What Are Paper Mache Sculptures?

Ray Hawk
Ray Hawk
Newspapers are typically cut or torn into strips for use in paper mache.
Newspapers are typically cut or torn into strips for use in paper mache.

Paper mache sculptures are arts and crafts projects that can range from simple designs by young children to complex statuaries. The source material for paper mache crafts is traditionally strips of newspaper, flour, and water. The water and flour acts as a form of simple glue and pulping agent for the newspaper as the sculpture is being formed, but adhesives like wallpaper paste can be substituted in its place. Sculptures crafted with paper mache often have a base that creates a basic shape on which the newspaper mixture can be placed, and are often painted when the materials have dried.

Making paper mache figures first requires building a basic frame upon which the paper mache will overlay as a type of skin. These structures, known as armatures, can be made from a variety of materials, including a mesh-like wire, often referred to as chicken wire, and cardboard tubes or small boxes. More delicate structures can also be used for small paper mache sculptures, such as balloons, Popsicle sticks, or toothpicks glued together.

Depending on the sophistication of the design, it might also be suitable to first make a drawing of what the final sculpture should look like. Paper mache for kids tend to be a more free form art where the final look and shape of the sculpture is not known until it is finished. Finished paper mache sculptures are also rather fragile, as they will burn easily, and contact with water may damage them. Highly artistic forms of paper mache crafts are often glazed or painted to protect them and give them more durability.

The paste for paper mache sculptures requires almost equal amounts of water and flour mixed in a large bowl. Depending on how large the sculpture will be, an example of a paste mixture would be 3 cups (0.7 liters) of water to 2.5 cups (350 grams) of flour. Kids often enjoy mixing the flour and water since it is best done by hand so that all of the lumps of flour are incorporated into a smooth paste that resembles the consistency of pancake or waffle batter. The strips of newspaper should be long and about 2 inches (5 centimeters) wide for large sculptures, or narrower for smaller ones. Black-and-white newspaper works best as it is more absorbent than the color or glossy magazine paper.

The armature for the project, whether for paper mache masks or paper mache figures, should be secured in a place that can withstand the mess that the paste may cause. The process of covering it with the newspaper strips simply entails holding one end of the strip and dipping it in the bowl of paste to cover at least one side with paste. Excess paste should be wiped off the paper, and then it should be placed on the sculpture paste-side down. It can be smoothed to hold a shape that is slightly different from the armature frame, and then additional strips can be added in layers to reinforce this until the sculpture is complete. Small sculptures will dry in a few hours while larger ones can take 12 hours or more to dry; both can then be painted or decorated.

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Discussion Comments


As a professional paper mache artist, I must jump into this topic. When people hear the term "paper mache" they think of piggy banks or helmets they made in the third grade using paper strips and balloons.

But paper mache is a powerful medium for making sophisticated sculpture. Look online for examples.

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    • Newspapers are typically cut or torn into strips for use in paper mache.
      By: Scanrail
      Newspapers are typically cut or torn into strips for use in paper mache.