Paper Mache Class
Lesson 3: Paper Mache With Flour
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Introduction: Paper Mache With Flour

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 and how to combine simple forms to create complex shapes.

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.

Using a Balloon As an Armature

Another great way to create a paper mache shapes is to use a balloon or another inflatable object as a base to cast over.

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.

To create a baloon base that is smooth all the way around, inflate your 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!!

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 a balloon, 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.

Proper Drying

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.

when you are using a balloon as an armature, try to dry 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 :/

Combining Shapes to Create Structures

A paper mache balloon by itself isn't very interesting, but, like any shape, it can be a base to create something more exciting. Any complex form that you want to create can usually be broken down into simple shapes, and a round balloon makes a great base for a lot of things, like this Paper Mache Owl Pinata I created.

To go from a simple shape to a more complex form, you can combine pieces, or add to and subtract from a simple base until you've created the structure you are looking for.

Use pieces of cardboard, or cut apart other shapes you cast in paper mache and attach them to your base form with masking tape or hot glue.

Then use more layers of paper mache to merge these details into one unified sculpture.

You can create some truly amazing forms this way once you master the idea of breaking a whole down into its basic shapes. For a full description of how I created my Paper Mache Owl Piñata, check out the instructable! It's a great intro into this idea of combining shapes to create simple sculptural forms.

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.

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 even more details to paper mache creations.

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