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Fast Free Paper Mache Fish

Sometimes I am far more interested in decorating something than I am in making it, so I have developed a bunch of shortcuts to making things quickly and easily, with minimal time and materials. I recently thought that some of these might be fun craft projects by themselves, especially for kids, so thought I would share how to make this fish.

This is my first video tutorial/how-to, and it was surprisingly painless to create. I know that my setup leaves a lot to be desired, but I will improve over time. Here’s the video version, with a more detailed breakdown below:

How to Make a Fast and Easy Paper Mache Fish

Step One: Create a Fish Shape

Obviously this starting shape can be any type of fish; an angelfish or pufferfish has a very different silhouette than a goldfish or a salmon. To keep it simple and kid-friendly, they can just draw a standard fish shape, or you could print out and trace a more detailed, anatomical shape.

I just cut my simple shape out with scissors. If it were a more elaborate shape, perhaps I would use a craft knife.

Step Two: Plan for Display

I always think of how I’m going to display the final fish from the very beginning. This is important for three reasons:

  1. It builds your final display mechanism right into the construction of the fish, making it more sturdy and durable
  2. It allows you to anticipate and accommodate for any balance issues as you build the piece. As you add more material and detail to your project, the center of gravity might move and throw off the balance and make it hang at a funny angle.
  3. If you decide to add a hanger or support at the very end, you may need to punch holes in the finished surface of the project, which may be weird or ugly.

In the video, I demonstrate that if I were going to support this fish from below, I might tape a wire or skewer in it at the beginning:

Instead, I decided I was going to hang it, so I added holes for string. As you can see, my first hole was WAY off, so I had to make another.

But that’s fine, because all this will be hidden inside the final construction.

Step Three: Use Scrap Paper to Shape and Tape

I like wadded-up newspaper because it is usually softer and more pliable than thicker papers like copy paper or craft paper. You might also try paper towels for something really moldable, or aluminum foil if you want something more robust.

Tape all the paper in place on both sides to define the shape.

As you can see, I spent quite a long time in the video using my hands to squeeze and mash the paper into the shape I wanted and then taping it in place. It always happens that it looks fine on one side and the other, but when you hold it up it’s not symmetrical on both sides, so it needs to be kind of molded into shape with my hands.

This is actually the most important step in the whole process. If I had wanted a final product that was really gorgeous and smooth, then taking the time to really shape and tape it here is where it would make the difference. I could have molded and secured it into the shape I wanted, and then gone over the whole surface with another layer or two of tape to make it smoother and more consistent. I worked quickly, so I left it a bit lumpy and irregular, as you’ll see.

Step Four: Finish with Paper Mache

You finish the whole thing with the paper mache method of your choice. I know from prior experience that this masking tape I have won’t really adhere with flour/water paper mache paste, so I used watered-down glue. I suppose technically that means I finished it with decoupage instead of paper mache, but… potato/potato. Some tips for this phase:

  • Always tear your paper. Don’t cut paper mache paper. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but torn paper edges lay smoother and blend better than cut paper edges. It doesn’t really matter whether you use strips or squares, but tearing is the key.
  • Start at the edges and work your way in. Always start at your edges/seams where different materials or components are attached to each other. Getting those seams locked into place makes sure that the final shape is the way you want it, and then going back and filling in the larger areas adds another layer that reinforces those seams.
  • A cheap paintbrush is awesome. As you can see, I used a cheap paintbrush to paint the glue onto each scrap of paper, and then used the brush again to glue/dab/blend down every piece. This makes it much easier to work with glue, adds precision, and it controls the mess.

One other thing to note:

When I had finished one side and flipped it over to work on the other, I put the fish on top of this roll of tape. That allows more air to circulate and help dry the wet side, and also keeps the wet side from rubbing so much against the work surface while it dries.

Easy Paper Mache Fish Craft Summary

Without the time lapse, this fish took me about 90 minutes start to finish. If I were doing this with kids, I might make it faster by using strips of paper and paper mache paste at the end, instead of squares of paper individually glued down. If I were making something meant to be more perfect and refined, I would have slowed it down with at least one more layer of tape, and 2-3 more layers of paper at the end.

The finished fish is quite sturdy, though, and is ready to be painted, decoupaged, or decorated however you like.

HOW DID I DO?!?!

Most importantly, what do you think of the video?!? Is it easy to follow? Too fast/slow? Not enough explanation? would you prefer voiceover? No music?
I know the lighting and shot framing leave something to be desired, and I will get better at that part over time, but comments and feedback would be super helpful as I learn.

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