Paper-mache, the process of turning newspaper and kitchen pantry staples into art, puts 3D creativity into the hands of everyone from toddlers to teens and master sculptors. The short list of supplies belies the vast possibilities with this centuries-old Chinese technique, which has been used to form everything from ceremonial masks to furniture.
You can make a flour-and-water paper-mache paste without turning on the stove, but this boiled version, sometimes referred to as flour glue, requires only a little extra effort and results in a smoother, more durable finish for your paper-mache project. It also dries clearer than uncooked paper-mache paste. Use all-purpose white flour and discard any unused paste; it does not store well. Stick to a basic 1:5 ratio of flour to water to scale the recipe up or down depending on the size of your project, but use your judgment and add more flour or water to achieve the consistency of spreadable glue.
- 1 1/4 cups room-temperature water
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 tablespoon table salt (optional)
Pour 1 cup of water into a pot on the stove and bring it to a boil. In humid climates, whisk a tablespoon of salt into the dry flour to inhibit mold. Stir the 1/4 cup of flour into the remaining 1/4 cup of water. Beat briskly with a fork or whisk it to break up the lumps.
When the water boils, drizzle in the water and flour mixture, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to medium and keep it at a low but steady boil for two to three minutes. Continue whisking until the mixture starts to look like heavy cream. If necessary, add more water or flour in small amounts until the paste reaches the desired consistency. Keep in mind, though, that the paste continues to thicken as it cools, so it should still be pourable when you pull it off the stove.
- Beads: Make paper pulp by soaking newspaper strips in boiling water. After it cools, squeeze out the excess water, then add enough papier-mache paste that the pulp holds its shape when you roll clumps of it into small balls. Push a toothpick completely through each ball. You can leave them round, stretch them into ovals, or gently flatten the sides for square beads. After you shape one to your liking, remove the toothpick and let the bead dry completely. Paint or varnish the beads, then string them together for a necklace, keychain, or bracelet.
- Bowls: Completely cover a bowl with plastic wrap to use as a form. Turn it upside down. Overlap strips of paper moistened with your flour glue onto the upside-down bowl, allowing it to dry between layers. This works with any size or shape of bowl. You can also use a gelatin mold, silicone cupcake liners or a shaped cake pan for interesting contours. Let the paper-mache dry, then carefully remove your bowl from the form. Decorate as your imagination dictates.