Papier Maché: Orange Bowl: DIY Art Therapy

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 disease). 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. Another of my art therapy posts shows an arguably simpler method than the one in this post and how, as a child, I spontaneously resorted to DIY art therapy during my darkest moment at the age of 9.  

This process involves 3 preparatory stages: 1) shaping, 2) inner surface and 3) outer surface. -- --
STAGE 1 Requirements: To create the shape
  • Plastic cling wrap.
  • A mold. I used a salad bowl
  • Paper. Newspaper or telephone directory paper (white or yellow pages)
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Glue or flaxseed liquid (optional)
  • Mixing bowl
  • Table top protectors. I used old shopping bags.

STAGE 2 Requirements: To prepare the inner bowl surface
  • Toilet Paper, 56 squares from a roll
  • Tissue Paper and or roughly 1/2 of an orange tissue paper, roughly 1/2 of a yellow tissue paper. I actually used all of these. However, I think the tissue paper is unnecessary if you use paint. Besides, toilet paper appears to be less costly. Whatever your choice in paper, tear it into tiny pieces. However, the tissue paper may be used in smaller amounts to add different shapes of your paint and to create texture if torn and squashed into larger, less mashed pieces.
  • Paint. I used food dye to create orange
  • Flaxseeds & / other small dried seeds
  • Glue
  • Flour
  • Water, the colder the better to extend the work time of plaster of Paris.
  • Plaster of Paris (optional. I actually did not use it here but plan on using it in the future)
  • Mixing bowl
  • Measuring cup
-- --
STAGE 3 Requirements: To prepare the outer bowl surface of this papier maché project
  • Water, the colder the better to extend the work time of plaster of Paris.
  • Plaster of Paris,
  • Paint
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Sandpaper, # 180 or so   (FYI: Fine-grade sandpaper is 150 to 220; Medium-grade sandpaper is 100 to 120 and; Coarse-grade sandpaper is 40 to 80)
  • Dust mask (optional when sandpapering)
  • Mixing bowl
  • Measuring cup
  • Paint brush, large OR Sponge (to apply the outer layer of Plaster of Paris and paint very smoothly)

STAGE 1  Instructions: Shaping
  • Day 1. In the case of a mold that is a bowl, you have a choice. Decide whether you will line and form the bowl from the inside or outside. I wanted a smooth outer surface and rough textured inner surface. Since the glass will flatten the surface with which it makes direct contact, I lined the inside of the mold. I ensured that the plastic exceeded the edges very comfortably.
  • Line the inside of the mold with plastic cling wrap
  • Shape the bowl with papier maché strips
  • Make a paste with the following ingredients in a mixing bowl. Flour, water and salt
  • Tear the paper into strips that are roughly 1 to 2 inches thick. Tear free hand. There is no need to soak strips.
  • Holding a strip with 2 finger tips, submerge it into the flour mix. Upon removing the strip from the liquid, slide the strip through 2 touching fingers from the opposite hand so as to remove excess paste.
  • Place the strip onto the plastic cling wrap. Continue this process with as many strips as you need to completely cover the cling wrap without leaving any holes. I forgot to take a photo of this step. So here is a photo of an earlier project.
  • I created 2 to 3 layers. Although these few layers seemed too little at first, the bowl was sufficiently strong in the end, especially after the outer surface treatment and coats of varnish. I also made sure that I did not exceed the edges. The inner surface would help with the edges which would not be straight.

STAGE 2  Instructions: Inner Surface
  • For this next step, I did not wait for the product of the preceding process to dry. After all I reasoned, if I allowed it to dry before this upcoming step, the first step is likely to become damp again, even though this step is drier and less messy
  • If you want the toilet paper to display the color evenly, soak it in water and then mix it into a bowl with the orange paint.
  • Combine the left over ingredients and those for this section in a mixing bowl. I preferred to add the water and Plaster of Paris last. In fact, I mixed the water before adding the Plaster of Paris. This precaution is because Plaster of Paris has a very limited work time before becoming hard.
  • NB. Do NOT wash your containers with Plaster of Paris down your sink. Rather, wash such containers outside.
  • Knead the mixture until you achieve a dough consistency that can be maintain any form.
  • To create subtle color variations, I randomly placed 1 layer of orange tissue paper patches onto the base of paper strips. This allowed some hints of the richer orange color to bleed through my dough.
  • Grab and press a ball of dough between your fingers to create a thin layer. Place that layer onto the inside of the bowl. Avoid holes.

  • I ensured that the dough rose slightly above the level of the strips. That way, I would have a rough rim that will still look neat. My task later on will be to be as neat as possible when painting the point where the flat strips meet the overlapping inner surface.

Notice the way the painted outer surface meets this inner surface in the end.

  • Allow to dry in a very well ventilated area. The base was particularly soggy from the glue epaste. I placed my project into a large stainless steel bowl in the sun for roughly 30 minutes.
-- --
  • On day 2, I could see moisture collecting between the glass and plastic wrap. I removed the project from the bowl mold and placed the project back into the stainless steel to get some hot afternoon sun on my verandah. However, to my dismay, since the convex shape of this reflective bowl magnified the sun's heat and light, in one spot, the project had a burnt hole right through it.
I took a tiny piece of dough from a failed project to patch the hole. BTW, as pictured below, the failure of the other project may have occurred because it did not have strips or sufficient glue to compensate for this absence.

I dampened the tiny piece of dough and rubbed it in place before following with a smearing of glue.
Fortunately and as the image shows below, the patch blended in almost perfectly, even though still wet. The tip of the knife points directly to the area of the patch.
The patch was thick enough to reach the surface of the outer side and would therefore only need 1 coat of paper strip. I glued the strip, making certain to cover the edges before coving the hole.
I also realized by this time that the bowl was losing its shape slightly. To counteract this and since it was nearly completely dry, I placed it back onto the glass container before placing it again in the sun, MINUS the stainless steel bowl. Every few hours, I flipped the bowl between the upward and downward positions.

STAGE 3  Instructions: Outer Surface
  • If possible, remove air pockets by gluing down or tearing away the non-conforming raised edges.
  • Since sanding is likely to be unnecessary, do so only in extreme cases. After all, the Plaster of Paris will smooth out rough edges. Sand the outer surface. I read somewhere that you should not apply excessive pressure or allow yourself to feel heat when sanding. The rationale is that excessive sanding with extra-fine sandpaper is known to close the pores of hard woods, thereby making it difficult for stains to penetrate. Perhaps this applies. I realized I did not need to sand this very much.
  • I covered the bowl mold with protective material. In this case, I used a plastic bag.
  • I placed the project on top of the mold

  • Combine the ingredients
  • Add Plaster of Paris to the water, without stirring. Stirring activates the Plaster of Paris. Tap the container so the Plaster of Paris could sink to the bottom. Stir gently to remove lumps. Do NOT whip the plaster of Paris. Do NOT wash your containers with Plaster of Paris down your sink. Rather, wash such containers outside.
Always test the paint color on the bottom of projects.
When the consistency is right, ie when it is not too runny, apply it. However, I think my mixture was a little too runny because I say paint brush marks in the end. Perhaps applying with a SPONGE can also help. -- --
Do NOT sandpaper this surface. If you must, do so with great caution with fine-grade sand paper (#150 to 220). Caution in this regard is to avoid chipping the Plaster of Paris and exposing the layer below as a consequence.

Apply coats of varnish as evenly as possible.

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