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Paper Mache With Flour
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Lesson 4: Paper Mache With Flour
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The classic way to create a paste for paper mache is to just use flour and water. Every paper mache artist has a slightly different opinion about what paste method is best. Some people don't like using flour because they think it is has less strength than glue and that it rots more easily, but others swear by this method, saying the original is the best.

The only way to really decide what material works best for you, is to try a few and judge for yourself. In this lesson we're going to learn how to mix the basic flour and water paste and then use it to experiment with a few more paper mache techniques. We'll talk about different application methods, armatures and drying times then we'll use a simple balloon armature method, some cardboard sculpting techniques, and crepe paper details to make ourselves a fun piñata.

For this lesson you will need:


Making a Simple Flour and Water Paste

Making the flour and water paste is so simple it's almost needs no explanation. There is also no exact ratio of flour and water, you just have to test as you go.

In your large mixing bowl, start by mixing:

1 cup white flour

1 1/2 cups water (warm water feels nice and can help the ingredients blend, but isn't necessary)

You can blend this mixture together with just your hands. Stir it, mush it and run it through your fingers until it is as smooth as you can make it, with very few lumps.

If you want to get it really smooth, you can also use an immersion blender. I like doing this, but it's not absolutely necessary.

Once your paste is blended, it should have the consistency of thick creamy soup.

If it is too thin or too thick, add more flour and water and mix again.

That's it! You made paper mache paste. Easy right? Your paste will keep for about a day, but after much longer, the gluten in the flour will start to break down, making it less sticky, and more smelly. So it's good to make fairly small batches and make a new batch each time you work. If it starts to dry out and get thicker as you're working, just add more water and mix it again.

Some people like to use a slightly different version of this paste that is boiled. I haven't found this paste to be significantly better than the simple flour and water paste, and it is more of a hassle to make. The one main advantage is that is dries clear, more like glue. So if you don't have access to glue, it can be a good alternative.

As with most paper mache techniques, different things work better for different people, so, it van be a good idea to try them all and see what work for you! If you want to try making the boiled paste, add about 4 tablespoons of white flour to 2 cups of water and heat in a pan, stirring, until it begins to bubble. Turn of the heat and let it cool, and thicken, a bit before you use it.


Applying Paper

As we've seen with the glue there are a few variations in technique for applying paper strips to a project. Once again, you can experiment to see which method works best for you.

When you are working with flour paste and a solid armature like the balloon we will be using in this lesson, a good method is to first dip your hands in the paste and spread paste all over the base. Then apply dry strips onto this wet surface, smearing more paste over the top of each strip as you add them, and adding more strips overlapping the first.

It's better to use this method with this kind of paste because newspaper has more of a tendency to disintegrate in the flour and water paste than in the glue paste. Also if your strips are too wet, it can create pockets of moisture that will lead to rot.

Once again, when you add your second layer, you can give your project more strength by applying these strips perpendicular to the ones below, and switching back and forth with each layer.

Adding about 4-6 layers will usually give you a good strong structure when you are using flour and water paste. As I mentioned earlier, using blank newsprint for the last layer will give you a nice light colored surface to work on if you plan to paint your project.


Preventing Mold and Rot

Since we are using paper, flour and water here, it is possible for our projects to rot or mold. If they rot they will smell, or fall apart and other unpleasant things, so let's not let that happen.

Most importantly, we need to let them dry completely before we paint of finish them. If moisture stays trapped in our paper, mold will be able to grow. When you've finished covering your project in paper strips, you'll need to let it dry for a day or more before you can keep working on it. To help this happen, put it in a place with good air circulation, like next to a fan or even near a heat vent. If you can, rotate it every few hours so it dries evenly.

Flour and water takes a but longer to dry than glue, but after about 12 hours it should be dry. Test this by touching the surface. If it feels cool or soft to the touch then it's still wet, and needs more time. The more layers you've added to your project the longer it will take to dry, and if you are creating a complex shape some areas may dry more slowly than others. Remember to give yourself enough time for rounds of working and drying.

Some people also like to put about a tablespoon of salt or a few drops of oil of cinnamon or cloves in their flour paste because these help prevent rot. There is no harm in doing this, and the clove or cinnamon oil will make your project smell like the holidays, but as long as you let your paper dry completely, you don't really need to add anything special.

Now that you've made two similar objects with glue and flour paste, you can probably tell how these two methods create slightly different results. Which one do you like better?


Project: Make a Custom Pinata

Now that we've understood the basics of flour, let's take what we've learned and learn how to make a fun project, a custom piñata! Whether you're an adult or a kid, piñatas are a lot of fun at parties, and being able to design your own feels really special. I'm going to make an owl, because I love owls and it's an easy shape.

There are a lot of ways to make a piñata, but we are going to be using a balloon as the base of ours, so if you want to create something other than an owl, it's best to choose a design that has a round shape. Other great options are things like fish, muppet heads, disco balls, the death star, giant flowers, the heads of certain politicians... whatever you think would be fun to hit with a bat!


Using a Balloon As an Armature

Like we did in the previous lesson, we need to form over an armature to create our shape, but for this project we are going to use a balloon instead of re-usable object.

Forming over a balloon is the classic paper mache project, you might have even made the ever popular "pig with toilet paper roll legs" in a classroom, but just because it's a simple method, doesn't mean it's not worthwhile. Depending on how you add details to your basic shape, you can make some great projects by using a balloon. Balloons are also useful armatures because they are smooth and can easily be popped and removed later.

You can even use balloons with weird shapes, combine more than one balloon, or use twine to shape the balloon like ACTIVAproducts does in this Paper Mache Pumpkin Instructable. You can make a lot of things with balloon armatures besides pinatas, but in this lesson, that's what we'll be making.

To create my owl pinata, I'm going to inflate a medium sized balloon, then use masking tape to cover the tied end of the balloon, flattening the point. Be careful because if you try to pull masking tape off the balloon, it will POP!!

With a plastic drop cloth spread over your work surface and your paste mixture and paper strips prepared, start spreading strips onto your balloon. The smaller of the two mixing bowls can act as a base to hold the balloon upright while you work.

Cover the entire balloon with one layer of strips, rotating it so you also cover the bottom section that's in the bowl. Pull the strips tight and smooth them as you work. If your strips aren't laying flat along the curve of the balloon, you might want to tear thinner strips.

Now you have to ask yourself a question: Who is going to be hitting this pinata? If you are making a pinata for adults or teenagers, you will want to make it stronger than one for a little kid's birthday party. More layers means a stronger pinata, so for kids cover the balloon with 3-4 layers, for adults use 4-5.


Drying

Leave your pinata to dry overnight in a well ventilated area. You'll need to flip it part way through the drying process so both ends are exposed to air.

Try to keep it in a place where the temperatures don't fluctuate too much. Expanding and contracting air can cause the paper to crack around the balloon as it changes size. If you've put at least 3 layers of paper on your balloon, this shouldn't be a problem, but less than that, and things like this can happen.

If your paper does crack, you might be able to repair it with a few new strips of paper, but the expanding balloon can actually distort the shape of the paper like mine did, it which case, it's kind of ruined :/


Adding Simple Shapes and Details

When your balloon shape feels dry enough, you can start creating the details of your owl. At this point, the paste doesn't have to be absolutely bone dry because we are going to let the whole thing dry one more time before we finish it.

You'll also need to have your candy or whatever you are going to fill your piñata with ready to go.

On the top front of the balloon, draw two large circles next to each other, these are going to be the circles around the eyes of the owl. Don't make the holes too close together. If you can find a container with the right sized opening, this can make a good guide because drawing circles is hard!

Now take your craft knife and cut out each circle.

Don't cut into the middle of the circle because we are going to use the pieces we cut out too. If you are a kid working on this project, have an adult help you because this cutting part can be a bit tricky.

Reach into one of the holes and pull out the balloon.

Use a sharp object or you craft knife to make two small holes about 6" apart in the top of the piñata. At this point, I think it's a good idea to reinforce the inside of the piñata with cardboard where the string is going to go so it doesn't tear through the paper when you hit it. Then take your twine and feed it though the cardboard and through in one small hole and out the other, tying them together a few inches up and leaving a lot of extra string.

Now it's time to fill up your piñata with candy or whatever you've decided to put inside it.

When it's full, take the two pieces you cut out of the eyes and stick them back in the opposite way! This creates sockets for the eyes! Use masking tape to tape the edges together, and don't worry if they don't match up exactly, we are going to paper mache over this again.

Now lets add some simple details that will make our owl look like an owl. If you want, look at some pictures of owls for inspiration. Adding ears, wings, a tail and a beak will definitely help him look owlish. Add as much detail as you want and have fun with it!

You can cut and fold a piece of cardboard for the beak and tape it onto the owl’s face.

To get the right shape for the forehead and ears lay a piece of folded paper on top of the face and draw a rough shape with a pen. Then cut out the shape and unfold the paper. Traced the shape onto cardboard and then tape this piece onto the piñata. You don’t have to worry too much about making the tape look neat because you are just going to paper mache over it anyway.

You can make wings that are sitting down against the body of the owl, or wings that are open like mine. To create wings like mine, you can look at pictures of owls and draw a rough wing shape onto cardboard. Cut it out, then make some cuts and folds and tape them together to add some shape and dimension.

You could also just make a flat wing, but I it’s really quite easy to manipulate the cardboard like this to create something with a little more shape.

If you try to just tape the wings into place, they will flop around and not be stable, so you can cut slots into the body and insert the ends of the wings, then tape them into place.

Use the same strategy to add the tail, cut a simple shape out of cardboard, then attach it by way of a slit cut in the back of the owl.

Prop the owl up on some bowls, then start adding strips of paper mache over the new details of the face, wings and tail. At this point you could start using blank newsprint if you wanted to give yourself blank canvas to paint on later.

It can be a little tricky to get the paper mache around all the angles, points, and curves you’ve created. Use small strips of paper for the detailed areas, and don’t worry if it all looks perfect, you are going to smash this thing in the end anyway, right?

It’s also a good idea to reinforce the areas around the string with quite a few layers of strips so that when you are hitting your piñata, the whole thing won’t fall before the rest of it breaks open.

Once again, let your project dry overnight before you move on to decorating.


Decorating With Tissue Paper

There are a lot of ways to decorate a piñata, it really just depends on how complicated you want to get.

the traditional way is usually to cover the whole shape in fringed strips of paper streamers or crepe paper, but you can also paint a piñata, or decoupage it, which means collaging it with decorative paper and glue or ModPodge. I actually even like the look of the plain newspaper here, but to show you some of the options for decorations let's paint our owl and add some paper details.

Look at pictures to decide what you want your owl to look like. If you want it to look like a snowy owl like I did, you can start by painting the whole thing white with acrylic paint. If you didn't add a layer of blank newsprint to your owl, you'll need to add about two or three coats of white to cover the newspaper print.

At this point you can also to paint in your owl’s eyes and its beak.

Once the paint has dried, you add some feather details with crepe paper. It's nice to have two kinds of crepe paper for this design, rolls of narrow streamers and longer pieces in black and white.

To create small feathers for the chest, take a piece of your streamer paper about 3 feet long and fold in half, then in half again until it is about 3 inches long. Use your scissors to cut a jagged edge along the bottom of the streamer, without cutting into either end.

Unfold the strip and you’ll have a strand of small feathers. Do this with both the black and white streamers.

Take some white glue and pour it into a disposable cup and add a small amount of water. Cut a short strip of your white fringe and, with a paintbrush paint some glue onto the owl near the bottom front where you want to stick the strip. Stick the top edge of the strip down and paint more glue over the top.

Add another row of white, then a shorter overlapping row of black.

Keep working your way up, alternating rows and making them wider and then narrower as you go.

You can also add some paper around the eyes of the owl to mimic the very small furry feathers on the face. To do this use the same folding method but cut just the edge of the streamer in a very fine jagged line. Cut wedges of this strip and glue them around the eye. You can start with a row of black, then make the rest white.

Use bunches of the same cut strip to fill in around the nose, and add some whiskers on each side of the beak, and in the ears.

To add long flight feathers to the wings, cut individual pieces out of the larger crepe paper and glue them down onto the wings. To cover the top ends of these feathers you can also add another white strip of the same cut streamer you used on the chest.

You could also add some similar long feather pieces to the tail if you like.

You could get as carried away as you wanted with adding crepe paper to your piñata. Cover the whole thing if you like! I just decided I liked the way it looked with only a few touches of paper, so I stopped here.


Destroy!!

Now, if you have the heart, use your piñata to add excitement to a festive gathering... or if you aren't feeling homicidal, just hang it somewhere and look at it instead. I eventually did destroy mine, but I felt a little bad about it. However, the great thing about paper mache is that you can always make another one easily and cheaply!


Coming Up...

Now you can start to see some of the diverse kinds of projects you can create easily with different paper mache techniques. As you can see, creating some fairly complex shapes is really quite easy, and how you choose to decorate your creations can make all the difference. The techniques we learned in this lesson can be used to create all kinds of projects, not just piñatas. Whatever you've chosen to create, share a photo of your project below to show us what you've come up with!

In the next lesson we'll learn how to use some of these same paper mach materials to create an amazing air dry clay that you can use to sculpt forms or add details to other paper mache creations.

CLASS PROJECT

Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

Nice work! You've completed the class project