Explaining Papier-mâché

Explaining Papier-mâché

Most students have at some time made Papier-mâché at art class, it’s a staple art form for many schools and a nice in expensive way to make and teach sculpture.

I recall my sister’s class once making masks which they got to wear in a school class photo and feeling a bit envious that my teacher hadn’t allowed us to do that also!

What exactly is Papier-mâché? It consists of a Papier-mâché paste and paper. The traditional method of making papier-mâché paste is to use a mixture of water and flour or other starch, mixed to the consistency of a heavy cream. While any adhesive can be used if thinned to a similar texture, such as polyvinyl acetate based glues like PVA or wall paper glue, the flour and water mixture is the most economical. The paper is cut or torn into strips, and soaked in the paste until saturated. The saturated pieces are then placed onto the surface of your chosen mould and allowed to dry slowly; drying in an oven can cause warping or other dimensional changes during the drying process so it’s best to allow it to air dry naturally. The strips may be placed on or over a structural frame, or they can be placed on an object to create a cast. Oil or grease like Vaseline can be used as a release agent if needed. Once dried, the resulting material can be cut, sanded and/or painted, and waterproofed by painting with a suitable water repelling paint.

Papier-mâché is one of the most versatile crafts around! There is no right or wrong way to do it, in fact there is not even a right or wrong way to spell it, both Paper Mache or Papier Mache, you choose!

Using Papier-mâché techniques, you can create almost anything, and, the best part is, you probably have everything you need to create your own masterpieces that are lying around your home right now.

Lets start with the paste, here are two simple recipes for you

Heat free Paste

This no-cook Papier-mâché paste recipe is a good one to make with kids because it is easy to make and does not require any heating.

All you need is water, flour and some salt

Simply mix together 1 part flour to 2 parts water. You want it to be the consistency of thick glue, but you also want it to be slightly runny and not thick like paste. Add more water or flour as necessary. Mix well to remove any lumps. Add a few tablespoons of salt to help prevent it going mouldy. And if you don't like the smell of the glue mixture you can add a few sprinkles of cinnamon or oil of cloves to sweeten it up!

Cooked Paste

This Papier-mâché paste recipe requires some boiling; it is a little stronger than the heat free version and is usually a little smoother in texture.

All you need is flour and water and salt

Mix 1 part flour to 5 parts water. And allow to heat to boiling. Stir well and let it boil for 2 - 3 minutes. It should be smooth and have the constancy of thick glue. If necessary, you can add more water or glue in small amounts until you get the desired consistency. Again add a few tablespoons of salt to help prevent it going mouldy.

Both glues can be stored in a covered bowl or jar, in the refrigerator, for a few days.


Pulp recipe for Papier-mâché


Make a pulp mixture to make fine details on Papier-mâché projects. You can also use it to make sculptures. It works almost like Clay so it’s easy to mould into shape than strips of paper. It does use a lot more paper though so be aware of that aspect.

You will need – Newspaper, Water, Salt and Glue  

Tear the newspaper into tiny pieces and put them in a large bowl. Add just enough warm to hot water to completely cover the newspaper. Let soak overnight.

Soak the newspaper over night in water. Then adding small amounts to an old blender including the water (Don’t use your good blender by the way, trust me on this!) blend until the pulp becomes smooth, add extra water if needed, but don’t let it get sloppy. Add salt to stop it going mouldy and glue to make it sticky, and then store in the fridge up to a couple of days if not using it straight away.

Alternately you can add your newspaper to boiling water and let it boil until the newspaper falls apart. You have to watch this carefully and add extra water if necessary. You can also try letting your newspaper and hot water mixture sit for a few hours and then put it in the blender or food processor if you want it smoother again. Don't forget to add the glue and salt once your mixture is smooth!

Store your pulp in an air tight bag or bowl in the refrigerator up to several days.

How to Papier-mâché

  1. Create your Papier-mâché form (Balloons are good for things like masks or piñatas for example, and then prepare your desired Papier-mâché paste.
  2. Tear the newspaper into strips. The length of your strips may vary depending on the size of your Papier-mâché project; however, you will want your strips to be about 2 to 4cms wide.
  3. Dip one piece of newspaper at a time into your prepared Papier-mâché paste. You want the newspaper strip to be saturated.
  4. Hold the strip over the paste bowl and run it through your fingers to squeeze off excess paste.
  5. Stick the newspaper strip over the form you want to Papier-mâché, and smooth it down with your fingers.
  6. Completely cover your creation with a layer of newspaper strips. They should all be over-lapping and running in different directions.
  7. After one layer is applied, let it dry completely. This can take up to 24 hours for each layer.
  8. Add a second layer of newspaper strips and let it dry completely.
  9. Repeat this process until you get the desired effect or strength you require, remember things like piñatas need to be weak enough to break but strong enough to not break too early. So have at least three layers of Papier-mâché newspaper strips.
  10. Lastly paint and decorate to finish off your creation and if needed add a coat of varnish.

Some Tips

  1. Tear the newspaper up into strips , don’t cut it as the torn strips  will adhere and lie a lot smoother.
  2. Be generous with the paste when dipping your newspaper as you want each piece to be thoroughly saturated!
  3. Let each layer dry completely before adding another.
  4. You can use the Papier-mâché pulp recipe above to add extra detail or smoothness to your form before, during or after you add the Papier-mâché layers. This pulp recipe can be used like a moulding clay.


Happy creating!

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Posted: Wednesday 19 May 2010


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