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Paper Mâché: Beginning the Work

Beginning

I keep a sketchbook for all of my ideas. It’s not expensive. In fact, it’s about twelve pages of A4 paper, folded over and saddle stitched together. Usually, I make three or four with graph paper, and then two or three with inexpensive white drawing paper. This type of sketchbook works well for me.

A great deal of my sketching is more mental than physical. There is a lot of time spent thinking about the ideas. Moving it around inside my head. Looking at it from different angles. Deciding on themes, colors, sizes, etc.. prior to any serious sketches being made. Sometimes, more thinking and more sketches are required.

What I try hard to keep in the forefront of my mind is to allow the artwork to be itself. If I feel as though I’m forcing an idea or a concept, I drop it for a while. Ideas can always be returned to in the future. Describing how I know when I’m forcing an idea is difficult to pin down. I suppose that at this point in my artistic career; I just know.

Once the idea is decided upon, it’s time to start putting it together in real life.

Patterns

Some pieces require me to create pattern to ensure adherence to a specific size or shape. An inexpensive school-grade graphed paper is used for this. One of the pieces that I’m currently working on required me to create six tiered half circled forms. The patterns I created made sure that the finished tiers were uniform from top to bottom.

There are times that a pattern piece needs to be heavier, because it’s going to be traced many times. I transfer these types of patterns to carton board. It’s easy to trace around and stands up to more abuse.

Some pattern pieces are organically shaped. Making patterns for those also helps in construction. Especially if the organic shape is complicated. Or it needs to fit into a very specific place within a larger, paper mâché piece.

It should be noted that as I have continued working in paper mâché, I don’t cut out patterns for every single piece of cardboard and carton board. In the beginning, I measured every tiny little piece and had a pattern piece for EVERYTHING!

When all needed pattern pieces are completed, then it’s on to cutting out the card and carton board.

Cutting it all out

When using patterns, it’s fairly easy to get started. Pencil or ballpoint pen work well for tracing pattern pieces onto the cardboard. When I’m choosing the corrugated cardboard for a piece, I look for the stronger cardboard for the outer portions of the piece. Weaker, flimsier cardboard I can use within the structure to give it more strength.

The weaker, slightly flimsier corrugated cardboard works well for creating curves. For tight curves, I score the corrugated cardboard so it bends a bit easier. For bigger curves, I usually roll the corrugated cardboard over a cylindrical form. It holds the shape just fine.

For the large, six tiered doll that I have been working on, I did have to sit down and do a little math to figure out how tall I wanted the finished piece to be. Would 7 or 9 cm in height for each tier work better? The drawers needed to be taken into account as well as the space around them. Again, my personal time and experience factors into a lot of my decisions. In the end, I go with what I think and feel is “correct”.

Now to the glue!

Attaching the pieces

Once I have the main corrugated cardboard structure the way that I want it, I begin gluing it together. In my previous post, I mentioned the glue that I use, Eri-Keeper. I have a deep and abiding love for this glue. It does exactly what I want and need it to do. I understand that I’m also a person who doesn’t mind getting my hands messy and sticky as well. So I understand when someone might rather use a glue gun!

If you would like to see some of the work I have been putting together using my own paper mâché construction methods and techniques, take a look at my Instagram here. When working with a very symmetrical piece like this one, I made sure throughout the entire construction process, that I kept the center (90 degree) marked so I could see it.

This six tiered doll was constructed in sections. Each tier was completely separate until I put it together using the bamboo skewers and wooden plant stakes. The construction was planned this way, so that I would be more easily able to create the drawers within three of the tiers.

The drawer holes were measured and cut out of the corrugated cardboard. Then the inside walls were added. They’re not hard to create. The space from top to bottom of the drawer space was measured. Pieces of corrugated cardboard (with the corrugation running vertically) were cut. They were put into the space and marked for length. Then cut to fit then glued in place.

Adding stability

Now, I may be just a little paranoid about my finished paper mâché artwork falling apart. So I add a lot of structurally stabilizing corrugated cardboard to my artwork. In the pictures you can see here of a pervious piece, there are so many little pieces of corrugated cardboard!

Remember that flimsy corrugated cardboard I mentioned above? I use a lot of this inside the cardboard structures. Sometimes it’s used to shim-up a wall or to support a very thin dividing wall. Sometimes it’s little rectangles that I glue in between an internal structure (like a drawer) and the outer wall. This is done so that the outer and inner walls don’t buckle or bow while drying.

This buckling and bowing will happen when you begin adding the newspaper and the PVA glue to the outside of the cardboard structure.

Veneering

Corrugated cardboard isn’t the strongest material on the planet. When it gets wet, it begins to come apart. This has a lot to do with the kinds of paper fibers and the way the corrugated cardboard is created. When newsprint and the PVA glue are attached to it’s surface, it will get squishy. Then when the piece as dried, more often than not, the corrugations (ripples) can be seen through the layers of newspaper and PVA glue.

Again, I’m a little nit-picky about certain things. This ripply surface makes me nuts. I solved the problem by using carton board as a veneer over the top of the corrugated cardboard. The entire surface of the six tiered doll was covered in cookie and porridge cartons, as well as some toilet paper rolls.

Measuring wasn’t really required. I just laid the pieces onto the cardboard and traced them. There were some spots in which the carton board didn’t match. It was more important for the thickness of the carton board matched.

And anyway! It’s all going to get covered with newsprint and PVA glue anyway!

Prep that newsprint!

The size and complexity of a piece I’m creating determines the size of the newsprint pieces that I need, as well as the way that I tear them. Any kind of newsprint will work, as long as the paper isn’t glossy. Glossy papers don’t work! Save those for paper collage work and book making projects!

If you’ve followed my paper mâché artwork for a while now, you know that some of the pieces I create have all kinds of oddly shaped elements. Each of them use a differently torn paper. It’s important to note that the newsprint needs to be torn, not cut with scissors or a utility knife.

For the internal parts of drawers, and where legs are attached, I use thin strips of newspaper. They are about .5 cm wide by about 3 cm long depending upon the specific piece. Larger, flat areas I use 2 cm wide by 3 cm (approximate!) pieces of paper. There are some really tiny pieces I’ve created in which I needed a 1 cm by 1 cm or smaller pieces of torn newsprint to work with.

For some pieces that are not flat, I will tear the newsprint into strips and then again, against the grain of the paper. Giving the paper a somewhat jagged looking shape. This allows the newsprint to adhere to an irregular surface better. I used this kind of paper a lot while creating the head pictured here.

Attaching the newsprint and glue

In the previous post, I mentioned that I use an inexpensive white PVA glue to attach the newsprint to the cardboard forms. A little water is sometimes required to thin the glue a bit. I buy Memoris-Precious Askarteluliima (Craft/Hobby Glue) in 500g bottles. The amount of water needed to thin it a bit, is about 5 to 10 ml. for the entire 500g bottle.

I’m not a person who minds getting her hands messy. For large areas, I usually just use my hands. When there are smaller areas, or I just cannot get my hands into a space to attach the newspaper and glue, I use an old #6 watercolor paint brush. First, I paint down a little glue, then pick up a piece of newsprint with the same sticky brush. I place the newsprint where I want it, then paint it down with a little more glue.

This method sounds time-consuming. And it is. Or perhaps I should say, ‘and it can be’. However, it gets me the results that I want. For pieces that I will be adding gesso, paint and sealant to, three or four layers of newsprint and glue are enough. I make sure to alter the direction of the newsprint in each layer. This helps the surface to be stronger.

For pieces like this one, a finished thickness of 1 to 1.5 mm is enough. There will be additional structures placed inside this piece. So the thinness of the surface is okay.

This and that

While adding newsprint and glue to a piece, I do make corrections as I go. There may be a place where it seems a bit crooked, or too thin. Added layers of paper and glue can help to disguise that. You can see in this piece, where I will have to do some creative paper applications to cover this up!

Sometimes, the time it takes for individual pieces to dry makes me impatient. This isn’t surprising. I’m an incredibly impatient artist. Some paper mâché artists use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process. Personally, I’m not a fan of doing this. It’s possible to dry out one spot a lot, while another spot may still be really squishy. I prefer to let pieces dry overnight before I continue working on them.

There are a lot of essential parts of my personal creative process and how it interacts with the paper mâché techniques I use. To be honest, most of the time while I’m working on a piece, I’m so focused on what I’m doing that even I may not be completely aware that I’m actually doing a specific thing at a specific time.

An example of this would be how I plan out the sequences of work during the creation of a paper mâché piece. Some things must happen before others. And I just ‘know’ how to do it. There’s not a tremendous amount of thinking done regarding this. Again, this is just time and experience at work for me.

Now what?

Anyone reading this two part blog post now has an idea of the tools, materials, preparations and work (mental and physical) that go into how I create my artwork. As I said previously, I know that I’ve left all kinds of stuff out. If I wrote a totally faithful step=by-step account of what I do, the blog posts would be the length of a book!

Thanks for reading, and I will see you again on Friday,

 

 

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