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Paperclay Recipe

A lot of people have been asking me for the clay recipe that I use to make my dragons, so I wanted to make a quick post. I feel I should credit Jonni Good, as I tweaked one of her recipes that I found on Ultimate Paper Mache, which is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in affordable sculpting. The original recipe is as follows:

  • 1 1/4 cups damp toilet paper

  • 1 cup premixed drywall joint compound in a plastic tub (but not DAP brand joint compound)

  • 3/4 cup Elmer’s Glue-All or any PVA glue

  • 1/2 to 1 cup white flour (adjustable)

  • 2 tablespoons mineral oil (optional)

Here is my modified recipe:

  • 1/2 cup wet, shredded toilet paper (soak it in water, run it through a blender or use a hand mi×er on it, then hand squeeze the water out of it)

  • 1/2 cup joint compound. You can use unmixed too, just so long as it's about 1/2 a cup when it's mixed (its stuff for drywalling, look for something with gypsum dust)

  • 1/2 cup Elmer’s glue

  • 1/2 cup corn starch, plus additional corn starch to be added when kneading the clay at the end

  • 3 tablespoons oil (baby oil or olive oil work great)

  • A few drops of essential oil (to combat the glue smell)

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour to start, with extra to knead in

The recipe is extremely forgiving, so you can tweak it and find substitutions fairly easily. I personally never used pre-mixed joint compound because I couldn't find anything other that DAP at my local hardware store, but I was able to get some powdered drywalling materials that work pretty well. Look for materials containing gypsum. If you do choose to work with a dry compound, just add a little water to your clay until it's the right consistency. While I was in Russia, my friends and I also used wallpaper glue instead of Elmer's, and it worked fine.

To prepare the toilet paper, tear it off in small pieces, put them in a bowl, then cover the pieces with hot water. If you have a pet that likes shredding your TP, this is a perfect way to salvage their fine "artwork" and will put their creative talents to use. I also recommend adding one drop of bleach to the water the TP is soaking in, as this recipe contains flour and this will help prevent your clay from molding or smelling like sourdough if you have leftover clay and want to store it in the refrigerator afterwards.

When the water has cooled, you can either run the damp TP through a blender or use a hand mixer to break it up before draining off the excess liquid. I use a strainer, then hand-squeeze the rest of the water out. You should be left with a fine paper pulp.

I usually add the glue and wet ingredients to the paper pulp first, then the joint compound (stir this in slowly to avoid dust), and then I knead in the cornstarch and flour last. You should end up with something that looks like biscuit dough. The last part of the process feels a lot like making bread.

The nice thing about this particular clay is you can thin it out with water and use wet brushes to literally "paint" it onto surfaces of to create thin layers and fine details. I do this with my dragons' wings, which are built over tin foil. The foil very fragile and unable to support much weight, so I have to work in very thin layers, but I usually only need 2 or 3 to make reasonably sturdy wings. This clay is also durable enough you can sand it after it dries if you want to, and craft surfaces can be easily cleaned with soap and water. My only caution is to make sure each layer is dry before adding on too much, as it might prevent your sculpture from drying completely and then you run the risk of mold.

It's best to build an armature to model your clay over. Bottles or wine corks work wonderfully as a base, and it's also a nice way to recycle. Most of my larger dragons have a bottle center, and I use plastic bags as "stuffing" around the bottles to give the armature a basic shape. After that, I cover it with foil, and glue on wires where I want arms and tails. sometimes I'll add cardboard for structure, but the main thing is to get everything covered with foil so if you have any soft materials that can become saturated or trap moisture, those are covered up. This will allow your clay to dry thoroughly.

Have fun and happy sculpting!


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