Papier Mâché Design: with Advanced Techniques

Papier Mâché Design: with Advanced Techniques

by Monique Robert

ISBN: 9781438993201

Publisher AuthorHouse

Published in Arts & Photography/General, Nonfiction/Education, Professional & Technical/Education

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Sample Chapter

Chapter One


What do you want to make?

Gather together as many pictorial views of your subject as possible, whether they be photographs or accurate drawings. Front, rear, and side angles are recommended as minimal requirements. If you find yourself unable to come to a decision regarding your choice of subject even after you have read this book, there are several ways to be original and stimulate your imagination through visuals.

Check out the internet, or go to a bookstore or library and look at picture books. Fabric stores can suggest textures and patterns for the final layer of your piece. If you have already decided what you would like to make, you may even want to rent a video on the subject to get more ideas of colour or texture, or to help you decide which position your subject could present itself.

Concept and Action Plan

Once you have chosen your subject, you will need to decide on its pose and size. Afterwards, a step-by-step process will be carried out in order to meet the specific needs of the work.

These steps consist of taking castings from basic shapes, and then assembling and gluing them into a structure. When the structure is complete, proceed by draping the structure with papier mache strips to form the 'skin'. Before and after this draping is applied, you will define the piece with details in the form of eyes, lips, muscle tone, etc. This is the point at which you can choose to take as much time and creative license you need to breathe life into it! The final stages involve sanding the whole piece to give it a smooth, clean finish, followed by painting or adding textures or fine papers to your creation.

Each step will be thoroughly explained as you progress through this book.

Why Build Mache Basic Shapes?

Why bother making basic shapes out of papier mache to make the structure? Can't I use 'anything' instead? You may ask yourself these questions. Fair enough. I feel the reasons below are excellent:

The internal structure is the basis upon which the piece is built and therefore needs to be strong without fear of collapse. It also needs to be light-weight because moving it into workable positions will inevitably test its structural integrity. This is also a consideration for transportation and packing. The glue/water castings have a very high strength to weight ratio.

Keeping your work light if you plan to hang it, is also very important. It has to withstand significant stresses from a hanging position. Integrating random materials may not be suitable for use in a structure intended for papier mache, as it may become too heavy and may lack lateral strength. When you build your structure from a homogeneous mix of mache shapes, it is much easier to cut into your work for the inevitable shaping that you'll want to do as you perfect its form. Using wire, metal, wood or hard plastic makes cutting and shaping far more difficult and cumbersome. If you combine materials with varying densities you may easily puncture the surface or crack the structure when you move it for any reason.

Most of the basic shapes you will build are of a spherical shape which is perfect for simple structure building. The dimensional strength of round objects is superior to most other shapes in papier mache because pressure is spread throughout their form more evenly.

Avoiding Chicken Wire

Chicken wire has long been a common choice for building the core of a papier mache work. I find there are three good reasons to avoid using chicken wire if you intend to keep your work light, rigid and strong:

1. It has a tendency to flop around and is challenging to shape, making it difficult to control in any structure requiring fine symmetry and detail. Tight turn areas such as elbows tend to round out and lose definition, lending to the 'shirt stuffed with straw' look.

2. Pieces with chicken wire cores are usually weak at the skeletal level and lack dimensional strength. Consequently, these pieces must have thick outer layers to reinforce stability, resulting in countless layers of mache strips with no guarantee that it will not slump internally later.

3. Heavier wire or even wood must be added to chicken wire for a larger piece to be stabilized and strengthened. This may be fine for an intentionally heavy piece, but is unacceptable if a larger piece is intended to be suspended or transported even for short distances.

Tools of the Trade

Below is a typical list of tools you'll need to build your papier mache sculpture.

Basic Materials

Woodworkers' Glue Newspaper Electric Element Bucket with Lid Plastic Wrap Props Heavy Duty Scissors Masking Tape Small and Large Utility Knifes Glue Gun Epoxy Paint Brush Pencil and Eraser Permanent Marker

Building Materials

Beach Balls Yogurt Containers Rigid Foam Flexible Pipe Insulation Box Board Corrugated Cardboard

Finishing Materials

Sandpaper Light and Heavy Gauge Wire Brick/Stones for balancing Cloth for Reinforcement Palette Knife

A Look at Basic Shapes

Spherical, oblong, tubular and flat shapes are the most useful basic shapes for building the structural skeleton.

Castings are taken from these shapes to produce the structure. A variety of size combinations and contrasting castings may be necessary to produce the structure. You make the castings by wrapping papier mache strips around objects chosen for the nature of their shape; ie. beach balls for spherical shapes, yogurt containers for tubular shapes, etc. The castings will be removed from their mold after they are thoroughly dry. Many household items from which castings can be obtained are listed below:


Any round shaped object can be used. Examples include deflatable beach balls, sports balls, and even round light fixtures, which come in a variety of diameters. Balloons are not ideal as they tend to stretch and deflate with temperature changes overnight.


You can make oblong shapes by halving a spherical casting, slitting its sides and extending its length (see page 48). Otherwise, here are a few suggestions: Old motorcycle helmets, taken apart, can provide two or three inserts. Candy dispenser containers which you can get from grocery store entrances can also be used as eyes for a smaller creature. Castings from these shapes are perfect for chins or warts as well. You can also make eyes with clay and glue them onto the surface of the piece when completed.


Tubes come in all shapes and sizes. Yogurt containers offer a tapered tubular shape. Wooden dowels provide long, thin shapes and come in a variety of diameters. Paper tubing comes in several diameters as well, from bathroom tissue roll size and those used in the carpet or fabric departments of a retail outlet, to large sono tubes, which are used in pouring cement pillars.


Subjects predominately composed of flat surfaces are constructed differently than those with round dimensions. This involves layering strips onto a flat object such as a table surface.

Picturing Basic Shapes Within Your Subject

Having photos of your chosen subject in front of you will help you visualize and choose basic shapes for your form, and help you determine the size you want it to be. Hang images around your work area so that they will be on hand for constant reference.

Assemble these photos, including front, rear and side views and select the photo which you feel best represents the subject in the position of your choice. Get some tracing paper and lay it over the photo and trace the outside lines in clearly. Remember that you can enlarge the photos if they are not big enough. View the tracing in such a way that you can divide it into sections as per basic shapes; spherical, oblong, tubular or flat. Draw lines separating them at significant points such as joints, turns, or obvious shape changes, then draw in the basic shapes between the lines.

How do I know which basic shapes to sketch in ...?

After you've drawn in your lines, sketch in the basic shapes as you see fit ... anything goes! Often, more than one shape can be appropriate for the same space. In many cases it can make little difference which one you end up with, as you can cut, bend and shape the individual castings later. Expect to have some degree of size variation in the shapes you choose. There are any number of ways to arrange the basic shapes. You can even use various sizes of only one basic shape to fill out a structural skeleton if you so choose. There are some shapes, however, that are more appropriate for a particular area. For example, a round or oval is probably best suited for the head of this bear. Tubes are often the best basic shape to use for legs.

What if there is an odd shape in my configuration that does not resemble any of the basic shapes ...?

You'll often require shapes for your structure that are more easily made with other materials instead of papier mache castings. If you find an object that resembles your odd shape, then by all means take a casting from it instead. However, in Chapter 4 you'll discover materials that are versatile substitutes. For example, rigid foam can be used to roughly carve whatever shape you need. You'll also be shown how to use flexible foam for curly tails. Sometimes, two basic shapes need to be joined with a spacer to lengthen your structure. Below is an exaggerated space between the head and tubular body core to demonstrate this.

Chapter Two


This section will introduce you to the basic materials used in making the papier mache solution, how to strip newspaper, how to properly apply mache strips, how to place basic shapes, as well as drying times and removal from molds.

Basic Materials

The Glue / Water Solution

The best choice for your mache solution base is woodworkers' glue. Choosing the proper glue makes all the difference in obtaining strong basic shapes needed for your work. Neither traditional wallpaper paste/water, nor flour/water mixtures are capable of offering the rigidity the dried strips will need to support your piece properly, let alone to construct basic shapes.

Woodworkers' glue dries to a hard plastic-like finish. When bound within paper fibres, it creates a strong, durable, even somewhat bendable product, allowing for the manufacture of an extremely strong inner structure. These qualities make it possible to sculpt specific and precise shapes which is unheard of using traditional flour/wallpaper paste solutions.

Among the many advantages that woodworkers' glue has over wallpaper paste, here are some important ones to consider:

1. It dries overnight while the latter may take days.

2. Woodworkers' glue is much stronger, so far fewer layers are needed, resulting in less work, less bulk, and therefore less weight.

3. Although you cannot literally soak the finished piece in water, woodworkers' glue grants some water resistance inside and out, due to its plastic-like qualities. This is furthered with the use of acrylic paints if you choose to paint the piece afterwards.

4. Unlike traditional mixtures, this type of glue allows you the option of sanding your piece upon completion, giving your work a much smoother look and feel.

What is the glue / water ratio ...?

Woodworkers' glue is too thick to use on its own, therefore you must thin it out with water. Due to the concentration of some brands of glue, some may need a little more or less water than the next. If the soaked strips are sticking together a little too much as you pull them apart, it is a good indication that you should add a little more water to the solution. The solution should not feel too slimy.

Conversely, there may not be enough glue in the solution if your fingers feel somewhat squeaky in it. In any case, a good start for the mixture is one part glue to one and a half parts water. Leftover glue can be saved in the container it is mixed in, so a lid is a good idea. In this manner, the solution can last for up to a month. If mould appears on the surface, dispose of it.

A comfy tip for your hands: If you plan to do quite a bit a papier mache art, pour your solution into a metal pot and place it on an electric heating coil switched to the lowest setting. You can pick one up cheaply at a thrift store. It makes papier mache more enjoyable indeed! You may need to add a bit of water occasionally to keep the solution ratio roughly the same.


Old newspapers are the ideal medium for paper mache because they are readily available, recyclable and precut to a good size for stripping. Finer papers may be used for the final layer of your creation, but at this stage of construction, newspaper is the most practical choice.

Which is the best way to strip newspaper ...?

You will find that there is a grain particular to varying newspaper brands, and tearing is better in one direction than another. To make strips: place 8 to 10 sheets of open-faced newspaper on working surface. Grasp the comer of the pile, and using your other hand as a guide, carefully tear the paper up towards you. As you progress, you will get a better idea of how much stripped paper you will need at a given time. A word of advice: Keep your pile tidy and not too close to your glue/water solution. Drippings will turn a pile of newspapers into a sticky mess!

Why should I dip more than one strip at a time ...?

It's important to ensure each individual strip is adequately saturated. Drier strips will initiate air bubbles between the layers, therefore lessening the strength of the basic shape. Dipping several strips simultaneously can be a serious time saver. Separate the strips while they are submerged in the solution to allow full absorption on both sides.

Hold the stack of strips together loosely at the top while submerged, and gently shake them. Run the hanging strips between two fingers to remove excess glue. As you 'squeegee' the solution off while pulling the strips out, it helps keep them arranged uniformly one on top of the other. This is especially helpful when peeling off two or three strips at a time from your wet stack.

What is the difference between layers, stacks and strips ...?

In the diagram below, there are three perpendicular layers, making a total of eight strips deep. You can add as many strips to each stack as you want in a given layer. The first layers may be bumpy, but as you get closer to the final layer, include fewer strips in your stacks to acquire more smoothness. This is especially important when you apply the final layer of your work.

When should I apply thin or wide strips ...?

The width of your strips depends on the surface shape they will be applied to. If the shape is spherical, concave or convex, the strips should be quite narrow in order to hug the shape closely. Reducing the width of the strip allows them to lie flatter on a round form, thus avoiding the inevitable 'wrinkling' of the strip edges. Or, if your form has a flatter dimension, then the strips can be much wider. If you're making a completely flat casting, you don't even need to tear strips; just use the whole sheet of newspaper, as shown on page 27.

How the Castings Will Be Used

What should the casting thickness be? Where will it be used in the structure? Should some castings be stronger than others? When do I need to apply strips neatly?

Casting Thickness

The number of layers you will need for a casting depends on where it will be placed in your work. There are basically two types of castings: structural and refined.

Structural: need to be strong as they will be used as strength elements. The are interior, so they need not be layered too precisely. Handy tip: apply a stack of 4-6 strips at a time on each layer to save time. These castings are buried under the final skin layer and won't be seen so they can be bumpier.


Excerpted from "Papier Mâché Design: with Advanced Techniques" by Monique Robert. Copyright © 0 by Monique Robert. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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