The difference between shape and form can be a tricky one for kids to understand. The simplest and most direct way to make sense of it is to actually make forms! Leave the shapes on the drawing table and gather up some junk and get busy with these paper mache animal heads.
These animal busts are a great exercise in thinking three dimensionally but they are also just so darn cute. They don’t have to be perfect, either. A little roughness just adds to their primitive appeal. These are gonna hang on my wall for a long time to come.
It’s a bust…
We chose to do all animal heads, or busts. You could literally make anything you want out of this stuff. This tutorial will hold true whether you choose a subject similar to ours or something completely different. The steps remain the same.
In the nature of full disclosure I did this project at home, with my four people, not an entire classroom full of kids. Since we only had a few kids I gave every little instruction as to how to make their forms. I provided some materials; newspaper, balloons, packing tape, tin foil, and string. They decided what they wanted to make and how best to make the shapes they needed. I was there to help troubleshoot but they fought through it themselves.
Baby dumpster diving….
Thinking in terms of form means we’re looking for interesting three dimensional forms that we can make into an animal head. The easiest place to find forms like this is the recycling bin! That’s right time to dumpster dive, at the beginner level.
Here are some things to look for; plastic bottles, lids, plastic produce boxes (think berry containers,) & cardboard from shipping boxes or cereal boxes.
Really you can use anything that is easy to cut through with scissors and that packing tape will stick to!
We also used a lot of old writing paper that we were gifted. Crumpled up paper wrapped with packing tape can make any shape you can think of. When using this method I like the idea that you can create your forms a little at a time. Being able to add a little at a time takes a little of the pressure off the creating process!
Balloons or wadded newspaper are best suited for large shapes. Tin foil or paper balled or rolled up makes unique curved shapes.
We used plastic water bottles cut open for “ears” on our bunny. Bu the mouse and the elephant ears were made of cardboard from a cereal box. News flash- plastic holds up much better when coated with wet paper mache! The mouse ears got soggy and saggy when wet. They survived but they took a little extra babying. Use plastic if you have it; it will eliminate soggy problems!
Balloons popped and strings slid but that’s part of what I like about this project.
Problem solving must take place before the fun begins! We talked about the general shapes of what they wanted to make and what materials would be best suited.
Paper mache time…
There are lots of ways to “do” paper mache. The old fashioned flour, water, and newsprint is probably the most economical but just not my favorite. Rigid Wrap plaster cloth by Activa is so easy and fun. It behaves predictably which cannot be said for the old fashioned paste method. I included Rigid Wrap in my “Top Ten” list. See the other nine winners here!
I used to horde my coupons for the local fabric store and buy it there in small rolls. That was until I realized I could buy a giant five pound roll for the price of two or three craft store rolls. Five pounds doesn’t sound like that much but with this stuff it is. Layer upon layer is not required so it doesn’t take as much.
It dries quickly and very hard. If you’re in the classroom setting this is especially an advantage because almost as soon as they are done making a project they can go on to whatever finishing step you choose
Buy the big box; you won’t be sorry.
Slap it on there…
Before we start I take the big five pound roll and cut strips about 2-3 wide. Then I cut those strips into square-ish pieces. This is not a precise art. Those pieces are about the right size for kids to dip into the water and smooth onto their armature. Too big pieces and it’s easy to get them twisted and wrinkled and then you end up wasting your plaster wrap. Boo.
Let kids get into this part. It’s a little wet and messy but nothing that a few pieces of newspaper can’t catch. It’s a great sensory activity.
A couple of things to note as your kids are working. Swirling the plaster wrap in the water looks pretty and feels awesome. It also removes all the plaster from the gauze rendering it useless.
Also, if your form is paper or cardboard and your kid loves applying drippy plaster wrap their form may morph a bit in the process. This is easily fixed before you start the paper mache. Wrap that baby in a plastic grocery bag. It doesn’t have to be super tight or precise; the plaster can do that. The bag will just keep some of the moisture off the paper portion. If you’re working with a form that’s mostly plastic you’ve got no worries.
Finish it up….
How to finish these little gems??? I had thoughts of tissue paper collage, newsprint decoupage, comic strip decoupage, pop art style painting, primitive style painting, too many ideas to count!
In the end I picked a single color for each animal with the option of jazzing them up later should we become bored.
I love spray paint. My kids love spray paint. It’s total instant gratification which is my favorite. Spray and bam, done. I’m not a perfectionist. We did a couple of quick coats while the paper mache sculptures layed in the grass, flipped them over and did it again. Bonus; pretty grass.
Share what your people make of paper mache! The possibilities are endless!