Paper Mache 101: Easy Recipes & Simple Tips For Best Results

It’s so easy to make all kinds of crafts with paper mache (not just the school volcano assignment the kids bring home), some ideas:

Paper Mache Ingredients
  • Decorative masks (Halloween, school plays, costume parties, Mardi Gras)
  • Holiday decorations (Cinco de Mayo pinatas, Halloween props, Christmas ornaments, Easter & Thanksgiving table decor)
  • Jewelry, beads, assorted trinkets
  • Home decor items (bowls, vases, trinket boxes)

What you’ll find in this tip sheet to get you started:

  • Two easy homemade recipes
  • Suggestions for suitable materials (both base & building)
  • Lots of advice to help you achieve the best results

This isn’t a complicated project at all but there are a few places where one could stumble:

  • Not allowing pieces to fully dry between layers
  • Not considering mold prevention for finished items that you intend to keep long term (hint: salt is the trick)
  • Painting and/or sealing before it’s ready

How To Make Paper Mache

Everything you need is likely in your home already, this is a super simple DIY with no expensive supplies required and a suitable activity for kids.

Flour Paste Method (Recipe):

Flour Paste Recipe For Papier Mache
  • 1 cup Flour (2 parts)
  • 1 1/2 cups Water (3 parts)
  • 1/2 TBS salt (optional)
  • 1/4 cup white glue (optional)

Directions:

  • Mix the flour and water together with a wire whisk or fork until it is smooth with no lumps and has the consistency you want, should be similar to a heavy cream or a cream soup.
    • If you want to thicken the consistency, add flour. If you want to thin it, add a bit of water.
  • Add the tablespoon of salt.
    • The salt will help preserve the paste and prevent it from mold while the glue will help strengthen it.
  • Mix in the glue (if using).

Tips:

  • You can make larger (or smaller) batches as you need by using the basic ratio of 2 parts flour to 3 parts water.
  • If you’re working on a large item or need to take a break, cover the batch well with plastic wrap or seal with a lid. Store in the refrigerator & it should keep for a couple days. Let it come to room temperature before using again, stirring well first.

Glue Paste Method (Recipe):

  • White glue (2 parts)
  • Water (1 part)

Directions:

  • Mix the ingredients together until thoroughly incorporated.
    • Use popsicle sticks or wooden chopsticks to stir the recipe, they can be thrown out when done.

Tips:

  • Watch the mixture while building your project, the glue and water can separate during the process and may need to be stirred again.
  • Mix in old plastic containers with lids (margarine tubs work great), you can pop on the lid and the batch will keep for a few days.

Materials That Can Be Used To Build Layers

Various Papers Can Be Used In Paper Mache
  • Newspaper (most common)
  • Tissue paper
  • Paper towels
  • Printer sheets
  • Magazine & catalogue pages (the glossy finish can be more tricky to work with)

Note: Tear the sheets into strips of all shapes and sizes, pieces don’t need to be uniform in size.

Did You Know: Tearing pieces rather than cutting will break down the edges, this helps them dry a little smoother than strips that are blunt edged from being cut with scissors.

Suggestions For Foundation Materials

Before you can begin applying strips coated with paste, you need a basic form or foundation to build on. Here are some materials that work well:

Balloons Make An Ideal Base Structure
  • Balloons (can attach balloons together with masking tape to get the basic form you want)
  • Aluminum Foil (crumple and shape as desired)
  • Chicken Wire (shape as desired, mostly used for large structures like school volcanoes)
  • Crumpled Newspaper (basic shape secured with masking tape)
  • Small cardboard boxes (break down pieces to make square or rectangular shapes)

Quick Tip: To remove the base material from inside of the dried project, cut a slit at the back and remove what’s inside (or pop the balloon). Then cover the slit with a fresh layer of paper mache paste and allow to dry before proceeding with paint and varnish or sealant.

Instructions

The process couldn’t be simpler, the hardest part is creating the shape exactly the way you want it. After choosing your foundation base, here are the steps involved…

  • Dip a piece of paper into the paste, slathering it completely. Remove excess by running the strip between your thumb and forefinger.
  • Lay the strip on the base and smooth it out so that there are no air bubbles and the piece is flat against the form, smooth out edges with your fingers.
  • Add the next strip, overlapping some on the previous piece. This helps build strength to the object and prevents any part of the foundation from being uncovered.
  • Cover the base completely with one layer, then allow to dry before adding the next. Three to four layers are usually more than enough.
  • Once fully dried, you can remove the base materials (see note above) and stuff it well with plastic bags or crumpled newsprint to give the object some weight. This helps make it stable and adds some strength (so a bump or fall won’t dent it).
  • It’s now time for paint and embellishment!

General Notes

Building Up A Pinata
  • Before starting clear a large area and cover with garbage bags, plastic sheeting or several sheets of newsprint. This method of crafting is very messy!
  • Have plenty of paper torn & ready to go…the last you you want to do in the middle of a project is to stop, wash up & start tearing more paper so you can continue.
  • When building up the structure, allow each layer to dry completely before adding another, this helps keep the piece strong and also prevents mold growth.
  • Add a bit of salt to your recipe if it’s an item you plan on keeping for awhile. The salt helps prevent mold growth.
  • Adding a small amount of white glue to a basic flour & water mixture will give the paste added strength.
  • Acrylic paints are a good choice for painting surfaces, for best results ensure each coat of paint is fully dry before applying another coat.
  • Ensure the item is completely dry before finishing off with a spray varnish or sealant, bubble underneath may occur if you don’t.

How many layers are required? It depends on what’s being made, no one can really give you a definitive answer on that. A minimum would be 4 for something like a pinata (you want it “smashable” yet still strong enough to hold its contents for a few hits). Building on surfaces such as cardboard or frames of some sort would probably only need 3 (but depends on usage). Items that will be regularly used for some time should have several more. Intricate masks can take over a dozen!

Smoothing Out Rough Spots & Uneven Surfaces:

Glue, Wood Filler & Sandpaper To Smooth Out Roughness
  • Try fine sandpaper (be gentle) to smooth out rough bumps & edges.
  • Wood filler can fix bigger dents and stubborn seams.
  • Lightly sand the entire surface, apply a thin coat of the glue paste over the entire piece and once fully dried, sand again.
  • Gesso is another trick that pros use, apply a thick coat & sand when ready.

As you can see this is a very easy, economical craft and with a little practice working on shaping and finessing pieces, you can create some pretty amazing works of art. Have fun!

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Comments

    • Diana R.
    Reply

    When I had Cub Scouts, we made paper mache maraccas with light bulbs. After the paper mache was dry, we broke up the light bulb inside and then painted them. They make a great sound and you can paint them in different designs. My cub scouts made them for Cinco De Miyo in May and had their own little skit for the parents and wore Sombrero’s and painted on Mustaches. Really fun and they loved it!

    • ben
    Reply

    is it possible to make a large planter for indoor use? i’m thinking of using cardboard boxes, duct-taped together and then p-m’ing overtop of that.. do you think it’s strong enough to lift up with heavy plants and soil inside?? and would i line it with plastic bags?

      • Julie
      Reply

      I made a rock planter using a mix I found at the hardware store to put faux bricks on plywood for a heat resistant wall behind a woodstove. I used small gravel in the mix, patted it into a stainless steel bowl. It dried away from the bowl and made a great stone planter.

      • Kris
      Reply

      I’ve seen projects in books using several layers of cardboard glued together for the foundation of small furniture items. You could probably build a fairly strong planter with papier mache.

    • Marsha
    Reply

    If I have a project that will take a day or two to complete. Will the paste last or do I have to make a new patch?

    • Rose
    Reply

    Vaseline is good for if you want the base to come out without damaging the form.

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