Paper Mache Buddha with Jo

I was commissioned by the owner of a coffee shop to make a Buddha.  Beyond that the concept was up to me.   I’m excited about this piece.  I like coffee.  I like Buddha(s).   I’m pretty sure that coffee and bliss are somehow connected.   Hence, a laughing Buddha holding a cup of coffee would fit the bill.     I’m going to try very hard to keep these posts in real time so that you can see how the piece evolves.   I’ll show you my equivocation, the changes in my thinking as I go.  That’s the plan anyway.  Enjoy.

But….I’m going to start with a photo of assistant, Eddie.    Here he is, looking a little concerned.   I think he’s worried that the previous pope, John Paul, might not get the second miracle he needs to become a saint.  (It’s hard to do miracles after you are dead.)(Speaking of spiritual matters.)

As always with my paper mache projects, I started with a pile of crumpled balls of newspaper.  I wanted the Buddha to be full size, at least as big as I am.    So I needed quite a few of these.

I put them all together with masking tape.  Here is the body from the front and the side.  As you can see, I used a lot of masking tape to hold all of this together.  The masking tape also keeps the paper mache paste from soaking too deeply into the giant wad of paper.







I also made separate balls to use for the head and for sculpting various other parts.   I made the basic thighs and calves and upper arms and forearms.  I put those inside wire clothes hangers.    On the right are all of these pieces drying after I added the paper mache.  It took about a week for this mass of paper mache to dry.

Okay, this last photo has nothing to do with paper mache.  It is a photo of sunset ON MARS!  It was taken by one of the rovers.   It never ceases to amaze me how incredibly stupid humans can be (like believing that humans aren’t causing the current climate change) and yet so incredibly brilliant.

Just take that in.


Paper Mache Buddha with Jo:  Feet, Hands, Leg

So all of this looks very familiar.  No surprises in my paper mache world.   Still, here goes.   I did my usual twisting of paper around pieces of wire clothes hanger for the toes and fingers.   As I’ve said before, I like to use phone book paper for this.  It  has a nice way of compressing.   I swear, this is the last possible use for phone books.    I’ve tried doing the actual paper mache work with phone book paper.  I don’t think it works as well as newsprint.  It seemed like it doesn’t shrink uniformly.   This could be my imagination.   I’ve never done a formal experiment.  Maybe someday.  If you’ve tried it let me know how it went.    I used phone book paper on the eggs I made for the last baby dragon.  While they were wet they were perfectly symmetrical and egg like.  However, when they dried, they became all misshapen (is that the right word?).  So far as phone books are concerned, bad for paper mache, great for fingers and toes.

Speaking of fingers and toes…   As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted this laughing Buddha to be essentially full sized.   So I used my own hands and feet as a guide.   I made the wads of paper about the size of my own foot.

As you can see, once I added the toes, the foot got a little bigger.     That’s okay though.  My feet are a little small.   Besides, the belly will certainly be bigger than mine.     In the photo on the right (below) I’ve assembled the parts for the calves and thighs.    I usually make legs by making a figure eight out of a clothes hanger.  I put wads of paper in the upper and lower halves of the figure eight and paper mache.   Obviously,  this wouldn’t work for my Buddha.   The legs would be way too small.  For this project I just stuck thigh and calf sized wads of paper into their own hangers and then applied the paper mache.     I’m going to say this again.   I love wire clothes hangers.     I know many of you like different kinds of wire.    That’s okay.   Some of you tell me you can’t find wire clothes hangers any more.    But you can if you look online.        I was worried about it a while back, so I went on a wire clothes hanger buying spree.  By the time I was finished, I had 1200 of them.   My wife thought I was nuts.  (She’s right.  But not because of the clothes hangers.)   Hmmm.  It occurs to me that people started saying they couldn’t find hangers about the time I was buying these….sorry.     Look, if you really some and can’t find them, let me know.  I’ll send you some for the price of shipping.

Speaking of hangers, I cut off the end of the loop and stuck the wire into the foot.  I filled in the back of ankle with crumpled newspaper.

I wadded up a ball and wrapped it with tape.   I used this for the ankle.    I cut an extra, small paper mache ball in half to use for the calf muscle.   The mache ball was elongated, perfect for this application.    I like having a lot of extra paper mache balls around.     I have a big pile of them.  If you are obsessive and have nothing elso to do, you can take the virtual tour of my studio and see the pile of pre-paper mached balls.   You can do this on the home page of GourmetPaperMache.   Some of these paper mache balls are years old before I decide to use them.

I stuck the lower half of the leg and the thigh together.   Then I added another piece of wadded paper for a knee cap.   The assembled leg looked pretty good at this point I think.

I made the hands in a similar fashion.  I started with a hand sized wad of paper.  I added the four fingers on top.    I always put the thumb almost on the other side of the wad.   It looks much more like a thumb that way.   Again, I used my own hand as a reference for size.

I cut two holes in the sides of the giant paper mache Buddha body for the legs.  I pushed the legs into the holes and added a lot of masking tape.    I’ll tell you a little secret here.  This was not as easy as it sounds.  I had a terrible time getting these legs positioned correctly.     But, in the end, they turned out all right.    It’s a lesson in life.  Sometimes you just have to wrestle with the Buddha.

Speaking of profound questions.     Say you wrap a piece of rope around the Earth at the equator.  The rope is very tight.  It doesn’t stretch.   So you have a length of rope that is essentially the circumference of the planet which happens to be 25,000 miles (it’s actually 24,901.55 miles, but just use 25 thousand).  The question is, if you added 50 feet of length to the rope, would it give you enough slack for you to stick your fingers underneath it?  That is, would the additional 50 feet be enough for you to get your fingers under that giant piece of rope?  Or would it still be too tight?

Answer next time (unless you want to “reply” with your answer.)
This is the last math problem I’ll pose on this blog, I promise.

Paper Mache Buddha with Jo: More Feet, Hands, & Legs
I’m sure you looked at the title of this post and thought, isn’t there something on TV?  (The answer is yes, but it isn’t worth watching.)(except “Deadliest Catch”)  But there is just more work that needs to be done on these body parts.  But first, the answer to the math question I posed last time.   Believe it or not, you could raise the rope over 8 feet in the air!   You could easily walk under the rope, with someone on your shoulders (a short person).  This would also be true if the question had been about wrapping a grapefruit instead of the Earth.    The answer would still be 50 divided by pi, no matter what are were wrapping.   Math is cool.  Isaac got the answer first.  I sent him a little prize.Okay, back to paper mache.  As happens many times, I make some appendages, put them on, and then hate them.  I miscalculated on the legs.   They were too small.   Even though most of the legs will be under a robe, I couldn’t stand knowing that the proportion of the legs was off.    So I cut open one of the extra paper mache balls I talked about last time, and put half of the paper mache shell on each thigh to make them bigger.   I didn’t show it, but I ended up doing the same thing on both calves.   That’s why you make a bunch of extra paper mache balls!  For thigh and calf emergencies!

Now that he had feet and legs, it was time to make some toenails (and fingernails and teeth).  Again, I used Fimo to make these.    Did I mention that Fimo degrades over time?  After a few years they tend to break easily.  This bothers me a lot.    I’m looking for better material.   Any suggestions?   I hot glued the toenails onto each foot.

I decided to do some cloth mache on the bottom half of the Buddha.   I start be wrapping each toenail with a piece of cloth dipped in Elmer’s glue.   Then I added various sized pieces of cloth to cover the entire foot.  Then I cloth mached the legs and the rest of the lower half of the body.    I realize that I may be getting a bit too granular in my entries.  You’ve seen this process many times by now.

While the lower half of the Buddha was drying, I put the hands and arms together.

I put the hands onto the arms and then attached them to the body.   I used another paper mache ball (cut into two shells) to make some shoulders.   Since he is a coffee drinking Buddha (hence, the Jo in the title), I put the cup in his hands for the first time.

There are lots of adjustments to make.  Getting the hands just right around that little cup took some time.
Paper Mache Buddha with Jo:  Belly and Jaws
I decided to make some major changes.   After getting the cup just right, I decided I wanted it closer to his face.  There has to be a connection between the joyful expression on the Buddha’s face and the cup of coffee.  This is for a coffee shop after all.  I added a paper mache ball for the head.  This is the approximate size.  I’ll make many adjustments.   After I put a head on him, I realized that the belly was not big enough (for a proper “Laughing Buddha”).  At this point I didn’t have time to make another giant paper mache ball for another belly.    I thought of a rather clever way to remedy this situation (if I  may say so myself).  First, I cut the Buddha in half just above the belly.
Then, I set the top half of the body back about 6 inches.  It’s hard to see in the photo (below, on the left).  Then I cut up smaller, extra, paper mache balls to create the round upper portion of the belly.  I used some of the same paper mache shells to make a smooth transition from the back to the butt (yes, Buddhas have butts).

Time to make the jaws.  Since this Buddha will be smiling, I wasn’t sure how many teeth would be showing.  So I made a proper set of teeth just in case.   As usual, I cut open a smaller paper mache ball and used the half shells for the jaws.  I hot glued the teeth onto the shells first.   Then I wrapped the teeth with my cloth mache.

I painted the jaws a pretty pink and blackwashed them.   I forgot to mention that I also made a tongue.  I did this when I made the fingers and toes since a tongue is just two fingers put together with cloth over them both.  I cut a hole in the head.


I pushed the jaws into the face.   Note that I also added Buddha breasts (yes, Buddhas have breasts).  Once again, I just cut a small paper mache ball in half and used the shells for those.  
Paper Mache Buddha with Jo:  Working on the Face
Back to the face.  As you can see, I cut eye sockets into the paper mache head and filled them in with masking tape.   At this point I got strange.   Instead of pretending that this project went straight forward with no twists and turns,  I’m going to show you the machinations of a crazy artist.   I decided that he needed more flesh under the chin.   So I cut a slice out of a paper mache ball and used it for the jowls.  Then I had to make the chin bigger (again, used the shell of another extra paper mache ball for this).     I wasn’t sure at this point that I liked the face at all.   As an artist, you have to work until you like something.  There is no objectivity to it.   It doesn’t even matter whether the client likes it.    I’ve sold work under deadlines that weren’t exactly what I wanted and it haunted me.   I wish I could buy back some of those pieces and use them for parts.   Oh well.
I thought that maybe I just needed a few more details so I added some eyes and cheeks (more paper mache shells).   In this case I added some masking tape eyelids and lips just to get a feel for the finished face.   When I looked at him, all of a sudden I recognized the face.  It looked (to me) like the face of the snowman from the children’s book “The Snowman” (the kids used to watch the movie of the same name when they were little.).  I was mortified.    So I cut off the jowls that I added earlier.   And then I cut off the head.  I wanted it lower on the body.   Funny thing, I liked the face more when it wasn’t attached.   Go figure.
I needed some flashy (fleshy) ears.  I cut a piece of paper mache shell into a rough ear shape and taped it to the head.    I wanted some really fleshy ear lobes.   Rather than try to paper mache some smaller, earlobe balls I just crumpled up some phone book paper.

I fashioned long, droopy ear lobes.    I was ready to cloth mache the face and upper torso so I removed the masking tape eyelids and lips.   At this point it didn’t look very Buddha-like.   In fact, he looked terrified.   I told him not to worry, that too much caffeine will do that to you.

I will show you some of the cloth mache steps in the next post.  But I didn’t want to leave you with that scary face.    So below is the Buddha after I put on the cloth mache skin.     He looks a lot better.
Paper Mache Buddha with Jo:  Finished!

I promised in the last post to talk a bit about the cloth mache.   Usually when I make lips I fold a small strip of cloth and simply wrap it under the mouth for the bottom lip.   Then I do the same on the top.  In this case I added a fold under the nose.   For the most part, that’s enough for nice lips.   Of course a laughing Buddha should have lips that are a bit more plump, like Angelina Jolie.  So I added a couple more small pieces of cloth around the folds.

I folded cloth again and made eye lids.    I wanted them to be crescent shaped.  And I made a navel.   Just poked a hole in the belly and stuffed some cloth into it (just like I did with the nose and ears).

I painted him a pale orangish-pink.   He was very bright.   Then I blackwashed him.   It’s funny, blackwashing is the step that most people who try my paper mache techniques resist.  They fall in love with the first coat of paint and don’t want to ruin it.  I understand completely.   Look how awful this face looks right after the backwash.    But I’m telling you, you need the darkness to appreciate the light.  (How’s that for a nice Buddhist type saying!  Actually, it was Bill Alexander, the crazy painter on PBS that used to say that, along with “Fire it in there!” when he was applying paint.)   You spend a lot of time on the details of a project and you want to see them.  The blackwashing really pulls them out.

Notice how much better he looks once some of the color is added back.  I put a small amount of paint on my brush and hit the high points on the head, the nose, ears, etc..   Note that I added a bit of pink to the lips and cheeks.    Of course the best part of doing my paper mache art projects is scraping the paint off the eyes.   It was no different with this piece.   Buddha came alive when the paint came off.   And, if I may brag a bit, I think he ended up looking very happy and wise, well, at least happy.   Then again, it might have just been the caffeine.   Did you notice that I pulled the arms and the cup up closer to his face?  This Buddha was made for a coffee shop after all.    I wanted to associate the bliss with the cup of coffee.

I bought some nice cloth and made a robe.   Sorry, I didn’t document the making of the robe.   Just got carried away and did it.  Suffice it to say that it really isn’t a robe.   I wouldn’t have been able to put a real robe on the Buddha since you can’t move the arms.   So the cloth is pieced together with hot glue to simulate a robe.


And what would one of my paper mache pieces be without a cat?  So here’s…

Buddha with Jo and Max.


Buddha floating in the sky.  If you’d like to see the time-lapse video of this build click this photo.  Peace!

10 Responses to Paper Mache Buddha with Jo

  1. Sonja says:

    Amazing work 🙂 I am a paper mache artist from Austria. I know how much fun you have 😉

  2. Terri says:

    You probably already have these suggestions somewhere in your comments- but, I thought I’d give you a few options for the nails, teeth, etc. how would those acrylic/fake nails that women have glued on as “nail tips”? They are available at beauty supply stores, in various sizes & shapes- in a large assortment – usually in a plastic parts type container, sectioned for sizes or for a trial run, dollar stores carry them in smaller packages.. IF they are too small or not what you want, could you use a vinegar jug, cut into whatever you need? (milk jugs are a little thin).. I think if you cut the shape you want, use an 80 or 100 grit paper to rough them up, singe the edges with lighter/candle/heat gun (??) spray a little clear plastic primer on them and FINALLY swipe with a dark stain… like dark walnut (min-wax) they might look like grungy nastiness without anymore work. I thought of one more just this second- spray foam? Squirt a blob on wax paper or parchment paper, then mash with a wax paper covered putty knife… you could lay them on cardboard tube to dry for the natural curve & carve or shape after the “skin” forms pretty good. Wait- hot glue globs ? I think I’d try the vinegar jug myself..
    Didn’t mean for this to drag out so long but my brain fires without warning- My husband has ALWAYS said “there’s NO filter between your brain and your mouth- you think it, it blasts right out where you stand” He also calls me ‘Lady McGyver’. I can come up with SOMETHING from ANYTHING- ANYWHERE- (He’s a “left-brain guy- lots of blank stares when I explain things) He takes 2 days & adds 47 steps to a 3 step process. He’s MY little Buddah though- LOVES the stuff I hate to do- works out beautifully- Whew! ANYWAY! you have a great day and have a blast playing with all your minds creations. ~Terri~

  3. fatoumata says:

    hi i was wondering if there is a full lenght video i could watch

  4. Nota says:

    That is not a buddha

    • So funny that your comment exactly matches your profile name. Perhaps you would change your mind if your name was “Isabuddha”. In any case, you don’t know much much about the subject.

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