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2016 - Project 1 - Paper Mache Pumpkin Instructor's Thread

8307 Views 21 Replies 2 Participants Last post by  lizzyborden
This is the instructor's thread for the first project of 2016, a paper mache pumpkin. The build will begin on Feb 1st. Please note this thread is for the instructor's use only. Please post all questions and comments in the student's thread found here.

Materials needed

1 or 2 plastic bags – size is completely up to you*
Twine or string
Newspaper – lots for strips and for stuffing the armature – the bigger the pumpkin the more you will need
Masking tape
Paper mache paste of your choice**
Paper Clay of your choice***
Old mixer for making paste and clay – don’t use your good one
X-Acto knife or other sharp instrument for cutting the features
Acrylic paints in black, white, and various shades or orange, green, brown and yellow
Paint brushes
Small fan – this really aids drying time
Plastic drop cloth to cut down on the mess
large bowl for mixing the paste
1 or 2 bowls with resealable lid for storing paste and clay. 3 lb. margarine containers are great. You can also store clay in a Ziploc bag

Cereal box or something similar for accenting features
Spar varnish or some sort of sealer if your pumpkin will be displayed outside
Paper towels for a creating a layer of skin – something without a pattern
Wire for creating elaborate stems

*size of bag determines finished size of pumpkin
A plastic grocery bag yields a pumpkin approx 8 - 9 1/2” tall including stem
Larger grocery bags yield a pumpkin approx 11 ½” tall including stem
A 13-gallon garbage bag yields a pumpkin approx 14” tall including stem
A 30-gallon garbage bag yields a pumpkin approx 24” tall including stem

If you are using very thin grocery or garbage bags you may want to double them up

**There are many paper mache paste recipes out there and all seem to work equally well.

Here are three of the most popular:
White glue and water – 2:1 or 3:1 ratio both work well
Flour and water – approx 1:1
Stolloween’s recipe – ½ cup white glue, 3 cups flour, ½ cup liquid starch and water

*** There are also several paper clay recipes. Here are two

Jay Olson’s recipe (modified) – 1 ½ cups white glue, 2 rolls toilet paper, 1 cup flour and 1 cup joint compound

Stolloween’s recipe – 1 cup white glue, 6 cups flour, 1 cup liquid starch, cellulose insulation, 1 ½ cups joint compound and water

You can also buy paper clay at hobby and craft stores and I will post a few brands and links soon.

I will also be posting a few pictures of the finished build in the next few days.
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Here are videos of making the clay:

This is Stolloween's recipe. Note that he is making a very large batch of clay and the measurements I give will yield approx 1/4 the amount of clay. Scott's work is what inspired me to start making my own creations. Check out his website at http://www.stolloween.com/


Right now the cellulose insulation at Lowes is $10.75 in my area. I'm sure prices will vary depending on your location. I've been making paper clay since 2012 and am just to the bottom of my first bag of insulation so it goes a long way. I keep mine stored in a 30-gallon garbage can on my porch. When you go to your home improvement store you might ask if the have any busted bags and see if they will sell you a smaller amount. If you know a contractor they might also be able to help you out with a smaller amount.

This is Jay Olson's recipe. Notice that he uses wood glue in his recipe. I've made about five batches using white glue and it works fine. He also says not to store it in the refrigerator but I do and would recommend it. You can check out his site at http://unhingedprops.com/ Most of his tutorials are require a VIP membership which runs $5 a month.

Jay's recipe is based on Jonni Good's at http://www.ultimatepapermache.com/. Her clay works well too but has a smaller yield. Jonni's work really isn't Halloween related but she is a true paper mache artist. Check out her site and just look at the detail she gets with paper clay.

You can buy liquid starch or make your own

Product Liquid Water Plastic bottle Drink

Sta-Flo liquid starch is $2.97 at Walmart...

...or buy a box of cornstarch for $1 and make your own. I've been using homemade liquid starch for about three years now and it works great. You do have to give it a good shake though if it's been sitting for a few days. It lasts several months in the refrigerator.
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Finally here are some pictures!

Skull Bone Jaw Anthropology Art

These two are made from regular plastic grocery bags. Notice the size difference between the two. The one on the left had more paper stuffing inside of the form while I squashed the one on the right down to make a flatter pumpkin.

Pumpkin Calabaza Vegetable Cucurbita Skull

Here's amixture of sizes in various stages. The one on the left was created using one of the large grocery bags from Walmart or similar store. It averages a bit smaller than a pumpkin made from a 13-gallon garbage bag. The middle one you just saw in the picture above, and the one on the right is made using a 30-gallon garbage bag. Notice that I used brown packing paper for the final layer.

Food Cuisine

I did some experimenting with store-bought paper clay. The Celluclay was $10.99 for a 1 lb. package and the Paperclay was $5.99 for an 8 oz. package. I found both at AC Moore and used a 55% off coupon to get them for less.

The paper clay comes ready to use and is very fine and resembles modeling clay. I really like the smooth consistency but to be totally honest, I would probably use 3-4 packages on a small pumpkin alone as I go really heavy on the clay. I've set this aside to use as a final layer on another project where I want the surface to be as smooth as possible.

The directions on the CelluClay say to add 32 oz. of water, but I found that it made the clay a little too sticky. If you plan to use this, start with 24 oz. of warm water and gradually add more until you get a clay-like consistency that you are comfortable working with. I could probably finish a small pumpkin using one box of this.

You can also use Unorthodox's modified recipe using CelluClay:


I needed something I could whip up in small batches when and where I need them, and a lot of the available recipes don't provide that.

5 parts celluclay (available at michaels or other hobby stores) (pack tight your measuring cup, like measuring brown sugar)

put in a mixing bowl. With bread hooks on your mixer,

cut in 2 parts joint compound

Add water to desired consistency. A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY. Should come out something akin to sugar cookie dough. If you get too much water, add a little flour.
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A few more notes:

If you are having trouble finding newspaper, you can use paper bags,brown packing paper or brown paper towels in place of the newspaper strips. You could also use pages from an old phone book. Although you could also use tissue paper, keep in mind that it's harder to work with and you will need several layer because the paper is so thin. the glossy newspaper inserts are great for stuffing your armature but you can also use plastic grocery bags (if you have an abundance) or even packing peanuts, bubble wrap or basically any sort of scrap paper you may have.

If you are planning on using the white glue and water paste recipe, you can use either regular school glue or Elmer's Glue-All. The only recommendation I would make is to use the 3:1 ratio when using the school glue as it has a thinner consistency.

I'm still working on TP measurements for the clay. Different brands equal different amounts of paper pulp per roll and I'm trying to find the amount needed to make the clay come out the best.
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It's officially build day!!!

First of all, determine where you will work on your creation. Paper mache is messy, so working in your carpeted living room is not a good idea. If you have a basement or a garage, that would be ideal. In the warmer months I use a table either set up on my front porch or in the yard. For this tutorial, I'm working in my dining room which isn't the most ideal place but it works.

If you’re worried about the mess on the floor, I recommend using and old sheet under your table. I’ve used plastic drop cloths in the past, but they are extremely slick when stepped on. I generally use some sort of plastic as a table covering too as this eliminates scrubbing dried bits of paste off of the table at the end of the day. When I’m done, I simply take off the table covering and throw it away. This time I used those cheap $1 plastic party tablecloths. You can also use drop cloths and even a split open garbage bag to cover your work surface.

Gather a pile of newspapers. If you don’t subscribe to any, ask friends and family to save them for you. You can also stop by your local newspaper office and ask for leftover papers. I’ve done this a few times and left with a large garbage bag full just about every time. Separate the glossy ads from the newsprint as the newsprint is what you want, but don’t throw away the glossy stuff just yet.

In every elementary school paper mache project we used cut strips of newspaper, but tearing the strips is the preferred way as the torn edges blend well into the project and you’re not left with any glaring straight edges. Tearing the newspaper is just as simple as it sounds. First tear off all straight edges. You’ll soon discover that the paper has a grain generally running from top to bottom and it’s easier to tear along the grain. Keeping the size of your project in mind, tear trips to width. Tear about three to four times as many strips as you think you might need as it’s easier to have extra than it is to stop and tear strips in the middle of a project.

Text Paper Document Paper product Newspaper

All paper has a grain. You want to tear along the grain when tearing your strips.

Text Document Paper

First we have to remove this straight edge...

Text Font Handwriting Paper Paper product

..and then tear the strips. Notice that where you begin tearing will determine your strip size.

Text Paper Font Document Newsprint

Now tear the straight edges from the top and bottom of your strip.

You can also use brown packing paper, paper bags or even old phone books. Just be sure to remove the cut edges as you do with the newspaper. If using the packing paper or paper bags, I recommend crumpling the paper several times before tearing strips or pieces as this opens up the fibers and allows the paper to better conform to the shape of the pumpkin. Since the packing paper is thicker than newspaper, it will give you a stronger layer of paper mache. I often alternate newspaper with brown paper when working on very large projects though you can use it for every layer if you like. For this project I'll be using mostly newspaper.

Cuisine Food

After removing the straight edges, I've crumpled some brown packing paper...

Yellow Rock

..straightened it out...

Food Cuisine Dish Vegetarian food

..and ripped it into large strips.

Text Canidae Dog breed Publication

Here is some pages from a phone book. You tear them the same way as you do newspaper

Plastic Plastic bag

You can use a bowl or a bag to store your strips until you need them. When I'm working outside, I use the bucket in the back to keep my strips from blowing away.
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Now it’s time to create the armature which gives your creation its basic shape. For this project I'm making three pumpkins. The first two will use plastic grocery bags. One will be stuffed with the traditional newspaper and one will be stuffed with more plastic grocery bags. The third pumpkin will utilize a13-gallon garbage bag and be stuffed with packing peanuts. Note that in the past I've always used newspaper and decided that I would experiment for this project

Textile T-shirt Plastic bag Jacket Shirt


Plastic bag Plastic Waste Bin bag Plastic wrap

lots of plastic grocery bags

Hand Food Finger Cuisine Marshmallow

packing peanuts

First fill your plastic bag with crumpled newspaper (or whatever you are using to fill them) really stuffing it full. If you desire, you can double the bags if they’re thin as it’s really easy to tear a hole in them during the stuffing process. You can use the glossy inserts as stuffing as well as regular newsprint or a combination of both. If you desire, you can double the grocery bags as it’s really easy to tear a hole in them during the stuffing process. You want your bags to be as full as possible. If you think it can't hold any more, simply compress it and likely you will need to add more. When you have the bag thoroughly stuffed, tie the top shut.

Plastic bag Comfort food Rock

Here I've doubled the grocery bags keeping the handles in opposite directions

Plant Comfort food

tie the outermost bag handle first...

Bin bag

..and then tie the inner handle

White Dress Costume Bin bag

If you are using a garbage bag, compress the contents and simply tie a knot

Food Comfort food Dish Cuisine

Now turn your armature over. Does it look like this? Not very pumpkin-like is it?

White Thread Textile Wool

You need to manipulate the stuffing around and fold those"points" in. I used masking tape to keep them in place.

Bean bag chair Thread Furniture Bean bag

On the smaller armature I was able to get by without the masking tape. I simple folded the bag in before I added the string.

Now you really need to think of how you want your pumpkin to be shaped. Does your armature look even? If not, you'll need to manipulate it until you are satisfied with how it looks and then grab your string.

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Hair Hairstyle Thread Textile Wool

Wrap the string around your pumpkin, dividing in half. You really want to pull tight on the string at this point as this creates the ridges in your pumpkin. When you are satisfied, tie off the string and cut it.

Bin bag Sleeping bag Food Furniture Pumpkin

Wrap again dividing it into quarters...


Food Dish Rock Cuisine

...and then again dividing each quarter in half. Notice that I had to use yarn for the final dissection as I ran out of string and couldn't find any more at the time. I usually leave a loop at the top for hanging my pumpkin to dry.

White Thread Textile Wool

Textile Thread Wool Food

Since the string was AWOL I decided to use masking tape on the larger pumpkin. It works pretty well though I found it harder to get more pronounced ridges without having the tape break.

Now lets work on the stem. Note that I just worry about a basic stem at this point. If I want something more elaborate I add it at at later time.

Duct tape Footwear Shoe Auto part Personal protective equipment

White Dress Costume Wedding dress Ballet tutu

Gather all your string ends and bag flaps together and wrap them with a few layers of masking tape. Since I'm hanging my pumpkins up to dry I'm leaving the strings in place to serve as a handle. If you are planning to dry your pumpkins on a flat surface, you can cut the strings and cover the top of the stem with another layer of masking tape.

Feather Plant Comfort food

If you are using grocery bags, you'll likely have some open areas around the top. We need to close those up with some masking tape so that our paste doesn't soak into our stuffing. If you've noticed any rips or tears in your bag at this point, seal them with masking tape too.

Pumpkin Calabaza Vegetable Winter squash Wool

We are now ready to mix some paste and begin adding strips...

Dairy Food Camembert Cheese Cheese Cuisine

..but I wanted to experiment again. In his tutorial, StevensonMetal used a cardboard ring to eliminate cutting a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin. You can find his post and links the videos here. I opted to do this with the larger pumpkin though I shouldn't have taped it down so thoroughly as you will see in a later step.

Now let's make some paste!
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There are several paper mache paste recipes out there and I think one works about as well as the other

I generally use Stolloween's recipe which is:

½ cup white glue
3 cups flour
½ cup liquid starch

This recipe only calls for half the amount of ingredients as the one on his site. That's because the mixing bowl I use just can't handle he larger amount of ingredients without making a huge mess. :)

I usually start with about two cups of water, mix in the liquid starch and then mix in the glue. One thing to note is that you want to be sure that the liquid starch is really diluted by the water before adding the white glue. If you try mixing liquid starch and white glue without water, you will end up with a gelatinous glob attached to your mixer beaters. It will eventually break down and mix in but it takes a while. Next add in the flour and gradually add water until the mixture resembles a thin pancake batter. If mold is a concern add a teaspoon or so of table salt to the paste.

Food Cuisine Ingredient Dish Dessert

Here is how it looks after mixing. I did thin it down a bit more after this photo was taken.

You can also use these recipes

White glue and water – 2:1 or 3:1 ratio both work well

If using school glue I recommend the 3:1 ratio to start with since it's a bit thinner than Elmer's Glue-All . You can always thin it down later if necessary

Flour and water – approx 1:1

I store my paste in a bowl with a resealable lid. If there's any left at the end of the day, it goes in the refrigerator. I try to set it out a few hours before I begin working.

Now you have your strips torn, your armature is ready and your paste is made and it's time to add some strips!
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Now it’s time to apply the strips. Some people prefer to throw a handful of strips into the paste, let them get saturated and then apply them to your armature. I find that the more saturated the strips are, the easier they tear, leaving a wad of mushy newspaper in the bottom of your bowl. I prefer grabbing one strip, dipping it into the paste, removing some of the excess with my fingers and applying it to my armature. Make sure you are wearing old clothes as this can get messy.

Joint Arm Hand

First dip the strip in the paste...

Finger Hand Nail

...and remove the excess with your fingers...

Comfort food

...and apply to your pumpkin armature. Notice How I criss-cross the strips on the bottom and yes, I start with the bottom. This is also the point where I noticed that the paste was just a little too thick for my liking and thinned it down a bit with water.

Dough Food Masa Dish Dairy

Here is the one with the cardboard ring on the bottom. I made a big mistake in securing the ring so tightly as it made it difficult to tuck the ends of the strips underneath it. I proceeded to add strips to this one in the same fashion as the others.

Too messy? There's another approach to applying strips! A few years ago I came across Stolloween’s paper mache brush technique video.

This changed the way I apply strips. While I don’t exactly do it the same way, I do use one hand to apply the paste with the brush and the other to apply strips which are then brushed over with paste. I find that it does indeed save time and keeps your hands a bit cleaner. Experiment and find the way you’re most comfortable with. I generally use a 1-inch foam brush when using this technique. Since I'm right-handed I keep the strips on my left, the pumpkin armature in the middle and the paste on my right but again feel free to experiment. :) I generally use a combination of both methods depending on the project I'm working on at the time.

Okay let's get back to applying strips!

Paper Plastic Rock Paper product World

Be sure to overlap your strips. You do not want any part of the plastic bag showing when you are finished.

Helmet Water World Tire Space

I always apply a strip to the creases first being sure to really push it in so it has good contact with the bag beneath it and then apply strips to the ridges working from the bottom up. Continue adding strips until you reach the top of the pumpkin. You may find that you need to tear a few strips into smaller pieces to make them conform better. If you have an edge of a strip that wants to gap a bit not matter how much you try to smooth it out, you can add a smaller strip over top of it to hold it down.

Tree Rock World Paper

When you reach the stem, first wrap a strip around it, and then tear some smaller strips from the top of the pumpkin and onto the stem as shown here...

...then wrap another strip around the stem and where the stem attaches to the pumpkin as shown. This secures the stem and gives it some extra strength.

Congratulations! You've just completed your first layer of paper mache! I generally let this first layer dry before adding another. If you have a place to hang your pumpkin to catch any drips. I'm using a piece of PVC between two tables but have used my shower rod in the bathroom in the past. You probably want to spread an old sheep or piece of plastic underneath to catch any drips. If you don’t have a place to hang it, you can set it on a piece of plastic in front of a fan. When the top appears dry, roll the pumpkin on its side so the bottom will dry.

Winter squash Pumpkin Plant Food

Hung up to dry

Note that some people use large bowls, buckets or cans to rest their pumpkin on to dry. While you can do this, I find it leaves an imprint or dent in the pumpkin which is no big deal if you are planning to apply clay afterwards.
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Wool Textile Plant Vegetable

Now that your first layer has dried, it’s time to add another layer of strips!

Rock Geology Paper

You may find the end of a strip or two sticking up. You can either cut it off or saturate it with paste and press and smooth it down as you do your next layer. I generally just cut or carefully tear them off.

You apply the next layers of strips the same way you did the first layer, making sure the strips overlap and that the entire surface of the pumpkin, including the stem, is covered. Either hang up your pumpkin or set it on plastic to dry.

Paper Pattern Cash Currency Paper product

I start my second layer the same as the first by criss-crossing the strips on the bottom...

Cash Newspaper Newsprint Paper Banknote

...but sometimes I apply them in a basket weave sort of fashion.

Vegetable Food

I rest the pumpkin on the top and stem while I work on the sides. If your stem breaks or smashes that's OK, we can take care of it when we turn the pumpkin upright.

Now let's take a break to talk about a bit of unpleasantness that comes from using the brush technique of applying strips--"boogers!"

Geology Rock

Yes, I said boogers because that's honestly what they look like. :) I find it happens after a while no matter if I use a bristle brush or a foam brush. My guess is that as you work the paste begins to dry on the brush creating these lovely little darlings that will harden and create little bumps in subsequent layers. When I notice them, I pick them off (no pun intended) and take a look at my brush. If the brush still seems to be in pretty good shape it can be rinsed off in COLD water, removing as much of the gooey paste as possible. If the brush appears to have reached the end of its life, simply toss it and get another.

After the first two layers have been applied and are dry, I sometimes add more than one layer at a time. I start at the bottom and work my way up for each layer.

Tire Automotive tire Automotive wheel system Auto part

Since we will be cutting a face into the side of the pumpkin, we want to be sure it is strong. You can criss-cross the strips on the ridges...

Paper World Newsprint Paper product Tree

..and keep adding layers in this fashion. When I'm adding two layers at a time, I generally do one layer like this and the next layer with the strips running up and down. Notice I'm using the strips torn from the phone book on this layer.

So you saw the packing paper strips a while back and are probably wondering what happened to them.

Sourdough Rock Bread Plastic wrap Paper

Once again I start on the bottom. Earlier you may have noticed that these strips were a bit wider than the ones from newspaper. I find they conform better because they were crumpled in the beginning and I generally apply the paper in larger pieces as opposed to strips.

Sourdough Bread Biga Rock Food

I do however apply strips to the creases the same way as the newspaper strips. Because the paper is thicker, it results in a stronger layer. When working on large projects I will often alternate using a layer of newspaper and then a layer of brown paper.

So how many layers of strips do you need? I generally add 5-6 layers because I want my creations strong enough to hold up to the weight of the clay. Others use as few as three layers which may be okay if you are not adding clay but it leaves me a little uneasy. A good test is to gently press on the sides of your pumpkin after it's completely dry. Does if feel firm or does it give a bit? If it feels firm, you can stop adding strips but if it gives I would add another layer or two. My largest pumpkin was made from a 55-gallon contractor's bag and had ten layers of newspaper and brown paper on it before I was comfortable with it.

Most of all remember that this is the way I do it. As you go along, you will develop your own techniques and methods.

Once you've applied all the layers and your pumpkin is completely dry, it's time to work on the stem and deciding on a face for our pumpkin!
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Now that we have all the layers on our pumpkin, it's time to work on the stem.

First decide what kind of stem you want. Do you want a short stem or a long winding stem?

Cash Banknote Money Currency Paper

If you want a short stem, simply cut the strings and apply a layer of masking tape over the top of the stem so the paste does not run down inside of the pumpkin.

Paper Paper product World

Then apply strips over the stub. I do about six layers here too and all at once.

View attachment 273492

On this pumpkin, I cut the string before I realized I wanted a longer stem. So I rolled up newspaper until it was about the thickness of the original stem and taped it on.

Paper Wood Paper product Drawing Art

I then covered the entire stem in masking tape...

Rock Tree Plant

...and once again applied the strips.

Wire Metal

For the third pumpkin, I wanted something different. So I grabbed a wire coat hanger, cut off a 16" piece and bent and twisted it .

Room Dress Textile Bed Furniture

The wire was then pushed an inch or two down inside the stem and held in place with hot glue.

Pink Hair accessory Fashion accessory Headpiece Flower girl basket

The string (or in this case yarn) was wrapped around the wire and taped into place.

Textile Fashion accessory

The entire stem is then covered with masking tape and then with paper strips. I used really narrow paper strips and wound them around the wire. I used two layers of newspaper strips and then...

Sculpture Art

...finished with a layer of brown paper.

Notice that I strayed from my usual six layers of paper strips here. In this case the wire hanger was pretty strong. I actually had to use pliers to help bend it into shape. So with the strength of the wire and the added strength of the final layer of brown paper I decided the stem was substantial enough to proceed. Also I've watched several videos and tutorials where no wire was used, only twisted newspaper was used to make the stem. That is fine. Remember that there are several ways to achieve the same effect. I chose wire because I wanted to add a bit of extra strength.

I do want to add a note here. It would have been much simpler to have wrapped the wire with masking tape prior to bending and attaching to the pumpkin as I later learned. Why wrap the wire with masking tape? Depending on what the wire hangers are made of, they may rust because of the dampness of the strips and clay and that rust could bleed through. Also I once watched a video (though I can't remember which one or where) in which it was stated that the paper strips would adhere better to the masking tape than to the wire alone.

Font Blackboard Graffiti Art

Here is another stem I made for a pumpkin that was stored away unfinished. I used hot glue to attach the two pieces of wire together. You will see this stem and the pumpkin it's attached to later in this tutorial. :)

NOTE: If you chose not to hang your pumpkins and set them on a flat surface to dry, you can build the stem as you add layers of paper strips if you like.

Pumpkin Calabaza Vegetable Plant Winter squash

Here are the three pumpkins dried and waiting for faces, which is our next step. :)
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I rarely have a face in mind when I begin a pumpkin. The only thing I knew when I started these was that the larger pumpkin was for my daughter and would have a (gasp!) cute and happy face.

I have a few pages of pumpkin pages sketched in my notebook but it seems I've already used them all, so I decided to do a search for pumpkin carving templates and came up with two I liked.

Smile Eye Mouth Font Icon

I'll admit I like NBC but I'm not a die-hard fan as some here, but I thought this would look awesome on the spiral stem pumpkin.

Pumpkin Calabaza Cucurbita Orange Jack-o'-lantern

This is unique! I think I just found a mouth for the other small pumpkin!

First stand back and look at your pumpkin from all directions. There's generally one area that would be excellent for a face. Make note of that area and begin to draw your face.

Dough Rock Plant Vegetable

I generally free-hand, but you could print out the design and trace it onto your pumpkin. Though it's a little hard to see, I start with either a pen or pencil to sketch the face.

Carving Pumpkin Skull Drawing Rock

When I'm happy with the sketch, I go over the lines with a black marker. Notice I made some changes to the right eye.

Pumpkin Vegetable Plant Calabaza Winter squash

I love how the outline of the bat's head kind of resembles fangs. Not too crazy about the eyes though.

Pumpkin Vegetable Still life Plant Still life photography

I liked this until I stood back and looked at it. The design seemed too narrow for the pumpkin so I started again...

Pumpkin Vegetable Plant Calabaza

...and decided that the only thing i liked about this design was the nose. So now my pumpkin is all marked up and it's almost impossible to draw another design over the two that are already there. I was contemplating brushing a coat of white acrylic over the botched features when the masking tape caught my eye. Masking tape allowed me to cover the mouth, draw on a new one, and it could be easily cut through.

Pumpkin Vegetable Plant Calabaza

Here is it after total facial reconstruction! And yes, I am my own worst critic. :D

Now it's time to cut out the features! But I feel that I must add an important note here: You will be using very sharp instruments! USE EXTREME CAUTION! X-Acto knives are essentially tiny razor blades with handles and can cut you very badly. Always start with a sharp blade and proceed at your own risk!

Hand Nail Finger Material property Comfort food

I generally start in a corner and work my way around. Some people have used a Dremel to carve the features but I've never attempted it mainly because my Dremel is buried somewhere in the garage and I suspect it would make a bit of a mess. If you have one and would like to try it be sure to let us know how it works in the student's thread.

Hand Rock

It's hard to imagine that six layers of newspaper could be so thick!

Tire Automotive tire Wood Automotive wheel system Tread

When cutting around the mouth, I find it easier to cut around all the teeth(?) first and then cut the rest of the mouth.


When removing cut-out sections, it's sometimes helpful to carefully use the X-Acto blade to dig under and gently lift up the sections. If a section doesn't come loose easily, you may need to cut along the lines once more. You may find that you have cut through one of the strings we used to section the ridges of the pumpkin. If you did, it's not a problem.

You're probably wondering why the stuffing is still inside of the pumpkin. When we add the clay to the outside of our pumpkin it is damp and heavy and can make the pumpkin sag. By leaving the stuffing in we have a strong base for our clay and very little chance of our pumpkin sagging from the weight.

The end result:

Pumpkin Vegetable Carving Plant Paper product

From now on I will refer to this one as "Baby"...

Pumpkin Skull Bone Calabaza Ornament

...this one is "Jack"...

Pumpkin Plant Ornament World

..and this one is "Batty." Did you notice I changed the eyes at the last minute.

So now our features are cut and our pumpkins have a personality. It's time to make a decision about how we want to accentuate the features with the paper clay.

For "Jack" I just plan to add enough clay to smooth out the surface and add a thin layer of over the face. So basically I can set him aside until we are ready to add clay.

For "Baby" I want to build up quite a bit around the eyes, nose and mouth, so we'll need to grab the scissors, hot glue and a few cereal boxes.

For "Batty" I want to accentuate the eyes and nose so let's proceed to the next step.
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The following steps are optional. You can bypass this step and simply build up the features using clay alone. To be honest, I've done it this way very few times so it is as much a learning experience for you as it is for me.

Tile Paper Flooring Floor Ceiling

I starting by marking and cutting 1" strips from a cereal box.

Material property Font Paper

There's no exact science to placing the strips. It's a matter of placing the strip and folding it to fit.

Text Font Paper

Then run a bead of hot glue around the edge (sorry for the blurry picture).

And now a brief pause for another word of caution: HOT GLUE CAN BURN YOU! Be careful!

Flooring Floor

Working around the mouth was actually less of a challenge than I expected. It required holding the strips in place until the glue set up. Also since it took several strips, they had to be pieced together and glued in several places.

Helmet Paper Paper product Personal protective equipment Fictional character

Here's "Baby" with all the cardboard strips in place. At this point I was really wondering whether the 1-inch cardboard strips were a little too much. It will take a lot of clay to build up the features and a lot of drying time.

Paper Pumpkin Paper product World

I went with 1/2" cardboard strips for "Batty." Notice I only put the cardboard around the eyes and nose.

Now let's make some clay!
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I'll be making two types of paper clay. One will use cellulose insulation and will be discussed in this post. The other will use toilet paper and will be discussed in the next two posts.

If you haven't had a chance to check out Stolloween's work, you should really do so. When I first discovered this forum, it was his work that really inspired me to give paper mache a try. I use his paste and clay recipes 90% of the time simply because they work well for me.

So let's make a batch of paper clay!

What you will need:

Large bowl
6 cups flour
1 cup white glue
1 cup liquid starch
1 1/2 cups pre-mixed joint compound
cellulose insulation

NOTE: Make sure that the bowls, measuring cups and mixer you use will never again be used for food!

Mix together the flour, water, glue and liquid starch until it's the consistency of thin pancake batter (yes, we're making paste once again). Add in a bit of salt if you'd like (it helps deter mold) and then add the joint compound and mix thoroughly. Next start adding cellulose insulation a handful at a time, mixing often. If you are using a hand mixer watch that it doesn't start to bog down. I've killed many thrift store mixers this way. Keep adding the insulation until the clay starts to stiffen and is easy to work with yet not too sticky. Refer to Stolloween's video in post #2 for an idea of the right consistency. If you watch his video, you'll notice that he adds a cap full of cleaner to his clay to make it smell better. I generally don't but opted too this time because my creations will be drying in our main living area.

Note: If you find that you've added too much cellulose and your cay is crumble, just add a bit of paper mache paste until it is workable.

Product Plastic bottle Laundry detergent Laundry supply Liquid

For this clay, you start with the same ingredients as you do for making the paste. Buy the bargain brands of flour and salt to save yourself some money. Also note that I'm just using tap water to make the clay. I just recycled the water jug in the picture. :)

Product Paint Joint compound

This is the brand of joint compound I use. Any all-purpose brand except for DAP brand will work. Since you will only be using a few cups, opt for the smaller containers.

Food Recipe Cuisine Dish

The cellulose insulation is compressed...

Soil Powder Rock Mineral

..but it crumbles easily and can make a bit of dust so work outside if possible. It was dark, 28 degrees and my little one was awake when I made this batch so I went against my own advice and made in inside. :eek:

Arrow Space Games Ranged weapon

If you find that you enjoy working with paper mache and you have an electric drill, you may want to invest in a paint stirrer and/or drywall mixer. I generally use an old mixer to make the paste and to add the joint compound but I use one of the tools above to add in the insulation. It saves some wear and tear on the mixer too.

Egg Rock

This is the finished product. It's not too sticky and not crumbly.

If I don't use the whole batch of clay in one day I typically store it in a resealable container in the refrigerator. You can set it out ahead of time so it isn't so cold to work with.
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I love the finished results when using toilet paper clay but I admit I really hate to make it because of the prep work. :) The recipe I use calls for two rolls of toilet paper but I discovered that different brands of TP yield varying amounts of pulp. So bear with me while I use this post to share a bit of an experiment with you.


I bought four different brands of cheap TP. On the top is a brand from Family Dollar which was $1 and contains 200 2-ply sheets per roll. Next is a brand from Save-A-Lot (which is what Jay uses in his video) which was around a dollar and contains 150 2-ply sheets per roll. On the bottom is a brand I picked up at Dollar General for $1 which contains 194 2-ply sheets per roll. And last is a pack of Angel Soft double rolls for $2.25 which contains 264 2-ply sheets per roll. I chose Angel Soft because it is what Jonni Good at ultimatepapermache.com uses and she does some amazing work!

Food Dish Cuisine Ingredient

The first thing we need to do is unroll the toilet paper and place in in a large bowl or bucket. I used two rolls of each except for the Angel Soft which was a double roll, so I just used one.

Food Corn starch Dish Rice flour Ingredient

Then add just enough hot tap water to cover the toilet paper and let it set for a few minutes. You can also use cold water but I find the TP starts breaking down quicker with hot water. You'll notice I mentioned four brands of TP but only three bowls are pictured. I have been using the Family Dollar brand to make clay for several months and already know the yield on it.

After the paper has set for a few minutes, use your hands to tear any large pieces apart. Surprisingly the Angel Soft brand started to disintegrate with very little effort.

Food Dish Cuisine

If you prefer, you can use a mixer or in this case a paint mixer, to break down the paper fibers even more. The finer the particles the smoother your clay will be.

Corn starch Food All-purpose flour Ingredient Baking powder

Now it's time to strain the TP pulp. Pour it into a colander and squeeze as much water out as possible.

Food Cuisine Dish Ingredient Recipe

Then pick up a handful and squeeze again to remove even more water.

Food Cuisine Dish Jiaozi Hand

You will end up with a compacted ball of TP pulp.

Food Cuisine Dish Ingredient Recipe

When you are finished you will have something similar to this.

Coin Currency Metal Silver

Now it's time to dig in with our hands again and separate the pulp balls into smaller pieces. I used the quarter for reference here but you could probably go with bigger pieces and still be OK. I've wondered how well the pulp would break down in a food processor but I've been unable to find a used one at the thrift store. So if you have an old food processor and want to give it a shot, be sure to let us know how it works out.

I found it interesting that although the Angel Soft did in fact begin to break down quicker than the other brands, once it was strained and the excess water removed, it had the feel of damp cotton balls and was much harder to separate into smaller pieces than the other brands.

So now that our pulp is ready we can proceed with making the clay. Before we do that however I wanted to share the yield of my TP experiment with you.

2 rolls of the Family Dollar brand = 6 1/2 cups
2 rolls of the Save-A-Lot brand = 4 1/2 cups
2 rolls of the Dollar General brand = 3 3/4 cups
1 double roll of Angel Soft = 5 cups

As you can see there is quite a difference in yield mainly because of the sheets per roll and the thickness of the paper. When I measured the TP, it was loosely packed in the measuring cup.

Now that we have our TP pulp ready, let's use it to make some clay!
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I've been using Jay Olson's recipe which I modified a bit. Jay uses wood glue in his recipe but I opt for white glue. Also because I found great differences between the yields of varying rolls of toilet paper, I recommend only starting with I cup of glue and adding more as needed. There's a link to his video in post #2 of this thread. Now let's get back to work.

Jay Olson's (modified) paper clay recipe

1 ½ cups white glue (start with 1 cup)
2 rolls toilet paper or approx six cups of TP pulp (do not substitute cellulose insulation here. It reacts with the white glue and you end up with rubber)
1 cup flour and
1 cup joint compound

Mix the glue and joint compound together and then add the TP pulp and salt. Mix well and then add in the flour. This clay always turns out a bit stickier than the clay using cellulose insulation but it dries really hard and takes details well. Jay mentions that he stores his clay unrefrigerated but I've found that even with the addition of salt, the clay will start to mold on me within a week. Of course the humidity here is horrible in the summer and I may not be adding as much salt as he does. :confused:

Hand Finger Cuisine

Notice the clay is sticky. It works better for me this way. One batch of clay I previously made wasn't very sticky at all and I had a hard time getting it to stick to the paper mache so now I go with the sticky version.

Pumpkin Calabaza Winter squash Jack-o'-lantern Carving

Here is a picture of a pumpkin I made for one of the secret reaper exchanges using this recipe. Notice I was able to get a relatively smooth surface using it.

I generally use this clay either alone or as a top layer when using the cellulose clay.

OK now that our clay is made, it's time to start applying it to our pumpkins!
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I'll start by saying that 95% of the time I add the clay in layers. Why? Because thinner layers dry quicker and are less likely to mold in the summer when the humidity is high. Several people apply the clay all at once which is okay too.

My hard drive failed and I lost a few pictures of the process. I'm currently working on some other pumpkins and will be adding more pictures to this post at a later time.

Helmet Jaw

Here is Baby after the first layer has dried. Since the clay is going to be thick on the face of this pumpkin, I decided it would be beneficial to add a thin layer around the cardboard to start with. You really want to be sure to firmly press the clay onto the surface.

Carving Helmet Pumpkin Stone carving Sculpture

Here is the second layer of clay added. Notice that I'm not worried about smoothing the surface out too much. Since I'm planning on adding at least one more layer, keeping the surface a little rough gives the next layer of clay something to grab on to.

Dough Bread Cuisine Sourdough Food

Also in the first layer I try to fill in any dents that may be on the ridges as illustrated on Jack above. Although I'm planning on using the TP clay to finish him, I took the opportunity to get him "in shape" while I was still working with the cellulose clay.

Helmet Paper Personal protective equipment Art

So here is Batty and you can see I've added clay around the cardboard on his nose.


In order to get the clay into tight crevices, I'm using a sculpting tool. I've also used the handle of a paintbrush to do the same thing.

Carving Stone carving Rock Sculpture Pumpkin

Now the clay is added around the eyes. Notice I'm not too worried about smoothing the clay out just yet.


I decided to try something new. I added the clay to the bottom of the pumpkin and used a spoon to roughly shape a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin. After the clay is dry, we'll cut a hole in the bottom and remove the stuffing. I also used the back of the spoon to smooth the surface of the clay. This was something new for me as I generally just use my hands and paper mache paste to smooth the clay as Stolloween does in this video:

I unfortunately lost the pictures of applying and smoothing the clay on Batty. :(

Pumpkin Carving

Since this pumpkin was stuffed with the plastic grocery bags, I ended up with a well-shaped pumpkin and didn't need to add an abundance of clay. So I decided to just apply all the clay in one sitting. I used a damp spoon to smooth out the surface and was very happy with the results. Unfortunately by the time I got back to the mouth, the clay had began to dry and starting to crumble when I tried to shape it, so I decided to work on the mouth after I removed the stuffing.

Next we'll work with TP clay and add more layers to Baby.
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Rock Dough Fossil Lime Bread

I drew a circle on the bottom of Jack to represent where I would be cutting the hole later. I then applied the TP clay starting at the outside of the circle and up to the side the pumpkin. I smooth out the bottom as much as possible using my hands and paper mache paste and then flip it over and start on the sides.

Rock Plaster

Here you can see where I'm applying the TP clay over an area that I had previously applied cellulose clay.

Tree Wood Plant Rock Trunk

Not the best picture, but you can see how I'm using the sculpting tool to define and smooth the edges around the mouth. You don't have to have sculpting tools for this. I've used a butter knife and a flat screwdriver to do the same thing.

Pumpkin Jack-o'-lantern Carving Mouth Tooth

Here's Jack finished except for the stem, which we're going to try something different. Also notice I forgot about the nose. There will be a picture coming up of how I cut the area out after he dried.
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Bread Circle Rock Dough

The clay is applied to the bottom of Baby the same way as we did Jack except we used the cardboard ring this time so our hole is already there. So far I'm really liking the cardboard ring idea. :)

Rock Boulder Artifact Fossil

As you can see I apply the clay first before I worry about smoothing it out.

Rock Geology Lime Limestone Sourdough

Here is an example of how smooth you can get the clay by just using your hands and paper mache paste. I sometimes use the back of a spoon to help form the area between the ridges.


As you can see I formed all of the ridges but not the stem yet. The reason for that is because I'm using the stem to turn the pumpkin as I work on it. Since I have plastic covering the top of the table, the pumpkin doesn't stick.

Sculpture Rock

Once the ridges are completed, it's time to work on the face. The last batch of paper clay I made was a little too crumbly so I added in about two cups of thicker-than-normal paper mache paste to make it more workable. Instead of thinning the paste, I decided to use it "as is" to help smooth the features.

Carving Pumpkin Ceramic Art

Here is the face after all the clay is applied. Notice I covered the cardboard on the inside of the eyes, nose and mouth this time.

Rock Plant

Now that the ridges are formed and smoothed, let's work on the top and stem. Make sure the tops of the ridges are still fairly moist. You may need to rub some paste on them.

Pumpkin Rock Vegetable

First make sure that your pumpkin is situated so that you can easy work around it without moving it because one the clay is added to the stem, it can't be moved without messing up the clay. Also make sure it is in a place where you can situate a fan to help speed the drying process. Notice I'm just covering the stem right now. Adding the detail will be the final thing we do.

Sculpture Tree Cement Concrete Carving

Take small balls of clay and add then to the top of the ridges.

Rock Sculpture

Use the paper mache paste to help blend the clay together and smooth it out to the stem.

Sculpture Rock Statue Stone carving Art

The top is finished and it's time to work on the stem.


My absolute favorite tool for adding detail to the stems is a fork dipped in paper mache paste. Start with the sides of the stem and work around until you are satisfied.

Wool Sculpture Stone carving

For the top, just rotate your fork in a circular motion, pressing down as you go.

Tree Trunk Plant

This was something new I tried and really liked the way it turned out. Using the tines of the fork, I poked around the bottom of the stem to define where the stem ends and the ridges begin.

Next we remove the stuffing.
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