How to Make a Paper Mache Sculpture with Chicken Wire

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Paper mache is fun to use for both adults and kids. It's also inexpensive, and more versatile than you might think. Creating a sculpture requires an armature, and one of the most flexible materials for this frame-work is chicken wire. Chicken wire, also known as poultry netting or hexagonal netting, comes in a variety of gauges and mesh sizes. It's strong enough to make sculptures between the size of a softball and a yoga ball.

Tip

  • Choose a lighter gauge and smaller mesh, like 19 gauge with a 1-inch mesh, for smaller sculptures. A heavier wire like 22 gauge with a 2-inch mesh might suit you better for larger pieces.

Things You'll Need

  • Chicken wire
  • Wire cutters or tin snips
  • Pliers
  • Spool of fine wire
  • Gloves

Create the Armature

A challenge in using chicken wire that is it can be unwieldy, and when you cut the wires, the ends can poke you. It's important to use gloves to protect your hands, although they can also make it difficult to work quickly. Whatever you intend for your sculpture to be, your armature can be crafted using the following methods:

  • Instead of working with a large piece of chicken wire, 

cut it into rectangles that are an easier size to manage. 

  • Use wire cutters or tin snips to cut the wire, and pliers to wrap the wire ends tightly around the edges of other pieces of chicken wire. This will create permanent seams and allow you to build your sculpture shape piece by piece.
  • If you need to craft long or flat sides, use cardboard rolls, cardboard sheets, crumpled newspaper, Styrofoam chunks or other light items to help build the shape you need.
  • No raw edges of wire should be sticking out when you're done with the armature. 

Prepare the Strips

Once your armature is complete you need to prepare the paper mache strips. This usually means ripping newspaper into long strips about 2 inches wide. However, you can also use paper towel, tissue paper or pre-fab plaster cloth strips made by companies like Blick and ArtMinds. These plaster strips are non-toxic and designed to dry quickly -- sometimes setting completely within 20 minutes.

Mix the Paste

You can make your paste the old-fashioned way or the newer way -- and of course, if you've chosen plaster strips, you don't need additional paste.

Flour-based paste is the old standby, and most common for kids.

Step 1

Mix 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose white flour with 3 cups of warm water until you get the consistency of pancake batter.

Step 2

Dip one strip of paper at a time into this paste to completely cover it.

Step 3

Remove the strip, dragging off the excess paste with your other hand, and apply it in layers to your wire armature.

Step 4

Start at the top of the armature, and fold the ends of your first paper mache layers into the holes of the chicken wire to create more stability.

Glue-based paste is a newer variety of paper mache paste. You can use wallpaper paste, but it's often toxic and not suitable for kids. The other option is to mix your own using 4 parts non-toxic white glue to 1 part water. Then follow the same procedure as for flour-based paste to apply your paper strips.

If you're using plaster strips, dip them in a bowl of warm water before applying them to the sculpture.

Finish the Sculpture

Let your paper mache masterpiece dry completely before trying to sand, seal or paint your plaster. You can use almost any type of paint, including water-based acrylics or tempera paints, to color and decorate your sculpture. Varnish will protect the paint and give your piece a shiny look.

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