The Perfect Paper Mache Paste

For years I avoided paper mache projects. Using the homemade recipes was for the birds and the clean-up was gross and tedious. I went to a PD workshop a few years ago and the trainer was using School Smart Art Paste.

Art Paste copy

After that one experience, I knew that paper mache was back in my classroom. Here is why Art Paste can bring paper mache back to yours…


It is ca-ra-zy cheap! One 2 ounce box costs under $3.00 and makes an entire gallon of paste. It would take a pound of wheat paste to make the same amount! You’ll never waste any because it stores indefinitely, never getting lumpy or stinky. These are all major selling points for any art teacher on a tight budget.

 Art paste works like a charm. When simply mixed with cold water, this methyl cellulose powder makes the perfect goo for creating collage or paper mache sculpture. Stuff sticks and stiffens up consistently and dependably. The clear paste doesn’t interfere with the texture or color of your materials.

Clean up is a snap. Because it is water-soluble, a damp sponge will do the job, even after drying. No more chiseling hardened wheat paste off tables for hours! Kids need only to rinse their hands with water.

You can find School Smart Art Paste at


What other materials do you love to paper mache with, or have good luck with?

Sarah Dougherty

My name is Sarah Dougherty, and I teach elementary art in a large urban district in central Iowa. I love working with our diverse population of K-5 students to bring art to their homes, communities, and everyday lives.


  • Doug

    I have used this in the past. It is pretty easy, but you do need to make sure that the students use alot of it. I have found that if they skimp on it’s use, the projects come appart easily when they dry. Also you will want to mix it up a day or two ahead of time as it doesn’t all dissolve right away. I usually buy a gallon of distilled water, then just add the container to the gallon bottle shake it a bit. Then let it sit at least over night, then shake it more to smooth it out a bit. Still head up with some chunks, but even those are useable.
    That’s my two cents to add to the topic.

    • Great tips, Doug. I too mix mine and let it sit overnight. I find that the consistency is better to read after letting it sit awhile. I made the mistake of mixing it too lean, and found that a thicker consistency made for stronger results.

      • Marg

        We have a similar product in Australia. I mix and keep mine in a large ice cream container with a corner of the lid cut out to permanently store my soup ladle (or should I say – glue ladle). My students get a big kick out of me walking around the classroom topping up glue containers as though I am ladling out soup!!

  • Jorena

    I love this stuff but I used to hate mixing it up-no more. I use an old CLEAN gallon plastic mayo jar that the lunch room gave to me. I put in the powder and the water, put on the lid and the kids who are finished early with a project take turns shaking it. I have stored leftover mixed paste from one year to the next and it held up. Wonderful stuff!

    • Great idea! I always love finding ways to keep kids busy while helping me prepare for future classes.

  • I use Elmer’s art paste, essentially the same thing (and I am not sure about the price). My students love mixing it up into “cow boogers” (gross!!) and I will add another vote to the “does not ROT” crowd, I recommend mixing it up the day before if possible, and having a student really blend it well- super fun for them.

    Two things:


    Dan Reeder’s paper mache basic technique of wetting the object to be pasted, applying paper, and then wetting the top of the paper makes for VERY STRONG mache lamination of paper layers. Don’t dip the strips! This is a far superior technique than the old dip into flour paste method.
    This same paste can be used to do paper marbling with watered down acrylic paints. Methylcellulose is a great matrix to float acrylic paints on, making any of the classic patterns. A few colors are just too dense to float, and you’ll have to experiment a bit with viscosity, but it works really well.


    One year, there was summer construction near my art room to install a handicap access elevator to the basement lunchroom.
    It must have disturbed a colony of mice who used to live somewhere nearby, and opened up some tiny crevice to my art room closet, where sat, unused, a 5 pound sack of unopened flour that had heretofore been undisturbed for a very long time… along with a bag of donated TP tubes. At least 20 mice spent the summer gorging on flour, playing in a wonderland of TP tubes, and pooping and peeing on my box of denim aprons!!!! EEEEEEEK! That alone, was enough to make me forever swear off flour paste. (Though rotten flour paste is horrible.)

    • SO many awesome uses for these products! Looks like it has become a staple in your classroom too. I too had an unfortunate episode with cockroaches trapped inside paper mache projects made with flour. EEEEEK! is right!

  • Vicky Siegel

    I love it, too. I place an ice cream pail in the sink, dump in the powder, let the cold water start, and mix it really fast with a long brush until the water is almost up to the top. Then it is ready and think for the next day. I also have the kids papier-mache right with colored construction paper or colored copy paper. It skips the painting step!!

    • Vicky, using colored paper makes it a snap! Great suggestions.

  • Lisa

    Love this stuff. I’ve mixed tempera paint in with it before and it makes the paint not flake.

    • Lisa, did you paint with it or use it as regular paper mache? I’m intrigued!!!

      • Lisa

        I should have put – “not flake as much.” When I’ve mixed it with tempera, I don’t make a large batch. I use a small container, a little water and a LITTLE paste powder, depending how large an area you plan on covering. It’s definitely a trial and error thing, even after mixing it and using it this way a few times. I’ve made it super thick which is hard to paint, or too thin and it doesn’t help the paint much. It won’t make tempera able to stick to plastic or any other super smooth surface, but it definitely improves it’s texture and stability on cardboard and paper. Haven’t tried it on clay yet. It’s thick so great for backgrounds or running a texture comb or fingers through it to create paper for Eric Carle art, or paper for other collages. Longer drying time than regular tempera so that’s something to consider. I have used it as regular paper mache too. The color becomes more transparent which creates a cool tinted look – depending on how much tempera you add.

        • Oooh! Paste papers would be perfect for this material. Great idea! Thanks for sharing.

          • Crystal

            I use this paste mixed with acrylic paint for paste paper… then students can use the paste paper for covers of sketchbooks, or I’ve had students make handmade books with the paste paper wrapped around the chipboard cover. They always look good, whether the student is super creative or not!

  • Nicole Kelsey

    Help support underfunded art education classes in Pittsburgh schools and our local artists by checking out ARTS, Inc.’s latest auction at:

  • I love this stuff too! Once, I happened to invite a newspaper photographer into my classroom while were were making a huge pinata with this goo. He took the best picture of a student smiling ear to ear as the clear boogery mixture dripped from all 10 fingers. Nothing like promoting what really goes on in the art room (and no where else!)

    • That is a great story, Heather!

    • I would have loved to see that reporter’s face!

  • Kari

    I’m jealous of those who say it doesn’t rot. I love this stuff, and I use it all the time. I put it in an empty tempera gallon and shake for 2 minutes, then it’s thick and ready to go about 10 minutes later. I use it with each of my 6th grade rotations, so for a week every 5 weeks. We usually use about a gallon and a half, and I have found every time that if the leftover sits for over a week or so, it stinks like rotten eggs. Which is tough, because not only do I hate to waste materials, but I never know how to dispose of it? I wouldn’t want to pour glue down the sink, if I pour it in the trash the room stinks, and if I toss the whole bottle, then I don’t have a bottle to make more until I have gone through another gallon of tempera (which we use rarely). Has anyone else had this happen?

    • Kari, I suspect that it is the residue from the tempera creating that smell. Have you had this issue when mixing it in another type of container? I have experienced that odor from rotten black or royal blue tempera paints (must be something about those pigments). I suggest experimenting with a different kind of container.

      • Kari

        good point! The same thing happens to my tempera paints (though not quite as pungent), which is why I use them so rarely. Does anyone know why this happens or how to avoid it? It’s simply awful!! It’s too bad, too, because the gallon bottle with the handle is perfect for shaking and getting all the clumps dissolved. I will have to find some sort of other gallon bottle before I attempt paper mache again!

        • Disclaimer: I’ve never tried any of these. However, I have heard people trying everything from a bit of antibacterial soap mixed in, to white vinegar, to clove oil. Anyone else have suggestions?

        • Linda Nowak

          it seems to happen when tap water gets in the paint. Dont water it down to get out the last bit of paint. I mix Art paste in a dollar store gallon container and have never had any odor, even if it sits waiting over the summer months.

    • Guest

      Kari, I suspect that smell is coming from the minute amounts of tempera residue in the container. I know the odor you are talking about, I’ve smelled it in rotten black or royal blue tempera bottles (there must be something with those pigmets). I suggest experimenting with a different kind of container. Good luck!

  • Darcy

    School Smart art paste, Elmers art paste, and Ross art paste are all great for so many things in the art room! Great for paper mache; add to tempera paint to make your own fingerpaint; use a sponge brush to apply the paste over wet pastel chalk drawings(that were dried) and the paste”fixes” the chalk….and doesn’t dull the colors…fabulous!! Someone else already mentioned it can be used as a marbling base if watered down (but I still prefer carageenan). I mix it in an old ice cream bucket using a mixer on low, and have never had it “rot” or smell.

  • Ida

    In my classroom we lovingly call Art Paste, “Camel snot” and relish in its slippery, slimy texture! It is nice because you can thin it down or thicken it up by adjusting the water you mix in. I use an old ginormous butter flavored pancake syrup container that someone donated years ago to shake it up, and have learned to let it sit over night to get the last bits dissolve completely.

  • Kati Walsh

    I LOVE this art paste as well! When you order the Elmer’s from Nasco, it’s like a dollar something a piece of you order more than 6 or something. SO EASY!

  • Kathy

    Love it. If you sprinkle the powder on the water a bit at a time (instead adding water to the powder)) and stir with a wisk there are no lumps and it is ready immediately. Also, when first bring it out I talk about pleasant associations like “looks like honey”, and “have you ever made rock candy?”, and I show them the package and how it looks like jello and starts like water, then (like jello, but without refrigeration) it thickens up. Makes it a learning experience, and I haven’t head the booger comments in a long, long time.

  • Toni

    My most favorite thing to create with paste paper is an origami luminary. My daughter introduced these to me at an Expressive Arts Therapy conference one year. Once the paper is painted and dried, coat with vegetable oil to make it translucent and then fold your luminary. add some sand in the bottom, stick a candle in it, and the results are no less than stunning!

  • Toni

    Keep the tempera paste in the refrigerator. Eventually it will go bad, but not for a while.

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  • Ruth

    This stuff is great and now I can’t find it! I tried the Elmer’s and it’s very lumpy. Do you know if they stopped making it?