On Monday morning I realised I hadn’t started work on my dragon for the St George’s Day celebrations (the next Saturday) at the bookshop day job. Luckily I had three days off in a row…
Having not really done this before I had no idea whether I’d be able to finish him in time, so I opted to make baby Drogon from Game of Thrones, as then if I missed the deadline at least he’d be useful for a Game of Thrones display when the next book comes out. Admittedly he’s still very rough around the edges (I’d wanted to cover him in scales, but that would have been a massive extra job), but still- he dried out in time which has to be some kind of miracle!
I even managed to take photos while making him, so here’s a little ‘How to make a paper mache dragon in three days’ tutorial.
I made a basic frame from two bits of heavy wire – the kind you need pliers to bend – wrapping one around the other in the middle before securing with a heckload of masking tape and a bit of newspaper padding.
I wanted a lightweight core for the head so as to avoid having him too top-heavy. I had some lumps of insulation foam lying around from a previous experiment which carves very easily, so I shaped a rough upper and lower jaw out of the stuff.
I also realised I’d need a lot of teeth and claws, and fast. I made a massive batch of them out of cold porcelain (cheap and homemade, see this previous post on making cold porcelain ). I knew they’d air-dry overnight, and the result is much stronger than air-drying clay (I know because I also made a batch from air-drying clay just in case. They snapped when I tried to attach them to the jaw with hot glue).
More bundled newspaper and masking tape made the legs. If I’d had more time I would have given them a wire support as well, but I’d decided early on that he’d eventuually be hung from the ceiling and so didn’t need terribly strong legs. Surprisingly the finished legs turned out strong enough to support his weight anyway.
Guess how I attached them to the rest of him? Yep. More masking tape. Quick and easy.
I added the fingers of the wing in thinner wire and bulked out the hand-part with newspaper and masking tape.
Now the proper stuff. Traditional paper-mache takes a long time to dry, but I’d previously discovered that gorilla wood glue generally dries fast and strong.
I used blue shop towels instead of newspaper: they’re a bit like kitchen towel, but much stronger as they’re generally used to clean up spills in workshops. I’d come across them while making masks using Jonni Good’s plaster/PVA method (www.ultimatepapermache.com), but had no idea how well they’d work with Gorilla glue… Turns out, they work pretty well!
I added PVA to bulk it out (Gorilla glue’s not the cheapest, though I only used half a bottle for this guy in the end), then watered down the mix to help it soak into the towels. I dipped the towels in, squeezed out the excess, then added them to the sculpture. I only needed a couple of layers to make a pretty tough shell, and it dried much quicker than papier mache would have.
A friend had alerted me to Dan Reeder’s method of using sheets and glue to make dragon wings (https://gourmetpapermache.com/) but it just didn’t work for me. Perhaps I used the wrong type of cotton sheet. The sheet wouldn’t stay put, so I gave up on that method and tried the shop towels instead.
The obvious disadvantage was that they’re not big enough to cover the wing in one go, but they more than made up for it by being easier to handle, quick-drying, and easy to attach.
Finishing the wings took me up to the end of Monday. A good point to stop and let him dry overnight.
By Tuesday morning, the teeth were ready to go. I piped out hot glue an inch at a time and quickly set the teeth, trying to choose vaguely symmetrical teeth for each side. When they were set, I just cut them out and hot-glued them straight onto the foam jaw, newspaper and all.
Oh what a surprise, more masking tape. Sploshed some red acrylic inside the mouth, and started some decorative spikes at the top left there: floristry wire, wrapped in newspaper and masking tape, with a layer of gorilla glue-dipped paper to seal them.
The whole head was very flimsy at this point so I wanted to get the shop towel layer on fast. I stuck one of the spikes into his mouth to prop the jaw open while it all set.
Making the eyes. I started with two of those cheap glass blobs- I think people use them in aquariums and flower arranging, correct me if I’m wrong. Paint the eye on the reverse of the glass: that way the eye will seem to follow you around the room rather than be static. Black pupil first, then a light touch of radiating metallic gold acrylic. Then the lighter colours, and finally a background of orange.
I attached the eyes and added a bit more structure around the mouth: added the lips over the gums at the front, then traced back towards the cheeks with rolled-up newspaper, about to be covered in shop towels here.
The head had just about dried enough to attach by the end of the day, though I had to support it on a pile of newspaper overnight. I’d also poked holes in his back and driven the spikes in for the frill along his back, covered the same way as the wings.
I poked holes in his toes and attached the cold porcelain claws with a hot glue gun.
Last day: I attached headspikes first thing to try and make him look more-dragon, less-t-rex.
Luckily it was a beautiful warm day. I sat outside and started painting the parts of him that were dry, praying the head would dry out in time.
I poked holes in the tail and hot-glued in some more spikes before painting over the joins.
And by the end of the day the head had dried, and the paint could be added.
And there we go! He took three days, but a lot of that time was spent waiting for things to dry enough to carry on working. He’s on vacation at the bookshop at the moment, but when he comes home I’d like to try adding scales. part of the reason he looks to rough is that I didn’t take too much care with the surface as I thought it’d be covered up by them.
He was great fun to make. I’d love to try and make some more creatures at some point… if I can find the space for them: I spread out across several work-surfaces while making this guy as I was trying to do so many things at once. And I have no idea where he’ll live when he comes home- I don’t have many places to hang dragons!