How To Make Paper Clay Jack-O'-Lanterns For Halloween

Bryan's Workshop
by Bryan's Workshop
11 Materials

This is a fun way to make weather proof and mold proof Jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween!

Tools and Materials

  • printer paper
  • duct tape
  • cardboard
  • scissors
  • hot glue
  • wood glue
  • wallpaper paste
  • newspaper
  • paint brush
  • toilet paper
  • joint compound
  • strainer
  • power drill with a mixing attachment
  • paint
Create the Armature
Create the Armature

First, you'll need to make an armature. An armature is the skeleton for your project. It is the basic shape of your project and it will hold your paper mache and paper clay until it is dry. You can use just about anything for an armature, just as long as it can support the weight of your paper mache and paper clay without collapsing. I build my armatures out of rolled printer paper and cardboard boxes. Here's how to do it:

1. Tightly roll 12 pieces of printer paper and duct tape the top. middle and bottom. This will be the main support for your armature. Keep in mind the height of your project. The paper clay will make it taller.

2. Trace and cutout two circular pieces of cardboard. One for the top and the other for the bottom. I trace a coffee can and sometimes plates. They don't need to be the same size, but the bigger one should be on the bottom.

3. Generously hot glue the rolled paper to the middle of both circles. You will need a lot of hot glue.

4. Use a box cutter and cut out equal strips of cardboard long enough to glue to the top and bottom of your circles. Make sure the cardboard isn't so long it sags.

*5. You will remove the paper roll from your armature later on. If you wish to remove the entire armature, cover the armature with painters tape before you paper mache. This will prevent the paper mache from drying to it. I remove the paper roll, but leave in the rest. I think it looks cool.

Add Paper Mache
Add Paper Mache

Your armature is finished! Now lets paper mache! My paper mache recipe is "1 part WOOD GLUE to 3 parts WALLPAPER PASTE." Your paper mache will not grow mold if you use this recipe. Wallpaper pastes have mold inhibiters in them. I live in humid Japan and this is the only recipe that has ever worked for me.

For paper mache

Tear, don't cut newspaper strips. Use a small synthetic paint brush to apply the glue and wrap around your armature. You'll need at least three layers of paper mache. I do half of the armature in all three layers at one time. I put a fan on it or put the armature in a sunny window until its dry. Usually its dry the next day, so I do the other half and repeat the dry process. Remember they won't grow mold on them.

*Wallpaper paste is full of chemicals, so keep small children away from it. You do have the option of buying toxic-free wallpaper glue. Also, don't let the glue get on your clothes or the carpet.

*I don't wear gloves when I make these.

*This glue is strong, so the ink from the newspaper will transfer to your fingertips. It cleans off effortlessly, so don't worry.

Create the Paper Clay
Create the Paper Clay

My paper clay recipe is 6 rolls of unscented toilet paper, 6.5 cups of wood glue (1.5kg or 3.3lbs) and 1 cup of joint compound (dry wall mix). You will need a large bucket with an airtight lid, a mixing attachment for your power drill a plastic strainer and a smaller bucket to turn your toilet paper into pulp. I have tried many recipes and this is my favorite. The paper clay also keeps for a long time. I'm currently using clay I mixed last year.

1. Soak one roll of toilet paper at a time in the smaller bucket using warm water. The toilet paper tube will easily come out and the toilet paper will turn to pulp. Break up the pulp with your fingers and then dump it in a plastic strainer. Push as much water out as you can and then put the pulp in the big bucket. Do this for each roll of toilet paper.

2. Add the wood glue and joint compound.

3. Mix carefully at first, so the joint compound doesn't fly up in the air. Mix it thoroughly until it becomes paper clay.

*It's better to buy buckets and tools that will only be used for this.

*If the paper clay is too wet, add more paper pulp. If you have the option of buying pure dry pulp, it is definitely better and easier!

Paper Clay

Finished paper clay.

Design the Faces
Design the Faces

The best part is designing the faces! First, use a marker to draw out your face and then carefully cut it out with an Exacto knife or box cutter. I often use pieces of cardboard and hot glue to secure the mouths open or permanently affix a facial feature. I'll also often add more paper mache using thicker paper on the face. You can go cute or terrifying. I use cardboard and hot glue for teeth and facial features. I use an upside down paper cup stuffed with newspaper for the nook on top of my pumpkins. The possibilities are endless.

Start adding your paper clay from top to bottom. You can always add paper clay to dried paper clay, so there is no rush. I use two colors of clay on my projects, so I can keep track of where I'm at. Paper clay the whole pumpkin except for the bottom. When the clay is fully dry, you can cut a hole in the bottom and remove the paper roll support and armature if you used painters tape. Cut a hole the same size as the bottom circular piece of your armature. I usually add paper clay to the inside of my pumpkin too. You'll need to paper clay around the hole now and keep in mind how you want the pumpkin to sit. It might take a couple layers of clay to get your pumpkin perfect. Let the pumpkin dry upside down with a fan on the hole. I flip my pumpkins upside down in a box.

*Give your paper clay time to dry. It dries rock hard, so you'll know when. Putting a fan directly on it speeds up the process.

Painting time! I always paint my pumpkins inside and out with a black matte base coat. It usually takes two coats. I give my pumpkins a heavy textured look and the black base coat makes the top colors pop. Seal your pumpkins inside and out with 2-3 coats of clear polyurethane. I prefer to brush my sealer on so I'm sure I cover everything. After a couple coats of sealer, this can go outside. I like to put some of my sealed paper clay projects outside, but I will bring them in during a thunder storm. :)

DIY Jack O Lanterns
Paper Mache Jack O Lanterns

Here's a shot of these guys at our Halloween party. I made a light board for these three to sit on and I put a yellow plastic folder in each of them so they glow yellow.

Paper Mache Tree

When you get more comfortable with your paper mache and clay techniques, you can move onto bigger projects.

DIY Halloween Costume
DIY Paper Mache Costume
Light Board

The light board for these three pumpkins.

DIY Paper Clay Jack O Lanterns
DIY Paper Mache Witch

Yikes! Check out my witch!

DIY Japanese Akuma

Here are some Japanese Akuma!

Good luck with your projects!!

You can find more paper clay Halloween crafts on my Facebook page! Just follow the link to see more. :)

Frequently asked questions
Have a question about this project?
3 of 7 questions
  • GTaylor GTaylor on Oct 20, 2018

    How did you make the light board? Is it electric or batteries?

  • Leslie Leslie on Oct 01, 2021

    Hi Bryan, I saw these when you first posted this tutorial. I loved them then and they have not lost their allure for me. Your creativity is amazing and I for one appreciate you sharing your processes. I have one question please, what do your Japanese neighbors and friends think of your decorations and are the Japanese starting or have they been celebrating Halloween? I think they would love a celebration such as this.

  • Shannon Faleski Shannon Faleski on Oct 07, 2021

    Do you think you could take a pic of what the armature looks like when you put it together?

Join the conversation
3 of 198 comments
  • Sandys SYCmail Sandys SYCmail on Oct 01, 2021

    I really love these! They look totally professional!! Halloween is my favorite holiday and I love decorating & dressing up... Thank you for the great directions - I am not familiar with using paper clay, but the simple instructions and the photos make it look doable, even for me! I really like that you suggested painting them inside/out with a black base coat first- I think that's what gives them such a textured, spooky look after they are finished! I might not be able to make a light board like yours (may be a bit past my skill level), but I can always insert battery operated lights! Great post!!!

    • Bryan's Workshop Bryan's Workshop on Oct 02, 2021

      Thank you very much! If you like making stuff, you'll love making these! I can't believe my three pumpkins are over 5 years old now. The more you experiment, the better you get and I've trashed most of the projects in this post. I only have the three pumpkins from the first picture.

  • Abby Rexroth Abby Rexroth on Oct 14, 2021

    The witch looks like a Hoggle (Labyrinth) on meth...very scary!