Making Mini Jack O' Lanterns Using Paper Mâché and Paper Mâché Clay

Paper Mache Clay Jack O Lanterns

In this article, I'll share step-by-step how I created my mini jack-o-lanterns and lessons learned.

Paper Mache / Armature

  • Inflate the small beach ball (5" in my case) press in the valve and place a piece of masking tape over it to keep it clean.
  • Apply paper mache paste and newspaper strips to the ball building up at least three layers of paper.
  • Place ball under fan to allow it to thoroughly dry.
  • Open the valve, deflate the ball and remove from within the paper mache ball.
  • Using something round, draw a circle around the hole in the paper mache ball and cut out with an exacto knife. This hole is the bottom of the pumpkin.
  • Draw a jack-o-lantern face on the paper mache ball to use as a guide when applying the clay mache.
  • Using thin cardboard (I use paper towel tubes), cut a section roughly 2" long x 1" wide to use as the stem. Roll it into a tight little tube and tape it. Bend the it to desired shape and wrap with masking tape so that it will hold its form. Tape the tube to the top of the pumpkin. The stem will be be bulked up with paper clay, so it does not need to be very large in diameter.

Paper Mache Armatures

Paper Clay

  • Begin applying paper clay to the pumpkin, starting at the bottom and working your way up. I hold the pumpkin by the stem until I am ready to coat the stem, at which point, I hold the pumpkin from the hole in the bottom.
  • To create dimension, roll the clay into lengths and split apart to build up the eyebrows, teeth and ridges.
  • Sculpt the stem and leaves around the top and texture both with wooden sculpting tools.
  • Place under a fan for a couple days to let it dry thoroughly. Reposition it a couple times per day to make sure that all areas inside and out receive adequate airflow.
  • Cut out the eyes, nose and mouth with an exacto knife.

Paper Mache Clay sculpted and dryingEyes cut out using exacto

Painting / Sealing

  • I start by base coating the entire pumpkin black or brown both inside and out then place under a fan to dry (place under a fan after every painting step).
  • Dry brush inside and out with white paint. This will create some nice highlights.
  • Dry brush the inside with whatever color you want. Some people like bright green, I prefer a yellow-orange shade.
  • Dry brush the outside of the pumpkin orange.
  • Dry brush the stem light brown or green.
  • Tea stain the entire outside of the pumpkin with a watered down black or brown paint let sit for a minute or two and then wipe down the jack-o-lantern with a paper towel.

If the details look too dark at this point, you can lightly dry brush it with orange to bring the highlights back out again.
Once satisfied, let it dry for a few hours or overnight before you apply your clear coat.
Select your favorite clear coat and apply inside and out. I like to use polyurethane to seal mine. If you intend to put this outside, you should use outdoor paints and sealers.

Base paint coats appliedMore drying under the fanClear Coats applied to Jack O Lanterns and drying

Lessons Learned

Paper mache and paper clay do not stick well to plastic or styrofoam. Applying a layer of tissue paper or cloth dipped into Elmers (PVA) glue on the surface of the object and letting it dry provides a nice substraight that the paper mache or clay will adhere to.

Cloth Mache over a balloon

  • The more corn starch that you use in the paper clay, the harder it becomes to join sections together since the clay gets a hard shell very quickly. It's very difficult to blend seams.
  • I've also tried skipping the paper mache step and moving straight into the clay mache step using a 9" x 6" balloon. While, the jack-o-lantern looked great, I decided against using it because it felt too fragile. Ultimately, I did not like sculpting the eyes and mouth because I was afraid that I would pop the ballon.
  • Shaping a ball or balloon with twine is more trouble than it's worth. It's far easier to shape by sculpting these details in the paper clay instead.
  • One batch of clay will cover 3-4 mini pumpkins.

Here are some great References to help you get started:

  • The paper mache paste I use is good old flour and water with a pinch of salt to keep it from molding.
  • How to make a paper mache pumpkin by Unhinged Productions
  • How to make Paper Clay 2.0 by GhoulishCop. I add salt to this as well, so that it will keep for a couple weeks at room temperature without going bad.

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