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 objects. Then we'll use this casting technique with a different kind of paper to create a translucent glue mache lamp shade or vessel you can use as a decoration in your home.
For this lesson we'll be using:
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.
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.
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 :(
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!
Now let's try using the glue paste method with a different kind of paper. We're going to use tissue paper mache to create a simple yet beautiful lampshade for a pendant lamp. Since we are using paper here, you will need to use a relatively low powered led bulb for a safe lamp. This means it will be more decorative than functional in terms of lighting, but it will still be beautiful!
The advantages of using glue as a paste really shine when when you use papers with different qualities. Also if you are trying to make something that has a translucent skin, like a lamp shade or light fixture, glue is great because it dries clear letting the color and texture of the paper show when light shines through.
Because glue makes for a stronger surface, you can get away with using more fragile paper and fewer layers. There are a few kinds of paper that will work for making something like a lampshade, tissue paper, kite paper, and some kinds of rice paper are all good choices.
Tissue paper is the cheapest and easiest translucent paper to find. It is important, however, to get the right kind of tissue paper! What you want is the kind that is used to wrap flowers, not the kind used to wrap presents which is sold in stationery stores. That kind is much more fragile and will disintegrate if you try to use it for paper mache. The kind you want can be found at florists or floral supply stores. You can tell the difference because the floral kind has one shiny side and one matte side.
Now you need to find an object to mache over that seems like it would make a nice lampshade shape. If you wanted to make a lot of smaller shades to cover the bulbs on LED christmas lights that would also be a great use of this technique. The base for your shades could be anything you find that has a relatively simple shape and will allow you to insert a bulb later. A lot of dishes, and other stuff you'd find in the kitchen will work well. Keep in mind that if your object has undercuts or is too narrow, you may have to cut your shade to get it off your object.
It is sometimes hard to tell which objects will create shades that need to be cut, for example, since this thermos that I decided to use as a base tapered outwards towards the bottom, I thought I would be able to remove the shade without cutting it, but, because the paper shrinks a little as it dries, it ended up being too tight fitting to remove whole. This is ok, you can reattach the two halves, but it does add an extra step and more drying time. If you are using an object like a wide bowl that you can mache inside of instead of outside of, this will make it easier to to remove the shade because as the paper shrinks it will pull away from the form slightly.
Once you’ve decided on your object, cover it with plastic wrap or something else to help release the paper when it’s dry. If you think your paper is going to be hard to remove, you might want to use plastic wrap, bud if you are going to work, for example, inside a bowl, you can get away with using something like Vaseline or dish soap smeared on the surface of the bowl.
When you are using tissue paper like this you are better off using a paintbrush to apply the paste to the rather than using your hands. The tissue paper is thinner and more absorbent than the newspaper, and also more delicate. It will soak up the glue mixture easily, and if you handle the strips while they are wet they will tear pretty easily. Using a paintbrush is also nice because it stops your hands from getting super sticky, making the whole process a bit easier and less messy. You can use any flat paintbrush, but wider ones will be more efficient of you are making a large shade and using large strips.
Tear your tissue paper into strips. You can vary the width depending on the size of your object, remembering that wider strips won’t fit smoothly over small curves.
Mix your glue paste and set out all your supplies. Start applying strips to your object by laying the strip down and then painting paste over it with the paintbrush. You don’t need a layer of glue under the first layer of strips.
You can apply strips however you want, but I think it looks nice to position them so they are radiating out from the top of the thermos, or the center of the bowl. Overlap one on the other working your way around and making the edge uneven on the bottom.
You will need to add at least 3 or 4 layers of strips to create a strong enough structure. When you’ve finished adding these layers, leave your shade to dry overnight.
When your shade is dry, you can remove it from the form. Test to see if you can take it off without cutting it, but be careful not to tear the paper. Use a butter knife or another flat object like a pallet knife to gently separate the plastic wrap and paper from the form.
If it doesn’t seem like it’s going to budge, take your craft knife and cut your shade in half. You will still probably need to use something to carefully pry it off the form.
Now you need to re-attach the two halves of the shade. You can do this by putting them back over the thermos, but leaving a small gap between the two halves. Then add a few new strips over the gap and a new layer of strips all the way around.
Before the whole thing dries and shrinks again, carefully remove it and then set it to dry over a narrow tall object. Once it has dried a little, take it off and make sure it is keeping the shape you want, then turn it upside down to continue drying.
Once your shade has fully dried, you can give it a nice shiny surface by coating it with a finish like an acrylic gel medium, a few coats of an acrylic spray coating like Krylon Crystal Clear, or a resin-like compound such as Smooth-On XTC 3D. Something like the XTC 3D will also stiffen the paper quite a bit, helping it keep its shape. Make sure these finishes have fully dried before you add a light, and if you are using a spray, be sure to apply it in a well ventilated area.
To make your shade into a lamp, you just need to add a lightbulb. The simplest way to do this is to buy a pendant lamp socket with pre attached cord at a hardware or home store. Depending on the shape of your lampshade, make sure you get one with a switch in the cord, not on the socket so you will be able to reach it. When you get a bulb for your lamp, make sure get an LED bulb that won't get to hot. Test your bulb before you put it in your lamp to make sure it doesn't get too hot. Since you are using a paper lamp shade, you need to be safe and get a bulb that could have any chance of setting fire to the shade.
To be extra safe, it’s a good idea to create a wire frame to hold the shade away from the bulb. You can do this by just bending a piece of wire into a circle slightly smaller than the base of the shade. Bring the ends of the wire across the middle of the circle and wrap them around the socket to hold it in the center of the shade. Secure the wires together by wrapping them with thinner wire.
Cut a slit in the top of the shade that will just accommodate the plug at the end of the wire, and use scissors to cut a hole in the middle big enough for the very top portion of the socket.
Put the bulb into the socket and feed the plug through the shade from the bottom up.
Slide the wire frame into the shade so it is secure and holds the bulb away from the edge of the shade.
Now turn on your light and see how beautiful it looks!
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. Whether you've used your glue mache to create a lampshade, a vessel, or some other type of object, share a photo of your project below so we can see what you've made!
In the next lesson we'll try the classic flour and water paper mache paste and learn how to add some details and decoration to a simple balloon armature to create a custom piñata!
Share a photo of your finished project with the class!
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