Sunday, March 1, 2015

How to make a Paper Mache Dragon (Part 2b): Tea time with a Dragon

Sorry, it's been a while since I've continued the 'How to' blogs - and they aren't going to sequential, unfortunately. If I took the time to be that orderly, these particular entries would never happen! My artistic progress is fairly organic - especially when I've got several projects and responsibilities on the go - but, hopefully, I will still manage to fit in some "Tea time with a Dragon!" whenever I can. And hopefully you'll be able to join me :)

(Someday I will gather up all these entries into one long, orderly, tutorial...someday.)

So, if you're like me you might have random, partly-started sculpts and dragon bodies hanging around waiting for the next step in their creation. I'm endeavouring to keep these guys corralled, under control and on their way to completion! And I'm hoping to have more time in the next year to do just that!

Here is my latest dragon-making session which reveals some tips & tricks behind my process. And the tea of choice this time; just good ol' orange pekoe tea (steeped very strong) with some milk and sweetened with orange blossom honey. Mmm.

The basic requirements for this dragon-making session are:

-PVA glue, plus a container (with lid) to put the glue in
-unbleached coffee filters
-rubber/silicone-tipped colour shaper

(The wooden stand off to the side is just a hot glue gun stand that I sometimes use to hold my phone for those trickier shots. Also, you can see my favourite colour shaper below because it has a build-up of glue from over the years that I peel off periodically. That cone-shaped tip is just the right shape, size and pliability for smoothing paper between dragon toes!)

The plier/cutters in the image won't be needed for this session but I left them in because in my last 'how to make a dragon blog' I forgot to mention how handy this tool is! The dual pair of cutters/needle-nose pliers were given to me by my Dad and I have loved this tool ever since. So handy - less fiddling for multiple tools - just flip back and forth to whichever one you need! (However, I also have a smaller set of normal wire cutters and needle-nose pliers needed for finer work on occasion.)

My method of choice when it comes to papier-mache is commonly known as the 'strip method' - as opposed to the 'pulp' method. With the strip method you alternate paper strips and adhesive to build up layers to a desired strength and thickness.

I often use unbleached coffee filters to slowly build up smooth layers on my dragons. These make a great starting medium (or finishing layer too, if you plan to paint) because coffee filters have long, strong fibers that, by design, won't break down when wet. The one tricky thing about them is that it is difficult to find the 'grain' when you are trying to tear even strips. If you're not sure what I mean by grain, try taking a newspaper; hold it as you normally would to read it and then tear strips from top to bottom. You'll find there is a grain to the paper and you can tear fairly even, straight pieces. If you tried to do this from the other direction, across from left to right, your strips would be much less controlled and more jagged-y.

The size and width of the strips you'll need to tear will vary on the size of the area you want to cover. Small strips are needed for longer, narrower areas such the tail and neck of your dragon. You'll know your pieces are too big if you have too much puckering of the paper as you attempt to smooth it down flat. Also, if you're just starting the first layer or so, you don't need to get rid of the finished edges of the filter. But in later stages you'll definitely want to gently remove just the last bit of that rounded edge - because hard, finished edges of paper show up on the surface and make for a less seamless finish. It's the torn, tattered edges of the paper that mesh together and make for a smoother appearance.

When smoothing on glue and strips, I use both my hands and my colour shaper (if I'm expecting to be interrupted, like knowing I'll have to answer the phone etc., I use the colour shaper so to avoid sticky hands!) You could also substitute a cheap paint brush instead of a colour shaper if you have that on hand. Make sure the bristles are not too long and soft though, or you won't be able to put enough pressure down to smooth your strips.

Pour a little bit of your white PVA glue into a seal-able container - AND DON'T ADD WATER. No water, you say? I know that most every other paper mache tutorial will say to mix water and glue to a specific ratio - but, personally, I don't use any water. That is how I work and it's much less messy and efficient for me. Plus, it dries much faster. Perhaps it works because my pieces are so tiny that I don't have large surface areas to coat with glue so there is very little time for the glue to dry out. That said, however, working with straight glue does mean you have to work fairly quickly or your surface will become too tacky and you run the risk of disturbing the paper pieces you've already laid down by having them stick to your fingers or your tool as you lift them away.

Note: I also add my paper strips completely dry! Some tutorials will suggest that you run them through the glue in your container, smooth off the excess and lay the glue-saturated strips, one at a time on your sculpture. I'm not saying that my methods will work for everybody, but dipping every strip in glue first would be way too messy and fiddly for my tiny dragons!

This may take some practice, but that's what I've learned to do over the years and it saves clean up, time and makes it easier to come and go from a project. Plus, I can even take a small kit of supplies with me if I plan to work somewhere else other than my studio space.

Basically, what I do is take my finger or the colour shaper and apply glue smoothly and evenly over the area where I intend to lay a strip. Remember to over-estimate the area this piece will cover -that way you don't have to go back and disturb the paper by trying to apply glue to the underside of edges that won't stick because your glue coverage wasn't thorough enough. Then smooth another coat of glue over top of the recently applied strip, taking extra care to smooth out any wrinkles and flatten the edges. When you are working with straight glue, it's a fine balance between too little glue and too much glue and the balance is only learned with experience. So, perhaps it would be good to practice first on a less important surface or a smaller project. 

My trick is to smooth the paper as quickly and thoroughly as a I can before the glue becomes too tacky and lifts the fibers when my finger gets too sticky. If you have to go back and re-smooth an area, get a little more glue on tip of your finger, or colour shaper, so that you don't stick to the area in question. Also, periodically, make sure to clean your fingers and your tools because, if you don't, that build up of glue will eventually start sticking to your project and peeling off your fingers, leaving unnecessary - and avoidable - bumps in your surface!

Another thing to remember; get up occasionally and walk around. If you're hunched over your work area concentrating on laying strips - as methodical and therapeutic as that can be - it pays to get out and take a breather!
In fact, get outside and get a breath of fresh air.

If where you live is anything the same as where I am, the air is extra FRESH out there these days!
Go for a walk. 

Enjoy nature.

And come back refreshed for continuing on with your projects.

(Although, if you're like me, and you get so into your work; eventually you look up at the clock and the time has flown, your tea is cold, and you forgot to eat lunch!) 

Please follow my blog to join me for the next Tea Time with a Dragon session!
Or - if you can't wait that long, please follow me on Pinterest where I've dedicated a board to my behind the scenes photos to document my work process. If you have a question about a particular tip or method please comment on one of the images there and I'll try to follow up as timely as I can!

Or you can always leave a comment here on my blog as well!
See you next time I have tea with a Dragon :)

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