Papier Maché: DIY Handmade Products - Art Therapy

paper mache papier maché as a diy art therapy project
Papier maché, aka paper mache, is considered sufficiently simple to allow a very wide age range of people to benefit from its healing effects on anxiety (including PTSD) and other mental health concerns (including bipolar disorder). In fact, when I made papier maché bowls with a young mother and her 2-year old twins, we all enjoyed it. However, in addition to this fun factor, it is a particularly useful form of art therapy for young children who can not yet express complex emotions. 
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I finally understand why my darkest moments at 9 found me doing something I'd never done before. Barefooted outside in a region only hours away from the Amazon rainforest, I squatted low to Mother. I think I'd already begun to speak with her by then. Anyway, I uprooted enough grass to make a small clearing and then  used my fingers to scoop sticky mud balls from the bare ground. I loved how my fingers looked chocolatey brown and messy. With meditative focus, I then moulded the mud into clay bowls, used twigs to carve designs around the sides and then 'baked' my creations in the sun. At times, my otherwise racing mind could barely listen to thoughts other than those impatient ones that were eager for my babies to dry. When the babies were finally done, someone understood their perfection. Mr Khan, dear Mr Khan! (Mr Khan was a security guard whose plump body and white hair and beard made him into an Indian Santa Claus, ie if you could see his perfection.) Mr Khan, I remember! You smiled at their scratchy sides and uneven rims. Then, under my watchful gaze, you used the utmost care to arrange each baby into your canvas bag ... so they would not break. Then you assured me you would keep them safe and even give some to your daughter (who you so often mentioned while you had a special look in your eye). Today, I smile at that bitter-sweet chocolate Summer ... so long ago but so instantaneously near. Thank you Mr Khan!

For this paper mache (papier maché) DIY art therapy project, you will need:
- A few days
- A Mold & Paper:
  • A mold. I used a bowl. Other common shapes include plates and platters.
  • Mold protector. Plastic cling wrap or aluminium foil will suffice.
  • Paper. Old newspaper is commonly used
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- Glue:
  • 1 part flour (as a glue)
  • 2 parts water at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt  (to deter the formation of mold)
- Painting
  • Base color. It should be sufficiently thick to hide the newspaper print. White paint is usually used. I use construction water-based paint that is non-toxic. It is also the cheapest option, at least in my area.
  • Colored paint. You may use natural food colors like turmeric powder. You may use acrylic paint.
- Varnish (as a sealant)

For this paper mache (papier maché) DIY art therapy project, use the following steps:

  • Place the bowl face down. Cover it with plastic wrap (or even aluminium foil). Do not leave any open gaps. Allow some excess wrap to tuck under the bowl. Set this aside.
  • Make paper strips. This is no science with precise measurements. Mine are roughly 1 inch wide and a few inches long. The length is usually enough to cover the longest part of the mold (like height or diameter for instance). Set the paper strips aside.
  • Combine the flour, water and salt in a bowl
  • Submerge a dry paper strip into the flour mixture until completely saturated. Hold it up and remove excess with your fingers.
  • Place the strip over the bowl. Continue with other strips of paper until you have roughly 3 layers. Smooth each new strip over previous ones to avoid holes and potential air bubbles. Keep in mind that this step allows your bowl to have structure and strength. In that case, allow the strips to cross and overlap each other. Ultimately, your new structure should not have any holes.
  • A golden rule of papier maché is "no moisture". If you do not comply before proceeding to the following steps, your work is likely to grow mold. Place your craft (with its mold) somewhere that allows it to dry completely before moving to the next step. I continue to use the mold at this time to allow the bowl to maintain the shape of the mold. If there is sun, I place it out onto the verandah to get the intense afternoon sun and ventilation. --
  • Do not assume your craft is dry based only on outward appearances. After all, the inner layers may remain damp while the visible outer layer has become crisp. Consequently, I usually allow the craft to dry for an extended period or roughly 2 or more days ... just to be sure. 
  • Apply the base coat of paint (to hide the print). If your design is a solid color without designs, you may color the base coat to skip the drying period between the base coat and colored paint. Allow to dry thoroughly before proceeding. Alternatively, after the base color has dried, paint shapes and use several colors onto the base coat. At this stage, I would recommend a thick acrylic paint that will not bleed with the base color. It is a judgment call whether you should continue to use your mold. If you are concerned about losing the shape, continue to use the mold.
  • After paint has dried, apply a thin coat of varnish and allow to dry completely before applying each required additional coat. I usually use 2 coats of varnish. Since varnish is flammable, I allow it to dry away from the heat of the sun.

Other Topics Related to DIY Handmade Products - Paper Mache / Papier Maché & DIY Art Therapy
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