Ronnie Burkett's Papier Mache Recipes

Recipe #1

(Good for basic head modelling and casting)


6 ounces good quality glossy magazine paper (approximately one half of a TIME or NEWSWEEK)
1 square foot of brown kraft paper (grocery bag paper)
2 heaping tablespoons whiting (ground chalk)
4 tablespoons white glue
1 tablespoon linseed oil
2 tablespoons dry powdered what wallpaper paste - OR - 1/4 cup flour and water paste (recipe follows)
2 drops oil of cloves - OR - 1 tablespoon bleach
Whiting can be purchased at most large art-supply or hardware stores. Elmer's or LePage's are examples of white glue. Either raw or boiled linseed oil can be used, but the boiled form dries more quickly, whereas the raw oil maintains optimum whiteness. If the object you are making is intended for a young child who may chew on it, do not use wheat wallpaper paste - it is usually vermin-proofed.

Bring one cup of water to boil in a small saucepan. In another container mix 3 tablespoons of flour and 1/3 cup of cold water to a smooth consistency. Pour the flour and water into the boiling water. Stir until it thickens. Pour the paste into a disposable container (such as a plastic tub). Stir a drop or two of oil of cloves or a teaspoon of liquid bleach into the paste to prevent it from souring or molding. Allow the paste to cool before you use it.

To begin making a batch of Recipe #1 composition, tear the magazine and kraft paper into bits no larger than 1/2" square. Place the paper pieces in a large enamelled pot such as a waterbath canner. Do not use aluminium, as the alkali in the paper will corrode it. Tear, never cut, the paper into small pieces. We are returning the paper to its previous pulp state - a mass of fibers. These fibers will bond together again with the other ingredients to form the composition. The longer the fibers, the stronger the composition. Cutting chops up and shortens the fibers, whereas tearing only pulls them apart.

Cover the paper bits with water and andd two tablespoons of household bleach to the pan. Place the mixture on the stove and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer the contents for two hours. Stir from time to time. Cooking further reduces the paper to pulp and the bleach removes most of the colour. The odour of the simmering paper is unusual, but not harmful.

Next, place a colander or large strainer in the sink. Remove the pan of cooked paper from the stove. The pan contains globs of mushy paper floating in an unpleasantly coloured broth. Pour the mixture into the colanderr and let it drain. Rinse the cool paper mass with water until the liquid running from the colander is clear. Return the paper mass to the pan.

Now the paper must be beaten. This process should whip the paper with such force that it separates any remaining pieces into pulp and even individual fibers. A kitchen blender or Cuisinart will accomplish this task nicely, and if you use sufficient water the appliance will be none the worse for wear. Place the colander or strainer in the sink again and line wiht cheesecloth. Place a lump of wet paper about the size of a plum in the blender. Fill the blender with water. First chop, then blend the paper for about a minute. Pour the contents into the cheesecloth strainer. If you don't have a blender, beat the paper briskly by hand with a metal whisk or rub vigorously over a washboard.

Have a plastic container nearby. You can use a plastic tub or the bottom half of a disposable milk or bleach bottle. Lift the cheesecloth above the strainer, gathering the corners to prevent dumping the paper pulp. Gently squeeze out some of the water. Do not overdo this step. The pulp should retain a lot of water to be a pliable modelling compound. This is a gray area; only as you gain experience will you recognise when the pulp has the correct moisture content. Continue with the process of beating and squeezing until all the pulp is in your plastic tub.

Add to the container all the other ingredients except the dry wheat wallpaper paste. If you are using flour and water paste, it can be added now. Mix thoroughly. Sprinkle the wallpaper paste over the mixture. Stir or hand mix it into the other ingredients. The composition is now ready to be used, either for direct modelling small objects, over an armature for larger pieces, or in a mold.

To store, put the container into a plastic bag. Seal tightly and place in the refrigerator. Composition can be kept refrigerated for several weeks. However, each time it is taken out of the bag and exposed to air for any period of time, it becomes dryer and consequently more difficult to use.

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Recipe #2

(Good for Fine Head Modelling and Casting)


1/2 roll good quality white toilet paper
4 tablespoons white glue
1 tablespoon raw linseed oil
2 tablespoons wheat wallpaper paste - OR - 1/4 cup flour and water paste
2 drops oil of cloves - OR - 1 tablespoon liquid bleach
Measure, tear, cook, beat and mix the ingredients following the same instructions as for preparing composition from Recipe #1.

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Recipe #3

(Good Primarily for Over-Modelling and Patching)


2 slices of bread
2 tablespoons white glue
2 drops glycerine - OR - 2 drops liquid detergent
White bread provides a smoother finish than a coarser "natural" bread. Remove the crusts and crumble into a small container. Add the white glue. Add glycerine (available from most drug stores) or liquid detergent to the bread and glue. Knead the mixture until it is no longer sticky and it is ready to use. This compound can be stored for weeks in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or covered jar.

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Recipe #4

(Good for Basic Pulp Use and Body Parts)


4 double-page sheets of newspaper
2 heaping tablespoons whiting, ground chalk or cellulose spackle
2 tablespoons white glue
1 tablespoon raw or boiled linseed oil
2 drops oil of wintgergreen - OR - oil of cloves
2 tablespoons wheat wallpaper paste - OR - flour and water paste
Tear, boil and mix exactly as described for recipe #1. The only difference in the procedure as recommended by the author is to whisk the fibers while still in the pot of water it was boiled in. She suggests using one of those slim electric hand-held whisks (Braun, Moulinex, etc.) With the small rotating blades that can be inserted directly into your container. She also uses a wire mesh sieve (or a piece of window screening) rather than the cheesecloth strainer, and suggests simply taking the strained pulp into your hands to squeeze the water out.

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Recipe #5

(Good for Large Projects Over an Armature)


Newspaper (enough to fill your pot to the brim)
Sawdust (same quantity as your strained paper pulp)
2 cups white glue
Whiting (half the amount of your pulp)
2 tablespoons raw or boiled linseed oil
A few drops oil of cloves
Wheat wallpaper paste.
Tear the newspaper into small pieces as indicated for the other recipes. Place in the large pot, filling to the brim. Cover with water and boil the mixture for three hours until the paper becomes pulp.

After boiling, but before straining, you can insert either an electric whisk or use a "human-powered" one to loosen the fibers. Strain off the surplus water through a sieve or colander. If you did not whisk the pulp while still in the pot of water, you can now begin the process of chopping the pulp in the blender. However, adding the sawdust to this denser mixture indicates a heavier and more textured composition, so you may choose to do away with the blender process altogether. For very large puppets, prop pieces or sculptural objects built up over an armature where fine modelling is not essential or desired, simply boiling whisking the paper will do.

Once strained, add the sawdust, white glue, ground chalk (whiting), linseed oil, oil of cloves and wallpaper paste. Mix together in a large tub.

The pulp will feel like clay and can now be modelled. This mixture will take up to three weeks to dry, depending on the size of the piece. As it dries, keep re-working to prevent or repair any distortion or cracking.

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