What is Papier Mache, or Paper Mache?
Papier Mache is French for chewed paper as that is the appearance that the papier mache pulp has before it is worked with. Papier Mache is a form of construction or sculpture where bits of paper are stuck together with paste. When the paste dries the construction is hard and can be painted or varnished.
Newspaper is commonly used for papier mache sculpture as it is readily available and works well with the paste, able to be molded readily. Although any adhesive can be used, wallpaper paste or home-made paste are most suitable as they are easy to work with and are not too expensive.
There are two papier mache methods – layering and papier mache pulp.
Papier Mache Layering
This technique involves layering strips of paper with paste to build up the layers. It is often used over a mold such as a bowl to form the initial shape. The basic steps are below or follow the Papier Mache Layers Tutorial.
- In this case the first step is to cover the mold with clingwrap plastic or waterproof gel so that the mold is easy to remove once the sculpture is dry.
- Then start layering on the strips of paper. They can be coated in the paste first by dunking them in a container of paste, or the paste can be applied to the layers of paper on the mold. Whichever you use you will have lots of paste on your hands! You will need at least six layers of paper to make a solid shape.
- Leave the piece to dry and then carefully remove from the mold and leave to dry some more on the inside.
- Once it is dry trim or sand any rough bits and paint.
- A final layer of varnish will help protect and waterproof the sculpture.
Papier Mache Pulp
This is a pulp made from soaked paper and paste. It forms a substance a little like clay and will be the ‘chewed paper’ form that gave papier mache it’s French name. The basic steps are below or follow the Papier Mache Pulp Tutorial.
- Fill a bucket or bowl with torn bits of paper and cover it with warm water.
- Leave the paper to soak for 24 hours.
- Pour off the water, add paste and mix well. The resulting material should have the texture of a soft clay.
- Sculpt the pulp onto a mold or into a shape and leave it to dry.
- Once completely dry it needs to be painted or varnished to seal it.
This is a cheap alternative to purchased paste. I usually use wallpaper paste as it is cheap anyway and I am usually in too much of a rush, but it is quite cool to use this and it has a really nice texture. However you do need to take a little care if you want the final sculpture to last a long time. To keep bugs away from the sculpture ensure it is completely sealed with pain or vanish. And to prevent the paste ever growing mold you can add oil of cloves or some wallpaper paste.
You need one cup of flour and three cups of water. Mix the flour to a smooth paste in a saucepan with a little bit of the water. Gradually add the rest of the water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring all the time. Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture until it is thick. Use it once it has cooled down.