Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Paper Mache Dinosaur (Brontosaurus)

Since everyone keeps asking me how we did this, I decided to post the steps here along with some pics of the finished project. I realize that I should have taken pictures throughout the process but just wasn’t thinking of how kool this might turn out.

This is my first graders dinosaur project from last year. Very fun. Even more fun is walking down the hall and seeing all the creations on display. Many of the kids like to do the T-rex. My son is pretty much a vegetarian so he wanted to do a Brontosaurus. The requirements for this family project are to use discarded items found around the house. Use old cereal boxes, cans, toilet paper rolls, etc…. Any combination of items that can be transformed into a dinosaur.

We decided to do paper mache with our recycled newspapers and wire hangers. Paper Mache is easy and fun for kids because it is gooey and an excellent family project. It also cleans up easy.

I constructed the form so my son could have a stable foundation on which to add the paper. I used 2 wire hangers. The first is opened up and formed to make the length from head to tail. I cut the second wire hanger and formed 2 pieces that loop over the frame for the front and back legs. The legs are then secured to each other (front to back) with another piece of wire on each side to keep them from moving around. Bend the wire in a flat loop to form feet that will allow him to stand on his own. Use needle nose pliers to shape the wire.

Newspaper was wadded up and placed into the cavity and held in place with masking tape. More newspaper is wrapped around the neck, tail and legs and masking tape is used to hold everything in place and to hide the wire and smooth the bulk. I ended up using a whole role of masking tape. Brontosaurus is now formed but lacks definition.

NOTE: The tail was the most difficult part to prepare. In hindsight, I should have sewed a tail shape using muslin stuffed with batting and then attached it over the wire and hold in place with more masking tape. The neck could be done this way as well.

I took polyester batting that you use to insulate blankets and glued this over the whole body in 3 inch sections. This batting forms his musculature, ribs and a rippled skin effect. When this was done, he looked like a Brontosaurus wearing a white fuzzy sweater.

And now the fun begins. There are hundreds of Paper Mache recipes on the internet and at your library. They are pretty consistent. We used a ratio of 1 part flour to 4 parts water and 1 T salt which will help prevent molding. Mix this up on the stove over medium heat stirring constantly to insure you get a smooth paste like consistency. As soon as it gets hot remove from heat. It burns easily so watch closely. Cool 3 minutes and add to a plastic container.

Tear 1" wide strips of newspaper 4"- 6" lenghtwise. It is important to tear the strips as the cut edges will not lay flat as you build up the layers, and with time will lift. The strips of newspaper need to be coated completely with this goo for the best adhesion. As you dunk and remove each saturated strip, run the strip between 2 fingers to remove any excess. Kids like this part the best. Though you want the strips saturated you do not want the mixture globbed on. We set up an assembly line for this part. Overlap each piece by ¼" – ½" and gently smooth the piece over the body making sure the edges and the pieces are laying flat and there is no puckering. We built up a total of 3 layers letting each layer dry between applications (approx. 24 hours). You are looking at a total of 3 days for this part of the project. Fortunately, the application goes pretty fast.

Before painting the dinosaur, it needs to be primed. There are various primers that can be used. But be careful. Some are toxic. We used gesso which is a primer used mostly with acrylic paints. Let dry for about an hour and repeat. You want a canvas like surface and this can be achieved with 2-3 applications of primer. If we had more time, I would have applied a total of 5 coats of primer.

He is now ready to decorate with paint. There are no rules for decorating your dinosaur. You can see our dinosaur has many vibrant colors stippled all over which gives him a nice swampy appearance. (Notice the big red spot my son painted on the dinosaurs back.)
Have fun.

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