DIY: Paper Mache Letterforms

Paper Mache Letters

Today I'm going to share with you a DIY crafty-project that is actually one of the art assignments that I complete with my 6th grade students. These letterforms are awesome for home decor, or for kids' bedrooms. They look really substantial, but are super lightweight and surprisingly easy to make from simple materials! You will have to work on it over the course of several days, as it requires drying time between steps. For this project, you will need:

  • Empty cereal box cardboard (approximately 2 boxes per letter you plan to make)
  • Scissors
  • Masking tape
  • Newspaper or newsprint
  • Paper towels
  • A pencil
  • A bucket for paper mache (gallon size)
  • Paper mache paste (I use this kind, but there are a variety of recipes out there)
  • Acrylic paint
  • Puffy paint
  • Tempera paint (optional)

Paper Mache Letters

First, open up one of your cereal boxes by opening up the flap along one of the skinny edges. Cut the box along the folds to create four sections, as shown above: two long skinny sides and two large rectangles.

On one of the large rectangles, draw a block letter of the letter you choose to make. Cut it out, and use it as a pattern to trace and cut a second letter exactly the same size as the first. These letters will become the front and back of your letterform. The long thin sides will then become the sides of your letterform.

Paper Mache Letters

Two long thin side pieces will not be enough to go all the way around your letter, so use your second cereal box to trace and cut several more long thin pieces the same width as your original two side strips.

Paper Mache Letters

Now you may begin assembling your basic letterform, as shown above. use masking tape and your long thin side strips to create a 3-dimensional form, all the way around. It's a good idea to stuff the inside of your letterform with newspaper or newsprint to help keep it from sagging when coated with wet paper mache in the next steps.

When your basic letterforms are finished, they'll look something like this:

Paper Mache Letters

Now you're ready to cover your form with paper mache! I like this art paste made by Elmer's because it doesn't get moldy like flour + water can, and it takes me almost a week to do this step with sixth graders. But on your own, you can do this within two days, no problem. The art paste is a powder that you mix with water, and then let set up for 15 minutes. It becomes like slimy hair gel. Ew.

I also like to use those nasty brown paper towels from school as my paper mache strips, because it dries solid and gives a good surface for painting. If you have plain white paper towels at home, use that. You could also use newspaper or newsprint, but newspaper will require more base coats of paint to cover the printing.

Paper Mache Letters

If you've never used paper mache before, you drip the strips into the bucket of paste, and then squeegee the excess off with your fingers (like your fingers are a pair of scissors) and lay/press the strips down onto your form, carefully laying them flat and folding the edges around and over. It's a good idea to overlap and get about two layers over the entire form. We usually do one side of the form on day one, and the other side on day two. Plus a day for stragglers... and a day for absent kids... and then that kid who was on vacation for three days, and that other guy who was called down to the office during class and missed the whole period... sigh...you get the idea...

When the paper mache is dry, we use PUFFY PAINT to create raised textures on the front surface of our letterforms. Doesn't matter what color you use. Here's a preview of an unpainted letterform, just paper mache and puffy paint:

Paper Mache Letters

Once your puffy paint has dried, you can finally apply the paint to create the final effect! This is achieved by using two layers of paint: a base coat of acrylic paint, and a "wash" (or "drybrush"/"sponge" coat) layer using tempera paint.

The letters below both have a black acrylic paint base coat with metallic tempera paint wash top layers. The "B" has gold paint, and the "L" is copper.

Paper Mache Letters

Here's a better view of the copper-colored finish:

Paper Mache Letters

I've also had really good luck with white/black combinations to achieve an antiqued/whitewashed effect, and I've even experimented with using a foil covering on the letterform in place of the paper mache layers. You can have a lot of fun with this basic technique by changing up colors and media applications! Try it out, and let me know how it goes!

Rock On,
Jen @ Hell Razor
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