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Waterproofing Papier Mache

Waterproofing Papier Mache by Jackie Hall

Now you have made your papier mache item, would you like to place it outside? Use my experiences with sealers and paints as a guide.

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Waterproofing Papier Mache

The adventurers
The adventurers


When I have spent hours and hours creating a piece of artwork, usually the very last thing on my mind is sticking it out in the garden! Fear of losing it after all that hard work just seems to be too great a risk to me. However, I have always been curious as to just what is the best protection to give the longest life to outdoor pieces, and as so many visitors to the site want to know the same thing, I thought I would do a little experiment.

Of all the questions that get asked on this site, one of the most common ones is "how do you waterproof papier mache?" Strictly speaking, I should have titled this article "weatherproofing papier mache" as this is really more the case. However, people always search for waterproofing so I have used this term for that reason.

The topic has been discussed over and over and everyone has different experiences. The problem is, that so much must depend on how you have made the papier mache and if you have added anything extra. Also, we are all scattered around the the globe in totally contrasting weather conditions and temperatures. What works in one place will not necessarily work in another.

The location too, makes an enormous difference to how long it will survive with different sealers. Is it outside but standing under a roof or shelter of some kind? Is it outside fighting against all the elements? Does it just get the odd splatter of rain while transporting the item? Is it going to be kept inside most of the time and occasionally immersed in water (such as a boat?). See Chris Shilling's article on his experimentation with a papier mache boat.

I decided that the only fair way to do this was to make some simple items in an identical way, paint them, and then seal them with different finishes. I would then place them outside, in the same location, at exactly the same time.

This experiment is to test purely and simply the sealers/paints on papier mache. The papier mache itself is of the very basic kind, the way the majority make it. I will not only be looking at how they stand up to the weather, but I'll be watching how the colours may be affected also.

Note: None of these products/paints that are being tested were made specifically for papier mache, so it is just a case of trial and error.

Weather Conditions

Here in the UK we have all weather conditions - hot sun (occasionally!), a lot of rain and wind, temperatures way below freezing in the winter and of course snow.

The UK weather varies considerably from day to day and we have been known to have had "all four seasons in one day"! So a test in England is as good as a test anywhere really.

My models will be left outside come rain or shine and I will resist the tempation to bring them in on a bad day. I will not repair them unless the damage is caused by anything other than the weather.

They will stand in roughly the same place - I may have to move them occasionally, but they won't go very far as my garden is only the size of a postage stamp! They will be in partial shade/partial sun.

Making the models

I used some "people" shaped balloons. These had two roundish curves to them. I blew up four of them and, although all the balloons looked identical before they were blown up, once inflated the contrasts were quite marked. I covered them all with papier mache strips (newspaper and wallpaper paste with just a dash of white (pva) glue for added strength), then burst the balloons. I continued to use all throwaway items to make them - CDs for bases, egg boxes for pockets, shoes and handbag and rolls of newspaper for the arms. For ideas for items you can recycle see: Recycling with Papier Mache - and Ernie.

The balloons seemed to shout different character ideas to me by the very nature of their forms. There is no resemblance to any living person. Well, maybe one of them, but we won't go there!

I also blew up three small round balloons to test out various outdoor paints. These are fixed to CD bases also and have been made in exactly the same way as the balloon people.

When completely covered in papier mache and thoroughly dried, they were all painted with two coats of white emulsion paint. This is where the similarity ends.

The four balloon people are all decorated in acrylic paints, then sealed with their own unique sealer. The three paint blobs are painted in their own paint only and nothing else.