How To: Frogs


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And now for something completely different, these frogs were created for Space Studios in Midland, Michigan to help celebrate our city’s summer sculpture series.

The frogs were created from plastic milk jugs, recycled cardboard, newspaper and Popsicle sticks. The frogs are approximately 14 inches long, 24 inches wide and 19 inches tall.

Each frog was created by constructing the various body pieces, applying strip mache then assembling the sculpture and using homemade papier mache clay to add details and texture.

Five frogs were created to show the possibility of different interpretations and mache techniques.

During the construction I thought it would be fun to turn three of the frogs into versions of classic horror characters or monsters. The results were Frogzilla, Frankenfrog and Amphibimummy,

These frogs are fun to create and the variations are endless. If you are a fan of frogs then these guys would look great sitting on a patio, porch or pool deck.   


 The frogs are going to be offered as a workshop allowing participants the chance to create these friendly fellows over the course of four evenings. The following tutorial represents the steps taken during the course of each three hour session.  




Workshop One (Three Hours)

During the first evening work will consist of creating the body and eyeball armatures and coating with several layers of papier mache strips.

This project was fun and somewhat challenging making me do some research regarding frog anatomy. In addition to searching the internet for photographs of frogs I checked out several books from the library and referenced some small plastic frog toys. The toys really helped to determine the structure of the frog legs. 



The basic shape and size of the frog’s body is determined by a gallon size plastic milk jug. The jug was cut in half (vertically) then hot glued to a piece of corrugated cardboard that represented the basic shape of a frog body. The handle was removed from one half of the jug and both halves were used to create the rounded back of the frog.





The jaw was created in a similar fashion. Note that the cardboard was scored on both the body and jaw pieces allowing the pieced to be bent to appropriate angles. The jaw was hot glued onto the body cardboard and the mouth was  position was secured by adding a rolled up piece of newspaper. The photographs illustrate the technique.






The shape of the armature was smoothed and rounded by hot gluing strips of cardboard to the body and the jaw. The strips of cardboard become a simple framework that gives the armature a nice shape and flow.





Note that some additional shape was given to the frog belly. This was accomplished by gluing cardboard strips over a tube of rolled up newspaper.

(This photo shows drywall mesh tape used instead of cardboard strips)


The eyeballs were made by crumpling one full sheet of newspaper into a ball and securely wrapping with masking tape.


The frog body is now covered with several layers of newspaper strips dipped into papier mache paste. The eyeballs were covered with paper towel dipped in paper mache paste. The pieces are now set in front of fans and allowed to dry thoroughly.

Workshop Two (Three Hours)

The second workshop will consist of creating the various pieces for the frog legs and feet . During this session the participants will also take the steps necessary to create the frog face including eyeballs and brows as well as the addition of teeth and tongue if desired.

The hands and feet are created by cutting different shapes from corrugated cardboard. Each hind leg is created from three separate pieces while the front legs are made from two individual pieces.



The cardboard leg sections are wrapped with sheets of newspaper and taped until the desired thickness and bulk is achieved. The feet are simply cardboard cut-outs with Popsicle sticks attached for strength.



Once the leg sections are bulked up with newspaper they are covered with several layers of strip mache for strength and allowed to dry. No additional work is required on the feet until the third session.

The frog’s face is open to interpretation and the positioning of the eyeballs and shape of the brows will determine each frog’s personality and character. Eyeballs set close together will yield a humorous feel while eyeballs placed far apart will give a more sinister appearance.

The eyeballs are slightly recessed into the frog head by cutting holes into the head and hot gluing the eyeballs in place. Different shaped pieces of cardboard are then glued over the top of the eyes to form the brow. Again depending on the shape and placement different expressions and personalities are achieved.



Note that the legs are attached in the following photos which is not the process described. The class schedule was developed after the inital five frogs were created.


The mouth shape can be further refined by applying pieces of cardboard to each side creating a stylized smile or frown.



Teeth can be created by cutting out various shapes from corrugated cardboard. The tongues are created from lightweight cardboard and utility wire.



At this point all additions to the frog’s face is then covered with several layers of strip mache and allowed to dry. At this point any rough or weak areas of the body are strengthened and smoothed paying close attention to the belly section of the frog.

Workshop Three (Three Hours)

The third session involves assembling the various parts of the frogs. For this procedure it is necessary to place the frog on a strong moveable surface such as a large piece of cardboard or large plastic storage container lid. The frog sculpture will not be able to be picked or moved on its own until the clay has completely dried.

First the body is set to the desired position, this is accomplished by supporting the frog’s jaw with an empty coffee can, aluminum can or block of wood. Once the desired position is achieved it is necessary to determine the placement of the legs. There are many different variations possible and once the leg positions are determined they are hot glued into place. The feet are then hot glued to bottom of each leg.


Now the fun part, homemade papier mache clay is now added to the surface of the frog. The clay is used to fill cracks and gaps in the legs, build up eyebrow features, smooth indentations and give dimension to the feet. Once the clay has been added, smooth and textured the frog is allowed to dry completely.




Here are a few notes on some of the variations found in my five different frogs.

Frogzilla is my interpretation of Godzilla. Fins were added to the head using corrugated cardboard. Scales on the back and front legs were made from recycled cereal boxes.




FrankenFrog is my take on the Frankenstein monster. The bolts on the side of the neck were made from a rolled up tube of newspaper and cardboard. The threads in the clay were formed by wrapping a heavy piece of twine around wet clay applied to the bolt. Once the twine was removed it left the thread pattern.

The stitches were created from small pieces of utility wire that were sunk into the wet clay.


AmphibiMummy is my version of classic Universal Mummy monster. The bandages were created by soaking strips of paper towel in papier mache paste then carefully layering them onto the frog.



Other Textures.

The two normal looking happy frogs feature various textures on their backs. The bumps or warts were made by adding small balls of clay to the sculpture then smoothing them down with a paintbrush coated with paste.


The circular pattern featured on the back of the other frog was the result of pressing a plastic water bottle cap into the wet clay.


Workshop Four (Three Hours)

The final workshop involves painting the completely dry frogs. The entire frog was painted with a base coat of flat black exterior latex paint. Once the base coat has dried white latex primer is dry brushed onto the entire sculpt. The dry brushing highlights all the various textures present on the frogs.

Green acrylic paint was then dry brushed on top of the white primer. Yellow paint was also dry brushed onto the frogs to emphasize  different areas and add interest to the color palette.

The eyeballs were made by cutting a small circle from a piece of plain white copy paper. A pupil was hand drawn with a waterproof black marker then the paper eyeball was glued in place using diluted white glue and a brush.

The entire piece received a coat of semi gloss polyurethane to add sheen, waterproof and protect the paint job.