Most creative hobbies require the purchase of expensive art supplies or equipment. This is not true for paper mache sculpture, so anyone can enjoy this art form. More and more adult artists are discovering this medium because the resulting sculpture is as hard and durable as carved wood, but making a paper mache sculpture takes only a few dollars in supplies.
The process of creating the sculpture is also easy, especially if you build your sculptures around simple armatures made from crumpled newspaper held together with masking tape. The only “real” art supplies you’ll need are acrylic paint and an acrylic varnish to finish the piece and protect it.
In fact, all you really need are torn paper strips, some crumpled newspaper, a roll of masking tape, and some paper mache paste.
There are several recipes for paper mache paste, and all of them work well. The easiest is the one I use most often myself. When you use this paste recipe with several layers of torn newsprint strips, you will end up with a very hard surface that can be sanded and painted just like wood. To make this simple paste, put some white flour in a bowl and add enough water to mix the paste into the consistency of heavy cream. An electric mixer is handy, but a spoon will do.
Some people prefer the more traditional boiled paper mache paste recipe. This paste will dry more clearly than the raw paste shown above, so the color of the paper itself will show through on the final piece. To make boiled paste, mix a heaping tablespoon of white flour with a cup of water in a small saucepan and stir until there are no lumps. Put the pan on the stove at medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and allow to cool. The paste will be very runny at this stage, but it will gel as it cools.
The final recipe isn’t really a recipe at all. It’s just plain white glue, which you can mix with a bit of water to thin it. The glue has the advantage of not being organic, so fungi and crawling critters aren’t attracted to it. However, it is more difficult to work with because it will stick to your hands.
If you intend to make a paper mache sculpture that needs to be waterproof because you’ll be displaying it outside, you can find a waterproof carpenter’s glue at your local hardware store. This type of glue is expensive, and will cost about $30 for a gallon container. It can be thinned with water. The resulting sculpture will be extremely hard, often even harder than wood. To finish an outside sculpture, you will need marine spar varnish to protect it from rain.