Paper Mache Class
Lesson 2: Paper Mache With Glue
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Introduction: Paper Mache With Glue

One of the most common, and easiest, ways to create paper mache is to use glue and water as the paste. A few different types of glue will work, but most people use wood glue or white Glue-All. Using glue is very similar to using flour, but it creates a stronger structure that is less likely to rot. Glue also dries clear, which opens up some interesting possibilities for translucent projects like lamps.

In this lesson we'll get started with paper mache by using this simple glue paste method and learning some easy techniques for creating shapes by casting over different kinds of objects.

For this lesson we'll be using:


Choosing Paper

You can use a lot of different types of paper to create paper mache projects depending on what kind of effect you're going for. The crucial factors in choosing paper is that the paper needs to be porous and flexible but also fairly strong.

Regular printer paper, for example, won't work very well because it is too stiff and the fibers are too tightly packed. It won't absorb the paste very well or sculpt around shapes smoothly. If you use this kind of paper, you will end up with a lumpy shape without enough structural integrity. Magazine paper, because of its shiny finish, will have the same problem. However, while papers like magazine and other decorative papers don't usually work well as the structure of paper mache projects, they can be used as a final layer to decorate a project in a process called "decoupage".

Newspaper is ideal here because it is soft and absorbent, but pretty strong. It's also cheap, and using old newspapers means you are recycling something that would otherwise be thrown away! If you plan to paint your project, it can also be helpful to add a layer of plain newsprint over the newspaper to give yourself a blank canvas to work on. Other good papers to use, are blue shop towels, rice paper, and tissue paper. We'll talk more about some of these later.

No matter what kind of paper you're using, you always want to tear your strips, not cut them. Tearing creates a soft feathered edge on the paper that will make each strip blend smoothly into the next instead of creating a sharp line when they are layered on top of each other.

An efficient way to create strips is to stack about 6-8 layers of paper on top of each other and tear them all at once.

Most paper, including newspaper, has a grain. If you tear with the grain, you will get nice, straight lines, if you tear across it, you will get jagged edges like I am below. Make sure you are tearing with the grain.

The width of your strips will depend somewhat on what are working on. For detailed areas, you want thin strips, for large uncomplicated areas, you can use wider strips. 1" is a good average width for most projects.

Preparing Shapes for Casting

Using paper mache and strips to cast over objects that will later be removed is something you could do with either flour or glue paste, but as glue paste creates a slightly stronger structure, it is sometimes a better material for this technique.

When the object you are casting over needs to be removed later, and isn't diposable, you have to prepare it before you can apply paper mache, especially if you are using glue, which is stickier than flour.

An easy way to prep objects is to cover them with plastic wrap. Depending on how complex your object is, you might want to use more than one layer of plastic wrap. More layers will make the paper easier to remove from detailed or concave areas. Tape the edges of the plastic wrap down to hold it in place, but It's ok if the plastic wrap is a little loose around the object.

Another thing you need to think about is how you are going to get the object out later. For example, if you are using a plastic yogurt container and only planning to cover the sides and bottom you will probably be able to remove it pretty easily later without cutting into the paper.

But if you are casting all the way around an object, or onto something that has undercuts, you will have to cut the paper later to remove it. This is ok, because you can glue it back together and hide the seams with more paper mache. But think about how you are going to have to cut it before you start.

Using Glue As Paste

To make a glue paste, simply pour some white glue or wood glue into a mixing bowl and dilute with just enough water so the glue gets a bit less sticky and can soak more easily into the paper. I usually use around a 1:1 ratio. Stir thoroughly until the glue and water are mixed together.

There are a few variations in technique for applying paper strips to a project. You can experiment to see which method works best for you.

When you are working with a solid armature like the dishes we are using here, 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. Or, you can try dipping your paper in the glue mixture and then applying it. You can even dip several layers of strips at once, separating the layers a little in the mixture so they all get covered in glue.

As you remove them, squeegee them together with your fingers to remove the excess glue.

Then apply the strip or stack of strips to your surface, angling the strips so they contour to the shape of the form. Smooth them down as you go to create an even surface. Apply one layer of overlapping strips over your entire project before you start adding another layer. Glue strips can be slightly more slippery than flour strips, so it sometimes takes a little finesse to get them to stick to each other smoothly. If the multi-layer method isn't working for you, you can always just use single layers

When you add the 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. If you are using stacked strips, you can build up a thick shell of paper fairly fast, about 4-8 layers of paper total (so about 2-4 stacked layers) will give you a strong structure. When you create your last layer though, you should go back to using only a single layer so the outside of your shape is smooth.


When you've finished covering your project in paper strips, you'll need to let it dry at least overnight 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.

After about 8-12 hours it should be dry, but you can test this just 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.

Because some projects require more than one round of drying and paper mache, you need to plan accordingly and give yourself enough time to work. If you start a paper mache project on the same day you need to finish it, you will just end up with a soggy mess :(

Removing the Object

When your paper is dry, remove it from the form.

You will probably need to use a butter knife or something similar to help loosen it.

If you have to cut it off to remove it, like I did with this vase shape, use a craft knife or scissors to cut neatly through the layers of paper. Try to make as few cuts as possible so it will be easier to glue back together.

Pry the pieces gently apart with a butter knife.

Use a hot glue gun to glue your form back together if you need to, then apply more strips over the seams to hide them. You can, of course, also just use pieces of these casts to create other forms, or glue them back together in a different way to make a new shape!

What You Can Do With This Method

This simple glue and paper casting technique can be used to create a lot of different kinds of projects.

As you can see, it's easy to create simple containers with this method. Adding many layers of paper can let you create fairly sturdy vessels that can be used for home decor.

The advantages of using glue as a paste also really shine when when you use papers with different qualities. Using tissue paper, kite paper, and some kinds of rice paper with glue will let you create some beautiful translucent pieces like this Paper Mache Lampshade I made by casting inside a bowl.

Cast paper mache shapes can also be combined to form the structure of more elaborate paper mache projects. In this DIY Owl Piñata project, you can start to see how you might use different simple base shapes to construct the form of something more complex.

What's Next?

I hope this lesson has given you a great introduction to the basic techniques of paper mache using glue. Casting over even very simple shapes can allow you to create some beautiful pieces that often look nothing like traditional paper mache.

In the next lesson we'll try the classic flour and water paper mache paste, and learn how to use a balloon as an armature.


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