Paper Mache “Double Dragon”

This is going to be a very ambitious project.   I wan to make two dragons entwined.   I’ve wanted to do a project like this for a long time.  It will be a real challenge.  Perfect.

First, the crumpling.   Since I’m making two dragons I crumpled two bodies, two heads, two tails, two necks, four back legs, four arms, four more wing arms (I haven’t decided whether to make these dragons with just a set of wings for the arms, or whether to have arms along with wing arms.  Did that make sense?)   I also crumpled a lot of smaller balls of various sizes to cut up for details.   Total work time so far, 2 hours.

Paper Mache “Double Dragon”:  Paper Mache
Before I could paper mache the crumpled balls and appendages I had to add some twists to the tails and necks.   If you read my previous entry then you probably know why.  These two dragons will be more or less twisted together.   This will be one of the challenges of the piece, building the dragons separately knowing that, at some point, I must meld them into one project.     So I used the clothes hangers inside the necks and tails to twist them into parallel shapes.     I then did a large paper mache which took about 2 and a half hours.

Paper Mache “Double Dragon”:  Fingers, Toes, Wings
As you can see, much of this work is just plain work, hard work in fact.     What you see below represents another 2 and a half hours of tightly twisting paper onto pieces of clothes hanger.    Unless you have arms like Popeye, this is a severe forearm workout.    What you see:   (top left) 4 half tongues (will put two together for one tongue leaving a fork at the end), and the long, tapered “fingers” of the wings for both dragons.  (middle)  4 toes on each foot for both dragons, and (bottom left) four fingers for each hand for both dragons.

Total work time so far, 7 hours.
Paper Mache “Double Dragon”:  Teeth and Jaws
Here are the jaws that I just made.    One set will be for the female dragon, and one for the male.    If you’ve ever watched my videos you’ll recognize what I’m doing.   I cut open the mache balls and hollowed them out.  I taped the underside of the tapered half-tongues.   Normally I would bend these into the shape I wanted at this point, but this time I must wait till the dragons are assembled to see how the tongues will “relate” to one another.     Then I cloth mached the two half jaws for each dragon.    As you can see I am still doing pre-assembly work.   It is time consuming and isn’t a lot of fun.     But now I’m ready to start putting the dragons together.    Things will move much faster from here.   Stay tuned.    Total work time so far,  11 hours.


I hot glued the teeth to the paper mache shells and I made two tongues.  Then I added the cloth mache to the jaws.

Paper Mache “Double Dragon”: Beginning Assembly
The challenge with this project will be making the pair so that everything fits well together.   I started with the tails and then added bodies.  You’d think it should be the other way around.   But in this case that’s where the entwining begins.  For anyone who has read my books or blog posts you know that I like to paint my jaws before assembling.   It’s so much easier than trying to do it after they are put together.
   I added the necks, and then the jaws. 

At this point I want to let everyone know that these two dragons will not be mating (just in case your kids are looking over your shoulder.  They are “spooning”, a kind of hugging that moms and dads do)(every so often)(when it’s cold outside).

I used Fimo to make some horns that I plan to use on the head later on.  Black for him, white for her.   On the right, I wanted to see how their tongues would “relate” to each other.  I like this parallel look.


Paper Mache “Double Dragon”:  More Assembly, Candy
As you can see, I’m moving along on my dragon pair.    Since they will be entwined I must add the appendages while they are together.   Once I get a sense for how they fit I will separate them and build them apart.   After I finish each dragon I will reassemble them and hope that they still fit nicely together (things shift as I work on them).

I added the legs …then the arms.

I put together the rough feet and hands.      You may have noticed that I quit posting how long it is taking me for each session.    At the beginning of this build I swore I would keep track.   But I can’t hold an idea for that long, so I’ve since completely abandoned that idea.   But I’ve found something better to mark the time spent on this pair.    I’ve picked up another bad habit recently.  I’ve rediscovered these caramel apple suckers, you know the ones with caramel on the outside and apple sucker on the inside.  Amazing.   One of the fun things about these suckers is the surprise when you first unwrap them, seeing the ratio between the caramel and the apple sucker.     Note the first row of the photo.  That sucker is a severe disappointment.   Front and back have little caramel.  Contrast that to the bottom row.  Look at the caramel on the front and the back!!  Now that is hitting the sucker jackpot.   When I get a sucker like that I just stop working, sit back, and just suck.      So what does this have to do with time?  Well, I ate three bags of these suckers (25 per bag) while assembling this dragon pair.

Here is the pair just before I separate them.   I know what you’re thinking…what a mass of body parts!   Trust me, it will be more clear when it’s finished.

                                            Entwined dragons


Paper Mache “Double Dragon”: Separation, Wings
It was traumatic but I had to separate the two dragons so that I could work on them.   I told them not to worry, that they would be back together soon.   Once I got them apart, the first thing I did was add the wings.   I draped the glue soaked sheets over the “fingers” of each dragon.

After the cloth dried I trimmed the wings with scissors. 
I crumple small balls to use for details on the hands and feet and legs and arms.    You can see the knuckles and calves I added using these balls.  
Here is her foot just before the cloth mache as well as his hands and feet.  Again, his claws black, hers white.


Paper Mache “Double Dragon”: Cloth Mache
As you know by now, I add a “skin” of cloth dipped in glue to my projects.  I first did this with my students back in 1972.   I noticed that our paper mache monsters were brittle and easily broken.   I also noticed that there was lots of Elmer’s glue around the school.    So I had the kids bring in old sheets from home.  We tore them into strips and then cut them into various sized pieces of cloth.   We soaked them in the Elmer’s glue and applied them to our projects.  The result was amazing.  Not only did it make the projects immensely durable, but we found that we were able to add much more detail with the cloth than with just paper.   (When you wrap a square piece of cloth around a round eye wrinkles naturally develop.)   I dubbed the process “cloth mache” for lack of a better term.  It has taken on a life of it’s own since then.  I think it is an important contribution to the “mache” world.    I suppose that some would argue that adding the cloth makes my work more “mixed media” than “paper mache.”   But I sculpt with paper mache.   The cloth just makes for a perfect skin.  So there you are.
First I added cloth to the feet and hands of each dragon.
  Then I added the breast plates to both.  I really enjoy working on the dragon’s bellies.
  I wanted a spine running down the back of each dragon.   I cut one out of cardboard first and hot glued it on.  Then I added cloth to it.  I must say, cloth macheing the spine is one of my least favorite activities.   Many hours of work.

I then added cloth to the rest of each dragon’s body.   Note that, except for the jaws, I haven’t constructed the heads yet.   I decided to finish both dragons and reattach them before finishing the heads.   This is an act of delayed gratification.  I love making the heads.   It’s hard to stay away from them.

I decided to make scales this time by making polygons and fitting them roughly together.  The effect can be dramatic once it’s painted.

I know it’s hard to tell the difference, but the dragon on the left is the female, and the dragon on the right is the male.
Next step, painting the bodies and reattaching the pair.    They are having trouble staying apart.  As you might guess, they really want to get together again.


Paper Mache “Double Dragon:  Reunited at  Last
Now that the two dragons are constructed, it’s time to paint.   I wrestled with color schemes.   In the end, I stuck with colors that I love  for dragons, reds and yellows and oranges.   I’m very satisfied with how they blend together.    I also decided to paint the pair and put them back together before making the heads.   I know it seems funny to do this.   I call this “delayed gratification,” something I’ve done precious little of over the course of my life.    Making the head is my favorite part of building a dragon.    I wanted to finish these two dragons before allowing myself the fun of finishing the faces.  Delayed gratification I suppose.    I can apply it with dragons, but not with desserts.   I always eat my dessert before dinner (while I still have room in my stomach).
It is always easy at this stage it get enamored with the bright colors of the initial paint job.  Everything looks so clean and pretty.    But I’m reminded of what Bill Alexander used to say (he was the crazy but fun old coot that used to paint beautiful landscapes on TV with a house-painting brush).  He would say that you, “can’t have light without dark.”    To make these colors really stand out, and to enhance the details I’ve painstakingly added to these pieces, I needed to “blackwash” them.   I water down some black paint then paint a part of the project and wipe it off before it dries.    Photographs never really do this justice, so you’ll have to trust me about how great this works.  Below is the female dragon after blackwashing.   She looks dirty and her colors are certainly more muted.   But she looks more like a dragon.

I do add some of the color back in the form of highlights.   Again, these photos don’t show the change as well as I would have liked.  But I think you can get the idea.   Below is a portion of the female’s neck before highlights and then after.  Can you see the difference?  It’s much more profound in person.


It is even more dramatic with the red on the male.   Look at the male body after blackwashing.    Now look at it with highlights added.


I also highlighted the belly plates of both dragons.  The color here is really subtle.


I brushed water over the painted claws just to soften the paint.  Then I scraped it off with a knife.   Latex paint (or acrylic or any combination, so long as it is water soluble) will not stick to Fimo.    In fact, as my fellow paper mache artist and friend Randloph correctly pointed out, the paint actually comes off easier if you have a lot of paint on the claws rather than just a little bit.   So don’t worry when you are painting around claws or teeth if you get paint on them.   Rather, make sure you do get them covered in paint.  The thicker the better.    I really love seeing the claws and teeth emerge after being covered.     The effect is dramatic.


Finally it is time to see if the two dragons still fit together (Are they still in love?  Long distance relationships…in paper mache land that means a few feet apart…are very difficult to maintain.).    A lot of shifting can happen during the construction and painting.   I held my breath (not trying to be melodramatic here…Eddy just used his litter box in the next room) and twisted them back together.   I was thrilled to find that they still fit together perfectly.

Reunited at last!   Now….if they only had faces.
Paper Mache “Double Dragon”:   FINISHED!!
The paper mache dragon pair is finished!    I’m very happy with the result.   I hope that you like them too.First, the final steps.

I constructed the faces.  I once again decided on blue eyes for both.   They really stand out.    Then I added horns to both, black for the male (like his claws) and off white for the female (like her claws).I  blackwashed the faces.

Here are finished faces up close.
And here are two shots of the final project.

I didn’t do a time-lapse video of this build.  But I did make a little slide show that’s kind of fun.  You can watch it here.

20 Responses to Paper Mache “Double Dragon”

  1. Grumpmeister Fink says:

    Hi it’s me again sorry to bother you but I’m having a hard time assembling the feet for my dragon, I like the way these feet look, could you explain how to make them?

    • Again, I’m just not sure how to describe the process. It’s a matter of taping the toes (fingers) to a wad of paper to start. You can bend the toes into the shape you want because of the hangers. Then use small wads of paper with tape for knuckles and other embellishments. Beyond that I don’t know what else to say. Just keep at it until they looks the way you want them.

  2. Grumpmeister Fink says:

    Thanks for the advise, love the art

  3. jorge says:

    hola me encanta tu arte quisiera aprender tu arte me re encanto, tengo alguna idea de como lo haces viendo tus vídeos, pero, lo que no se, es Que materiales usas aparte del papel 😦 con que haces sus alas y recubres al dragón que utilizas para sus escamas?????? por favor solo dame algunos consejos no te pido que me enseñes todo solo algunos consejos para poder aprender te lo agradecería bastante, Gracias de antemano

  4. Allyson says:

    Hi, I’m not sure if you’ll get this since this was posted quite a while ago, but I was wondering, what kind of paint you use for your dragons. Our drama department is making the Tiamat for our show, and I’m in charge of making the dragon heads. Right now, we’re getting the ingredients and all that jazz, and last time we took on a big project we used indoor paint. I wasn’t sure what kind to put on the list.

  5. Megan says:

    Hello! I love your work. But I have one question. Is there a certain kind of fabric that you prefer to use for the paper mâché?

  6. Miriam says:

    Dan, all water paint will nog stick to fimo ??

  7. Amelea says:

    This is incredible. I stumbled upon a video of yours earlier today. My future husband and I are huge nerds and incorporating Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings into our wedding next year. I don’t have much experience with paper maché but I’m ambitious and determined to make a dragon. Do you just use any kind of cloth for the cloth maché? And Elmer’s glue? I’ve read you can do paper maché with flour and water mixed equally. Can you do cloth maché that way, too?

    • Hi again Amelea. I don’t think I ever answered this. I use old bed sheets dipped in Elmer’s glue for the cloth mache. The flour and water paste is for the paper mache part, with newspaper strips. It would not work with cloth. Good luck!

  8. Desert Recan says:

    Hola Dan realizas un estupendo trabajo. Me podrías decir ¿Cómo elaboras los dientes?

  9. Anneke says:

    Amazing! I’m also a keen papermache artist…still learn every day! Your dragon’s beautiful! Well done…hard work payed off!

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