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Getting Started with Papier Mache

Getting Started with Papier Mache by Jackie Hall

The basics you need to know to get started with this art form.

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  • Date addedAdded: September 12, 2002
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Layered papier mache

Paste the strips of paper both sides with a paintbrush.
Place your strips one at a time over the object to be covered and smooth down to remove air bubbles. Cover with two to three layers at a time. Don�t put too many on at once or it will take too long to dry.

When it is completely dry, you can gradually build up as many layers as you require until you have the required thickness.

To add features such as rims, handles or decoration, stick pieces of cardboard onto the model with masking tape. Cover the whole object in more papier mache.

When completely dry, paint with two coats of emulsion paint to seal it and kill the newsprint. You could also use gesso for a slightly tougher base.

Example painted bowl
Example painted bowl

You can then paint it using any paints you like. For a simple project using the layering method, see my tutorial "Bowled Over"

Pulped papier mache

This method will make a mixture of clay-like papier mache to sculpt with.

To make a pulp, soak some torn up newspaper in water overnight. Drain, and then boil in some clean water for about 30 minutes, until the fibres start to break up. Sieve the pulp and throw away the water. Beat or whisk the pulp to break up the fibres. Mix the adhesive into the pulp until it forms a clay-like consistency.

Paper mache sculpture

All kinds of throw away materials can be used to sculpt with papier mache:

Cardboard boxes - Sides can be cut out to make flat panels.

Packaging - Polystyrene chunks can be cut, glued together or taped with masking tape.

Wire netting - this can be cut and bent into all sorts of shapes and then covered with papier mache. Watch the sharp edges!

Bamboo canes - these can be cut to length and used to hold a sculpture rigid.

Have a look around and you will be surprised just how many things you can find to use.

Painting papier mache

Virtually any paint can be used to paint your papier mache artwork. The most popular paint is water based acrylic. It is easy and clean to use, not too expensive and comes in a large variety of colours. It is also quick drying.

Poster paints can be used but you have to be careful not to use a water based varnish on them or the colours will smudge.

You can use up old gloss or enamel paints that you have lying around. The important thing to remember is that whatever paint you use, you must seal your work first. A household emulsion paint is ideal. A couple of coats should do it.

Final words...

You can make your whole object using the layering method or the pulp method, or a combination of both. See my gallery and the visitors' section for some examples (and inspiration!).

I hope you feel inspired to try your hand at papier mache. It really is great fun!