Notebook, 1993-


Paper - Paper Activities

Papier Mâché

PAPIER-MÂCHÉ. An art material made of paper strips soaked in a binder of starch or flour paste; it dries into a firm, hard substance. Papier-Mâché is widely used in the production of decorative objects and sculptures of great lightness, delicacy, and strength. [Harris, William H., and Judith S. Levey, eds. The New Columbia Encyclopedia. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1975.]

C O N S I D E R:
Kinds of foundations - molded or carved/structural













Printing Impressions



Apron, Gloves, Work Space, Waste, Controlled Drying, Storage

[The following is From: Edward L. Mattil, Chairman, Dept. of Art, North Texas State University. Meaning in Crafts. Third Edition, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1971.]

I N D E X - Papier-Mâché - Materials - Colored paper, cotton, burlap - Wallpaper paste - Paper Coils & Wire - Simple Bulky Figures - Stand-ups - Coathangers - Bottle or Milk Container Standups - Miniatures - Stovepipe wire - Balloons & Papier-Mâché - Giant-Sized Papier-Mâché figures

PAPIER-MÂCHÉ. 3rd grade & up - No limitations in size large or small - can last a couple of weeks outdoors if shellacked - In many instances, Papier-Mâché may be the material that most easily solves the problem when one of the regular units of work might be made more meaningful through a special project, such as the development of a model, the making of a relief map, or the building of a diorama.

Large quatities of newspapers [Sheet to cover workspace and 1/2 dozen half sheets to each child]

Pan for Flour or wallpaper paste


3 lengths of 12" wire

Several 8" to 10" lengths of string

6 (ca.) lengths of pkging tape

Water-based paint

Papier-Mâché has a very limited tradition as an art medium. Examples of Papier-Mâché seldom survive for long because of its temporary and perishable nature. It is common in the orient, where it is used for small objects such as toys; in Mexico, where it is used for large processional and holiday figures as well as toys; and in the United States, where it is used a gread deal in creating objects for decorating store windows.

Papier-Mâché is paper that has been softened to a pulpy state by moisture and to which paste, sizing, or resin has been added to give it unusual strength and hardness when dry. Although it may seem to be only a quick, inexpensive, temporary, or substitute material, it does have a quality and integrity of its own. It is probably one of the most versatile and useful media for school use. Its only limitations are the limits of its users' imaginations....

For successful experiences in papier-mache, the teacher needs only quantities of discarded newspapers, a flour or wallpaper paste, and some bits of string or wire. Many finished Papier-Mâchéprojects are painted with ordinary water-based paints, but highly successful finishes come from covering the Papier-Mâché with colored paper, cotton, burlap, or any other suitable material that can create an interesting surface texture.....

Suppose a class of about 30 fifth-graders decide to make a farm--each child interested in making one animal-- small animals about 8" long and 5" to 8' high. The newspapers have been carefully cut in half so that the sheets are about 12" x 16".

A large container is filled with paste prepared from wallpaper paste flour, which one makes by placing water in a bucket, slowly sifting wallpaper flour into it, and stirring vigorously. By adding the powder to the water, it is very easy to get the paste the proper, smooth consistency. Wallpaper paste can also be purchased from any hardware or school supply store.

Also ready are about three 12" lengths of wire for each child. If the teacher is in a rural community, he will find many youngsters who can supply bailing wire, or newsboys who can provide good quantities of wire from their bundles. It is not difficult to get boys to prepare all the wire. In addition, there should be a pan at each desk to contain a small quantitiy of wallpaper paste, several short lengths of string about 8" to 10" long, and if possible, about six pieces of gummed tape of the type used for wrapping bundles.

Then each teacher gives each child a sheet of newspaper with which to cover his desk, while one child distributes half sheets of newspaper, providing each pupil with about a half dozen sheets. Another child passes the sticky paper, another the string and the wire, and the class is ready to begin. The teacher begins with the instructions, and the children follow along step by step. Because of the diversity of interests and abilities within every class, the teacher should begin with a basic idea, from which each child can depart as he sees fit. As in most crafts, it is essential that the teacher provide the children with a sound foundation on which to build. For example, he might ask each of the children to follow along as he describes the process of preparing the framework for an animal.

1. First, each child places a piece of wire across the width of several sheets of newspaper and makes a tight roll, wrapping tape around the ends so that they do not become unrolled.

2. This process is repeated until all three coils are complete.

3. Now two of the coils are bent double to form legs, which, because of the wire inside, will retain their shape. One pair of legs is slipped over the third coil and fastened in place with bits of string, tape, or a small piece of wire. When this is firm, the second set of legs is placed. Here the child makes the decision. If it is going to be a long, slender animal, like a dachshund, the legs are placed far apart; if it is to be tall and delicate, like a fawn, the legs are placed close together.

4. After both sets of legs are firmly attached to the third coil, the child must decide whether the animal will have a long or short neck, a bulky or light frame, whether it will be seated or standing, and so on. Because of the wire inside of the coil, the children can modify the positions and shapes considerably at this time.

5. They are then encouraged to go on forming additional coils for long necks or heads or wadding up paper and tying it on to give a full, round body. Some children may even decide that one set of legs might better be wings and may wish to remove one set and reverse its position.

Now the process is in the hands of the children, and the tacaher can only encourage them individually by urging each child to experiment, to seek unique ways of solving problems. Occasionally he may see an opportunity for individual instruction. Gifted children will see a multitude of possiblities and will develop their animals in ways that the teacher never dramed of, whereas slower children may find it difficult to think much beyond the basic structure and may gain their creative satisfaction from painting or decorating this simple form.

6. When the children have developed the forms as fully as possible by adding wads, coils, or small pieces, they cover the entire figure carefullly with strips of newspaper that have been dipped into the wallpaper paste. Several complete coatings are essential for a good, strong figure. The paste adds consierable strength and gives a hard surface on which to paint. Some teachers like to add a final coat of torn paper toweling for a better painting surface. Although this may be desirable, it is certainly not necessary.

7. After the figures have been allowed to dry for a number of days, they are painted. The teacher should encourage the children to be experimental in their selection of colors and should not limit them to realistic interpretations. When the teacher is free in his approach, the feeling is contagious, and the children soon learn to work freely and experimentally.

8. While the figures are drying, the teacher should encourage the children to bring in scrap materials that they think might be useful in adding a final touch of decoration to their Papier-Mâché figures. This search for new uses for old materials is just another part of the teacher's daily job in developing the sensitivity of each child to the world about him. Inventiveness and imaginative thinking are basic to the value of craft teaching.

It is seldom possible to do successful Papier-Mâché work below the third grade. With the smallest children, the first experiences in Papier-Mâché should be limited to simple, bulky figures, such as birds, ducks, rabbits, mice, and the like. Small children might begin by stuffing small paper bags with wads of newspapers to form the main body of the animal.

And then to make additional small wads of newspaper for the head. They can fasten this head to the first body section by taking long stripes of newspaper about an inch wide, dipping them into wallpaper paste, and fastening them across the head and down along the body. This process is repeated until sufficient strips have been used to set the head firmly in place.

Children can create additional appendages from folded paper, if they are to be wings or tails, or from other small wads, if tey are to be legs or ears or a nose. They can attach each of the additional appendages by using the long srips of newspaper dipped in paste.

2 metal coathangers [opened with hook at end to attach to board]

Piece of scrap wood at least 8" wide and 1" thick

Some newspapers

Good pair of wire cuters or lineman's pliers

Some small metal staples of the type used to attach wire fencing to wooden posts (ca. 1/2" in length).

Upper elementary and junior high school grade children enjoy making stand-up Papier-Mâché figures. For this the teacher sould have each child bring two metal coathangers, a piece of scrap wood at least 8" wide and 1" thick, and some newspapers. Most teachers will make this an assignment for several children to insure that all the materials will be present on the day of the project.

The teacher needs a good pair of wire cutters or lineman's pliers, which might be borrowed from the school shop or, if they are not available there, may be brought in by a child. He will need some small metal staples of the type used to attach wire fencing to wooden posts; these should be about 1/2" in length and can be acquired in any hardware store.

1. The coathangers should be cut in advance by several of the stronger boys. It is impossible to press a wire cutter completely through a coathanger, but it is necessary only to score it with the wire cutters, then bend it, and it will break. These coathangers are then opened up to their fullest length--about 2 feet - 2 1/2 feet. At one end of each wire the boys can bend a small circular shape that will serve as a foot and provide a good means for stapling the figure to the board.

2. Each child is given two pieces of wire to staple to the board. At this point he must decide whether the figure may be one that is to stand on one foot, crouch, or kneel. The children fasten the wires the distance apart that they think the feet should be.

3. Then make two coils by rolling newspaper. These coils will be as long as the coat hangers. They are slipped down over the wires and slid down to the feet. They can be temporarily joined about where the waist of the figure will be, and the uper parts of the coils can be bent around to form the arms. At this point we have a headless figure with two arms and two legs.

4. Now the child should be encouraged to manipulate, to change, to try to achieve action or to develop a pose compatible with the type of figure that he intends to make. It may be necessary to loosen one of the feet or to change its position. The flexibility of the project at this time lends itself to a great deal of imaginative thinking.

5. At this point the child may make a small third coil, tape a snowball-sized wad to the end of it, slip this coil between the shoulders of the first two coils, and fasten it permanently into place to form the neck and head.

6. After this the procedure is the same as with all other Papier-Mâché. Large wads are added where the figure needs to be bulky, details are added and built up, and finally the entire figure is covered with strips of paper dipped in paste.

This project invariabley creates a number of new problems, particularly that of dressing the figures. The teacher will be surprised by the great variety of interesting solutions to dressing these figures that the children will come up with, and the variety of scrap materials that the children can discover and put to new use.

Such a project can be very successfully correlated with certain social studies or language units in the elementary school. The figures can make most unusual centerpieces or table decorations for parties or banquets, or can provide fine window displays for many seasonal events.

Quart vinegar bottle, plastic bottle, or quart-sized waxed paper milk container




An effective smaller stand-up can be made without having to be concerned with improvising a base. Papier-Mâché can be used to cover either a bottle, such as a quart vinegar bottle, a plastic bottle, or a quart-sized waxed paper milk container. A little sand poured into the container adds stability to the finished figures. Using paper strips that have been dipped in paste, the student covers the entire container, then slowly builds up the piece by adding Papier-Mâché in the form of small pulp bits, strips, or paper rolls with wire inserts for arms, with several thicknesses of flat paper pasted together to form ears, wings, and clothing. The methods of Papier-Mâché are interchangeable, and all can be used on any one piece. The important thing is to use whatever method will give the desired outcome.

1 yard (ca.) of stovepipe wire

In many of our schools, lack of space, espcially storage space, is a matter of great concern. In such instances, the teacher may wish to use Papier-Mâché but keep the projects as small as possible. Many teachers think large size is synonymous with worth or creativity. This is not the case, of course. To do small Papier-Mâché animals, the teacher might provide each child with about a yard of stovepipe wire, a soft, annealed iron wire available in any hardware store. Its flexibility makes it effective for use by children.

1. The wire is used for an armature or framework within the Papier-Mâché. It is best if one builds the entire armature from a single piece of wire, to prevent parts from falling off or slipping out of place. The long piece of wire is bent in half and at the bend is grasped between the thumb and forefinger and twisted for several inches, though as little as possible. This portion will serve as the head and neck parts of the figure.

2. The remaining two wires are separated, and about 5" along the wire from the last twist, one of the pieces is again bent double and twisted in the same way as the head-neck portion. This forms one of the forelegs or arms.

3. The process is repeated on the other strand of wire, so that both limbs are of the same length.

4. The child wraps the two strands together to form what will be the body section, and at this point decides whether it is going to be a long or short body.

5. After these strands have been twisted for 3" - 4", the strands are again separated, and going out 4" - 5" from the last twist, one strand is folded and twisted to form one of the back legs; using the second strand, the child completes the last leg.

6. There will be short tsrands left on each side, which the child twists together to form a tail. 7, By bending these sets of legs together, the child should form a wire sculpture that can stand firmly. Children will want to manipulate these, create types of animals or figures--some sitting, some standing, some running--until they are satisfied with a position.

8. Then they can place Papier-Mâché strips directly over the wire, and build up the figure. These should be neat, compact little Papier-Mâchés, but should be in every way as well and creatively produced as any of the larger types.

Variously shaped inexpensive balloons

Sometimes, for variety, the teacher may want the children to make hollow, or "piggy bank," Papier-Mâché animals. Variously shaped inexpensive balloons, one for each child, will provide the basis for interesting figures. Children inflate the balloons and very carefully cover them with three or four layers of Papier-Mâché to form the main figure, and add additional body parts as needed, such as a wad for a head, small wads for legs, or coils for long necks or legs. These Papier-Mâché figures are developed like the others and when dry are very, very light, but exceedingly strong. Some teachers actually do cut a slot in the back of these so that thr children may use them as banks. This procedure can be used to develop such things as Papier-Mâché globes or planets and will be further described below.

Table or box

Chicken wire or poultry mesh

Tin snips or wire cutters.


Large pieces of newpaper

Bucket of paste

Shellack (If placed outdoors)

Some occasions demand an unusually large Papier-Mâché. This may be the result of group thinking; children may decide they want a large Santa Claus and reindeer, or a Mexican burro, or perhaps a prehistoric animal. There are absolutely no limitations on the size of a Papier-Mâché figures, as anyone who has ever seen the large floats in a big parade will testify.

This can be worked out through the use of cmmittees or small groups of individuals working during their free time

1. Normally, to do a large one in a classroom requires construction of the basic framework using a table or box, modeling the basic shape over it with chicken wire or poultry mesh. This wire screening is very easy to manipulate and can be cut with tin snips or wire cutters. Considerable care must be exercised because of the sharp prongs that remain after the wire has been cut. However, this should not deter the teacher from using wire, for if the children doing the modeling wear gloves, there is little danger.

2. Once the basic shape has been developed and covered with the chicken wire, children can cover the entire form with large pieces of newspaper dipped in paste.

If these large figures are made well enough and coated heavily with shellac or varnish after they are completed and perfectly dry, they should be sufficiently waterproof to be placed outdoors for short periods of time, perhaps a week or two. For example, a large Santa or snowman that may have decorated th classroom for several weeks before Chirstmas could be shellacked and placed in the schoolyard during the holidays. It is unimportant if it deteriorates during this period, for its purpose will probably have been fulfilled.

[Edward L. Mattil, Chairman, Dept. of Art, North Texas State University. Meaning in Crafts. Third Edition, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1971.]



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