Papier mache – Papier-mâché – Papiermaché – Pappmaché – Pappmaschee – Papiermasche
Papier-mache is a material made of paper and a binding agent. There are basically two possible ways of working with papier-mâché:
1. Moulds with pulp
Pulp is a kind of a formable modelling material. Papier-mâché is French term for “chewed paper”. Should you ask me, I would call it Pappmatsche in German because its consistence resembles a tougher “mud”; you can easily develop a childlike pleasure splashing in it. This is in no way meant as an insult for this material, rather as a tribute. I hope it has been understood in this way
The most important ingredients for the pulp are soaked paper pieces and an adhesive, the latter being usually a glue. Quite often, some wood glue is added for the sake of better firmness. What can be used as an alternative for allergy sufferers or doing handicrafts with children is flour because of its natural adherence. The mash made from these two ingredients feels like clay and dries in the air.
Pulp can be used to mould objects (e. g. bowls, pots) or sculptures. It can be directly used to make small figures or jewels. Bigger models are not made solely of the pulp (i.e. they are not solid), but the pulp is applied on the prepared structure. The core (framework) of the future sculpture has to be made of other materials, e. g. a wire, polystyrene, crumpled newspaper, chicken wire or various selected objects which get lost in the sculpture (lost forms).
The surface of the applied pulp can be made smoother by means of a bit of glue and a knife. Pulp tends to shrink and it often happens that cracks and unevenness appear after drying; they can be mended with a bit of fresh mixture or left as they are as a design feature. Depending on the layer thickness, it takes a few days or weeks for a sculpture to dry. Then it can be finished similarly to wood (e. g. by sawing, grinding, carving). The work is mostly painted or finished in another way. The options are unlimited.
2. Laminating / layering technique
Using this method, you work with paper shreds or strips and glue them one above the other in many layers. The layering technique is well suited for moulding of objects. Similarly to working with the pulp, a supporting model (lost form) can be pasted over with paper layers.
Work method: Glue is mixed and the paper torn into strips of different lengths – in no way can they be cut because you would get visible transitions and individual layers would bond worse. The more curvature, the smaller have to be the paper shavings.
This technique is suitable for e. g. making of masks. The required drying time is not as long as with the pulp. However, a lot of patience is needed. The result is even lighter and thin-walled.
Papier-mâché objects are light and still very stable. The disadvantage of this technique consists in the length of the time required. You need patience for both techniques because there are mostly several stages needed to conjure up a work. You have to wait quite often till individual layers dry completely – it is only then that the work can be continued. So this is nothing for impatient ones who suffer from “instantness”. The drying can be speeded up by warmth (no heat!). It is quite possible to combine both techniques in one artwork.
Possibility of recycling
This is another nice aspect of the work with papier-mâché: it can be very inexpensive. As for paper selection, you can reach for used paper (newspaper, wrapping paper, used office paper); the same applies to the materials used for the supporting structure (old objects that are not used anymore).
You can find examples of my pulp works e. g. in the Figures, Heads Gallery. These sculptures are made of pulp clinging on cardboard, polystyrene, and wire frames. Subsequently, they are mostly painted with acrylic paints in several layers.
Both above mentioned techniques are quite often used together in one artwork.