Paper Mache Whale

       This project was pretty different from what I usually do. That's great, because it means I learned a lot from it! Natalie and I decided to make a giant paper mache whale using paper mache clay. It's a great DIY project that anyone can do. For an easier introduction, try paper mache over a balloon (you don't need to do the wireframe or make the fancy paper mache clay).

Process

The first thing we had to do was create a wireframe base to establish the general shape and size of our whale. We found some 18-gauge OOK brand Aluminum wire, but that ended up being rather flimsy so we doubled it up and twisted it with a power drill to get something that's easier to work with.

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We first shaped the side profile, then the top profile, also outlining the shape out the mouth. Then we added rings along the length of the whale, connecting them with masking tape.

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To get matching fins, we drew the shape on a piece of cardboard as a guide. That's it for the wireframe! We attached some kite string to hang the structure from the ceiling to make the paper mache process easier.

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Our paper mache solution is Mod Podge with a bit of water to make it the consistency of buttermilk. You can also use Elmer's glue, which costs less.

We tore strips of newspaper around 1-2" wide, covered them in the glue solution and covered up the wireframe. 2-3 layers of newspaper will make a pretty solid shell.

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Next up we're going to smooth and sculpt things a bit more using paper mache clay. We borrowed a recipe from ultimatepapermache.com. The first thing to do is create a pulp by soaking toilet paper with warm water. To blend the mixture we used a paint mixer connected to a power drill, but a kitchen stand mixer would do the job as well.

We added the following ingredients :

  • 1¼ cup toilet paper pulp
  • ¾ cup Elmer's Glue All (not school glue)
  • 1 cup drywall compound (not DAP brand)
  • 2 tbsp. mineral oil (baby oil)
  • ½ cup white flour

Then we mixed it together again.

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Using a spatula, we spread the clay over the entire whale.

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You may like the pulpy texture of the clay, but we decided to go over some parts with a smoother mixture. The recipe is the same just without the paper pulp. This results in a very creamy paste that spreads on very smooth. Just be careful to let layers dry and not apply too thick, or it might crack from shrinkage.

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We dragged a piece of styrene through the wet paste to form ventral grooves along the whale's belly. Once things were dry, we cleaned it up with sandpaper and vacuumed away the dust.

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We were happy with the sculpting, so it was time to paint! We used cheap acrylic paint, going with a dark color scheme. The top is very dark gray and the bottom is a creme white.

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For an extra touch of detail we sculpted some tiny barnacles out of Sculpey. After 10 minutes in the oven we glued them onto our whale using Tacky glue.

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The final touch was added by splattering paint across the whale with a toothbrush. This helped make everything look more organic as blended the dark top and light bottom a bit better.

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Finally we swapped out the kite string with a nicer steel wire. We drilled two holes through the whale, just underneath the internal wire and fed the steel wire through those holes. Then we fastened the loop with green Floral wire, which holds surprisingly well.

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...and that's it! We have ourselves a big beautiful whale.