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Over the last few months I’ve read quite a few blogs and forum posts regarding papier mache mishaps and disasters, stories of pumpkins collapsing or props toppling over much to the horror of their creators. This is bad.
Almost every prop I build requires some sort of support or brace during the drying process. Papier mache is incredibly strong when dry but is pretty vulnerable when wet.
Applying some creative techniques during the drying process can prevent these mishaps and make the construction process fun versus frustrating.
Pumpkins seem to be the most vulnerable when it comes to collapsing during the drying process. Remember that the papier mache shell you are carving must be strong enough to withstand the weight of the wet clay. Eight, ten or twelve layers of strip mache is not over doing it, but even if you’ve created a strong pumpkin body it can still succumb to the weight and moisture of the clay.
Use items to brace the eyes, nose and mouth during the drying process, things like glue sticks, dowel rods, pieces of pvc placed inside the eye, nose and mouth cut outs offer support during drying.
While teaching several papier mache pumpkin workshops we had several cases where the entire pumpkin body was in danger of collapsing from the weight of the clay. The solution we came up with was to stuff the pumpkin cavity with more crumpled newspaper to support the prop during drying.
The Frogs required support during the assembly of their bodies, the support was achieved by propping the frog body on ordinary items such as plastic coffee containers, aluminum cans and water bottles. These items kept the frog in the proper position during the drying process and eliminated any fears of failure.
The Sentinels required quite a bit of support or bracing. The arms and hands required them to be supported with some plastic coffee containers. Later in the construction process the wings needed bracing during drying to keep them symmetrical and prevent warping.
The Gargoyle wings required some support in the form of cardboard braces attached to the wings during construction. Once the gargoyle was completely dry the cardboard braces were removed.
The Serpent Gargoyle featured a very long vulnerable neck. After the piece received papier mache clay the head was supported until the clay completely dried. The drying process for the Serpent required several days.
BALLOONS OR PLASTIC BALLS USED FOR SKULL ARMATURES
When covering balloons or plastic balls for skull armatures the wet balloon is placed in either a plastic coffee container or basket during the drying process. The basket or canister keeps the balloon secure and prevents it from rolling or moving which is especially important seeing that they are place in front of fans during the drying process.