Paper mache is a basic and simple craft consisting of strips of paper shaped and held together with adhesive. It can also be spelled “papier mâché”, meaning, “chewed paper” in French. Paper mache projects run the gamut from piñatas to artwork. It is simple enough for small children to enjoy, but versatile enough to be used for more sophisticated work.
The first step is to make a form onto which you’ll slather your paste and paper. The simplest form is a simple inflated balloon, which works well for any round shaped project such as a paper mache piglet. You can also create a base form out of cardboard, held together with masking tape. Chicken wire also makes for a base that can be crafted into any number of shapes.
When your form is ready it’s time to prepare the paper for the paper mache. Newspaper is the easiest material, and perfectly suited for the process. Tear it into strips one to two inches wide. The length can vary, depending on the size of your project. Cut up plenty, as you’ll need to go through a process of layering the paper.
Next, it’s time to prepare the paste. The simplest recipe starts with just a cup of flour. Then add water until it reaches a consistency similar to heavy cream. You can also boil half of the necessary water, and add a couple tablespoons of sugar, for a stronger yet smoother paste. Another trick is to add a pinch of salt to prevent mold as the paste dries if you live in a humid environment.
Take a strip of the paper and dredge it through the bowl of paste. Make sure it’s saturated with paste, running it through your fingers to remove the excess liquid. Then smooth it over the surface of the form. Repeat this process with other strips, covering the form. Overlap the strips so you’ve got one solid layer which should then be allowed to dry completely – this will usually take anywhere from 12 to 24 hours.
Repeat the process of pasting, layering and drying until the shape is sturdy and has taken on the desired look – usually three layers will do the trick, but one more or less would work just fine. When the final layer has dried it is time to decorate your creation.
One tip is to use strips of white paper – for instance, plain computer paper, or unprinted newsprint – for the final layer so that you won’t need a base layer of paint to hide the ink on the newspaper. Otherwise, start by painting the surface with white acrylic paint, or cover it with gesso, to give yourself a clean canvas to work with. Then let your imagination run wild as you paint and decorate. Acrylic paints are recommended, and as with the paper mache process, you’ll want to work in layers, allowing time for the paint to dry in between.