Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Papier Mâché - Handmade Boxes

The children construct boxes with lids, and then design them with themes using papier mâché and paint. For ages 9 to 13. Plan 6 sessions.

  • Constructing boxes with lids
  • Building with papier mâché
  • Designing with themes
  • Working with three-dimensional form
papier mâché, pulp, score, theme

  • Sturdy cardboard that can be cut with scissors
  • Masking tape
  • Scissors
  • Rulers
  • Pencils
  • White craft glue 
  • Inexpensive brushes for glue
  • Newspaper
  • Wheat pastenon-toxic (I use PlayBox wheat Paste.)
  • Bowls for wheat paste
  • Papier mâché pulpgolf-ball-sized quantity for each child (See recipe below.)
  • Odds and ends for decorations, such as paper towel tubes, string, and water-based, air-drying clay  
  • Tempera paints
  • Paint brushes
  • Small jars with lids for saving mixed colors of paint
  • Containers of water for rinsing brushes
  • Sponges for drying brushes
  • Clay needle tool or craft knife for scoring cardboard
  • Water-based polyurethane
  • Non-stick surface for drying boxes, such as wax paper or twisted pieces of aluminium foil
Note: Papier mâché pulp works well for three-dimensional designs on the boxes. Two full sheets of newspaper, approximately 23 x 27 inches, will make enough pulp for about four golf-size balls. To prepare, rip newspaper into small pieces, cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer for an hour. Turn off heat and let sit overnight. Put wet newspaper and some of the water into a blender to make a mash. Squeeze out excess water. Mix some wheat paste to a very thick consistency. With your hands, blend enough of the wheat paste into the newspaper mash to produce pulp the consistency of stiff mashed potatoes.

First/Second Sessions
  • Pour glue into small bowls, planning one for every two children.
  • Set out pencils, rulers, scissors, and bowls of glue with brushes.
  • Set out pieces of cardboard and masking tape.
How to Begin
  • Explain to the children that they will be making boxes with lids and then covering them with papier mâché, a process using newspaper and paste that dries very hard and can be painted. In the next two sessions, the children will be constructing the boxes and lids.
  • Demonstrate how to make the box. On a piece of cardboard, draw the base and adjacent sides, making sure all the sides are of equal height.
  • Use scissors to cut out the shape. Turning the scissors to cut the corners is difficult when working with stiff cardboard. Show the children how to cut from the edge of the cardboard into the corners of the shape.
  • Use a clay needle tool or craft knife to score the box along the lines where it will be folded. This is done by running the sharp edge along the lines, cutting into, but not all the way through, the cardboard. Fold the sides away from the scored lines, and hold in place with tape.
  • To make a lid, lay the box upside down on a piece of cardboard and trace around the edges. Before lifting the cardboard to cut out the shape, make an "x" in the middle of it to clearly mark the side which will go inside the box.  
  • To keep the lid from sliding off the box, make an insert by cutting another piece of cardboard that is about one-half inch smaller on all sides. (If the cardboard is thin, cut two pieces and glue them together.) Center and glue the insert to the x-marked side of the lid. Test to be sure that the lid with the insert fits comfortably on the box.
  • Have the children construct the boxes and lids, and then cover the entire surface with a thin layer of white glue. This will prevent warping when the paste-soaked newspaper is put on the cardboard.
Note: Dry the boxes on a non-stick surface such as waxed paper or twisted pieces of aluminum foil.

Third Session
  • Mix the wheat paste to a cream-like consistency and put into bowls, planning one for every two children.
  • Tear lots of newspaper into roughly 1- x 3-inch strips.
  • Cover the work area with newspaper.
  • Set out the boxes with their lids, wheat paste, and newspaper strips.
How to Begin
  • In this session, the children will be covering the surface of the boxes and lids with papier mâché.
  • To apply the papier mâché, dip the newspaper strips into the prepared paste and pull the wet paper between two fingers to remove the excess paste. Lay the dampened strips on the box, following its form carefully while overlapping and smoothing the edges.
  • Have the children apply at least two layers of papier mâché to the boxes and lids, including the inside sections. When finished, the surfaces should be smoothed as much as possible before letting the forms dry.
Fourth Session
  • Prepare papier mâché pulp.
  • Cover the work area with newspapers.
  • Set out the dried boxes, pulp, odds and ends, paste, newspaper strips, tape, scissors, and glue.
How to Begin
  • Explain that, in this session, the children will be decorating their boxes using odds and ends and papier mâché pulp, a clay-like medium made from newspaper and paste that has been boiled and mashed in a blender.
  • Have the children each choose a theme, or unifying idea, for decorating their boxes. They will need to consider the lids and all four sides of the boxes when planning their designs.
  • Explain that papier mâché pulp works well when making three-dimensional additions, such as lid handles. For linear decorations, glue on string or coils made from water-based, air-drying clay. 
  • Caution the children that any items that need to be taped to the boxes should be put on before the paste-soaked newspaper is applied, because the tape will not hold once the box becomes wet. All additions, including pulp and any tape used, need to be covered with a final layer of papier mâché.
  • After the children complete the additions, have them smooth the surface as much as possible before letting the boxes dry.
Fifth/Sixth Sessions

  • Set out dried boxes and lids. 
  • Set out tempera paints, brushes, containers of water, sponges, and small jars with lids.
How to Begin
  • Explain that, in this session, the children will be covering the boxes and lids with a base layer of paint, and in the next session, they will be adding the details.
  • Warn the children that when mixing their colors, they should make enough to cover the specific sections of the boxessome colors, especially light shades, may need two layers of paint to cover the newsprint. The mixed colors can be stored in small jars and shared with other children. It’s also good to keep these colors for repairing mistakes that may occur.
  • Have the children mix their colors and then cover the entire surface of their boxes and lids with the first color of paint.
  • Dry the boxes and lids between sessions and then have the children paint on the details.
Note: When the painting is completed and the boxes have dried, have an adult apply a protective coating of water-based polyurethane.

  • Newspapers that are printed with vegetable inks are more flexible. Torn, rather than cut, edges will blend easier. Newspapers tear easily when ripped vertically.
  • To keep the boxes from becoming too large and time-consuming, limit any dimension of the boxes to no more than six inches before decorations are added.
  • Some children will not need to use papier mâché pulp, while others will need extra. Preparing one ball about the size of a golf ball per child is usually enough.
  • This project can be done in four sessions using pre-made boxes. However, when asked if they preferred making their own boxes instead of using pre-made ones, the children unanimously answered, "Yes."
  • Discuss the details that describe the themes of the boxes.
  • Are the boxes viewable from all sides?
  • Do the designs on the lids coordinate with those on the boxes?
What the children might say...
  • How can I change the shape of my box if I want the bottom to be round?
  • I want to have my box standing on soccer shoes.
  • The newspaper is still showing through the paint on my box.
What you might say...
  • You can tape on additional pieces of cardboard to change the bottom shape of your box.
  • Papier mâché pulp is like paper-clay, so it will work well for making shoes for your box.
  • Some colors of paint, like yellow and white, will need two layers to cover the newspaper. Once you have completed the first coat, your box should be dry enough to add a second coat.
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