Paper Mache “Naga- Dragon Queen of Snakes!”

I’m going to make a snake.  Not any old snake.  But my rendition of the Hindu/Buddhist deity associated with the divine aspect of the cobra.   It is often associated with dragons.   So I’m calling mine, Naga-Dragon Queen of Snakes.   Okay… a dragon-like snake is one step away from a dragon, right?    Except there are no wings, or toes.  Maybe I’ve just gotten lazy.

I started with wire clothes hangers, as always.   You know, these used to be omnipresent.   Now, it appears that the only places using them are dry cleaners.   They still use the small gauge, white ones.   Those work well.   For this project I wanted to use the old, heavy gauge hangers.    You can still get these online.     That’s because there were so many made over the years.  I wanted to insure a supply so I went on a buying spree a while back.   I ended up with 1600 of them.  My wife, and my mail person thought I was crazy.   Anyway….   I straightened out about 10 of these hangers.   I doubled them up and made a length the size of the snake I wanted, about 8 feet long.

wire clothes hanger tools for doing paper mache art

I twisted newspaper around the length of the wire.   Now you’d think this would be an easy task.  But it’s actually quite a challenge to get the perfect taper over an 8 foot length.   Of course I wanted it bigger on the front end with a nice point on the back end.  This took adding many layers of paper and wrapping with masking tape.    On the left you can see how it looked in the initial stages.   After a lot of twisting and a lot of masking tape I was able to get a more or less smooth surface.

twisted news paper more twisted newspaper

Of course that perfect taper and that smoothness all went away as I coiled the big snake.   It’s amazing how 8 feel shrinks when you get it into a spiral.   You’d never think this was 8 feet long once it was all curled up.  So here’s a lesson for you.  If you stumble upon what looks to be a smallish dragon-snake in the woods, know that she is actually much larger than she looks!

twist newspaper into spiral twist newspaper into snake

So now there came a second round of smoothing and filling in voids.   This time I used wads of phone book paper and masking tape to make the surface smooth once again.  This took the better part of a day.

fill in voids in newspaper

I decided to paper mache the body before worrying about the hood or the head.

ready to paper mache

Paper Mache “Naga Dragon Queen of Snakes”: Paper Mache
Just a quick post from where I left off.   This is where I add the paper mache to the snake.   I’m not going to explain the entire process here.   But just because it’s been a while I’m going to remind you about the most important rule about doing paper mache.      Never put the paper in the paste!  Only your hands.

paper mache the snake
Why?   Because when you put strips of paper in the paste it disintegrates.  It gets gooey.   And it’s really impossible to evenly distribute the paste no matter how hard you try with your fingers.  So you get globs of paste that don’t dry and air pockets between the layers of paper.    Just get your hands really wet with paste.   Then touch the stack of paper strips and one will stick to your fingers.   Use only one sheet at a time.   If two stick to your hand shake one loose.  Put the strip on the project and use your wet hands to soak it.   Use your hands to push out the air bubbles and smooth the project.   I started at the neck.   I wrapped the paper strips around the snake at an angle putting on a few layers.
more paper mache of snake

With the strips at an angle everything naturally works its way downward.  I worked my way along the length of the snake squeezing out the excess paste as I went.

paper mache tail of snake

I added more layers where I thought it needed it for bulk and symmetry.   Not that this step doesn’t have to be done perfectly.   The details are added later with the cloth and glue.

paper mache snake 2

This took a few days to dry completely.   As an aside, I can’t tell you how many people have asked me how to get their projects to dry faster.   They are under some crazy deadline (“I’m helping my kid make a paper mache dog for school!   It’s due in two days!  What can I do?”)    Some go to elaborate lengths to accelerate the drying, including using a microwave oven.   Don’t use an oven to dry your projects!  (except for you Rick)   My advice?  Plan ahead next time.  And don’t do your kid’s homework.


Paper Mache “Naga- Dragon Queen of Snakes”:  Scales
Just a quick post.   I’ve been working on this snake for a while now.  It has turned out to be much more labor intensive than I’d planned (okay, so this happens with every project I make).  But I’m enjoying myself.   I added some spikes to the tail.

add cloth to paper mache snake
I made a nice mouth with some pretty fangs.   This will be cobra-like so the long teeth seemed appropriate.    I cloth mached the mouth and painted it.
jaws of paper mache snake
I added breast plates along the under belly.  I’ll show you a better photo of those later.   What I’m going to show you now is two full weeks of work.   It’s amazing how long it takes to put scales on a nine foot long snake.   These are similar to the dragon scales I make but I made these more hexagonal rather than triangular.  These overlap like dragon scales would.   Trust me, this was a real challenge considering the coil.
cloth mache scales
Paper Mache “Naga- Dragon Queen of Snakes”:  Final SculptingI have to say that I’m really pleased with how this is turning out.    Of course I could ruin it with paint.  (But I won’t.)  I’ve always said that paint can’t fix a bad piece of sculpture.  But a bad paint job can ruin a good piece of sculpture.   Still, if I like it in the “white stage”, I know it can be something I will really like with a good paint job.   I’ve got the colors I want.  Nevertheless, I’ll probably fuss around for two days equivocating before I put a paint brush to the piece. These aren’t the best photos.   And there is a lot of glue stuck to the horns, teeth and eyes.   I really like the way the hood turned out, with the bones (or horns) running through it.

paper mache Naga finished
Here she is from the back.
paper mache Naga- back
I wanted to give you a close up of the scales on the head.  Actually they are more like plates.  You see this on most snakes.  Of course I can’t do justice to what nature does for real snakes.   My plates are far from perfect.   I got as much symmetry as I could.  This was painstaking, even more than the scales covering the body.  It doesn’t look like it would be that challenging, but it was.
scales on paper mache snake headmore scales on paper mache snake
Here’s a view from under the chin.  You’ll notice someone in the background.   He’s not very happy.  He wanted food.  I told him he would have to wait a few minutes.   I had glue on my hands.     He’s not real patient.  Like his dad (me).  The most maddening thing was that after I shot this photo I cleaned the glue off of my hands and gave him some food.   He just sniffed it and walked away.    I’m sure he was pouting.    I’m sure he waited till I was back at work before sneaking back to eat it.  Little pill Eddie.
paper mache Naga ready to paint
It’s a shame that most people won’t even see the underside of this snake.  I just thought I’d show you the “breast plates” along the entire length of the snake.
breast plates on paper mache Naga
For no particular reason I thought I’d show you a couple of my tools.  The glue from my hands gets everywhere.  This is typical of everything in my studio, my phone, my TV remote control, the handles on the sink, everything.
tools for paper mache
While I’m on this side track I want to come back to the labor intensive aspect of these pieces.  I can’t tell you how many people decide that anything called “paper mache” should not cost more than a hundred bucks.  They are shocked when I give them a quote for a commission.  After working an entire day to put scales on a foot or so of this snake, it becomes clear that I’ve probably put more time into the piece than I can recoup when I finally decide to sell it (if I want minimum wage).   It just happens.   The real bottom line is, I make this art for myself.   I don’t do it with money in mind even when I take commissions.  I won’t accept a commission unless it’s a piece that I’d happily keep if the deal fell through.    It’s really about doing the work.  Doing the work feeds me the right way.   All you artists out there know what I mean.
Paper Mache “Naga- Dragon Queen of Snakes”:  Finished!!
Well, this took a long time to finish.  I like the paint job.  Unfortunately I didn’t get photos of the painting  in process.   I’m sorry.   But I did make one of my time-lapse videos of this project being made.    I think the painting process is very clear in that video.     Follow the link at the bottom of this post to see it.
paper mache Nage- finally finished
Naga- Front
paper mache Naga- side view
Naga- side
paper mache Naga- back view
Naga- back
paper mache Naga- left side
Time-lapse video here.

74 Responses to Paper Mache “Naga- Dragon Queen of Snakes!”

  1. Jill says:

    You’re work is absolutely amazing! Starting my own dragon trophy today. Just wondering how you do the glass eyes? or do you order them from somewhere? I’m from Canada, and looked in several art stores and couldn’t seem to find the same eyes you use or the materials to make them. Thanks in advance 🙂

    • Hello Jill. Thanks for the kind words. I use taxidermy eyes. If you Google “glass eyes taxidermy” you’ll find all the companies I use. There are three or four. Good luck!

  2. abalderrama says:

    Hi. I love the way you explain your work and your generosity bringing your secrets (and your cat!). One question: what kind of paint you use? (well, two questions) what kind of cloth you use? thank you for your answer and for your art. (I´m a spanish speaker, sorry) Saludos desde Buenos Aires. Alejandra

  3. amanda mcgahan says:

    totally amazing im going to try a snake and a pelican or two. I live in far north queensland with the crocodiles …mmmm they could be interesting. I recently completed an enormous dragon that looked fantastic if I may say so myself!!. I wondered if I could put anything outside we have an opportunity up here to display in the town streets and would love to create some animals that could withstand a little rain. If you have any suggestions that would be great. Your handbook is awesome thank you…trying to keep the glue off.

    • Hi Amanda. Your dragon sounds great. I don’t have any suggestions about weatherproofing now that it is made. I would have suggested using “exterior” products in the making, like the paint and glue. And making sure there is not avenue for the rain to make its way inside the dragon. But maybe you did those things. Still, a little rain is one thing. Making something to last for a long period of time outside is very different. Good luck on your new projects!

  4. janice says:

    How do you make the scales?

  5. Ricaurter Paz says:

    Muy buen trabajo, te felicito. Yo me dedico al arte de papel en Panamá. Pues toda vía no he trabajado ese estilo de usted. Me dedico a enseñar a niños y jóvenes de escasos recursos económico en mi país. Con todo respeto cree que me puede decir, cual es la goma que usa ya veo que el papel es de periódico impreso. Usted le dice papel mache. No sé si estoy equivocado. La pintura que uso es acrílica no se usted cual usa. Saludos

    • Hola. Lo siento. Yo uso un traductor y no hice un buen trabajo. No entiendo la pregunta. ¿Se trataba de la pintura? Utilizo toda la pintura propósito, como se utiliza para pintar el interior de una casa. Es acrílico / látex.

  6. ricardo says:

    ola belo trabalho como você faz a cola e é a mesma usada no pano mache

  7. Lynn Lockhart says:

    i love your work. its inspirational to watch. my friend showed me your equinox dragon and i haven’t stoped watching how you do your work. but i have a question. i am currently working very hard on a project and wondered if you wouldn’t mind telling me what material you use to give your dragon wings that realistic weathered look and if so where i can get it from.

    • Hello Lynn. After sculpting with paper mache I add a “skin” of cloth (just old bed sheets) dipped in white glue (like Elmer’s). I call this process “cloth mache”. Since most all purpose paint is made with latex (rubber) and acrylic (plastic) it bonds with the cloth to make it feel like leather. This process is perfect for wings (and other details). Good luck!

  8. Sandra Braithwaite says:

    Hey there, your work is pretty magnificently amazing. As is your love of the Cat…do you ever do workshops? I live and work nthe centre of Australia, and would be more tham willing to attend.

    • Thanks Sandra. Glad you like my work. I live in Seattle in the US. I don’t do workshops because people who want them live all over the planet. I just couldn’t get a critical mass together. That’s why I wrote my books and made this blog. Take care

  9. Michelle says:

    How do you make the shape for the head? I’m thinking of making a cobra snake head for a cane.

  10. Shazam says:

    Really good work……. one questions can you do this is in one week?

  11. ujif says:

    ОЧЕНЬ КРАСИВО!!!!!!!!!!!
    Хочу попробывать сделать сам.

  12. ujif says:

    добрый день вы не подскажите из чего делали чешуйки по всему телу змеи ?

    • Здравствуйте. Добавить “кожу” ткани (старые простыни), смоченным в белом клей (все назначения). Я сворачиваю куски ткани, чтобы сделать весы.

  13. ujif says:

    большое спасибо

  14. ujif says:

    здравствуйте. не подскажите размер глаз?

  15. leno says:

    lo felicito por su gran trabajo realmente es increíble
    tengo una consulta como se hacen los dientes , los cuernos ?

  16. NN says:

    please can you tell how to make fangs?

  17. Monica says:

    Making a “whiskerina” beard for a competition (girls make crazy, elaborate beards to compete in beard competitions next to men) and I’m trying to figure out a way to make a single snake beard… Jeweled, I’m thinking… Anywho, my questions is… Without the scales (mine will either be rhinestones, or sequins) how heavy do these pieces get? If mine is roughly 4 feet, with a head the size of a fist… As I’ll be attaching this to my face, I’d hate for it to be more than 10lbs… Ha. Thank you!!!

    • Hello Monica. I think it would be a couple of pounds. I’m not exactly sure. I would worry about torque. If it is that long and comes out from your face at too much of an angle it will create a lot of stress at the chin. If it’s hanging down it won’t be much of a problem. Good luck with that! Sounds fun.

  18. Tarlier Thibault says:

    Bonjour ! C’est fabuleux ce que vous faites !! J’ai découvert votre art par une vidéo partagée par une amie Facebook, et je suis immédiatement venu voir votre site ! Ca donne vraiment envie d’essayer (je fais beaucoup d’origami, et j’avoue qu’essayer un nouveau art à base de papier m’intéresse !). Que me conseillez vous pour débuter ?
    Bravo encore, et bonne fin de semaine 🙂

    • Merci pour la belle note. Je suis heureux que vous aimez mon travail. Je voudrais faire d’abord un monstre simple. Vous pouvez apprendre les techniques, et avoir du succès parce que personne ne peut vous dire comment un monstre devrait ressembler. Bon chance!

  19. Beans says:

    Hi! me and my friend want to do this for our class project. 1) How do you make the head? 2) How do you attach it? Thanks so much!

  20. Beans says:

    hi! Your artwork is amazing! Do you think it would work to use colored fabric swatches (cut hexagonally) as the scales? would the glue still be transparent and would it be the right texture? Thanks so much!

    • Hi Beans. I would worry a little about the thickness. You need more than one layer of cloth I think. That’s why folding pieces of cloth works so well. You get multiple layers of cloth that way. Maybe that’s what you meant. I guess the texture would be all right. I think you’d have to try it and see if you like it.
      Good luck!

  21. Ana Hernandez says:

    Primero que nada quiero decirle que su trabajo me tiene impresionada, sería un orgullo llamarlo maestro,me parece que es usted un verdadero artista,y de verdad que lo admiró bastante,esperó su próximo proyecto 👍👌👌👌👏👏👏👏👏

  22. Amelia Marrufo says:

    Your pieces always look great I’m so jealous. What kind of paint do you use on your projects.

  23. Amelia says:

    Oh nice thank you so much

  24. jorge says:

    hermoso trabajo me quede impresionado. una pregunta que topo de tela utiliza?

  25. Paul says:

    This is one of my favourite pieces by you the work involved really shines through, did you use cloth pieces for the scale effect? I am hoping to try to make a trophy head soon. Will any glass eye fitted allow light to penetrate or must you buy a certain type, or perform an adaption? Many seem to be manufactured with an image affixed to the reverse. Many thanks. Keep sculpting!

    • Hello Paul. Yes,like most of my scales I folded pieces of cloth dipped in glue. I buy my eyes from taxidermy companies. They are beautiful glass eyes with lots of depth. What you are describing (I think) are cabochons with photos of eyes glued to the back, although that is just one person who makes those and sells them Etsy. I don’t like those. They are too flat. Good luck!


  27. lea says:

    Hi, I actually adore your snake and I am looking to make one. I was just wondering after you paper mashed the snake what did you cover it with? it looks like scales. its so cool!
    please answer me as soon as possible because it has to be done within two weeks.
    many thanks

  28. lea says:

    Hi, its lea again, I just want to know how you managed to straighten out all the metal hangers. Did you use a special tool?
    also, how did you put the straightened metal hangers together. did you use strong tape or a glue gun.
    please answer me as soon as possible because it has to be done within two weeks and I want to get started already.
    many thanks

  29. lea says:

    thanks soooooooooooooo much. you are so helpful!
    do you think this is an impossible task for a 12 year old to undertake. thanks again for your amazing help.

  30. Andres mesa says:

    Hola, disculpa soy de colombia y me eh fascinado viendo tus videos de dragones pero sigo con la duda como es esa tela blanca que usas ¿como la haces? por sabes muy eso es un toque de perfección a cada dragón !por favor dime como haces esa tela o como se llama y con que agregarle¡ saludos

    • Hola Andres. Sí, estás en lo correcto. Agrego una “piel” de tela (sábanas viejas) empapada en pegamento blanco (multiuso). Permite buenos detalles. ¡Buena suerte!

  31. Lisboa says:

    Hello I was wondering if the snake ended up heavy or is it lightweight?

  32. Thomas says:

    Exelente trabajo amigo una pregunta que usa para hacer las escamas y los colmillos de resto muy buen trabajo lo felicito eres un gran maestro en este tema

    • Gracias por las amables palabras Thomas. La “piel” (incluidas las escamas) está hecha de tela (sábanas) mojadas en pegamento blanco. Hago las escalas doblando la tela en triángulos, y luego cortando las puntas. Hago los dientes de arcilla polimérica como Fimo o Sculpey.

  33. Ricky Gray says:

    Hi Sir

    How Much Do You Sell It

    I Tried My First Project ButvI Cant Do It

    The Papers Were Separate And I Cant Do It

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