Puppets and other papier mache creations.
Fine art with paper as medium or support.
Fact Sheet 1
Insights into paper pulp
Paper pulp’s advantages for puppetry
Papier mache, the main ingredient of which is paper pulp, is an excellent material for making puppets. The advantages of papier mache for puppetry are numerous...
- Quick and easy to make from raw materials.
- A very cheap material.
- An excellent way to recycle good waste paper.
- You need only simple machinery and tools.
- No serious health, safety, or environmental issues.
- A strong durable material, yet light of weight.
- May be cast by pressing into moulds.
- May be drilled, sawn, carved, filed, sanded, and burnished.
- Joints are simple and strong.
- Easy to fix mistakes or make repairs and modifications.
- Beautiful surface textures can be achieved.
- Excellent surface/support for painting.
- Versatile material for puppet parts, accessories, and props.
Advantages of recycling fibres
By using good quality waste paper as your main raw material, you gain in several ways...
- The hard work, especially cooking plant materials in caustic, is already done for you by the paper mill.
- All you need do is separate and hydrate the fibres in the paper.
- The fillers in the paper enhance your pulp.
- Waste paper is easy to come by and costs nothing.
- Recycling waste paper is good for the environment.
The seven components of papier mache
Recipies and methods for papier mache are legion, however there are seven key ingredients that will make excellent papier mache for modelling and casting. No cooking is required. The seven ingredients are...
- 1. Torn waste paper. Use good quality waste paper such as office photocopy and printer paper, envelopes, waste watercolour and drawing paper. Avoid newspaper and cardboard packaging.
- 2. Warm water. The torn paper is soaked and beaten in warm water. Most of the water is then squeezed out. However about ten percent is retained as an ingredient of the papier mache.
- 3. White PVA glue. This common wood glue is water based and not toxic to the skin. It acts as a binder and toughener. The more glue you use the stronger and more dense your dried papier mache will be. As a benchmark, mix two tablespoons of glue into one cup of pulp. Incidentally, using this particular glue, rather than other glues and pastes, assists you to burnish the dried papier mache with a high speed rotating stone.
- 4. Oil of wintergreen. Add a few drops of this when beating your pulp, and again when mixing in the white glue. You can order the synthetic form, methyl salicylate, from a pharmacy. It is an ingredient used in liniment. It acts as a mould inhibitor. If you cannot obtain it, use oil of cloves instead.
- 5. Raw linseed oil. This acts as a smoother and toughener. As a benchmark, mix one tablespoon of oil into one cup of pulp. Linseed is an optional ingredient.
- 6. Whiting. Whiting is calcium carbonate (chalk) as a powder. You can buy it at a paint shop or a craft supplier who caters for ceramics. Mixing this powder into papier mache will make it dry hard like stone. As a benchmark, mix one tablespoon of chalk into one cup of pulp. Whiting makes the papier mache heavy, so for most puppet parts whiting is omitted, but it is useful for teeth, lips, eye balls and such. Talcum, starch, and clay powders can also be used as fillers.
- 7. Granules. Granular materials such as sand or seed can be added to the mix. Because the paper pulp shrinks as it dries, granules will be left slightly proud of the surface to give interesting textural effects.
Method and mechanics of pulp making
Tearing. Tear (or cut) selected waste into small pieces. For larger quantities use a machine on dry paper. (See article A Paper Tearing Machine). For small quantities tear by hand after soaking. Note that office shredders overly shorten fibres, and make paper strings that may tangle in the beater.
Beating. When the torn paper is well soaked, beat it in the warm water to separate the fibres and allow them to swell with water. For large quantities furnish an industrial quality electric drill with a home made beater blade, and use a strong plastic bucket for a container. (See article A Pulp Beater). For small quantities use a food processer. Use a proportion of paper to water such that movement of the mass is neither violent nor sluggish. If you will store the pulp, add a few drops of oil of wintergreen. Pulp is well beaten when no paper particles are visible. Allow the pulp to stand awhile for complete hydration.
Straining, storing. The pulp is now ready for use in a vat. For papier mache, remove excess water as follows. Line a sink or bowl with a piece of shade cloth, and gently tip the pulp into it. Gather the cloth around the pulp and squeeze until the pulp is crumbly but still glistening. If you squeeze some in your hand it should drip water. Now compress the pulp into a box frame and push it out as blocks roughly 100 x 100 x 30mm. Stack unused blocks in separate columns so they air dry. Rehydrate at any time by placing a block in a large stainless steel bowl, boiling a kettle, pouring the water to cover the block, and leaving it to soak for ten minutes. Pour off any water remaining and use the block.
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Copyright © Ron Graham 2004,
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