After a tutorial about my work I wanted to try out paper mache. It sounded like it had the potential to be a lot finer and more delicate than clay, and also much stronger than clay and not subject to cracking.
I designed the shape being far more precise than I have made designs in the past. This shape was inspired by Emma Kunz’s drawings, and also by the Cathedral architecture imagery from the books I had been looking through.

Using a very accurate design with shading to demonstrate depth, and knowing how I wanted the finished product to be, was a much clearer way of working than I have worked in the past, for example with the clay sculpture where I did very rough sketches and then finished the sculpture off as I went. Having a detailed plan meant I didn’t waste time, and I added the full wire armature before I started adding paper mache.

I started with this octagon shape, using wire criss crossing the centre to keep the shape in position. It’s been a bank holiday this week so I couldn’t go out and buy thicker wire! So I made do with the bendy wire, wanting to get started with this process instead of delaying it.

I knew that the paper mache would dry very firm, so I thought if I start laying down paper mache early, it would act as a support even though the wire was thin and bendy. But, the problem I didn’t anticipate was the drying time of paper mache – it’s sloww. So I would have had to have waited hours for this initial frame to dry before I added the next layer – too slow. It seems there’s no getting round having wire that’s too thin!

The Paper Mache

Half flour half water. Mixed to a smooth thin glue-like consistency. Not too thick or it’s too gloopy, dries even slower and is sloppy to work with. Not too thin or it doesn’t have enough sticking power.
I used newspaper thin paper, which I luckily already hah yey. This worked really well – it was thin enough that it applied really thin layers, but not too thin that it disintegrated when trying to work with it.
I would rip strips of paper and then soak it in the paper mache on both sides before removing it, scraping off the excess glue with my fingers, waiting a couple of seconds and then applying it.
At first I really struggled wrapping the paper strips around the wire – it’s harder than it looks! But eventually I got to know the right angle that you wrap the paper around the wire.

I should have taken more progress photos along the way!

To get to this ^ point, I made the outer hexagon and the inner hexagon shape and then attached them together with wire connecting corners to corners and sides to sides. Then I added the curved shapes.

Then I covered it all in paper mache. I was surprised at how easily the paper mache held its shape when I applied sheets of it to the curved shape. I then waited for the shape to dry.

The sculpture dried a nice light colour but once it’s finished I intend to paint it white so it matches the colour I would be painting it.

I went in with a second layer of paper mache on the underside of the sculpture. Unlike my previous clay sculpture, I wanted both sides of the sculpture to be finished. I used a small brush here to get into all the small areas, and lay down more paper and glue to smooth over any gaps.

I now realise I didn’t do the bottom part of the sculpture! This bit:

I just didn’t notice that I hadn’t added this part of the sculpture in. It would have been hard to differentiate between the part I left out and the bigger plane because I am not using black lines to separate sections. So I could have left the bottom part of the sculpture empty that might have been good.

Leaving this out has proven that the more detailed the structure the better.

The finished sculpture after two coats of white acrylic paint! I decided not to add legs to the sculpture because I would have had to have added them before using any paper mache, plus I don’t think this sculpture, as my first try has been successful enough to bother putting legs on.

What works

The sculpture translated well from drawing to finished piece. Using a very geometric and accurate design was very helpful. It was really cool seeing the sculpture transform from a drawing to a 3D object. I had to change the design slightly when I was making it, my intentions on paper weren’t realistic for manipulating wire in real life, but that way of thinking will come with more practice.

Paper mache is better than clay. For these delicate structures paper mache has such potential! I really enjoyed working with clay, and how you can add textural detail and streamline every form. But working with paper mache allows for such fine shapes, it is the perfect in between of the delicacy of wire and the form of clay. And with more practice I can make the paper mache smoother and more clay like in its streamlined-ness.

Painting the sculpture white. I need to bring some salt into the studio for my next piece so the glue doesn’t go all browny/green! But I would have painted it anyway. Painting it white highlights the form of the shape, and removes and distracting texture and colour.

I can see this sculpture translating well into drawing, but we will see!

Measuring things with a ruler as I’m working

What doesn’t work

The thin wire is once again an issue – it is too bendy! Any angular, straight precision is lost because the wire was way too bendy to control. I’m not using this again. The sculpture looks too loose.

Design is lacking legs duh. Next sculpture I’ll add some.

Too simple a shape I think.

How effective the shape is will be revealed once I have made some drawings of the sculpture. That’s what I’m doing next! I’m excited to do more.

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