What Does a Paper Mache Artist Do?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen
A mache artist may use a variety of papers cut or torn into strips.
A mache artist may use a variety of papers cut or torn into strips.

A paper mache artist typically uses different paper mache techniques to create sculptures that are usually quite high in detail and artistic in nature. Different artists often focus on particular types of sculptures, and some artists choose to create works similar to fine art, while other artists create more commercial pieces. These works can be sold and displayed as ornamentation, much like other works of art, and many of them are used as decoration for events or holidays. A paper mache artist often creates his or her own work using different techniques, often painting the completed piece for even more detail, and selling his or her work like other artists.

The work of a paper mache artist often begins with an idea for a particular sculpture or paper mache creation. Some artists may simply begin creating a work based on an idea, while other artists often draw out a sketch of what the finished piece will look like. Once this preparation is complete, then a paper mache artist usually creates a frame on which the paper mache can be applied. Different artists use different techniques to create these frames, including using chicken wire to create a mesh form, balls of paper joined together to create the sculpture, or cardboard to create the frame.

Onto this frame, a paper mache artist then applies layers of paper mache. This is typically created by making a paste, often a combination of glue, flour, and water, and then soaking strips of paper in this paste. Some artists use cloth instead of paper or as a final layer over the paper, to give the finished sculpture a smoother texture. Different materials can also be used by a paper mache artist to create differences in texture for sculptures of creatures or things that might have scales, hair, cloth garments, or even metallic armor.

Once a paper mache artist has created the actual sculpture, then he or she usually paints it for additional details and realism. This is often similar to how artists paint maquettes or busts, and different paint techniques can be used. Airbrushing is often used for more realistic shades and tones of color, allowing the artist to apply highlights and shadows in a way that makes the sculpture more dramatic in appearance. A paper mache artist then typically sells his or her work, often through Internet websites, local art festivals, and even through galleries and private showings of artistic works.

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In elementary school, I used to absolutely love to do paper mache projects. For the frame, sometimes we used a blown-up balloon, or just heavy paper scrunched into a shape.

I really liked the feel of the glue, flour and water mixture that we dipped the strips of paper in. Then spreading the strips over the shape and smoothing them down with gooey fingers was great fun.

We then had to wait forever for it to dry so we could paint it. I was always proud of what I did.


Paper mache art has always looked so lumpy to me. I never thought beautiful sculptures could be made with it until I saw an artist with a different technique.

He used very large pieces of paper, and he wrapped them around the frame entirely, pressing them to fit the shape as he went. Once he painted over them, I could not tell that the sculpture was made from paper mache.

It looked so smooth and perfect. I know a lot of people love the rough texture that paper mache can provide, but I prefer the polished look that this artist achieved with it.


I remember when my third grade class got to make pinatas. We were going to crack them open right before Christmas vacation, so we had that excitement to look forward to while constructing them.

The teacher helped us a lot with the initial designs. She showed us how to bend and fasten wires to get the shape we wanted.

Candy canes and Christmas trees were popular pinata shapes in our class. Once we had the frame shaped, we got to do the messy, fun part of slinging wet paper on the wire.

The project took several days. We had to let the paper mache dry before painting it. Everyone really enjoyed making these, though I’m sure they enjoyed whacking them open and gathering the candy even more.


When I go on vacation, I like to visit art shops. I have seen some pretty impressive paper mache work in my travels, and I have bought several pieces as souvenirs and gifts.

I found a beautiful paper mache dragon in China. The artist had arranged the strips of paper to build up in certain areas and look like scales. The dragon’s body was painted red, but dark shadows and highlights had been airbrushed on to add detail.

I also found a gorgeous paper mache fish in a shop in Miami. It also had the scale effect, and it had been sprinkled with glitter. Its colors faded into each other, so it went from light blue to yellow and then to pink.


I did a paper mache project in college. The scrappy texture and brown color were perfect for the idea I was trying to convey, so I’m glad I chose this medium.

I did a piece about broken promises and empty words. I made a stick figure using pipe cleaners. He had really long fingers and toes. I covered him in pieces of paper lunch sacks.

I manipulated his frame to lie down on a chunk of log with a broken mirror in one hand and his other hand across his forehead. On the log were carved words such as “someday,” “forever,” and “trust.” He, like the mirror he held, was broken from a lifetime of disappointment and promises unfulfilled.


@JaneAir - That's the problem with art-it's so expensive. I seriously don't know how anyone but the very rich can afford to buy actual art to decorate their homes with.

However, I do know some very creative people who use their skills to decorate their homes very cheaply. One of my friends is a do-it-yourself genius, and she used paper mache to make some of her decorations. Instead of buying costly decorative bowls, she made her own out of paper mache.

She has the sitting all over her house holding various items like colored rocks and potpourri. I swear they look like something you would buy in a very expensive store!


@strawCake - Your art class sounds like fun! I haven't worked with paper mache since I was in elementary school myself.

I did attend a local craft show recently though, and I saw a few paper mache pieces for sale. I have to say, they were surprisingly intricate and well done.

The woman had made small paper mache sculptures out of some kind of gray paper. They were modeled after ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, complete with missing body parts. It looked pretty awesome, but they were too expensive for me to justify actually buying one!


We have made several pinatas using paper mache and this is a great way for the kids to be involved. Making the pinata is as much fun as filling it with candy.

Rather than making my own paper mache recipe, I bought a jug of liquid starch that I use when making paper mache. This is so easy to use and dries really nice and clear.

I think it depends on what type of project you are doing how many times you wrap it with the paper mache. When we make pinatas we usually don't wrap more than 4 times. I don't want it to be too easy for them to break it open!


I was an art major in college, and I have to say, most people would be surprised at the materials people use to make sculpture. I took a 3-dimensional design class, for example, and we used a lot of foam board to make our sculptures in the beginning.

After the first half of the class when we learned the basics, we branched out to different materials. I never got around to working with paper mache (I did actually crochet a sculpture out of strips of plastic bags, but that's a different story), but a few of my class mates did.

I have to say their paper mache art was pretty neat. It was extra cool because I got to see them work on the piece from beginning to end. It was amazing to see this wire frame turn into a finished sculpture!


I am not much of an artist, but do remember working on some paper mache projects as a kid. I thought this would be a fun thing to do with my kids on a rainy day.

I found several easy online recipes on how to make paper mache paste. The easiest one I found was a mixture of 1 part flour to 2 parts water. You can't get much easier than that.

The kids even had fun mixing up the paste. It is also very easy to adjust if you feel it is too thick or too thin - just add more flour or water. You really can't go wrong, and the kids had a blast.

There are also recipes where you cook the paste, but this was by far the easiest one for us.


I once saw an incredible installation that someone had made at a gallery here in New York. The center of the gallery was made up to look like a shopping mall. It had real looking stores with familiar names, a working fountain and a model of an escalator.

Inside of this set there was a huge crowd of figures that were made out of paper mache. They had realistic poses and expressions, but their bodies had that kind of formless and undetailed quality that some paper mache sculptures have. They were made to look so that you could easily identify how they were made.

It is hard to describe in words, but this art piece had a surprising effect on me. I found myself staring at it almost hypnotically. I can't put my finger on exactly what the artist is trying to say, but I know that the best art is more about feeling than meaning and this piece made me fell something strongly.


When people hear paper mache they usually think of their fourth grade art class but there is really a lot of incredible art that can be made with this easy and cheap material. I have been experimenting with paper mache for over 20 years and, if I can set aside my modesty for a moment, I've made some pretty incredible stuff.

And you can explore any look or aesthetic that you want. You can be abstract or realistic, big or small, decorative or plain, smooth or textured. I is a remarkably flexible material to work with and it responds to the whims of you imagination easily. But I think what I like best is how simple it is. Most people have everything they need to start experimenting in their house right this minute.

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    • A mache artist may use a variety of papers cut or torn into strips.
      By: roger ashford
      A mache artist may use a variety of papers cut or torn into strips.