Paper Mache Wall Art

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Today we have a guest post from Gennifer, an educator and anthroposophy student living in New Zealand. (And yes, I had to look up the word “anthroposophy,” too – it looks like a really interesting subject to study!) Gennifer creates three dimensional paintings using traditional paper mache. This is something that many readers have expressed an interest in, and I’m very happy that Gennifer agreed to write this post for us. I’ll let her take it from here:

A few months ago, I contacted Jonni for advice about the physical integrity of the paper mache pieces I’d been working on. No one wants to see months of work slowly rot from the inside out, so I turned to the person who’s work had inspired me to take my own approach to paper mache. During our correspondence, Jonni saw photo documentation of the process I was developing and kindly asked me to write a guest post for her web site.

The idea is pretty straightforward: 3D elements based on a 2D surface. I wanted to develop a cheap, viable way to turn unwanted materials like cardboard and newspaper into art. I like to think of it as canvas giving birth to form, but more simply, it’s paper mache sculpture that you can hang on the wall.

After developing an idea and sketching, the first thing I do is select a base for the work. There is a local cafe that gives me large cardboard boxes-they’re sturdy and clean and would otherwise be left out for recycling. The tall boxes have nice rectangles to work with; I just take a box cutter to one of the sides and save the rest of the panels for future use.

Next, I build the 3D elements using cardboard and newspaper. They are small, individual armatures that I fuse to the cardboard base with tape. When I’ve got them all fixed where I want them, I cover the entire surface with tape.

The piece is now ready for the cold or cooked flour paste and newspaper application. I prefer the cold flour paste recipes can be found here on Jonni’s site. I do a few layers of application, using small strips of newspapers, allowing time for drying between each application. In the winter months I use a fan heater on a low setting to help with drying, or if it’s a small piece I stick it in the oven (also on a low setting).

Next, I do a final paper mache layer using paper towels and cold flour paste. I like the different textures that can be achieved with the paper towels. Once it’s dry, I paint on a layer of white gesso. This can be purchased from an art supply shop, or you can make your own following Jonni’s recipe.

Paper towels and cold flour paste

After the gesso has dried, I start applying layers of acrylic paint.

After the final layer of paint has dried, I do a final clear finish. You can use polyurethane or purchase a bottle of matte or gloss finish from an art supply shop.

Final Painting

Because I am applying flour and water to cardboard, the base starts to warp after the first or second paper mache application. I happen to like the effect of the corners bending up, but to counteract it from warping too much I flip the piece over and weigh it down with heavy books for a few days (after the last layer has dried). While it retains a warped look, the back remains flat for mounting fixtures.

This process is still very much in development, but I am happy to share it. I have Jonni and her amazing web site to thank for getting me started. Paper mache is a truly democratic medium, and it’s nice to know there is a strong community of people here with a genuine passion for it.

Thanks, Gennifer!