
You can start laying strips anywhere on your statue. I began draping strips around the shoulders and all stress points. As you build up the armature with paper mache, the piece will get heavier, so these areas need to be strong. Once the armature is covered your can apply more layers to build up certain areas. You can also cover lumps of crunched up paper with your newspaper strips to add volume.
TIP: Make sure each layer is dry before you add more paper mache. This can take anywhere from one to three days or more depending on the temperature and humidity. I set up plenty of fans to dry the statue faster.
How to Make Paper Mache
Here are three options you can use:
- Cellulose Insulation/Alternative Materials: The old saying "there's more than one way to do things" applies to almost everything in life, including paper mache! I'm a big fan of collecting, saving and reusing unwanted newspapers so I can turn them into art. If you aren't a fan of hoarding newspapers, there's an alternative.
- Wallpaper Paste: Wallpaper paste is beloved by paper mache artists for its ability to keep for extended periods.
- Lightweight Claycrete: Claycrete is a lightweight all-in-one paper mache alternative ideal for creating paper mache creations and sculptures.
How to Make Paper Mache Pulp
Paper pulp is a great way to add features. I used the pulp to build up the gargoyle's muscles and features. Paper pulp can be mixed with paste and molded like clay. Making the pulp was the messiest part of this project.
- I filled a mop bucket with small squares of newspaper and poured hot water over it to soak overnight.
- As the paper soaks, the ink separates from the paper and floats on the surface, waiting to stain anything it touches.
- Rather than ruin a cooking dish, I elected to soak the pulp for another 12 hours in more hot water until the paper fibers were sufficiently broken apart.
Then, drain the water from the pulp. I used an out-of-service sheer curtain that I didn't mind ruining.
Use the pulp to slowly build up the back and shoulder muscles, ear and horn cartilage, haunches, paws, ribs, fangs, eyes, lids, and nose.
I outlined the eyes for extra definition (not that it needs it).
The paper pulp mixture is quite dense and takes a long time to dry.
I built up the paw bones with paper pulp. For the claws, I rolled up a 4"-6" strip of paper into a cone shape, taped it together, and curved it.
I added more paper.
How to Troubleshoot Potential Problems
How to Get Rid of Mold
Thick layers of paper and pulp can take a long time to dry. In combination with rainy weather and high humidity, your creation may start to smell sour. Although mold isn't visible, the sour smell is the first indication of mold or mildew. It can be easily fixed by spraying the structure with undiluted laundry bleach. It's best to do this outside to avoid the fumes.
Creative Ways to Finish Your Project
There are many ways you can color your paper mache project. The fastest way is with spray paint or a stain. I will be sharing how to achieve a natural earth finish that gives the gives the statue a rock-like appearance.
I wish I could take the credit for this idea, but I was inspired by a wonderful tutorial, on the Paper Mache Resource Page UK, that briefly mentioned soil, sand, and clay finishes. (See Resources for Link)
I gathered some nice loose earth from outside and placed it in a 1 quart Ziplock bag to break apart the clods and make a powder. I sieved the dirt through a makeshift sifter made from the bottom of a 2L soda bottle with holes drilled into it.
Paper Mache: Can You Do It?
Have you ever made a serious paper mache project?
Bonus Bugs of Paper Mache
Here is one of my other projects that illustrate the same armature construction and techniques.
Just to show you how easy it is to turn any object or idea into a paper mache statue, I'm adding photos of my giant "scare bug" project. These creatures were inspired by the frightening bugs in my garden and my hopes to scare them off by showing them a large-scale version of themselves. Although it didn't work, it was a fun project that shows how versatile paper mache can be.
For example, the third sketch from the left is an evil, evil Colorado potato bug inspired by the photo above.
First, I created a simple sketch to capture the important shapes that make each bug look like itself. You don't need to create a polished anatomical drawing, we just need to capture the basic shapes. Here I have sketched four bugs, although I only created three in the end.
Giant Bug Armature
1. Find or build a bug-like foundation to begin your armature. This packing carton was perfect for creating an elongated body with room for all of those legs.
2. Gradually build up the bug's body and arching exoskeleton using a combination of soft materials that can be packed into shape.
3. Add wings, legs, antennas and ancillary details that represent each bug. Consider using cloths, plastic, and transparent materials to create super-unique features.
4. Legs are one of the most challenging parts of this project because there are so many. Use bamboo skewers to create sturdy axles that are like each pair of legs.
5. Once your armature is secure, cover the form with strips of paper mache and embellish as desired.
The Finished Bugs
My first bug is the one featuring the overlapping cereal/snack box scales in the earlier photos. The wings are large cardboard flaps decorated with clothesline rope veins that are glued on. The blue/purple wings were created with a combination of stain and spray paint.
Here is my completed Colorado potato bug. The antennas are all created from wire covered with paper mache strips.
My final bug is the boll weevil. Although I don't grow cotton or have weevils in my cotton bolls, I just had to create a paper mache version of this iconic Southern bug.
Paper Mache Resources
- The Paper Mache Resource Page UK: Papier Mache UK is a great resource for artists and aspiring paper mache artists. Anyone can contribute and share their paper mache projects and read tutorials from the experts. There are literally paper mache artists from all over the world registered on this interactive site.
- Les Cartonnistes: An amazing group of French paper mache artists who make incredibly funky furniture. A must see!
- Stolloween Paper Mache Halloween Crafts: This amazing paper mache artist and blogger is known for creating unparalleled Halloween displays along with posts that include extremely helpful advice. Great for crafty paper mache guys and anyone in search of ghoulish paper mache inspiration.
- My Easy Paper Mache Paste Recipe: This is my personal paper mache paste recipe designed to produce consistent results every time.
If you have questions or comments I will answer them here. Feel free to post your previous paper mache projects, or projects you made from this tutorial. We would love to see them. Happy crafting!
Questions & Answers
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