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Make a Paper Mache Statue

I am a quilter, crafter, and spouse who loves sharing tips and tricks to help others make their homes.

I will show you how to create a paper mache statue. This tutorial will give you the basics, so you can create anything you desire with this incredibly diverse craft.

I will show you how to create a paper mache statue. This tutorial will give you the basics, so you can create anything you desire with this incredibly diverse craft.

Learn How to Make a Paper Mache Statue, With Step-by-Step Photos

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 duct tape—mostly items that would have gone in the trash. Paper mache is a wonderful medium, it's free, non-toxic, and great to do with kids. No fancy equipment is 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.

white glue, paper mache paste

white glue, paper mache paste

Materials and Supplies

Everything you need for a paper mache project

From the Kitchen

  • Flour
  • Water
  • Cornstarch or liquid starch
  • Old bowls and utensils
  • Bamboo skewers, optional

From the Toolbox

  • Old scissors
  • Utility knife
  • Dremel or drill
  • Duct tape and masking tape
  • Glue gun (optional; I don't use one)

From Around the House

  • White glue
  • Bleach
  • Fan (helpful for drying but not necessary)
  • Plastic and Styrofoam containers
  • Cardboard
  • Lots of newspaper

Step 1: Make the Paste

Next to paper strips, the paper mache paste is the most important ingredient for a successful project. This kid-friendly paste recipe uses non-toxic ingredients that you probably already have at home. Good quality paste is slippery and chunk-free.

Paper Mache Paste Recipe

  1. To make any quantity of paper paste, use a ratio of one part flour to four parts water. I use 1/4 cup measurements to create a decent amount of paste that I can use before it spoils.
  2. Mix a small amount of water with four.
  3. Boil remaining water, add flour, and cook until transparent.
Before you begin, sketch your statue.

Before you begin, sketch your statue.

Step 2: Create the Armature (the Bones of Your Statue)

An armature is a simple frame used to 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 inspirational 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 statue to have a similar 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.

papermachearmature

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.

Building Your Armature

Building Your Armature

I started by establishing the "S" shaped body. The top of a two-liter soda bottle fits perfectly into the handle of the coffee container, so I taped that together. Hot glue can also be used during construction instead of tape. I started off with masking tape but ended up using duct tape because it is stickier and the woven fiber makes the structure stronger.

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 looks well-proportioned. For example, I had to totally redo the upper body and neck (the latter was nonexistent!).

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.

papermachearmature

Step 3: Start With the Head

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.

papermachearmature

Step 4: Start Putting On Strips of Paper Mache

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, you 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.

Three Material Options

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.
papermachearmature

Step 5: Add Features With 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.

How to Make Paper Mache Pulp

  • 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.
papermachearmature

Then, drain the water from the pulp. I used an out-of-service sheer curtain that I didn't mind ruining.

papermachearmature

Use the pulp to slowly build up the back and shoulder muscles, ear and horn cartilage, haunches, paws, ribs, fangs, eyes, lids, and nose.

papermachearmature

I outlined the eyes for extra definition (not that it needs it).

papermachearmature

The paper pulp mixture is quite dense and takes a long time to dry.

papermachearmature

I built up the paw bones with paper pulp. For the claws, I rolled up a 4" to 6" strip of paper into a cone shape, taped it together, and curved it.

I added more paper.

Step 6: Finish Your Project

There are many creative 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 statue a rock-like appearance.

papermachearmature

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)

papermachearmature

I gathered some nice loose earth from outside and placed it in a 1 quart Ziploc bag to break apart the clods and make a powder. I sieved the dirt through a makeshift sifter made from the bottom of a two-liter soda bottle with holes drilled into it.

papermachearmature
Bonus Material - Paper Mache Bugs

Bonus Material - Paper Mache Bugs

papermachearmature

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.

papermachearmature

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.

papermachearmature
papermachearmature

2. Gradually build up the bug's body and arching exoskeleton using a combination of soft materials that can be packed into shape.

papermachearmature

3. Add wings, legs, antennas and ancillary details that represent each bug. Consider using cloths, plastic, and transparent materials to create super-unique features.

papermachearmature

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.

papermachearmature
papermachearmature

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.

papermachearmature

Here is my completed Colorado potato bug. The antennas are all created from wire covered with paper mache strips.

papermachearmature

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

  1. 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.
  2. Les Cartonnistes: This is an amazing group of French paper mache artists who make incredibly funky furniture. A must-see!
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

© 2010 QuiltFinger

Questions and Comments - Share your questions, comments, and projects

cookie_monster on August 26, 2020:

Hi,

I was looking for advice. For my GCSE design technology project i've decided to make a desk organiser which is totally eco friendly and recyclable at the end of its use. I was looking around on the internet trying to find an environmentally friendly sealer, something like pva to cover the organiser in to protect it(or like modge podge). I stumbled across this website and lots of people seem to have some good advice on similar topics. Does anyone have any ideas on a good product that could do the job and be recycled afterwards? Thank you! :D

Kind Regards

Sage Osagie on October 27, 2019:

I have just finished making a beautiful African mask with paper mache/paper clay home made

Laura on August 12, 2018:

This is a great idea to make my own unique figures AND it gives me a chance to make my herbal seed paper that all you have to do is put in the garden and water!! Brilliant

Barbara Williamson on January 04, 2018:

I'm using the paper mache paste to make fabric bowls. Works great I used one coat to start. I think if you use three or four coats it would be perfect.

elizabeth Crockett on March 27, 2017:

Really great step by step. Years ago I was so lost on how to make the forms that would really hold up. I think yours is the first I've seen that mentions to weight down the foundation.

Rita on January 03, 2017:

How can i stain the paper pulp instead of painting it?

AdrianaVP on April 01, 2015:

Great tutorial......really appreciate it :)

Angela F from Seattle, WA on June 01, 2014:

cool projects. pinned

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on April 10, 2014:

@Lee Hansen: Thanks, Pastiche. I know you're the craft master!

Shelly Sellers from Midwest U.S.A. on April 08, 2014:

These paper mache figures are so cool! It has been years since I did some fun paper mache projects.

oddobjective on April 06, 2014:

I have been wanting to do paper mache for a long time. I want to make Santa's and Reindeer in paper mache. You have re-inspired me to do it this year. Great lens.

nelchee on April 06, 2014:

Wow, these are some really ambitious projects! I never tried doing anything that large with papier mache, really. Both the gargoyle and the bugs are fantastic!

I do have a lens on papier mache home décor where I shared some of my work, if you want to check it out :)

Linda Jo Martin from Post Falls, Idaho, USA on April 05, 2014:

Wow... that's different! I've used paper maché before but didn't create something permanent. Of course, what is really permanent? Not much! Native Americans say that only earth and sky last forever. Anyhow, I celebrate your creativity and thank you for sharing your process with us!

kysy1404 on April 05, 2014:

It is the same for us Irish when we go to Europe, the USA or Canada as we have to reverse everything we do. T

Queen--Elizabeth on April 04, 2014:

Wow, and I thought paper mâché on a balloon in grade school was difficult... This is incredible!

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on April 04, 2014:

I love paper mache. These are great projects. I've made some large things before but then I have the problem of may family saying "What are you going to do with THAT?" Art critics! Congrats on LOTD.

Lee Hansen from Vermont on April 04, 2014:

Congrats of LOTD - I really like your techniques for building a paper mache armature. Nasty bugs there!

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on April 04, 2014:

@MoshiMonsterFan: Thanks for visiting my lens my lens and commenting. I hope you give it a try!

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on April 04, 2014:

@John Dyhouse: Definitely give it another try! There are so many possibilities for creating both functional and artful pieces. Good luck!

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on April 04, 2014:

@junecampbell: I would certainly encourage everyone to give it a try. I hope you have lots of fun. Thanks for stopping by!

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on April 04, 2014:

@linfcor: You should definitely give it a try! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on April 04, 2014:

@VanessaPrieto: That sounds like a really great, unique idea! Everyone will be jealous of your kick-ass displays!

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on April 04, 2014:

@GrammieOlivia: Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I think you'll have a boatload of fun.

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on April 04, 2014:

@TalkingFreebies: That's awesome to hear. You'll have lots of fun. Good luck with your projects!

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on April 04, 2014:

@Dressage Husband: Puppets sound like great fun! I must be a hoot to give them little faces and smiles. Thanks for stopping by.

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on April 04, 2014:

@AnonymousC831: Totally, you should give it a go!

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on April 04, 2014: