Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Winter Wonderland DIY Tutorial (Paper Mache)

   This Christmas I decided, only a few short weeks in advance that it would be a good occasion to try my hand at an art form I have always admired. Paper mache sculptures. I have long held a liking for those creepy vintage looking Halloween characters they always feature in magazines like Country Living and whatnot. They are perfectly eerie and whimsical... so how could Christmas figures created in like spirit not be downright cool? 

   Well, cool they did indeed turn out. At least in the reviews given by the people they were gifted to... and honestly in my own opinion as well. But, as with seemingly all new crafting endevours they turned out to be more than I bargained for in the actual making. The recipe for the paper mache clay I used can be found here. The only thing that I would note is pay close attention to the section on differences in toilet paper brands and how that affects the proportions of the recipe. My super cheapo paper roll wound up requiring that I double the recipe entirely.

   Here's the basics of what you need (I intentionally omitted the Linseed oil)

   Also note that while the recipe states that it takes 5 minutes to make, I did not find this to be true. Unrolling the toilet paper itself took longer than that. It may be that I had to double the recipe due to the amount of pulp the paper created, or that I work slow my first time doing anything I'm entirely new to, but I would guesstimate that in all creating the clay took around 30 minutes.

I had a LOT more clay than I wound up needing.

   As for making the sculptures themselves the clay was very easy to work with aside from being somewhat sticky and if used without gloves very drying to the skin. I did not use a frame of any kind, and while this clay is really geared more towards larger projects that are hollow like traditional paper mache sculptures, I found that they still dried in a reasonable amount of time and were very sturdy. The first two snowmen I put together I rolled up like a real life snowmen and stacked them. This resulted in me having to glue the head and body sections together after the fact. It was easily remedied moving forward by using a toothpick to texturize both pieces where they would be joined together and then blending the clay around the joint together until it became more of a smooth indentation all the way around versus two separate balls stacked one on top of the other. I repeated that process with all appendages such as noses, arms, hats, scarves and for one lucky guy a neck tie!

   It was helpful to cover my entire work surface in saran wrap and to have a shallow container of water (for wetting gloves, etc), a stash of toothpicks, gloves and paper towels within arms reach. You will notice in the process of molding your sculpture that the only way to get a reasonable usage out of your gloves and toothpicks before needing to discard them due to hardened clay particles stuck to them is to dip them in the water frequently, dry with paper towel to remove as much of what was loosened in that process as possible then re-wet them slightly to prevent new build up. It's an uphill battle and eventually you will need to replace both, which is why it's important to have extras nearby.

   I of course waited too long to get started and didn't leave multiple days for drying (it takes about 2 without intervention) so I took a chance and stuck them in the oven at 200° F for roughly 45 minutes. This dried them enough to paint. It took another day or two for the inside to dry entirely, but they were still surprisingly durable despite a doughy core. For paint I just used basic inexpensive craft store paints and some cheap paint brushes. The paint applied extremely easily and dried really fast on the paper mache surface. I started with white all over and came back an hour later to finish up the rest with no problems.

   So there you have it, miniature snowmen in all their glory. I will be playing around with this medium in the future to see what kind of creatures I can create with it. All in all it was a very pleasurable worthwhile experience, short self-imposed deadlines aside.

Supplies bought at Menards and JoAnn Fabrics

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