My Favorite Sculpting Medium- Paper Mache Clay

I love turning junk mail into something useful-

I had been looking for a more versatile medium that ceramic clay and after looking into recipes for cold porcelain and flour clay came across a site with recipes for making clay out of toilet paper, glue and a few other fairly easy to find household ingredients. it seemed simple enough to make and it would be easier to shape the forms I had floating around in my head. Plus it didn’t require firing after formation.

The main ingredient- Junk mail and old receipts

I wanted to use random ephemera for the piece I had in mind and went ahead a shredded up a bunch of old receipts and junk mail. After soaking it in water for a few days I drained the now mushy paper, added some glue, mineral oil, flour, drywall joint compound and whiting (powdered calcium carbonate) and processed it all together with an electric mixer until it formed a thick paste about the consistency of cake frosting. While the first batch was not easy to sculpt with it worked well for coating armatures. With a little tweaking the recipe could be altered into something that could be used to make freestanding sculptures.

This is the recipe I came up with:

Paper Mache Clay

*You can use any kind of white glue (Polyvinyl acetate or PVA) but I find the Artist/conservation quality adhesives (I use Lineco brand) will give you a more durable and less brittle final product.

*You want all purpose drywall joint compound- the regular stuff  from DAP will give you a rubbery mess.

*The whiting (powdered calcium carbonate) acts as a smooth bulking agent as well as a buffering agent that will neutralize any acids in the paper stock. The oil and glycerin act to keep some moisture in the material so it won’t become to brittle over time. The clove oil acts as a natural preservative- if you’ll be using this mixture quickly this ingredient can be skipped.

*For a pastier clay that can be spread over forms like cake frosting add 3/4 cup of joint compound, an extra tablespoon of mineral oil and a 1/2 cup of all purpose flour to the mix.

Ingredients-

  • Several cups of shredded paper- junk mail and office bond paper work great.
  • 1/4 of a cup each all purpose drywall joint compound and whiting
  • 1 tbsp mineral oil
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable glycerin
  • 4-8 drops clove essential oil
  • 3/4 cup PVA glue

Step 1- place your paper shreds in large bowl or bucket and add water enough to cover. Let soak, covered for 1-4 days or so. Some recipes call for boiling the paper but I don’t find that step necessary. A few days soak is usually enough to turn most papers into mush. A couple drops of clove oil will keep bacteria from developing. I usually make a huge batch of this clay at a time so I just fill up a 5 gallon paint bucket with paper scraps.

Step 2- Drain the water off and squeeze as much of it out of the paper as possible. I usually just dump the bucket of paper shreds into a pillow case and then twist up the open end until no more water will drip out. Set the paper aside.

Fairly easy to obtain ingredients

Step 3- Place 2 cups of the drained paper shreds into a large bowl or bucket. You can freeze or refrigerate any extra paper for later use. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly- an electric mixer works wonderfully for this process. Since I make multiple batches at once I just place everything in a big paint bucket and knead the ingredients for 5 to 10 minutes (like bread dough) until it looks fairly consistent. Then I place a few scoops at a time into a mixing bowl and process with the electric mixer. Note: Do Not use bowls, spoons or other equipment used for mixing up this clay for food purposes later!

Looks like something plastic got shredded up with the paper- oops. Those pieces can be removed while I’m sculpting.

Step 4-Get sculpting! This clay can be sculpted into smaller forms without the use of armatures. For larger pieces an armature or a base sculpture of glue soaked paper or cloth works well. The clay air dries fairly quickly and hardens as it dries- no baking or firing is necessary. It’s quite durable once it’s cured for a bit (at least a week or two) and can be left uncoated if necessary. The clay will shrink a good bit during drying but I have had no issues with cracking. This material can be top coated with varnish or wax. Acrylic paints are best on this clay. Note that this material is not food safe and should not be used for serving ware. If pieces made with this clay are coated with a beeswax finish they can be washed with mild detergents if necessary.

If placed in a plastic bag (doubled-up trash bags work great), sealed up and stored in the fridge this clay will last for months. Paper mache clay should not be frozen.

 

 

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