Monday, May 17, 2010

An Assortment of Papier-Mache Projects

Above is an assortment of papier-mache projects from the past couple of years, done by kids in grades 3 and 5. I get bored easily, so I like to change it up a little each year, rather than repeating the same project.
  • The masks and tikis are from grade 3, as are the fish I posted last week. Another favorite of mine for the 3rd graders is Hopi Kachina dolls, using liquid dish detergent bottles and laundry detergent lids for heads for the basic armature. The tiki armature is a tennis ball container with a scoop of playground sand inside for weight. The mask armatures begin with paper lunch bags, stuffed with newspaper. We work on just one side of the stuffed bag, and when done, the stuffing is removed and the back of the bag is cut off. All of the projects use materials such as cereal box cardboard, cardboard tubes, bottlecaps, etc (and a lot of masking tape) for the features. Students are taught how to cut tabs for attaching, and the most effective ways to tape these features on before we use the "dog drool" (as our papier-mache is affectionately called).
  • The bugs, cats, ocean critters, rain sticks, and more are from 5th grade (oh why can't I locate my photos of the fabulous pigs my students made?). With the exception of the rain sticks, the armatures are mostly formed from plastic bags such as those from assorted bread products, and plastic grocery bags (for the fat cats). The bags are stuffed with newspaper and squeezed and taped to shape, and then wire, cardboard tubes, cardboard, etc are added to create the features/details. The nice thing about this process, rather than working with a taped-up wad of newspaper as a basic armature, is that it dries more quickly because the goo can't seep into the bag.
  • I know many people love to papier-mache over balloons. I've done it, but not since I had a major disaster. There is a hot air balloon festival in our region every fall, so it seemed like a great time to build hot air balloons in art class. We blew up balloons and put a coating of papier-mache over over them. I stayed in school late that afternoon catching up on some work, and suddenly, late in the afternoon, it sounded like gunshots were going off. I was alone on my hall, so for a moment I panicked. Then I realized that, evidently due to a change in temperature in my room, the balloons had started popping one-by-one, and I had to scurry to blow new balloons up inside of each of the couple dozen masses of oozing papier-mache. So no more balloon armatures for me!
  • One last thing about my papier-mache process: To begin, my students tear up newspapers into approx 1" wide strips, tearing with the grain of the newspaper to make it easy. But here's where my process is different: While most folks have the kids dip the strips in the goo, then use fingers to "scissor-off" the excess paste, the kids tend to use way too much paste this way. I have my students dip their FINGERS in the goo, then rub it generously on their palms. They touch a newspaper strip to pick it up, and rub it between their palms until it is translucent or saturated (both good vocab words). Then they place the strip on the project and give it a massage. They love this. I have them massage the whole thing. This process makes sure you don't have huge oozing masses of goo that take weeks to dry, but insures that enough goo is in the paper to make it dry firmly and strongly. As stated in a previous post, I use "art paste" that comes in a little box and makes 4 quarts. Unlike wheat-based products, nobody will be allergic, it doesn't itch if it dries on your skin, and it can be stored indefinitely without going bad. Maybe it's not the strongest product available, but it certainly makes doing papier-mache with kids very easy!!
  • If you'd like any further details about the how-to's on any of these various papier-mache structures, I'd be glad to respond. Let me know. The big thing is don't worry about storage, even if you don't have the proper art room. There's always a way to make it work. Cleanup is easy, and the kids are so engaged when doing papier-mache they are usually on best behavior. Don't let it scare you!!!


  1. Your projects look wonderful...your students are lucky to have you for a teacher. Where do you buy the art paste?

  2. Thank you DellaRae, I order the art paste from School Specialty but have also purchased from Nasco. It's a pretty common supply - look in any supply catalog either where the glues/pastes are located, or with all the papier-mache materials. I recently noticed that there is now an Elmer's product available that looks like a similar material. I usually trust Elmer's for good quality.

  3. Thanks for your nice comment on my blog!
    I love the bees and the fat black cat!
    Great idea to use filled tennis ball containers for the totem poles. I was lucky to get some cardboard tubes from a parent. Working in a group didn't give much problems, luckily. I'm sure it will not be easy in all groups, but working together should be practiced somehow.

  4. I love that idea of using paper bags as an armature for the masks! I wasn't sure how you did it in a previous post, but I see here you mention that after it's all done you cut the bag open in the back so the kids can use it as a mask? I will be beginning masks this week with my 4th graders and didn't know how to start. Wouldn't the mask be flimsy without the stuffing? Or does the paper mache bond to the bag well enough to make it nice and hard?

    Also, I see you used art paste? Any experience with this stuff?
    I bought it (before I knew about art paste) because I have some kids with gluten allergies but I'm not sure how it works since it's 100% paper pulp. Maybe I just need to experiment with it ;)

    1. First of all, Mary, these are not masks to WEAR - they are masks to display. I have other posts about making them here:
      and here:

      The masks hold together quite well. We also put on a coat of gesso, which definitely strengthens them, and then acrylic paint. They won't be as solid if you are using tempera. It's the same as if you papier-mache over a balloon, and you pop out the balloon. But with the bag, you've got the extra layer of the paper of the bag remaining inside. Does this make sense?

      I used the stuff you mentioned years ago but honestly don't remember what it was like. Sorry! But I have mixed shredded paper with the art paste and worked it into a pulp and we use for to create rock for cave paintings. It's really strong, so I imagine that the stuff is similar to this.

  5. Hi Phyl! First off, I love your blog! Your lessons inspire me daily to take it one step further with my students! I work part time in a few private schools so my space ,time and materials are sometimes limited...but I always try to squeeze in a papier mache project with my different grades every year...And I really don't like papier mache!!! But the kids love it and I don't have a kiln so I cant do clay. Anyway, last year I created Paier mache snow people with my first graders and the process was a disaster!! They turned out cute in the end but I pulled my hair out for weeks in the process...I have a bug paper mache lesson planned for our upcoming spring art show but would love some advice on process or materials you might have.... Thanks so much!- Kathleen

    1. Artsy Mama, I d love to help you, soince papier-mâché is my absolute favorite thing. It can be so easy with some simple tips; no need for disaster! I have taught several workshops in papier-mâché at my state conferences. It would be much easier to advise you via email, though. You can email me at plbrown3 at yahoo dot com. (I'm sure you can translate that, right?). I usually answer emails on the same day I receive them.

    2. Kathleen, please let me know how I can contact you to help!