Everything You Need To Know About Paper Mache
Have you ever made anything out of paper mache? Paper mache is a form of art that is created by layering moistened strips of paper onto a surface. Paper strips are dipped into a mixture to help them adhere and harden into a solid shape over time. Mixtures used to adhere the paper strips include water mixed with flour, corn starch, or glue. In French, papier mâché translates to "chewed paper."
This craft has been practiced for centuries and is commonly taught in school art classes to introduce children to the possibilities of creating art on a three-dimensional scale. Paper mache is an affordable and fun way for people of all ages to create unique sculptures. It can be messy, but that's all part of the fun!
We had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Hand, a well-accomplished sculptor, illustrator, and teacher based in Virginia. She specializes in whimsical paper mache sculptures big and small. Sarah's work has been featured in numerous galleries and publications. In this interview, Sarah shares her background with paper mache, what inspires her, and suggestions for getting children involved in art.
Everything You Need To Know About Papier Mâché
PlanToys Interviews Sarah Hand, Sculptor & Illustrator
We absolutely love the small world and the characters you have created through your illustrations and paper mâché sculptures! Please briefly introduce your work to people who may not be familiar with it. What do you make? What inspires you?
Thank you so much! I’m an artist, author, and teacher, and I make all sorts of art. I’ve made art since I was a kid, and it’s my favorite thing to do in the whole wide world! I love to paint and draw, and make illustrations. And I love to make sculptures with paper mache. Color is so inspiring to me, and my work is very colorful and fun and happy!
What drew you to paper mâché, and what is your favorite part of the process?
I was teaching puppets to kids at a summer art camp years and years ago, and we were exploring lots of mediums. Paper mache was a popular, messy, and fun one! And then I just sort of started making small sculptures at home and experimenting with it. I was hooked! My favorite part of the process is painting. It makes the sculptures come to life!
Could you share your recipe and technique for paper mâché?
The easiest paste recipe is simply flour + water. Everyone usually has it at home, and it’s super inexpensive. Put a cup and a half of cold water into a mixing bowl, and then slowly add flour to the water using a whisk. Add flour until the mixture is about the thickness of pancake batter - not too thin, not doughy! I use torn paper strips that I dip into the paste and smooth over the armature I’ve made.
What is the biggest sculpture you have ever made, and what is the smallest?
I’m glad you asked! I teach a summer camp called Giant Paper Mache
Sculpture at my hometown art center (The Visual Arts Center of Richmond), and each kid gets to make one giant sculpture over the course of a week. I’ve helped kids make a Texas Pete bottle as tall as me, a hamburger the size of a coffee table, and an actual human-sized soccer player! I’ve had a hand in helping with all of those and many more!
The smallest paper mache sculpture I’ve made is a little mouse about an inch and a half long!
What are other materials that you enjoy incorporating with your sculptures?
I love to incorporate wood bases for little figures to stand on, wire, the occasional pompom!, glitter, fabric, and pipe cleaners!
Do you have any suggestions for encouraging children to make art?
I think it’s great to be very open-ended with kids. Having lots of supplies to explore and play around with is so important. Instead of a finished project, focus on the experience of playing with color and texture, cutting, and gluing. And sit down and create, too! Your kids will love that!
What are your favorite ways to engage children and their families in art outside of practicing it at home?
There are so many art resources out in the world. Look for family classes at art centers or museums, go see art and talk about it, go on a color walk and see how many different shades of blue you can find - from the sky to a bit of blue trash on the side of the road. Start a sketching club with neighbors!
What do you believe is the best way to take on a new art form? Is it best to do the research beforehand or dive right in?
Hmmm, interesting question! I guess the way I approach a new art form is to learn just enough to get started - so, not hours and hours of research, but a little bit - and then jump in. Overthinking can really dull the drive to make stuff, so I am constantly trying to trust that I can learn a little, try it, mess up, try again, and eventually find my way. I’m not a perfectionist, either, which is super helpful. Bottom line: just try things!
It’s no secret that paper mâché can get pretty messy! Do you embrace the mess, or do you find it’s best to have a system to manage it? If so, what is it?
It is *so* messy! Even if you try to be tidy, paste always ends up in your hair! I do embrace the mess, but I also have a system. I like to work standing up at a kitchen counter that I’ve covered with newspapers. Once I’m done, I can just roll up the newspaper with all its drips and blobs of paste, and throw it out! I do this in the classroom, only with a long roll of newsprint or brown paper.
If you could make anything out of paper mâché what would it be?
Wow! There are so many things I’d like to make, but I’d have to say a cottage shaped like a mushroom, big enough for me to hang out in!
Below are artworks made by Sarah's students:
Below are links to learn more about Sarah Hand's work, including where you can sign up for classes and purchase her how-to books:
Books by Sarah:
Sarah's Domestika Course: