Paper Pulp Sculpture

Paper pulp sculpture in progressMuch of the sculpture I do uses paper pulp as a base. Here I explain my techniques.

Why should I use paper pulp?

  • Paper pulp has many marvellous qualities: When dry it is very light. This means that sculptures which would be impossible or very difficult to construct in the more usual sculpture materials like clay or plaster, can be easily built and moved around without the need for heavy lifting gear like hoists and cranes.
  • It’s cheap! – because you are using only pulped up old newspapers and water there is virtually no cost. Pulping the paper is best done with a pole or stick in an old plastic bucket, again there is very little if any cost.
  • It’s light when it is dry
  • Paper pulp is non toxic – because you are only using normal household materials there is little danger of any one being affected by them.

What do I need for paper pulp?

To make a successful mix of paper pulp you will need:

  • Paper. There are many different papers available, only some of them are good for making paper pulp.

Newspaper – do not use glossy magazines or paper with a hard shiny surface. The ideal paper is that to be found in daily or weekly newspapers. It does not matter if they are broadsheet like the Guardian or the Telegraph or tabloid like the Sun or the Mail. However, do make sure that the family has finished reading them before you take them away.

Tissues, like those used when you have a cold I have found are not at all good for making pulp. The reason is that they have a wet strength additive which means that they do not come apart in your hands. The additive make them ideal for household use but it also means that they do not break down in water very easily. For that reason used tissues should be put in the refuse or incinerated rather than flushed down the toilet. They are however, because of this wet strength, very useful if you wish to make a relief study using tissues. see illustration. Toilet tissue is however designed to break up in water and as a result can be made into a pulp.

  •  An old plastic bucket or drum with a large open top. Plastic is less noisy that galvanised iron buckets when you are pounding the paper to pulp.
  • A large wooden stick or similar to pound the paper pulp, say around 150 cms long. I use an old aluminium tube which gives a good hard edge for shredding the paper.Finished paper pulp sculptures

 Preparing the materials

  • Take some old newspapers, tear them into quarters and half fill an old but clean plastic bucket with them.
  • Cover them with water and give them a day or two to soak up the water. Do not leave them too long or they will start rotting and begin to smell like the bottom of a pond.
  • Pound the paper with a substantial stick – I prefer to use an old piece of aluminium tubing – but a stick is just as good, until the paper has become a thick pulp. Keep adding water as the pulp begins to absorb what you put in originally. There should be no bits of newspaper large enough to be read what was printed on them, it should all be a grey sludge, This usually takes about 30 minutes all told.
  • Wonderfully, this grey sludge dries to an attractive light buff colour.

Another way:

  • You can take your shredded paper and put it in hot water in a microwaveable container and microwave it for 10 minutes. Repeat every hour for five hours.
  • This way seems to be very long and laborious and in the 5 hours that you have spent using this process you could have made much more pulp by the stick and bucket method