Intro to Paper Mache

Introduction: Intro to Paper Mache

About: Costume and experimental fashion designer and artist. Maker of clothing and accessories for time traveling cyborg superheroes, and lucid dreamers. Interested in fusing couture design and leatherwork with wea…

Paper Mache may surprise you. From fun easy craft projects to durable costume pieces, beautiful home decor, and even complex sculptural forms, you’ll be amazed at what you can create with just a few common, inexpensive materials that you probably already have at home!

In this class we’ll learn the fundamentals of this deceptively simple art form, and tackle techniques that will take it to the next level. I’ll walk you through creating different types of mache paste and clay, using different kinds of paper, building simple armatures, sculpting, smoothing, painting, and finishing your projects. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, or a creative person looking for a new artistic medium, paper mache is a great material to explore and this class will help give you everything you need to get started.

In this intro lesson we'll talk about the kinds of projects you can create with paper mache, and what we'll be making in this class. We'll also discuss the variety of materials you can use and how to set up your workspace and plan your time so you can finish your projects with no unexpected obstacles. In the next lesson we'll talk about exactly what you'll need for each kind of paper mache and where to find all your materials. Then we'll get started making some fun projects!

Step 1: Possibilities of Paper Mache

While most of us probably think of paper mache as an unsophisticated craft technique used to make piggy banks in 3rd grade classrooms, it is actually an extremely useful and versatile medium that can be used to create some beautiful works of art, costume pieces, or even home decor.

One of the best things about paper mache is that it is cheap, and doesn't require any fancy equipment or special skills. It's also extremely versatile and forgiving. You can use paper mache to create anything from delicate lamps to huge whale sculptures! If creating projects with paper mache sounds intimidating to you, remember, you can almost always cut your paper mache creations apart and stick them back together, so altering your designs or adding details as you go is simple!

If you do an image search for paper mache projects you will find all kinds of amazing and unexpected things like incredibly detailed dragon sculptures, giant puppets, beautiful modern light fixtures, and fanciful masks. Check out my Paper Mache Pinterest board for some inspiration.

Step 2: Types of Paste and Paper

The basic formula for paper mache just involves saturating some kind of paper with some kind of sticky paste, sculpting with this material and then letting it dry. Paper mache paste is mostly created with glue, flour and water in various combinations.

Different kinds of paper and paste are good for different kinds of projects. Flour and water is the classic material for paper mache paste because it is super simple, effective and cheap. Glue paste tends to be stronger and more durable, and it also dries clear so it it is great to use if you want to create something translucent like a lamp. It can also be a bit slippery and sticky though, so some people prefer flour.

Newspaper is the most commonly used paper for paper mache because of its consistency and because old newspaper is basically a free material. Other papers will work too though. Some people like to use blue shop towels because they are very soft and absorbent, but also strong.

Translucent papers like waxed tissue paper and kite paper are great if you are using glue and trying to create a skin that lets light through.

In this class we'll try a few different kinds of paper and paste so you can see the advantages and drawbacks of each.

The name Paper Mache is an english version of the French "Papier-mâché" which literally translates as "chewed paper". This original definition of paper mache actually refers to paper mache clay, which is a sculpting material made of mashed or "chewed" paper and a few other ingredients. You can use this clay to create details, sculpt forms, or even press it into molds. We will talk about using pre-made versions of this clay and also learn how to make our own using a highly underrated art material: toilet paper!

Step 3: Types of Armatures

To create anything with paper mache, you need to have something to sculpt over. These base objects you use to create your shapes are called "armatures". There are many ways to create armatures, some much more complex than others.

Some armatures are designed to be removed after the paper mache has dried. You can use almost any object as an armature that you "cast" over with paper mache, leaving you with a light hollow paper shape. Disposable objects like balloons can be popped and taken out, while other objects can be cast over and then re-used once the dried paper mache has been taken off.

It can be good to have a collection of different shaped and sized objects handy when you are making a paper mache project. Anything from plastic containers to kitchen items, masks, and things with interesting textures can be useful. Once you know what you want to make, finding stuff with the right shapes can be a fun treasure hunt!

Other kinds of armatures are created to stay inside paper mache projects once they're done. Things like cardboard shapes, wire or mesh frames, tree branches or crumpled up balls of paper can all work great as permanent armatures.

In this class we'll experiment with both removable and permanent armatures so you can get an idea of the many ways to create shapes with paper mache!

Step 4: Planning Projects

Paper Mache is not a complex technical process, but it does require some planning.

One of the most important things you need to think about is time. Wet projects usually take about 8-24 hours, or even longer, to dry depending on how many layers of paper mache you use and how complex your shape is. If paper mache doesn't dry thoroughly, it can rot, which is gross and will ruin your project. Most projects also take several rounds of sculpting, drying, priming and painting. So you sometimes need to allow a few days to complete even a simple project. You can speed up drying times by putting your projects out in the sun, near a fan or a heat vent and rotating them every few hours.

Paper Mache is also messy, so you need to set up a workspace that will let you get glue and flour all over the place without worrying about your furniture or your clothes. Cover your workspace with a plastic drop cloth or a garbage bag or work outside. Wear an old apron, and if you don't have a sink nearby make sure you have a wet towel handy so you can wipe flour or glue off your hands when you need to. Clean your surfaces and mixing containers quickly after you are done using them so they don't get too encrusted with paste.

If you are planning to use any electric mixing tools like the immersion blender for making flour paste or the hand mixer for making clay, make sure you have those tools ready and are working in a place where there are electrical outlets.

Step 5: Projects We'll Be Making

In this class we'll get started with paper mache by making three simple projects.

First we'll try using glue as our paper mache paste. We'll try some basic techniques for casting over objects with newspaper strips, then I'll show you how to use this paste with translucent paper to create a lampshade. Allow 1-2 days of working and drying time for this project.

In the next lesson we'll use a simple balloon armature technique and flour mache to create a base for a piñata. We'll add details to this base with cardboard and tape and decorate the whole thing with acrylic paint and crepe paper. You can make this project about as simple or complex as you like, but it will require from 2-3 days of working and drying time to complete.

Last we will learn how to create an air-dry paper mache clay, then use wire sculpting mesh to create an armature for a paper mache mask that we will add details to using the paper mache clay. Last I'll show you some simple techniques for smoothing and painting this mask to make it beautiful. You'll need 2-3 working and drying days to complete this project.

Step 6: About Your Professor

I am a costume and experimental fashion designer and artist by training, and a huge nerd who likes dress up in a lot of silly costumes :) My superpower is the ability to learn new skills and figure out how to make things with my hands, and I think it's pretty great as far as superpowers go.

I studied Visual Art at Brown University and Fashion Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and since then I've done my best to turn playing dress-up into a career. In my work I love experimenting with materials and finding new ways to use traditional techniques in my never-ending quest to create clothing and accessories worthy of time traveling cyborg superheroes! I have worked in both costume and fashion design, and right now I'm lucky enough to have a job in the Instructables Design Studio where I make a lot of fun things with creative people in an amazing makerspace.

You can see many examples of my work on my website, and find all the tutorials I've created so far on my Instructables page. Also be sure to check out my other free Instructables Classes on Leatherworking, Machine Sewing and Superhero Costumes!

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