Paper mache was first used in China's Han Dynasty, which was 202 B.C. to 220 A.D. Decorative elements such as pot lids and helmets were one of the first examples of paper mache. Paper mache means "chewed paper," and it uses paper strips held together with binders like glue. It is a craft that is lightweight and strong, and it can be finished with paint and varnish. To create paper mache pieces that are hard and long-lasting, follow a few tip and tricks.
The binder or glue you use for your paper mache project is important to make a stable and strong three-dimensional object. White glue and water can be used for paper mache, but a smooth paper mache paste may be created by boiling 1 part all-purpose flour to 5 parts water. Boil it for 3 minutes and let it cool to achieve a thick, porridge-like consistency. You may add a dash of cinnamon to make the paste smell better. To prevent mold, which is a problem with paper mache crafts, add 2 tablespoons of salt to your mixture as a preservative. Also, in humid climates, use less water for your paste recipe.
An armature is the base of your paper mache sculpture that supports the weight of the newspaper strips and paste. You need a strong internal structure to keep your craft intact. Cardboard may be cut up and taped with masking tape. Balled up newspapers taped with masking tape is another inexpensive method to create an armature. Blown up balloons are used for spherical or round-shaped projects. For larger projects, you may use chicken wire, which is found at most hardware stores. Use wire cutters to cut pieces of chicken wire and bend them into shape before applying newspaper strips and paste. Old packaging materials such as plastic bottles and oatmeal containers may be used also.
Before you assemble your paper mache project, tear strips of newspaper approximately 2 inches wide. The length of the strips is dependent on the size of your project. Smaller paper mache crafts would use strips as short as 4 inches and large projects may use strips about 10 inches long. Completely saturate the newspaper strips in your paper mache paste before covering a layer on your armature in one direction. Use your fingers to remove any excess paste before applying it to your project. Allow each layer to dry for 24 hours before adding no more than four layers of newspaper strips with paste. After each layer, let it completely dry before the next. Be sure each layer of newspaper strips goes in the opposite direction as the layer before.
For the final layer of your paper mache project, consider using white paper or paper towels to prime it for painting. If you do not do this, paint your craft with white acrylic paint as a primer. Paint your project with acrylic paints, which are longer lasting and stronger than tempura paint. Spray paint or use paintbrushes for your craft. If you find holes in your sculpture as your paint it, you may use drywall or plaster spackling to cover them. Let your project dry and then repaint it. After you finish painting, spray the entire project with a clear varnish.
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