Paper mache is simple. All you need are some old newspapers, some flour, some water, and maybe a little salt, right? Wrong. The type of industrial work I do sometimes takes a little more than that, but it is well worth the effort and gives you a sturdy end product that can last for years.
For starters, there is a little more than just flour and water in the mix. I do mostly masks and life-sized statues which can often take months to complete, especially in wetter seasons. Another concern with larger and more time consuming projects is that, depending again on the weather, they can mold. I add a few extras to my flour mixture, just in case. Here is my top secret formula :
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon boric acid
1 bottle of white glue
The white glue is optional, but I do find it makes my projects a bit more durable. The boric acid on the other hand is invaluable. Not only does it seem to keep the paper from molding as it dries, it keeps ants and other bugs from invading my work if I need to set it outside to dry for a while. I did not include the amounts on the flour and water, for that too is optional. Some people like a thinner paste, but I prefer mine thick, so I just keep adding flour til it looks like lumpy gravy.
There are also certain things I like to collect to use as armatures and shapers for my life sized figures. These can include :
Plastic grocery bags
I often stuff these with more plastic bags to form the bases of heads. I find this much easier and far more sturdy than using balloon like many people do.
Wire coat hangers
These of course make great armatures and can give your creations most any shape you need. I use them in arms, legs, fingers, toes, and necks on my statues. This way I practically have a skeletal structure to build on. I also use them to form horns and large ears on some of my masks.
These can give your bodies even more structure, and can be stuffed with the plastic grocery bags or newspapers to hold their shape.
Old furniture and parts thereof
These are additional items I somethings use as skeletal type frameworks. Even a broken chair leg, scraps from a wood project, or even a downed tree from a storm can be used. I also like to have plenty of coffee cans, both metal and plastic. They are perfect for upper thighs, as are the soda bottles, and can even be used to help your statue stand if you are only doing a torso. I also like to store my flour mixture in the plastic ones. This should be kept in the fridge or it will mold. It still only lasts a few days, a week at the most, even when refrigerated.
Thick Paper bags
These are the heavier duty papers that sometimes need to soak a bit in the flour paste before using. They often take longer to dry as well, but are much more durable.
Thin Paper Bags
Cardboard egg cartons
These are the things I use for basic details. The egg cartons are great for noses, ears, eye sockets, and horn bases on both statues and masks.
I use these things for finer details, such as facial features, hands, fingers, and toes. Egg cartons can be utilized for some further details as well.
If you are seriously into paper mache, and are planning on larger endeavors, any of the above will certainly come in handy. I once made use of an old stool and a large lazy susan to create a figure that turned. It always pays to save such things if you have room in your studio, because you never know what great ideas they may give you.