Paper mache (also known as papier mache) is a great craft for kids and adults alike. It is easy to do, requires very few supplies and the projects you make with it can be as basic or as complex as you like.
The principle is simple – layers of paper are soaked with glue and built up on top of each other to form objects. Often, moulds are used to provide a basis for the structure.
So, how do you do it?
Decide on the item you want to make – you’re only limited here by your imagination. Some possible examples are face masks, fancy boxes, animals, ghosts, Christmas tree decorations…
Find a suitable mould to build your item around. Balloons make great moulds for round objects. Want to make a special box? Try using an old shoe box as a foundation. Got a car-mad boy? A couple of different sized juice boxes placed on top of each other make an excellent car skeleton.
Prepare Your Work Area
Paper mache can be a very messy craft, particularly when kids are involved. The glue can be very difficult to get off once it’s dried and wet newspaper will stick to almost anything.
A kitchen table or counter covered with a sheet of plastic or a plastic table cloth will help minimise the damage.
There are a number of different glues you can use – wallpaper paste, watered-down PVA glue etc. But, really, there’s no need to go to the expense of buying glue when you can make the traditional paper mache glue at home. Here are two recipes:
Great when working with kids – quick, easy and no risk from heat. In a bowl just mix together two parts flour and one part water. Ensure there are no lumps and tweak the mixture until you get a thick but runny consistency – you don’t want a paste.
Tip: Adding a couple of dessertspoons of salt to the flour and water will help prevent mould forming on glue if it is stored for any length of time.
Mix ¼ cup of flour with a cup of cold water. Add this mixture to a litre of boiling water. Boil for five minutes, stirring constantly, and allow to cool completely before use.
The softness and porousness of newspaper makes it an excellent choice for paper mache. Any non-glossy paper can be used, but why not use something you were going to recycle anyhow?
Prepare a stock of paper strips – any paper mache work requires several layers, so you’ll need quite a lot.
The paper should be torn, not cut – ragged, irregular edges enable the strips to lie flatter and bond more effectively with each other. Make your strips about 2 cm wide and 10 cm long (obviously, if you’re making a very small object you’ll need to adjust the size of your strips accordingly).
As paper mache involves sticking strips of paper to a mould, you should consider how difficult it will be to remove the mould once the finished object has dried. This process can be aided by the use of a release agent like cooking oil or dishwashing liquid. Note, though, that release agents may leave a noticeable residue on the finished item.
If you decide to use a release agent, apply a thin film of the substance to your mould immediately before the application of the paper mache.
Take a strip of paper, dip it into your bowl of glue to thoroughly saturate it, run it between your fingers to wipe off any excess (I said it was a messy process!) and place it flat on to your mould. Smooth it down and remove any air bubbles. Repeat until you have covered your mould with a single layer of paper strips.
When placing your paper strips don’t lay them neatly side by side, allow them to criss-cross and overlap each other – the resulting structure will be far stronger.
It is generally recommended that you work one layer at a time, letting each layer dry thoroughly before adding the next. In practice, however, you can add two or three layers at a time, it’ll just take longer to dry. Adding more than this in one go may result in sagging on vertical surfaces.
If the item you’re making requires additional features like handles or, if you’re making a mask or a head, facial features, add these after your first layer of paper mache has dried and then build them up with additional layers of paper as you would the body of your object.
Masking tape (the paper sort, not the shiny brown plastic stuff) is ideal for holding decorative features in place until they have been bonded with additional layers of paper mache.
You can construct decorative features out of almost anything – cardboard cut-outs, pieces of polystyrene foam, bent chicken wire… Additionally, you can mould features using paper mache pulp.
Paper Mache Pulp
Paper Mache Pulp is a clay-like substance made out of pulped paper and glue. To make it:
- Soak torn newspaper over night.
- Drain and then boil the paper in new water for half an hour. The paper should be breaking up by this point.
- Sieve the resulting pulp and then mix in a bowl with a whisk or wooden spoon to further break up.
- Add glue to the pulp to form a mouldable consistency.
Paper mache pulp is great for moulding ears and noses etc. or anything that requires greater detail than you can get with paper strips alone.
Painting Your Creation
Once you have added your features, built up as many layers as the object requires (every object will be different) and allowed it to dry thoroughly, it’s time to paint your creation.
You can use any type of paint you like, but as paper mache is porous even when dry you’ll get best results if you seal it first with a couple of coats of any old household emulsion paint.
After painting, you can extend the life of your object by coating it with clear varnish.
A Sample Project
Want to try if for yourself? Here’s a very easy project to give you a taste of the possibilities of paper mache – making a balloon mask.
- Blow up a round balloon.
- Cover one entire hemisphere of it with a layer of paper mache (as described previously in this article). Tip: Placing the balloon on a bowl will help hold it steady during this process.
- Make a nose out of paper mache pulp and place it in the centre of the hemisphere.
- Apply several more layers of paper mache.
- When the final layer is dry, pop the balloon.
- Cut out eye-holes using a craft knife or sharp pair of scissors.
- Trim around the edge of your mask and cut a small hole about halfway down the edge on each side.
- Paint the mask.
- Run a ribbon or a length of string through your edge-holes to make a strap with which to hold the mask in place on your child’s head.
A Traditional Craft
Paper mache has been enjoyed by generations as an art form that is versatile, fun to use and inexpensive. So, on those days when the kids can’t think of anything to do, why not bring out the flour, water and newspaper and open their eyes to a whole new world?
Learn more about making paper mache masks in this video.