Having a sudden creative urge? Lusting to create form and texture but bereft of clay or fimo? Paper mache may be the the answer....


Starch paste
Non-shiny paper (newspaper is cheap and reasonably user friendly)
A reasonable attention span and a willingness to make mess

Making the starch paste:

Recipes vary, but my favourite is 3-4 cups warm water to 1 cup plain flour, along with 1-2 tablespoons of table salt (salt prevents mould growing on the finished product).

Bring 1/3 of the water to boil in a saucepan, while mixing the remainder with the flour and salt. Aim for a reasonably lump-free, liquid mixture.
Add the flour and water mix to the boiling water, stirring well. The paste should take on a translucent, thickened quality.

Continue stirring until the mixture boils, remove from heat and allow to cool to whatever temperature your hands are happy with. You may wish to sieve the paste- lumps can become frustrating. Warm paste is easier to work with, as cooling thickens it and makes absorption into the paper slower. Paste can be refrigerated for several weeks without problems.

Now what?

The next phase depends on you.

If you're looking to build large structures, consider constructing the basic form from carboard boxes, toilet rolls, balloons and egg cartons, then layering with approximately 2cm squares of paste-soaked newspaper. The paper should be torn rather than cut, as the shredded edges give a larger surface area for quicker paste absorption.

This method is time consuming, as adding too many layers at a time can cause the whole thing to collapse in a soggy heap. Depending on your patience, you may wish to add 3-5 layers a day, then dry overnight. The amount of layers you add will also depend on the robustness of your skeleton- balloons will shrivel or burst, so your paper mache coating will need to be strong enough to take it's own weight, while cardboard boxes may only require a few layers to smooth out the angles.

If you're looking to sculpt more radically with your paper mache, paper mulch is the way to go. It's also a good way of giving your piece an even surface and disguising joins. Ideally, your mulch should have the consistency of modelling clay, as mulch that is too wet is both hard to work and likely to shrink and dimple on drying. You can use a blender to finely shred your paper into the paste, or use another handy home staple- toilet paper!

When using toilet paper and blenderless, take your time. Don't bother stealing your flatmate's colour co-ordinated, patterned and scented 6 ply rolls. Cheap, recycled unbleached 2-ply works better.

Separate into 1 ply squares. Half a cup of paste requires about 40 pieces to make a good solid mulch, so don't be stingy. Work into the paste a piece at a time- adding too many at once stops it absorbing as well, and you end up with strings of partly-dry paper. After adding about half the sheets, you should wind up with a porridge-like consistency. Keep adding sheets, laying them over the top of the paste to let them wet evenly, then working them in with your fingers. Eventually you'll get a clay-like consistency that you can roll and mould. Keep adding paper to the outside and kneading in until you feel it's solid enough- this is something that comes with practice.

Again, drying is an important part of using the mulch- it takes time! Immediately building an enormous solid block with it will leave you with a smelly, cracked, damp-in-the-middle lump. Small pieces can be oven-dried (but remember it's flammable paper, so keep your oven under 100 C and don't set the kitchen on fire) but larger ones will require several days, preferably with a fan and sunlight.

It's dry? You're sure? REALLY REALLY sure? Then paint it, sand it, gouge it, file it, gloss it, got nuts!

My favourite experiments (to date!) have been using mulch to create texture on a canvas-board painting, and making knotted 3D doodles out of toy-shaping ballons

Pa`pier"-ma`ché" (?), n. [F. papier maché, lit., chewed or mashed paper.]

A hard and strong substance made of a pulp from paper, mixed with sise or glue, etc. It is formed into various articles, usually by means of molds.


© Webster 1913.

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