When I saw a photo of a long-beaked echidna in a New York Times article, I knew I had found my next paper mache project. This critter is so absurd, he’s adorable!
This is a fairly advanced project, and you will need to use some sharp tools to cut the wooden toothpicks and for making holes for the spines. These tools can cause serious injury if you’re not careful. Very young children will need some help from an adult.
For this project you will need some cardboard, newsprint, brown paper (a paper bag will work), some masking tape, white flour, a sheet of single-ply paper towel, about 100 round wooden toothpicks, and acrylic craft paint. You’ll also need an old pair of scissors or other sharp tool to cut the toothpicks, and a sharp awl, nail or electric drill to poke the holes for the spines.
I also use some joint compound, which you can find at your local hardware store, to smooth the sculpture between layers of paper mache. This is not absolutely needed, but it does make it a lot easier to get exactly the shape you want without adding lots of layers of paper mache.
Making the Pattern
When I made my paper mache horse I discovered that it really helps if you build an animal around a cardboard pattern. You can draw your own pattern right on a piece of cardboard, or you can use mine.
- To download a printable PDF pattern, right click here and save the file to your computer.
A real long-beaked echidna can be as big as 36 inches long. I made my echidna a lot smaller, about 9 inches from the tip of his snout to his rear end (he has no tail). If you want to use my pattern but make your paper mache echidna a different size, use the grid lines to transfer your pattern onto a larger or smaller piece of paper. (You can see how I did this with my horse pattern here).
When you work on your echidna you’ll want to look at reference photos. Here’s one from the Wikipedia website:
You can find another very echidna nice photo here.
Once you have your pattern, cut it out and place it on your cardboard. Trace around the pattern. You’ll need to make two front legs and two hind legs.
Then bend the legs as you see in the photo above.
- The hind legs need to be bent at the knee and the ankle. The paws on the hind feet look like little primate hands, and they point sideways when the animal is standing.
- The front legs need to be twisted a bit so the front feet point forward, and then bent at the wrist so the feet will lay flat on the ground.
Building the Form with Newspaper and Masking Tape.
Now crumple some sheets of newspaper into a flattened ball and tape it securely to the body of your echidna pattern. Then make another one and tape it to the other side of your pattern.
Make a much smaller flattened ball for one side of the echidna’s neck. Tape it on securely, and then do the same for the other side.
Making the Head and Adding the Legs
The head is smaller than the neck, and it slopes into the long snout. Add paper to both sides of the pattern to make the head and snout.
Then tape the legs onto the body. Set the echidna down on your table to see if it balances. You may need to bend the feet some more to make them sit flat on the table.
As you can see in the photos above, the legs on one side are closer together than the legs on the other side. This give the impression that the echidna is walking.
Padding the Legs
Now flip your sculpture over on his back and stuff small wads of newspaper between the legs and the body, up by the echidna’s “armpits.” This will force the legs to spread out a bit.
Now crumple some paper and tape it to the inside of the legs, to round them out a little.
Finishing the Legs
Turn your echidna right-side up and add more paper crumples to the outsides of the legs.
Now you can add another wad of paper to round out his body between the legs. You are now finished making the newspaper and masking tape form, and you’re ready to start adding the paper mache.
The First Layer of Paper Mache
Mix up some paste in a small bowl, using water and white flour. Add enough water to make a paste with the consistency of heavy cream. Mix really well so there are no lumps.
Tear newspaper into short, narrow strips, and dip one side into the paste. Pull the wet strips against the side of the bowl to remove the excess paste, and then smooth the strips down onto the sculpture. Completely cover the tummy and legs, and then allow the sculpture to dry. Then turn the echidna right-side up and cover the head and back.
You don’t need to add any paper mache to the feet at this time. We’ll work on the feet and toes when we add the second layer of paper.
I speed up the drying of my sculptures by placing them in a warm oven, at 225F (107C). Never put a paper mache sculpture in an oven that’s hotter than that, because it may warp or burn. You don’t need to dry your sculpure in an oven – it will dry overnight in normal room temperature.
Smoothing the Sculpture with Joint Compound
When the first layer of paper and paste is completely dry, you can use sheetrock joint compound to smooth and round off the sculpture. You can also use the joint compound to accent any details, like the dip between the fat neck and the head.
Allow the joint compound to dry, and then lightly sand it.
Adding the Second Layer of Paper Mache
Tear your brown paper in to strips, and start adding them to your sculpture. Work on the tummy and legs first. Use very narrow strips to cover the bottom of the feet (but not the toes). When the tummy, legs and feet are covered, turn the sculpture right-side up and place the feet on plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Use the foil if you dry your sculpture in the oven.
Placing the feet on the plastic or foil when they’re wet will set the feet into the right position, and make sure the finished sculpture sits firmly on the ground.
Now continue adding your brown paper and paste to the rest of the sculpture, and let it dry.
Working on the Toes
Tear a small square of single-ply paper towel and dip it into your paste. Fold it into a rectangle that will fit onto the top of a foot, above the toes. This will give the foot a more realistic shape. Make sure there’s enough paste on the toweling to stick it onto the foot. Do the same for the other three feet.
Now tear really narrow strips of your paper towel and cover the toes. You will probably need two strips for each toe. Use a modeling tool or the edge of a knife to push the toweling into the spaces between the toes to keep them separate.
Note – the toes on my echidna are not as fat as they look in photos of real echidnas. You may want to make your toes more realistic than I did by adding more paper.
When the toes are covered, use small strips of brown paper to cover the wrist. This will make the foot look nice, and reinforce the joint between the leg and the foot.
Sculpting the Eye
You will need a short narrow strip of paper towel for the eye. Dip your paper strip in the paste, roll it up, and then form it into a donut-shape to create the upper and lower eyelid. The donut should be a little thicker for the top eyelid.
After you stick your little paper donuts on both sides of the head, go back and use small flat pieces of paper towel and paste them over the donut and the surrounding face.
Be careful to not lose the detail – the extra pieces are used to smooth out the shape of the eyelid and attach it firmly to the face.
Now tear off a very small piece of paper towel, dip it in the paste, and roll it into a tiny eyeball. Drop the ball of paper into the middle of the donut.
Adding the Spines
OK – this part is slightly dangerous, so be really careful!
First lightly sand your sculpture if needed. Use a pencil to draw evenly-spaced spots on the back and sides of your echidna. The critter has no spines on the lower parts of his legs.
Use a nail, an awl, or an electric drill to poke holes where you’ve drawn your spots. Angle the holes so the spines will go in at the correct angle – pointing downward at the rear and sides, and more verticle on the top.
The spines are made out of the points of round wooden toothpicks which have been cut about 1 inch long.You will also need some spines that are cut shorter, for the top of your echidna’s head.
I cut my echidna’s spines with an old pair of scissors. You may have a tool in your toolbox that would be more appropriate for this purpose.
- Caution! When cutting the toothpicks, the end you are not holding will fly a surprising distance. Make sure there is nobody else at your table who could be hit in the eye with these sharp points.
The sculpture will be difficult to handle when some of the spines are attached, so go back and make sure all the holes big enough for the toothpicks to fit in easily before you start pasting them in.
Once your toothpicks are cut to the right length, dip the cut end into your flour and water paste and poke the end into the holes.
Allow the paste to dry completely.
Painting Your Sculpture
To paint my echidna, I mixed some acrylic craft paint with water to make a wash. I used Burnt Umber with a little bit of Yellow. I did not use gesso or primer, because I wanted the mottled look of the brown paper and paste to show through.
The wash was painted on with a large brush. Then I mixed some of the brown paint with Antique White paint to make a very light tan. This was brushed onto the spines.
The eye was painted black, and when the black paint was dry I used the point of a left-over toothpick as a brush to make a spot of reflected light in each eye, using the Antique White paint.
When the paint was dry I finished it by brushing on a coat of matte latex glaze. Any type of varnish or Verathane would work fine.
The Finished Paper Mache Long-Beaked Echidna
The finished echidna sculpture isn’t much fun to hold, since all those spines are sharp! But he’s certainly a unique piece of art.
Enjoy! If you make one of these crazy critters, or if you just have something to say, please add your comments below.