Ultimate Papier-mâché Guide

paper mache bowls
How to make professional papier mache homeware

How to make professional paper mache sculptures for your home

Papier-mâché, or what’s more commonly reffered to as paper mache, is the perfect activity for kids and grown-ups! Prounanced Papier-mâché (pap-yay mash-ay) or paper mâché (paper mash-ay). You can make all sorts of wonderful art projects for your home with paper mache: pinatas, masks, a globe, lamps and dishes. Papier mache is a method of modelling with paper, by first rendering it plastic through soaking in water and keeping it wet while working. Many articles can be made by this method, such as bowls, vases, boxes, trays, and so on. The finished work is quite light, firm, and waterproof.

As an affordable art project or hobby, papier maché has several advantages. It can be carried out at little or no expense, as nothing more than wastepaper, flour paste, and paint are needed. Ordinary newspaper can be used. For paste there is nothing to equal the paste or powder used by wallpaper hangers; this is obtainable in small packets and tubs.

How to make Paper Mache Recipe

To make the paper mache clay the best way is to prepare the paper by tearing it into small pieces of about 1 in. square or 1 1/2 in. diameter. The exact shape of the pieces is not important, but they must be torn and not cut, for tearing gives the pieces thin frayed edges, which will allow smoother surfaces to be obtained when the overlapping is done, Place the paper in a bowl of clean water and leave it to soak thoroughly. When required, the paper is lifted up and placed on a cloth so that the surplus water can be squeezed out.

To be in the right condition the paper should not be dripping wet, but thoroughly moist and soft. The paste powder should be made and used according to the directions given on the bag and it is usual to prepare only the quantity required at one time, as it does not keep longer than a day or two.

Generally, the method of preparation is to stir the paste or powder into the cold water, a little at a time, and to keep on stirring until the required consistency is reached. For the work in hand the paste can be fairly stiff, as the moisture in the paper tends to thin it down in use.

The work is carried out by using any glass, china, wood, or metal object as a mould on which to build the paper. Careful choice, however, must be made to avoid unsuitable forms, and consideration must be given to the possibility of removing the work from the mould; it is better, therefore, to select fairly plain forms, without any indented curves.

Paper Mache Ideas for Beginners – Making a Shallow Tray:

The beginner is advised first to try their hand at making a shallow tray, shaped from a saucer or a small plate.
The paper can be applied to the inside or outside of an object, but usually the outside lends itself to easier handling. To prevent the paper sticking, first smear the underside of the saucer or plate with a thin coating of vaseline, and then cover the whole of the surface with paper. This first covering is best done with one large piece of paper in order to give it as smooth a surface as possible. The paper may be a little troublesome to apply without some creasing, but creases can be pressed out or, if they are too prominent, the paper may be torn and the edges overlapped, pressed down and smoothed with the fingers. The paper should project about 1/2 in. over the edge of the saucer.

Having completed the first layer of papery cover it with a thin coating of paste, using a wide camel-hair brush. Another layer of paper is now placed over the pasted surface ; in this case the pieces should be used and placed on regularly, care being taken to keep the surface even. When entirely covered and quite smooth, paste the surface again and repeat the process, arranging the joints so that they do not come in the same positions as before, but tie each other together.

This process of pasting and covering is continued until a thickness of about 1/2 in. is reached. The last layer of paper can be in one piece or in three or four large sections, if the curve of the object will allow it without showing heavy creases.

It is an advantage to go over each layer of paper with a small rubber-covered roller in order to press down the layers as close as possible, but the final pressing should be done with the fingers, after some grease-proof paper has been placed on top of the surface so that the damp paper is not rubbed up.

The final pressing must receive considerable attention so as to ensure that the separate layers are in the closest possible contact. Uneven spaces should be pressed down with the rubber-covered roller (if not available, use a block of wood, and press with a rocking motion).

To obtain a successful professional result the greatest care must be taken to obtain a surface as even as possible. This can be ensured by pressing the layers of paper in close contact and manipulating the uneven places with the fingers, but the most important part of the process lies in placing the pieces of paper in an orderly manner.

The work must now be placed on one side for a time in order to allow it to dry. The drying should not as a rule be hurried, but it can be carried out by placing the object in a warming oven. Do not place the work in front any direct heat, as there is a likelihood of getting one portion dry before another.

The work should be removed from the mould when it is dry enough to be pulled away easily without losing its shape. If it is taken off while it is flexible there is a risk of an alteration in the shape. On the other hand, if the work is allowed to get quite dry before being taken off the mould, there may be some trouble in removing its due to some of the paste and paper adhering to the mould. Any slight alteration of form caused by taking the work from the mould must be corrected by finger manipulation and then the work must be left to get perfectly dry. The outside edge should be trimmed up when the object is quite hard. First replace the work on the mould and then draw a pencil line round the edge and carry out the shaping with a fine saw, although a sharp knife can be used.

Finally, obtain a smooth edge with super fine sanding paper. The whole surface is made smooth by rubbing it with the fine sandpaper, the final finish being a jewellers grade if possible. Before the decoration can be considered, the work should be covered with a sealant, or some other suitable under-coating, and rubbed down lightly with fine sand-paper.

Apply two coats of paint or enamel for a professional look, spreading them quite thinly, and allowing the first coat to be perfectly dry before applying the second. Pattern decoration can be added afterwards if desired.

See also: Advanced Papier Mache Techniques