The Easiest Way to Paper Mache

{Paper Mache Bugs}

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on September 25, 2013.

For months my son was pestering me to try paper mache, but it was one of those things that I put off because I wasn’t sure how to do it, and I also knew it was going to be messy. I promised him we’d do it one day, and he neeeever let me forget that, so we finally made some paper mache bugs.

Paper mache is a gooey substance made out of flour, water, and paper strips, and you can mold it into just about anything. When it dries, it stays hard, and you can paint it.

This was a fun project and very easy to do, but let me save you some hassle and tell you not to google “how to do paper mache.” Every site I landed on had a different recipe. Several of them included glue. One of them said to prepare the mixture 24 hours in advance. Another said you had to boil the mixture. It will make you put off the project some more.

The easiest recipe is mixing 1 part all-purpose flour with 1 part water and stirring it until it’s mixed well and forms a paste. That’s it. You can use it immediately, and it worked like a charm!

After you make the paste, you need to tear (not cut) strips of newspaper, put them into the mixture, coat them well and then slide the strip between two fingers to take off the excess flour mixture. Now you can lay this strip onto whatever you want to paper mache and let it dry. Afterward, you can paint it.

But what can you paper mache? Little did I know, you can paper mache almost anything. You can make pretty boxes, hats, or masks, but my son wanted to make bugs. To make the bugs, we bunched up newspaper into the shape of a bug and secured it with lots and lots of masking tape. We taped on straws for the legs.

Applying the paper mache was messy, so we did that outside in the shade. Warning: it attracts flies. And it’s very messy. Disposable gloves were helpful.

Despite the flies and the mess, we had a lot of fun putting paper mache on our bugs.  My four-year-old didn’t want to do it, but my seven-year-old managed to do his alone except for the straw legs, which were a little tricky, but we managed to wrap them with the goo too. We let them dry in the sun, and they hardened enough that the boys could play with them without breaking them (as long as they didn’t throw them).

A day or two later, the seven-year-old painted his like a bee, and he added paper wings and wire to its head for antennae. Even though the paper mache is pretty hard, you can easily poke through it with the wire. My four-year-old painted the bug I made. Now the two boys are busy buzzing around with their homemade toys.

Final tips:

  1. If you don’t want the newspaper print to show through the paint, you could use white paper as your final layer.
  2. A helpful video about paper mache bases can be found here: Paper Mache Base Ideas
  3. A really cool post about using paper mache in project-based homeschooling can be found here: Evolution of a Mountain, Phase 1
  4. Paper mache is a great way to recycle your Barrow Journal!

Tell me about your paper mache adventure.