I was asked to make something decorative for the front of the Montana Conference's Women's Retreat. This might sound like a big honor---being picked out of the whole state---but our pastor's wife happens to be the Women's Ministries leader for Montana. Not that I'm implying nepotism; it was just simple for her to ask me because I was there.
And that is how I found myself making my first foray into paper mache. I've painted a few backdrops in my time, and I'm fairly comfortable working in the 2-D medium of foam insulation, but I've never tried any 3-D decorations. I didn't even think of paper mache, but Ruthie, our pastor's wife, suggested it and I decided to give it a try.
The first thing I did was google it. I don't know how people ever did anything without the internet. Just think of the time wasted by having to go to the library and look things up!
I found a recipe for the paste here and decided to use the cooking method. It uses 1 part flour to 5 parts water, so a little flour goes a long way. Which is a good thing. I went through 4-5 kettles full by the time I finished
I made the frame out of a lawnmower box, another smaller box, and some dowels with tar paper wrapped around them. Unfortunately, it wasn't until after I had my first coat of paper mache on that I actually looked at some lighthouse pictures and saw that the tops of lighthouses are always round. To fix my rectangular box error, I cut two circles out of cardboard, put one on the top and one on the bottom of the box, then duct taped around the edge to make a circular top.
The actual paper mache part was super fun. If you're planning a paper mache project, allow yourself lots of time, because it's a lengthy process to put on the pieces and let dry between coats. But the fun value is awesome. It's so delightfully squishy beneath your fingers---the perfect activity for a tactile child that likes to get messy.
To paper mache, you first tear newspaper into strips 1-2 inches wide. Don't worry if they get a little bigger as you go along. Mine certainly did. It's actually nice to have a selection of narrow and wide strips so you can choose the best one for any particular spot.
Then you apply the strips by dipping them in the flour mixture, making sure to coat both sides completely. After they are coated, you slide your fingers along the paper strip to get rid of the excess paste. The more glop you have on your project, the longer it will take to dry.
Lay the strips in a crisscross pattern. Go ahead and press, rip, and tear wherever you need to in order to make things fit. Don't get too many layers on at once, though, or it will take forever to dry.
After all the paper was on and dried, I painted the whole thing with a white primer. I actually could have stood to have some more layers for strength, but I was in a time crunch. It did OK, though. There's not much can go wrong with paper mache.
I got an old mayonnaise jar and used that for the glass part of the lighthouse. I made a ring of cardboard around the lid and glued the lid to the top of the lighthouse.The jar could then be screwed and unscrewed from the lid in order to put in a battery-powered candle if desired.
I added some detail by making a little fence out of Popsicle sticks and making four "posts" to go around the glass jar. The top of the lighthouse was a cardboard circle with a little piece cut out to make it angle a bit. I would have liked to have spent more time on the top, but by then I really had to get 'er done. I only had time for one layer of paper and it was a little more rugged than I would have liked.
The lighthouse was painted white with red stripes. The woodwork at the top was black, and the lid was spray painted with a metallic brass paint. I also spray painted the base with a granite spray paint to give it texture. Overall, it turned out very nicely, but I do have to say that the structure part of it could've used improvement. It was the leaning lighthouse of Pisa.
In between coats on the lighthouse, I began work on the ocean backdrop for the whole thing. I sort of expected that part to be a piece of cake, since I'd done a similar scene a few years ago. Well, God has a way of challenging our self-confidence to keep us wholly relying on Him, and things didn't go as smoothly as I'd wanted. I kept over-spraying and the design wasn't coming together right, but with God's help and a whole lot of covering things up, I got the first part done.
The sky had to wait a while until I got more blue spray paint, but the day before I had to deliver it for transport I finally got the whole thing finished. It was barely 50 degrees outside and windy, but I forced my frozen fingers around a paint brush and got the last details painted on.
I had a lot of fun on this project and will definitely be doing paper mache in the future. There are so many possibilities open when you move into 3-D art. And I would recommend it for anyone that wants a fun art project for kids. It has all the messy elements kids enjoy and it turns out really cool, too. Caleb's no kid, but he
P.S. Here is a helpful tip. If you paint a backdrop onto a sheet, iron it first. Just do it. Trust me.