Tuesday, December 24, 2013

One Tip Tuesday

As promised in my last rant- er, post, here is the tip I wanted to share. It's a sort of craft hack that I think makes the basic step of applying paper mache to a balloon easier.

If you've ever attempted to apply wet paper strips to a balloon, you know the balloon doesn't exactly hold still while you work. It will roll around, possibly causing your handiwork to get shifted or even fall off. Here's a simple answer to that annoying scenario. Inflate a balloon and knot the opening. Next, weight the balloon by tying the mouth around the knotted opening of a bag of river stones (found at craft and garden stores). Now get a small bucket or large plastic tub. Mine is a large yogurt tub. Drop the bag of stones down into the tub. Now the balloon sits securely on the top, ready to be used.
Note: you may need to adjust and tighten the knot around the bag, depending on the size of your container, to get the balloon to sit firmly in the container.

Voilà! Now you can easily apply petroleum jelly (release agent) and the wet paper strips, without having to steady the balloon. I don't know if anyone else has shared something like this... I only came up with it the other day to make a project I had to do easier, lol. But I hope it helps someone out there!

that was easy!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Paper Beef

A recent order placed by a customer revealed an opportunity to set the record straight about the art of papier mache (aka paper mache). A parent placed an order for the paper mache body of a project with the plan to apply the finishing touches with her child. She sent me a link to detailed instructions to create the piece

Without revealing info about the link or its creator, I will say that it was the most convoluted set of plans, which included a number of messy, unnecessary steps... I shook my head at the idea that it was a project given to a child to complete at home. As someone who has worked in this medium for more years than I want to admit anymore, I wonder why people think it's such an enigma or tricky concept. When I see projects like this, I know. Please! Paper mache is NOT complicated! Don't make it. As much as I'm happy to create a custom request, I feel bad for the parents who have these things thrust onto them, without the interest or understanding of how simple they should be.

Bottom line, in my opinion, it was a project meant to be created in a classroom, guided by a teacher who is familiar with the technique (or at least okay with a mess). Not sent home for some harried parent to deal with. And if it is given as a take home project, or for any other reason tackled by a newbie, I'd like to set the record straight, to hopefully help parents, or anybody else faced with a project, if they're unfamiliar with paper mache. I'm sure there are lots of other great recipes to be found all over the internet. I've noticed, though, when I did a search that most were exceedingly involved, some with weird, complicated ingredients and steps. My personal preference is to create pieces using the simplest recipe, so I can reserve the finesse for the finishing (sanding, painting, embellishing).

There are two main types of paper mache, used over centuries by different cultures, to make many different (often functional) things. The pulp method is shredded paper, soaked in water, then mixed with a binder to create a clay-like situation that can be sculpted (more on this one later). The strip method involves paper torn into strips, dipped into a solution, layered onto a form, then allowed to dry. The strip method is the one I want to clarify (in case anyone is interested in my approach, after years of trial and error). Bottom line KEEP IT SIMPLE. When people start talking about boiling glue or boiling paper, I roll my eyes. That stuff is a waste of time to me, and doesn't make a difference in the finished piece. 

Here it is: Get newspaper (or whatever type of paper you prefer to use). Tear it into strips. Get plain white
glue. Add water to it until it reaches the consistency of milk. Dip the strips, (dripping excess glue off before applying) and apply 3-7 layers of strips to your form. Let your form dry. Add more, if necessary to achieve a hard, strong shape. Done. Well, at least the wet part, anyway. Now, there are other details, of course, so here's a quick breakdown:
  • I prefer white glue over flour and water or wallpaper paste because a) flour and water pieces can mold! b) my skin does not like wallpaper paste- it makes me break out in hives.
  • Salvage common household items to make forms. Use masking tape to tape together different shapes such as balloons, empty bottles, paper towel tubes, boxes, etc. to create a basic shape you can paper mache.
  • If you'll need to remove items used to mold shapes (balloons, bowls, etc.), coat them with petroleum jelly, cooking spray, or talcum powder to make them easy to pry out of the dried paper form
  • If you need to cover an item completely, when it has dried, carefully use a craft knife to cut your paper form. Pry the item out, then tape and mache the empty paper form back together.
  • For heaven's sake, if you need to create a face/mask, please don't paper mache your face or a child's face (yes, I've seen this done). Do you wanna rock a paper facial until it's totally dry? No, I didn't think so. Get a styrofoam wig head thing, slap some Vaseline on it, and paper mache that.
  • If you need a form that can't be found around the house, or want to make a unique shape, consider using non-hardening plasticine clay. It's super cheap, and you can get it at any craft store. There's the gray, artist grade type, or the colorful kind you can get in the kids section. Both do the job equally well. You can sculpt your piece, then dust it with talcum powder or cover with petroleum jelly/cooking spray, and paper mache it. Remove it from the clay when it has dried. This is a popular approach for mask making. You can reuse the clay over and over for different projects.
  • Use sandpaper to smooth your piece.
  • Allowing pieces to dry fully before attempting to smooth or paint them will prevent some warping, but be prepared, even the most carefully constructed pieces can warp occasionally. 
I think that's all of the basics. I may think of more to add later. If I've missed anything, or anyone has any questions, feel free to post them in the comments. I have another tip that I'll post later with pics on One Tip Tuesday.

Also, I mentioned pulp earlier. Find my recipe for pulp HERE.