This shows how I made my papier mache skeletons in the style of Dia de los Muertos for Halloween. Expect to take at up to a week to make this due to the drying required between steps (to avoid mildew growth when stored).

Step 1: First the ingredients

Picture of First the ingredients
Items required.
  • Drill and a 7/64" bit (used after dried and base gesso coats applied)

Papier Mache body, head, legs, arms:
  • Newspapers - about a weeks worth.
  • ** Precut some pages into 1" strips
  • ** This is easiest if done on one-three full sheets at a time, folded in half horizontally, then torn from the creased side down.
  • ** Store the strips in a plastic see-through bin, Sterilite 15qt #1906 (DVD size) is great for this.
  • 1" Masking tape, 1 roll
  • 12 yards of drapery cord or 3mm (from sewing store)
  • Water balloons (small for head)
  • Large balloons (for body)
  • Corrugated cardboard scrap - about 8" x 6"
  • Large trash bag(s) - for covering your papier mache/paint work surface.
  • ** I actually used several layers of newspaper and just turned my work frequently while wet to prevent sticking.

Hangar/Paper Clip contraption:

  • 3 Tubular plastic hangars - for drying arm and leg pieces.
  • Masking or duct tape.
  • 30 large paper clips - for taping onto hangars to hold drying arm & leg pieces.

Papier Mache Paste recipe (two to three batches):
Single batch of papier mache paste - recipe is from:
In a Rubbermaid or similar throw-away container with lid (669ml/2.9 cups).

  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 oz cup glue (1 school sized bottle)

Papier mache decoration:

  • White Gesso (8 oz).
  • Art acrylic paint (ASTM) 4oz bottles: white, black and various other BRIGHT colors you like.
  • ** Don't use drab or pastel colors as that is not in the spirit of Dia De Los Muertos.
  • ** The intent of Dia De Los Muertos is to celebrate your ancestor's lives, like a party, so think fun party colors.
  • Glitter.
  • Hot glue gun & sticks - or carpenter's glue.
  • Shiny (metallic) confetti or small shaped "spangles.
  • Mod podge and/or clear acrylic sealer.
  • Bristle paint brushes, various sizes.
  • ** Don't use foam brushes as they will disintegrate due to the rough surface of the papier mache.
  • ** 1" bristle brush is good for priming the work with gesso and large swaths of paint.
  • ** Small detail brushes are good for 'drawing' the circles and other borders.
linlu (author) 6 years ago
I am trying to figure out next how to make reindeer in this style - for next Christmas :). I am stuck on the the frame, how to make it so that a) it stands up, b) can take the wind, c) is durable (rain, etc). I have a large porch so I can put it on that instead of the lawn.
canida linlu6 years ago
I would recommend using chicken wire or other wire mesh to form the body and legs - it will be much more sturdy. After you've added the papier mache and paint you can use a spray shellac (clear-coat) to keep rain out. That should be sufficient if it's on a protected area like your porch.
smessud canida5 years ago
Chicken wire will clearly make the project more costly and harder for small kids.
Don't rule out baloons. Fragile, but so cheap for just an evening or a WE (and easy to store -blow them up!! and send everything to the compost pile).
if your project is one-day-only, go for baloons.

When i was a kid (i haven't done papier maché in twenty (thirty!!) years), i used wallpaper glue. It's a cheap powder and it makes papier maché more like wood than a spongious material. But it is hard to get the right plasticity like putty.
I used to let newspaper in water and wall paper glue for days (yes days-i had batches and i made little moldings ... or bricks that i could cut and shape easily with my father's tools).

linlu (author)  canida6 years ago