Oh, what fun paper mache is. It is one of my favorite mediums, because the possibilities are endless, the required supplies are always on hand (paper, flour, water), and the required attention span is minimal (very good for me!).
I made some paper mache bees for our back to school dinner this year. While paper mache anything is so simple it hardly requires a tutorial, I’m going to show you a few things that I’ve never done before, in case you want to add these techniques to your repretoire too!
#1 – The body –
I always use a combination of tin foil, cereal box cardboard, and balloons to make my armatures (substructures). For the bees I wadded up some paper towels, and then covered them with some tin foil to create the basic shape.
Then I went out in the summer sun and mache’d them while the kids ran around playing in the yard. I left them on the porch to dry overnight. One night in our Utah heat, and they were completely dry.
The making of the shapes and the macheing took about 45 minutes. That’s about as much time as I can get to work on a project before my life explodes.
OH, PS, In case you’ve never had the fun of paper mache before: I never measure my paper mache paste, but I’d say you use a 1:1.5 or 1:2 ratio of all purpose flour (white) to water, plus throw in a half tea spoon of salt (helps with potential mold). Just mix it together in a bowl. Your flour will settle while you’re working, so every once in a while just stir your fingers along the bottom, and it will lift up the flour again.
Then just cut up paper (newspaper works really well) into long thin strips. Run it through the water and then squeegee it gently between your fingers and wrap your armature mummy style until it is completely covered.
#2 The Wings
When I was thinking about the wings my first reaction was to mache them as well, but then I remembered this technique I saw years ago, and decided to give it a try.
So, you make a wing shape out of wire (I used 22 gauge – the most sturdy that I had on hand, and it worked out great). Be sure to leave an inch or so of extra wire at the point of the wing shape – you will use that to attach your wing to your bee.
Then you lay them on some cellophane (I had some in my gift wrapping supplies).
Then you fill it in with “Gallery Glass” paint. I also happened to have this on hand, but you can pick it up at any craft store.
You fill it in reasonably thick. The thicker it is the longer it takes to dry (mine took three days, and still there were parts that hadn’t dried completely). You know it’s dry because it goes on white, but it dries clear. I gooped mine on with the spout and then brushed it around with a paint brush.
Before I set it aside to dry I gave it a really good coat of poly-flake glitter — because everything is better with glitter!
Now set aside your wings to dry.
Time to make all my wings and have them set aside to dry – about 30 minutes. I did this on a separate day as the paper mache – just plug along on this project and it will all come together!
When your wings are dry, cut them out of the cellophane, leaving a good 1/8 inch border on the outside of the wire all the way around (your gallery glass paint should also be at least that thick) then blow it with a heat gun to fuse the cellophane and gallery glass together. Your wings are now ready to install!
#3 Paint the bodies
Once the bodies were dry I pulled out some yellow and black craft paint and with a pretty wide brush (I used one of my kid brushes, no need for special care on this step) paint your bee with its head, stripes and bum. Since I knew I would be covering up the paint with yarn, I didn’t concern myself with making my lines even. On the bees that I covered with newspaper, I painted them first with white paint so that the yellow would be opaque.
Time to paint all four bee bodies: 15 minutes
#4 Install the wings
You could do this before step four or after, it really wouldn’t matter, but I put my wings in next. I just took a needle or pin and punched holes into the bee body where I wanted to place my wings, and then I dolloped some glue over the hole and shoved the extra inch of wire at the point of the wing into the hole to attach it. Let it dry. It’s still not going to be super sturdy, and you’re not going to want to pull on them, but they should stay put.
#5 Wrap the body
I went to the craft store and got that furry yarn. For some reason I knew I wanted my bees to be furry, although everyone that I showed them to commented: “Why are they furry?” — Well, it just needed something more than plain old painted paper mache, and this is what I decided on. I also considered covering them with felt, or wrapping them more tightly in a less furry yarn. But this idea worked, and I think it worked well. 😉
So you use some glue and sewing pins to spiral the yarn onto the bee. Dob some glue where you want your yarn to stick, and then use pins every so often to hold the yarn in place while the glue dries. It doesn’t need to be glued down every inch. You really only need a dob every half or quarter turn. The glue will hold it in place once it’s dry, and if it’s not glued down too often it just adds to the furry look.
So, put down your yarn on each color of the bee (black yarn on a black painted stripe, you know). Each bee probably took twenty minutes or so to do this, and I only did one bee at a time over a period of several days.
#6 The finish work
Now that your bee is looking like . . . a bee, let’s add the finishing touches: legs, antennae, and eyes.
For the legs I found these pipe cleaners that were shaped kinda wavy. I cut each section into a leg and installed just as I did the wings – poke a hole with a pin, fill the hole with glue, and shove the leg inside.
For the antenna I used a regular black pipe cleaner that I spiraled on my finger and installed the same as the legs and wings.
And for the eyes I used buttons from my button jar, attached with white pins through the button holes.
#7 Hang the Bee
Finally I had to add wire loops to string my fishing line through to hang my bee. To do that I just shoved some wire through the paper mache between the wings and then again at the back by the bee bum (say that five times fast). Then I strung the fishing line between the wire loops. and and tied it off in a triangle (this way I could make my bee fly level), then extended the fishing line from the triangle to the ceiling at the height I wanted.
As always, I used clear push pins to hang it from the ceiling (clear so you don’t notice them above the bee).
I love hanging things from the ceiling.
And so there are my bees. So fun for me to make, and fun for my kids to have. They aren’t really solid enough to be toys, but they are hanging in their rooms as decoration to help them remember to “Bee their best selves.”