you are here [x]: Scarlet Star Studios > the Scarlet Letters > experiment: papier mache mash
<< before comic homage to moon baby
after >> scrap workshop: art journaling

January 23, 2006

experiment: papier mache mash

by sven at 12:00 pm

There's a papier mache technique where you grind your paper into pulp, rather than cutting it into strips. It's called "papier mache mash". You might be familiar with Celluclay... This is the same idea. Mash isn't new, though; from what I've read, it's about as old as papier mache itself.

For years I've wanted to try making mash. Friday night I finally gave it a whirl.

boiling newspaper

I looked at a few recipes online, but didn't really abide by them. I started by chopping a copy of The Oregonian into 1"x1" squares with a swing-arm cutter. (Once a week, though we never asked for it, someone tosses a copy of this newspaper at our house... At last: a good use for the damned thing!)

I threw about half of the paper bits into a pot of boiling water and cooked it for 20 minutes. Note that I'm using a pot that's only for art projects -- don't eat out of it! The newspaper ink forms a black ring around the rim that's never going to come off.

boiled newspaper in a tub

I dumped the boiled newspaper in a tub to cool. Looks nasty. I read somewhere that you should only use the black and white portions of the paper, not color supplements. Sure enough, the glossy color pages didn't really break down into pulp very well. I think they're also responsible for the water turning reddish.

blendered pulp mixed with flour

Wearing disposable latex gloves, I put a few handfuls of pulp into a blender with some more water. Again, this is a not a food-safe blender -- it's only for art. (I picked it up for under $10 at Goodwill.) After pureeing the pulp into a sort of paste, I poured it into a tin pie pan, and mixed it with flour.

From what I read online, it looked like an acceptable option to use flour paste as a binder. It may be, however, that this only works if you boil the flour first. I was curious to see what would happen if I didn't boil it -- so I'm not going to be surprised if this experiment is a total flop.

mash spread over a styrofoam snippet

The mash seemed too wet to me, so I endeavored to squeeze out some of the water. I put a handful in a piece of cloth and twisted. This didn't work very well. Mash that was directly against the cloth dehydrated -- but the mash in the center of the ball stayed wet. When I tried to mix the dryer and wetter pulp together, the mash turned frustratingly lumpy.

Nonetheless, I took about half of the mash and spread it onto a snippet of styrofoam. It's not very easy to work with... If the mash doesn't have enough water content, it wants to be clumpy. If you wet it, you can get a farily smooth surface -- but then it's slick mush that's difficult to form.

Forty-eight hours later, there are thinner patches on the "brick" that have dried -- but I don't expect the thing to be fully dry for another two to three days.

mash after being baked

I decided to take the remaining mash and bake it in the oven. I wanted to see if I could dry it out faster that way.

The results were... disturbing. I got a waxy, glutinous, fleshy gray pancake. I think this is largely a result of the flour content. Really, it's kinda vile.

Forty-eight hours later, the pancake's edges have started curling... But it hasn't lost that fleshy texture. I don't think it's ever going to dry out right. Ew.


When I've tried Celluclay, I was fairly frustrated with it. It's either clumpy, or a slick mush that's difficult to form -- and it takes days to dry out. The same is true with the mash that I made.

Good: Newspaper and flour are about as cheap as it gets. If a large area needs to be covered with something vaguely clay-like, this could be acceptable. It looks like the mash will dry pretty hard; it should be possible to sand and drill it. It's pretty good for making seamless, organic surfaces. Leftover pulp can be safely thrown into the compost heap.

Bad: It's labor intensive to create: plan on at least an hour to prep. You need a big pot (with a lid), a stirring device, a tub, and a blender -- none of which can ever touch food again. It's messy. The boiling pulp wants to spit, and it's hard not to drop little splatters on the counter occasionally. And when the tarry ink separates from the paper, it will adhere to whatever it next comes in contact with. It's difficult to shape the pulp. And it takes forever to dry.

Next steps: Despite all this, I haven't given up on mash yet. For my next go, I want to try using toilet paper for pulp. It's relatively cheap, fine-grained, and inkless. I think I'm also going to try mixing the pulp with white glue, rather than flour paste. I suspect that Elmer's glue, even if it's watered down, will probably help the stuff dry faster.

posted by sven | January 23, 2006 12:00 PM | categories: sculpture