Smoothing and Painting
Paper Mache Class

If you really want to give your paper mache creation a smooth beautiful finish, there are a few tricks that will help you along the way. Whether you've used paper mache clay or just paper strips and paste, you can adapt these techniques to suit your design. In this lesson we'll talk about different smoothing techniques and paints as we finish our mask.

In this lesson I'll be using:



If you've used the store bought Paperclay, you can easily sand it to smooth and shape it once it has fully dried.

I used 100 grit sandpaper for a first pass to shape the clay, and 120 for a second smoothing pass. if your project has areas where the clay meets paper strips, sand these edges so they blend in smoothly.

The clay on the left is un-sanded and the clay on the right is sanded.

Use a large brush or a towel to brush off the paper dust when you are done.

The homemade clay is harder and more fibrous than the store-bought clay, so it doesn't sand very well. If you are using this clay and having a hard time sanding, try using a sandable smoothing compound first then sanding over it.

Using Smoothing Compounds and Primers

Smoothing compounds like gesso and Flexbond are helpful to create a smooth finish on paper mache strips or clay before you paint. Flexbond is a lot like wood glue, but creates a smoother finish and can be wet-sanded after it is dry if you want an even smoother finish. Gesso sands evan more easily, so it is the best choice of smoothing compound if you are working over a base that can't be sanded and want to create a really smooth finish.

I used Flexbond on both my un-sanded home made clay and my sanded Paperclay so you can see what a difference the sanding makes when I paint it later.

Put a little Flexbond in a cup and dilute it with some water. Use a medium sized brush to apply it all over the mask in a even layer. It can have a tendency to run and create drips, so use your brush clean up any dripping areas before you leave it to dry.

Once the first layer has dried, which shouldn't take more than an hour or two, add a second coat. You can continue adding layers until your mask is as smooth as you want it to be. If you plan on wet-sanding your Flexbond, you should add at least 4 coats.


Once you have sanded and primed you can paint it with whatever colors and patterns you like! If you are making a mask that is supposed to represent some specific creature or style, you might want to look up some reference images to help inspire you.

I think acrylic paints are the best for this type of painting. They dry fast, can be mixed easily and are relatively inexpensive. I particularly like using metallic colors or a combination of metallic pigment powder mixed with acrylic medium.

Mix your paints to get a color you like, then apply enough coats to your mask to cover the details of the newspaper and clay. If you are using a light or bright color, you might want to prime your mask with a white paint or primer first.

To create blended or shaded effects, mix a lighter color and apply it over the base coat, using the base color to blend the two at the edges. It can really enhance the look of a piece to add shading in concave areas and highlights in raised areas.

Use different brushes to create finer details.


Once you've painted your mask, you can give it some extra protection or a different finish by covering it up with some kind of sealant like an acrylic medium, shellack, or something similar. This is an optional step, but a good one if you think your mask is going to get a lot of wear or be outside often.

Disguise Yourself!

Now that you've finished your awesome mask, add some string so you can wear it, or hang it on a wall for display. Since I didn't make holes in the mask earlier, I drilled two holes on each side with a cordless drill, keeping the holes about 1/2" apart. Then I threaded some sturdy string through the holes and threaded it behind my head, and became a new creature!!

Coming Up...

Finishing and painting your paper mache projects is an important part of making them look great, and you can really create some smooth, detailed finishes on your projects if you have the time. But even a project that you don't spend a lot of time and effort on can look great depending on what kind of look you're going for. Show us how you've applied these smoothing and painting techniques to your project by posting a photo of your mask below!

Well, that's it for this installment of paper mache techniques. We've covered quite a bit in this class, but there is so much more to learn and explore. In the next lesson we'll talk about what we've learned and what kind of projects to tackle now to take your skills to the next level.


Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

Nice work! You've completed the class project