Paper mache is a well-known and incredibly versatile arts and crafts activity. Not only is it great fun, but it's also quite simple. Often, you already have everything you need around the house. Once you have mastered the basic technique, there's no end fo the creative projects you can cook up with your new hobby.
As with all the best arts and craft projects, paper mache can get a little bit messy, and you'll need a fair bit of room to spread out. Clear everything off the dining room table, and lay down some tarp or old newspapers to minimize the amount of clean up. If you are doing this activity with children, you may also want to lay something down under the table to catch any paste or paint drips.
For traditional paper mache, you'll need a lot of paper, torn into strips around 1x3 inches. Newspaper is ideal for paper mache, as it eagerly absorbs the paste. Other types of paper work too, but the thicker, the less malleable they will be, and your final project may look less smooth. On the other end of the scale, tissue paper is mostly too weak and falls apart when wet, and standard printer paper often has a glossy finish, which means it doesn't absorb liquid very easily.
Once your paper is prepared, you'll need to create your paste. Flour and water is a common paper mache adhesive, but you can also use a craft glue thinned with water. Mix equal parts flour and water until you have a paste with a glue-like consistency. Sifting the flour first gets rid of the lumps, ensuring your paste is goes on smooth.
Most paper mache designs require some kind of mold around which you can lay your paper strips. Balloons are a popular choice — you can create a round, oval, or bowl shape, then simply deflate the balloon when the paper mache has dried. If you require a different shape, you might need to create your own mold.
If the balloon idea is just not going to work, there are a couple of other options for creating leave-in molds to make your life easier. You might try constructing the shape you want from cardboard. Cut up the pieces you need and stick them together with masking tape. This is a popular method for creating animals and is frequently used for piñatas. The paper mache will keep the taped shape together once it dries. Alternatively, soak paper in water to create a pulp, and use this putty-like substance to craft some unique and interesting shapes.
Once you have your mold, you can begin. If you choose to use an object such as a bowl, putting a thin layer of petroleum jelly on it will make it easier to remove once the paper mache has dried.
Dip the strips of paper into the paste, wipe off the excess, and place them on the mold. Use a paintbrush to smooth down the paper and remove air bubbles. Overlap each piece of paper slightly. Do this until you have three layers of paper mache.
You will need to allow your paper mache time to dry before the next step. Be conservative in your paste use, as the layers can start to peel away due to their weight if you use too much. If you have used cardboard to create your mold, it could also collapse under the weight of too much paste. You may need to leave your artwork for as long as 24 hours for it to completely dry.
Once the first three layers of paper have dried, you'll want to repeat steps six and seven again. Depending on the intended use of your project, you may want to do this two or three more times to ensure the piece is as solid as it needs to be. Finishing off with a layer or two of white paper will make your piece easier to paint.
If you used a balloon, removing the mold will be a piece of cake — simply deflate the balloon. However, if you used an object such as a bowl, this step could be a little trickier. You need to ensure that your model is dry all the way through, so it doesn't collapse in on itself when the mold is gone. Gently prise the object out. You will find that this is much easier if you added that layer of petroleum jelly before you started applying the paper.
Once your paper mache model is complete, you can really let your imagination run wild for decoration. Acrylic is the best choice for painting, but you don't have to stop there. Embellish with appliques, scrunch or layer tissue paper for textured color, or add more shaped features with putty. If you have a rounded shape, set your artwork in a small bowl to stop it moving around while you work on this step. When it looks how you want, cover it all with varnish or acrylic sealing spray to make it last that much longer.