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Handmade Paper Bowl

Steve Hess shows how to craft a paper-mache bowl.

Steve Hess used to teach art classes at a high school. He loved paper-mache projects and would have the kids in detention help him with shredding newspapers.

Materials and Tools:

discarded/recycled office memos
dried flowers and leaves
powdered tempera paint
white glue
paint stirring stick
assorted paint brushes
4" x 4" x 4" block of wood
decorative or a beaded garland
flexible beading wire
wire cutters
assorted plastic containers/pails/tubs
latex disposable gloves
electric blender
paper mold and deckle (purchased or made)
wet wipes
old towels
rolling pin
18" square backing board
heavy plastic tarp
large rectangular sponge
electric fan
electric drill with 1" or larger bit
wire cutters
hot glue gun

Figure A


1. To make the paper pulp, tear up recycled office memos into small 1/2-inch bits and soak over night in a large pail of hot water.

2. Scoop a heaping cup of the soaked paper into blender jar and fill almost to the top with water. Blend the mixture until it becomes a smooth pulp.

3. Pour the pulp into a large pail and continue this process until all of the soaked paper has been pulped.

4. Color the pulp using powdered tempera paint. Sprinkle it over the surface of the pulp in the pail and allow to soak up water before mixing it into the pulp with a wooden paint-stirring stick. This will prevent paint lumps from forming in the pulp mixture. The pulp is now ready to be made into paper. Note: The amount of pulp needed to make a single sheet of paper depends on how thick the resulting paper is to be and on the size of the mold and deckle to be used. For this bowl project, the paper should be pretty thick. The mold and deckle used makes a 14" square of paper, so Steve uses four cups of pulp.

5. To make the paper: Place the paper mold and deckle into a large plastic tub. A cement-mixing tub from a home improvement store works very well for this.

Figure B

6. Pour the pulp into a medium-sized pail. Anything you want to add interest to the paper should now be added on top of the pulp. Steve uses dried marigold petals and dried lawn grass.

7. Fill the pail almost to the top with water and stir with the paint-stirring stick.

Figure C

8. While the mixture is swirling in the pail, dump it in one fell swoop into the paper mold and allow most of the water to drain through the mold into the plastic tub.

9. Remove the top deckle and set aside.

10. Spread out two wet wipes onto the backing board and couch the sheet of paper onto them. Note: Couching the paper simply means turning the mold upside down and pressing it onto the wipes so it is transferred off of the mold. Carefully lift the mold and the paper will adhere to the wipes below.

Figure D

11. Cover the newly couched sheet of paper with two more wipes and then the old towel.

12. Use the rolling pin to gently press excess water from the paper.

13. Remove the towel and transfer the wet wipe/handmade paper sandwich to a counter or floor covered with a plastic tarp.

14. Repeat this process; it will take six sheets of this 14-inch paper to make the beaded bowl. Note: Many simple items around the home can be turned into forms to make handmade paper bowls. Simply cover it with plastic wrap and it is ready to go. Steve uses a mold he made from a large old funnel because it will give a triangular V-shape to the finished bowl.

Figure E

15. To form the bowl, place the plastic-wrapped form on a plastic container to raise it up off of the work surface and protect the rim of the bowl being made.

Figure F

16. Begin to tear pieces of handmade paper from the sheets and lay them over the surface of the bowl form. As you work, overlap one piece of paper onto the next so that the entire surface of the form is covered with the paper.

17. Once the surface is completely covered, repeat the process two more times, adding a second and third layer. It is fun to use more than one color of paper to build up an interesting and beautiful surface on the bowl.

Figure G

18. Use the sponge to gently blot the surface of the newly formed bowl, removing as much moisture as possible.

19. Allow the bowl to dry overnight. Direct the air flow from an electric fan against it to ensure it will dry thoroughly overnight.

20. When the outer surface of the paper bowl has dried, carefully remove it from the form. Because of the layer of plastic wrap, it will pop off of the form easily. Allow the bowl to dry completely on the inside as well.

21. To make the base: Drill a 1-inch hole in the top center of the block of wood. You can leave the wood natural or stain it with a wash of tempera paint and water to coordinate with the colors in the handmade paper.

Figure H

22. To put everything together, run a line of white glue around the edge of the hole in the wood and carefully insert the bottom tip of the paper bowl into the hole. The bowl may need to be propped in an upright position while the glue dries.

Figure I

23. To add strength and protection, the bowl must be "sized" with a mixture of equal amounts of water and white glue. Paint this sizing liberally over the entire inside and outside of the bowl and allow to dry. Use the fan again to speed the drying process.

Figure J

24. The beaded collar provides the finishing touch. Steve uses a length of a beaded garland he purchased at a craft store. This is an effective way to get an opulent beaded look. It's easily attached by twisting wired beads together and tacking with a hot glue gun. You can also string your own beads on thin bendable wire and wrap this round and round the neck of the bowl/base.

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