This wonderful little creature went on quite a journey on its way into existence. Here’s a closer look at the progress and how-to.
I recently finished this paper mache sculpture after working on it for several months. It’s quite large for the amount of workspace I have, and I find it completely charming. What’s funny is that it didn’t start out to be this thing at all.
How to Build a Fantasy Creature from Paper Mache
This creature started out as something very different. I wanted to make something fairly large, and wanted to work with chicken wire as a fast way to create lightweight volumes. So I thought to make an elephant head, and started with the trunk, like so:
It was easy enough to form the chicken wire into a large cone, but when I tried to bend it around a curve, it kept denting and crushing rather than curving. I found that stuffing it tightly with bubble wrap forced it to keep the cone shape as I formed the curve of the elephant trunk.
I then formed some empty chicken wire to make the base shape of the skull, as seen here.
Then, because I wanted to hang it on the wall as a trophy, I took some cardboard to make a flat base, as seen here:
Then, because neither chickenwire nor bubblewrap are very glue-friendly surfaces, I wrapped the whole thing in cotton string to have something that would “take” for a first layer of paper mache.
The first layer of paper mache was pretty rough, of course, but all it needed to do was stay in place as a foundation for subsequent layers.
Because of the weight distribution of the piece, and the flat base, it was easier to work on it and store it in this position, with the trunk upright. I then tried to incorporate the wrinkles/creases that you would see in an elephant’s trunk, like so:
Then, dear reader, a strange thing began to happen.
I think that because I had it sitting at this angle most of the time, working on it in this way, a second face began to emerge. Instead of the elephant head I thought I was working on, I started to see a different kind of creature altogether.
If you notice where the eyes were originally supposed to be, I think it’s easy to see the elephant face:
But instead, I started to see the eyes and face like so:
I started to see the trunk as a tail, and this creature as a kind of underwater axolotl/insect scorpion kind of thing. It became, all by itself, an alebrije!
So I decided that I can always make an elephant, but this might be my one chance to see what THIS creature evolves into, and pursued the new concept instead.
Making a Paper Mache Alebrije
The first thing I made was, of course, the feet, because I love making these little feet, and having the sharp little toes poking out from under the face was key to the new plan:
(PS – does anyone want a tutorial on how to do these kind of claw toes? I love making them!)
When I painted it black, it really started to have its own personality:
Then came many many weeks of making and adding scales. The scales were a multi-step process, that consisted of:
- Buying wooden party spoons from the grocery store
- Painting the entire bowl of the spoons midnight blue, one by one
- Using a dry brush to paint the base and high part of the spoon bowls black
- Stacking the spoons up in overlapping rows, so that only a half-moon of the tips was exposed
- Painting the half-moon tips iridescent green
- Moving each spoon in the overlapping row to expose more of the tips, but still in a half-moon shape
- Painting each tip with Winsor & Newton iridescent medium
Stacking the spoons in long overlapping rows made this process much faster, but each row could still only stack nicely with 10-12, spoons. After they were painted, I cut off the spoon handles and used hot glue to attach them to the alebrije in staggered rows. Altogether, I think I used about 300 spoons.
I also gradually changed the amount of green over the course of its body, with a lot of green at the tip of the tail, and no green at all on the back of the head:
For the face, I decided to try making flat, iguana-style scales rather than these overlapping fish-style scales. I had never done that technique before. To make the face scales:
- I took heavier-weight black paper
- I cut it into irregular, rounded shapes of various sized
- I glued them to the face, with small scales around the eyes and large ones for the “cheeks”, and filled in the other spaces like a puzzle
I then dry-brushed midnight blue paint over the face scales, trying to create more highlights and dimension. To be honest, I don’t love how the face scales came out, but I did learn a lot to apply to future monsters.
The last step was using tissue paper to make the “frilly parts” at the ears, tail tip, and top of the hind legs. I am also a bit ambivalent about how these came out, but I like the top of the hind legs quite a lot:
The final detail, as I have been doing with almost everything lately, was to add a sheet of felt to the bottom of the figure, so it sits nicely on surfaces and doesn’t scuff/wobble.
All in all, I find this little creature extremely charming, and had a lot of fun making it. I am glad I followed my imagination.