I am a quilter, crafter, and spouse who loves sharing tips and tricks to help others make their homes.
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
- 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
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
- 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.
- Mix a small amount of water with four.
- Boil remaining water, add flour, and cook until transparent.
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Step 2: Create the Armature (the Bones of 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
3 Material Options
Here are three options you can use: