Edit, 10/25/09. When I first tried this recipe for DIY instant paper mache it worked well. Since then, whenever I combine all three ingredients the goop instantly turns into something resembling rubber, and it can’t be used.
I think this may have worked the first time because a chemical used in the cellulose insulation may have been unevenly distributed in the bag. My first batch must not have had any of that chemical in the mix, (it’s probably the boron used for fireproofing and fungus control) so the first batch worked just fine. Other people have gotten this recipe to work every time, so it may depend on the brand of insulation you buy.
Click here for a much better paper clay recipe that is amazingly strong. It is a much better home-made product than the one shown in this old post.
I’m right in the middle of a project that is taking way longer than I thought it would. I needed a break, so I thought I’d show you how I make my own instant paper mache. I used it to make the funny face shown here, but I’m sure you can think of many other things to use it for.
I normally like to use the laminated type of papier mache – where you just tear strips of paper into pieces and attach them to a form using flour and water paste. However, many artists use paper pulp mixed with paste to make beautiful sculptures.
The traditional method of making this pulped paper is to soak paper (like newsprint) in water overnight and then press out as much water as you can. If the paper doesn’t separate out into little bits, some people boil it in water. Then a glue or paste is added, and it’s ready to use. I’ve never been very excited about it because it takes so long to dry, and I don’t usually want the texture that the pulp imposes on the piece. That’s just me, of course..
Art stores sell products that fix some of these problems by grinding the paper very fine and then mixing the powder with plaster. The powdered product is mixed with water just before use, it has a smooth texture, and it will set up stiff in just a few minutes. Sometimes, in fact, it sets up so quickly and becomes so hard that it’s difficult to finish a project fast enough.
A few days ago I threw together some left-over items from my latest home remodeling project, and I came up with what I’m calling DIY Instant Paper Mache. You probably won’t have some of these things on hand, and the paper itself comes in such a large package that it would keep many art students happy for a long time. However, if you’re doing some remodeling yourself or if you know anyone who is, you may be able to scrounge up the ingredients for some easy-to-make, super-cheap, and easy to use instant paper mache.
First, you need to gather your ingredients. You find these items at your local hardware store or building supply store – not the art store.
- Joint Compound – it comes in several different size containers, and it’s fairly cheap. The container shown above is one gallon, and it cost about $8.00. If you have a big class, it is less expensive to buy it in the five-gallon containers. If it is very stiff when you open the container, you can add a little bit of water and stir it in. Joint compound is designed to easily cover the joints between large pieces of plaster board so you don’t see any seams on your wall. It isn’t plaster, but it does dry into a plaster-like finish that you can easily sand and paint.
- Wood Glue – I use Titebond II because that’s what they sell at my local hardware store. A gallon costs about $14.00, but it lasts a very long time. You won’t need very much. In fact, you can leave it out completely if you want to, but the finished sculpture may not be as strong.
- Cellulose Insulation – This is made from old newspapers, and it comes in a package about the size of a bale of hay. This package contains enough tiny bits of shredded paper to insulate 40 square feet of attic space – that’s a lot of paper – but it costs less than $10.00. In addition to the paper itself, it usually contains an anti-fungal ingredient. It’s also somewhat dusty or powdery. To keep the dust out of your lungs you should use a face mask if you intend to mix up a lot of this DIY paper mache.
If you’ve made up the traditional paper mache pulp before, it’s important to note that this recipe does not require you to soak the paper first. In fact, the product will firm up quickly (while still being soft enough to work) because the dry paper bits soak up the liquid from the glue and joint compound. As you see above, we’ll be using just a bit of cellulose insulation, in it’s dry form.
First, put some joint compound in your container. The glue and paper won’t add much volume, so use as much joint compound as you think you’ll need for your sculpture. Then add a bit of wood glue. You may need to experiment to see how much glue will work for your project. Too much wood glue will make the product very sticky (you’ll need to keep your fingers and tools wet to keep the paper mache from sticking to them). If you don’t use any glue at all the finished item will be easier to break. Play with it – this stuff is cheap!
Note: I used this recipe, with enough wood glue to color the product yellow, for the eyelashes on my paper mache giraffe.
Start adding your cellulose insulation bits just a little at a time. Mix well, and keep adding paper until you have the texture you like. The paper will begin to soak up the liquid in the joint compound and glue, so the more paper you add, the stiffer your instant paper mache will be while you work with it.
In the photo above I’ve mixed in my paper and the product is now stiffened enough to use for my little funny-face sculpture. If you want to make a more elaborate sculpture you will need an armature or form – and since this is really an experimental recipe, be sure to test it and play with it before using this recipe for any important projects!
If you’d like to test your new instant paper mache by making a little funny face, like the one shown at the top of this page, spread about 1/4 inch of the product on a plastic surface and start sculpting. I made my work surface by wrapping wide plastic tape over a scrap piece of cardboard. The paper mache won’t stick to it.
You can add bits of your instant paper mache to build up your form, but you should keep the depth under 1/2 inch so the paper mache can dry uniformly.
The original sketch I used for this face actually came to me while sitting in the bathroom looking at the patterns on the vinyl tile. I’m sure that’s more info than you needed, but have you ever looked at a cloud or the texture on a wall or random patterns on a floor and suddenly you see a face or animal? If you look away and then look back again, you may not be able to find the image that seemed so clear just a few seconds ago.
If you have a sketch pad handy, try to copy the face or critter – you’ll come up with a drawing that is probably different than anything you’d normally do. That’s certainly the case with these faces.
I’ve been wanting to do some little faces for a long time, after reading Ode to the Human Face: Seeing/Molding the Human Face As Meditation.
Allow your little sculpture to dry naturally. I tried to rush mine by putting it on a radiator, and it started to crack around the little fellow’s nose. Once the piece is completely dry it will be very hard. However, you can soften it up again by soaking it in water. To protect it for permanent display you can use any paint. I’m experimenting with Kakishibu, a finish made in Japan from fermented persimmons. It is supposed to mellow and darken into beautiful brown tones over time.
And – the finished funny face, placed in a cheap frame (glass removed):
If you decide to experiment with DIY Instant Paper Mache, we’d all love to hear about it!