Paper Mache with Nicole Dyer

Hello. I’m Nic. I’m and painter and sculptor. Let’s learn to make a paper mache sculptures like these together. You don’t have to like LaCroix or LaCroix boxes. You can make anything you want. Art!


  • Large bowl
  • Rubber spatula
  • Measuring cups
  • Food processor
  • Handheld mixer
  • Cardboard
  • Newspaper
  • Masking tape
  • PVA glue
  • Toilet paper or similar shredded, damp paper
  • Drywall joint compound (do not use DAP)

Prep work

Make glue mixture

About a 1:1 ratio of glue to water, you don’t need it to be super accurate but you want it to be able to coat newspaper while also not being too runny. This is what you will use to apply newspaper to your paper mache armature. Set aside.

Prep newspaper

Tear pieces of newspaper into strips. These can be uniform or random, whichever you prefer!

You don’t want them to be too small where it will take you forever to cover and surface area, and you won’t want them to be too big either (it becomes an inconvenient mess). I recommend something along the lines of 1 x 2 inch squares, or long strips about 1 inch width. This is the paper you will cover your cardboard armature with before applying the paper mache.

Alternatively, you could use masking tape if you prefer to forgo the glue and newspaper situation. It’s more expensive, though.

Make sure everything else in the materials list is at hand.

Build your cardboard armature

First, you're going to make the basic shape of your final object. I tend to use cardboard, tape, and newspaper to make my shapes, but you could also use chicken wire, a bunch of trash, your hopes and dreams, whatever is around. I do not recommend using anything alive like pets or younger siblings. Or anything you find valuable. Obviously?

Moral of the story: use trash.

You can make whatever object you want. The world is your oyster. You could build a world of oysters! I tend to make things like bottles or flower pots because I'm basic. Some people make their favorite animals. Some people make large creepy humans, which I personally don’t understand, but maybe you’re into that. Maybe you need friends around. I don’t know you! But have fun.

Personally I like to make a basic, rough, shape and not get too fussy with the details. You will be able to easily sculpt details and patterns using your paper mache clay. Make sure if there's any sort of limb or protruding part, though, that you include that in your armature for full stability.

Cover your armature in a base layer

This base layer is going to help make your armature strong, eliminate any unwanted gaps and cracks, and give the paper mache clay something to adhere to. Taking your torn newspaper bits, dip the strips into your glue mixture from step one. Adhere the strip onto the armature and continue until it is fully covered. Smooth out the glue mixture as you go! If your piece has a bottom that needs to be covered you can either a) wait till the other sides are dry overnight before flipping and completing or b) MacGyver a system of small pedestals out of whatever is around (like more trash, maybe even recycling) that you can gently place the wet sides against to allow access to the bottom. Option b is risky, I’ll admit. But due to my lack of patience it is almost always the option I choose.

If you’re made of money, lack patience, are pressed for time, or hate sticky hands and messes (yet somehow you’re still here?), you could use masking tape, like I said before. I wont judge you because I simply won’t know.

Step 5

This step is highly important and requires a lot of skill, breath work, and time: let it dry.

Place your sticky, wet, fragile armature in a secure area away from foot traffic, actual traffic, clumsy family members, small or large animals, and impatience. Overnight should work.

Making paper mache clay

Step 1: Get the toilet paper wet

Take a roll of toilet paper and submerge in water.

Step 2: Squeeze out the water

Once it’s softened take it out in small chunks, squeezing the water out as you go. You could place it directly into your food processor or in an additional bowl.

Step 3: Chop up the paper

Chop the chunks of paper using your food processor until the paper looks like shredded coconut. Depending on how strong your processor is you may have to do this in batches.

Step 4: Add the other ingredients

For a small batch of paper mache clay use the following measurements:

  • 1 cup shredded damp paper
  • 2⁄3 cup drywall joint compound
  • 1⁄2 cup PVA glue (like Elmer’s brand)

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and loosely combine with a rubber spatula or similar tool.

Step 5: Mix

Grabbing your bowl of combined materials, gently use your mixer to smooth your clay to a thick, workable paste. Feel free to add more drywall if it's too loose, water if it's too dry, or glue if it just feels like it needs glue.

Step 6: Sculpt with your paper mache clay!

Finally you have made it. You have everything ready: your dry, strong, unbothered armature; your bowl of paper mache clay; your tunes, podcast, or daytime television; and a solid chunk of time to yourself. Also a bowl of water to dip your fingers in.

Periodically dipping your fingers in water, grab a chunk of paper mache clay and place it onto your dry and newspapered (or taped) armature. Do that until its completely covered! Add any extra sculptural details as well such as spikes, claws, non-sharp protrusions. Go for it. This is the final step before painting so literally any detail you want to be 3D, do it with the clay! It can handle it.

Repeat step 5. Be patient. Leave it overnight again.

Step 7 (optional): Paint your sculpture!

If you want. However you want. You won’t find painting instructions here unfortunately because that is not under my job description. I recommend asking a friend, Googling, going on YouTube, or just diving right in. Honestly can’t go wrong. If you don’t like it you could always gift it to your least favorite aunt, or throw it out the window. Whichever is most convenient.

About the Artist

Nicole Dyer lives and works in the Hudson Valley. They received a BFA in Drawing from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2013, and studied abroad at the Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan, Ireland in 2012. Their solo exhibitions include Current Space, Baltimore, MD; Stevenson University, Owings Mills, MD; Casa Corval, Van Nuys, CA; and Annex 2E, Baltimore, MD. They have participated in two-person and group exhibitions including SPRING/BREAK Art Show, New York, New York, Creative Alliance, Baltimore, MD; Savery Gallery, Philadelphia, PA; LVL3, Chicago, IL. Residencies include Glogauair in Berlin, Germany; Lighthouse Works in Fisher Island, NY; Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT; ACRE in Steuben, WI; and Wassaic Project in Wassaic, NY. They are a recipient of a VSC/Helen Frankenthaler Fellowship, the 2019 Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award, a 2019 Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize Semi-finalist and a recipient of the Elizabeth Greenshields grant. Their work has been featured in Bmoreart, Title Magazine, Fresh Paint Magazine, Art F City, and Work In Progress Publications. Their illustration has been published in the novel Fake Like Me, by Barbara Bourland, in 2019.

This lesson was produced in collaboration with the Northeast Millerton Library and the Amenia Free Library with support from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation