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15 Paper Mache Tips and Techniques

By Edited Jun 19, 2016 1 2

15 Best Tips for Making Paper Mache
Paper or papier mache, as it is also known, is a particularly exciting craft that only needs a small selection of tools and materials for you to get started. Paper, adhesive and just a bit of imagination provide the basic elements to create almost anything that you can think of. It is suitable as a fun activity for kids to enjoy and for adult hobbyists too.

There are all sorts of items that you can either decorate or build from scratch using this technique. Many people start with making masks for Halloween, Mardi Gras or even cosplay. I like to make items that I can display in the home to help make the decor look unique. 

It is easy to decorate the surface of items such as ornaments, bowls and keepsake boxes and that is a great way to start. Forms such as balloons and paper twisted and taped into place allow you to make three-dimensional sculptures. Whatever you want to make using this craft, it is an inexpensive and fun activity for creating hand crafted items. 

15 Tips Ideal for Adult Crafters who Enjoy this Paper Craft

1. If you are new to this craft, aim to begin with some easier projects so that you can really just get used to the process of making paper mache first. An example of something easy to start with is to cover the lid of an old jewelry box. Another idea is to decorate the frame around a picture, photo or even a mirror which is easy to do. Just make sure to cover up the glass before you start so that it is not spoiled with glue.

When choosing simpler projects, look for relatively flat surfaces that you can work over using this paper and glue technique instead of a surface which is bumpy and more difficult to cover. You could look for an old hardcover book to decorate and work across the front of it, just so that you get used to and confident with this rather unique crafting process.

2. The size of the project that you choose does matter with this craft. Projects that are large and ambitious may take up too much time and end up frustrating you if they don’t go to plan. Opt for a smaller sized area to work over and I recommend no larger than a standard letter or A4 size of paper for beginners to work with.

3. Paper mache is messy but you can contain this if you organize yourself well before you start. I prefer to work on a large tray; this has the added benefit of being ultra-portable to move around so I am always sitting in good light. If you are especially worried about your work surface and the risk of it getting dirty, an inexpensive plastic table cover is a good idea. 

Choosing and Using Papers for this Craft

4. Paper mache gradually builds up over many layers of paper. The more layers that you have, the tougher the finished item is. Strength and durability is especially important with an item such as a mask that you may need to wear more than once. 

My recommendation is to save your best papers and prints for the top layers where they will be visible. This can help you to cut the cost of this craft and save you from wasting your best paper supply. Newspaper or print is an ideal material to use for the initial layers of paper, forming the base of your design. Decorative scrapbook papers are what I like to use on the final layers.

5. So how do you calculate just how many layers of paper you will need? The amount will depend entirely on the type of project that you are making. An easy and simple craft project such as decorating a flat book cover or a frame may only need 2-3 layers in total. A more complex and elaborate design such as a three-dimensional sculpture may need several layers of paper until you get your desired thickness. Sculptures need more layers to make them nice and robust.

6. It can really help if you organize all your torn up paper pieces before you start. I like to place torn newsprint in one large bowl and then decorative papers in separate bowls according to pattern or color themes. Although you can end up tearing much more than you actually need for the project, it is a lot easier to do this while your hands are clean and dry still.

Torn Papers Provide Softer Edges

The image belongs to the author of this article, Marie Williams Johnstone.

7. You can either cut or tear papers into smaller sizes ready to glue on to your project. Torn edges have a much softer look to them when glued and colors and patterns can blend together better than cut edges. They also stick down well giving a nicer finished appearance to your project.

Advice on the Application of Glue

8. Since I don’t like to get my hands messy, I prefer to use an old brush to paste the wet adhesive or white glue straight on to the project. A brush helps to keep my hands clean for picking up pieces of paper as I work. It also helps with spreading the glue on evenly. Instead of a brush for applying glue you can also use a piece of sponge, a small cloth or even your fingers if you enjoy getting messy. 

My technique is to apply the adhesive to a small area of the project before placing a piece of paper on it. I then use a brush to spread glue over the top of the torn paper and then repeat with the next piece of paper slightly overlapping the edge of the previous one. This process is something I continue until the end of a layer. Then I allow the project to dry and use the same process for the next layer. You may use this technique or find your own preferred way of working this craft.

9. If you choose to use finer papers, you should end up with a smoother result. Newsprint works well for the base layers because it is quite thin. If this is not your desired look, however, there are other types of papers and some that have bumpy or rough textures. I have fun experimenting with different types of papers and even looking out for free wallpaper samples just to get the specific result that I'm looking for.

10. When you place paper pieces down on to your papier mache project, try to put them in slightly different directions and angles as you work. Doing this will add in more strength and stability to your completed item which is more important with three-dimensional sculptures.

Working Over an Object to Make a 3D Design

The image belongs to the author of this article, Marie Williams Johnstone.

11. When you begin to make three-dimensional items, you can start by working your pieces of paper and glue over objects such as bowls, balloons and other items to create an initial shape. You may need to cover these objects over with some plastic cut from a bag or wrap. You can use any non-cling type of plastic which you can secure into place with some masking tape. Prop up your container on top of other items such as heavy cups or bottles so that you have an easy way to reach all the edges and sides as you work.

Painting and Varnishing Completed Paper Sculptures

12. Make sure that your project is completely dry before you attempt to paint or varnish over it. In the same way, I prefer to dry each layer off before starting on a new one. Some crafters prefer to work on top of the wet layer beneath but I believe this compromises the long-term strength and durability of the item. Not allowing layers to dry completely can potentially shorten the life-span of your completed work.

13. Often I will start another craft activity while the project is drying. If you make lots of paper mache, it can help to work in batches. You can do this by working on layers of multiple items in one session and then allowing them all to dry overnight. On a warm and fine day, you can dry your projects outside or leave them so that they can air dry indoors instead. 

14. Acrylic craft paints available in either bottles or tubes work very well on your completed projects. You want to mix these up with a small amount of water to thin them out a little and apply the paint on with a brush. You can choose from a bristle brush or a foam brush. The downside with a bristle brush is that occasionally the bristles fall out into your work.

15. Whether you choose to add paint over the top of your design or not, using a varnish coat or a sealant such as Mod Podge will help to protect your completed paper mache item and prevent chips from forming and spoiling your design. [1]

Note: This post contains affiliate links for which I may be compensated.

Imagine it First, Then Make It

Paper mache is a craft that anyone can enjoy. It is not hard to do and it is also inexpensive if you recycle paper used from old magazines, newspapers and even books. You can use it to decorate objects that you already have around the home such as mirror and picture frames and trinket boxes. Or you can use it to build a sculpture completely from scratch. I hope these tips inspired you to either make a start or take this craft pastime just a bit further.

Image Credits: The introductory image belongs to the author, Marie Williams Johnstone. All other images (unless watermarked with the author’s name) are product photos from Amazon.



Nov 9, 2015 6:55pm
I have always wanted to start this hobby. Guess one of these days, I will have to start and see if I can do anything beautiful. Nice article.
Nov 10, 2015 12:55am
Paper mache is luckily a craft that is easy to get in to and you may already have what you need to start. If you begin with a small project like decorating an unwanted hardcover book then you can get used to the technique without worrying about the risk of spoiling anything if you don't like the effect. Thanks for your comment.
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  1. "Learn How to Mod Podge." Mod Podge Rocks. 5/01/2016 <Web >

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