How to Make Life-Sized Human Sculptures With Paper Mache

PVC pipe is sturdy and lightweight, making it good for building paper mache frames.
PVC pipe is sturdy and lightweight, making it good for building paper mache frames. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Paper mache is a basic craft technique learned at a young age. Just because young artists learn to work with paper mache doesn’t mean it’s just for kids, though. On the contrary, paper mache can be as big, involved and detailed as you would like. While it will take more time and material, you can make life-sized human sculptures with paper mache by using some of the basic techniques you learned as a kid.

Things You'll Need

  • Flour
  • Water
  • Chicken wire
  • Cardboard
  • PVC pipe
  • Scrap lumber
  • Balloons
  • Newspapers
  • Paint
  • Plastic drop cloth

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Draw your idea for a sculpture on paper. This drawing will serve as a reference throughout your project.

Build your sculpture base. You can construct a base for a life-sized human by making the body from cardboard and balloons that have been taped or tied together. For a sturdier sculpture, construct a skeleton from one-inch by two-inch lumber that has been screwed together or use PVC pipe that has been glued. Fill out the base with additional materials, such as empty soda bottles, shipping tubes and even aluminum foil. Work slowly and get your base as close to life-like as possible.

Wrap your sculpture base in lightweight chicken wire. The chicken wire should be flexible enough to squeeze and form around the limbs and other places where the body will need definition. Use wire cutters to cut various points of the chicken wire to help form the sculpture base.

Stand up your base to test whether it can stand on its own. If the structure can stand before paper mache has been added, it will also likely stand afterward.

Prepare your work area by laying down a large sheet of plastic or drop cloth to protect the floor and other close objects.

Make the paper mache paste by combining three cups of water with 2½ cups of flour. Mix it until the flour has been completely incorporated. Paper mache paste should be the consistency of pancake batter.

Tear strips of newspaper. Strips should be approximately two inches wide, though lengths can vary.

Dip strips of newspaper into the paper mache. Use your fingers like a squeegee to slide down the strip and remove excess mixture. Lay the strip across your sculpture. Smooth the strip to make it as flat as possible.

Overlap your strips and continue to paper mache until the sculpture is completely covered. Four coats of paper mache are recommended. Make sure the final strips are smooth.

Allow the sculpture to dry thoroughly. This can take up to 13 hours.

Fix any spots with which you are not completely happy. Allow the sculpture to dry again.

Paint your finished sculpture with house paint, spray paint or craft paint.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you are having difficulty getting strips to stick to the chicken wire, you can press one end through the holes in the wire.

References

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