diy project: paper clay barnacles

I love the look of papier-mâché. It is sturdy, classic and timeless, but sometimes it is just too much trouble — the layers, dripping and drying time, and then the painting. If I had an art/craft-dedicated studio and time to spare, I would be all over it. But for now, paper clay is my new papier-mâché. It is the same idea — paper infused with some sort of stiffener — but paper clay looks as if it is ceramic, with the strength of papier-mâché. The best part is its beautiful white color once it is dry — great for so many summer-inspired projects.

I used paper clay to make these organic barnacles. These lovely little objects would make stunning tabletop centerpieces, small storage vessels, wall decor, votives . . . the options are endless! I’ve included a few variation samples at the end, including painting the barnacles, but I love the simple, raw look, too, so I chose to leave the barnacles au naturel for my own home. I can smell the salty sea air now. Happy crafting! — Brenna

Read the full how-to after the jump . . .


  • toilet paper (about 1 roll)
  • 1 cup joint compound (in the paint aisle)
  • 6 ounces white glue
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • small balloons (I used water balloons filled with air)
  • plastic wrap
  • hot glue gun



1. To make the paper clay, soak the toilet paper in a bowl of water. I unrolled it so that the sheets were separate. Squeeze as much water as you can from the toilet paper.

2. Tear the toilet paper into bits until you have two cups. Put it in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.

3. Add 1 cup of joint compound and the glue, which is equal to 3/4 cup, but it’s easier to just pour it in if you have a bottle that is say 3 ounces. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be accurate; this is not a soufflé. Add the flour.

4. Mix well until you get a smooth consistency. I used my stand mixer. I believe that with a little soap, pretty much anything (that is water soluble) washes off. But if you aren’t as eager to use a container that also mixes up your favorite cookies (my husband would die if he knew I put joint compound in the mixing bowl), then by all means use a disposable container or even a plastic bag and your hands!

5. Blow the water balloons up with air. They should be about 3–4 inches or bigger, depending how large you would like your barnacles to be.

6. Make some pancake shapes with the clay. Pat the clay and use your fingers to shape it into round disks about half the thickness of a real pancake, or 1/4 inch.

7. Put the paper clay pancake on the round end of the balloon. Use the palm of your hand to make it stick until it is a little more than halfway up the balloon.

8. Take a square of plastic wrap and place the paper clay-covered balloon in the center of the square. The clay should be against the plastic wrap, the tied end of the balloon pointing straight up.

9. Gather the plastic wrap around the balloon as neatly as you can, bringing the excess up around the tied end of the balloon.

10. Twist the plastic wrap. Twist it more. The balloon will take on a round shape rather than a teardrop.

11. Give it a little squeeze to smooth things out and carefully unwrap it.

12. Place the paper clay-covered balloon on a tray or cookie sheet lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper. Place it in a warm, sunny, breezy place. Once they are completely dry (be patient!), pop the balloon.

13. You can leave the barnacles single or you can group them as I did. Use a small drop of hot glue to stick the barnacles together. I created groupings of three, which gave me some play to arrange them how I liked.

You’re done! You can customize these a million ways: Add paint or metallic leafing to the insides, spray paint the whole set, hang or glue them to vessels or walls. I’ve included some variation images below to inspire you. Enjoy!

A coat of metallic spray paint makes the barnacles look like cast silver sculptures.

Adding a thin wash of paint in a trio of oceany blues to the inside of these barnacles really makes the shapes pop! You can customize them with any color combination you choose.

  1. Robin says:

    Did you use powdered joint compound or pre mixed?

  2. DD says:

    Gorgeous! Thanks so much for this post! I have a question about Step #12. Is there a good way you’d recommend to pop the balloon and release the water without getting the paper mache wet? I know it’s supposed to be completely dry before you pop the balloon but not sure if popping balloon can make mache soggy? Can’t wait to try this!!!

    1. Miriam says:

      Where are you releasing water from?
      There shouldn’t be any water in the balloon, just air.

      1. Linda Weeks says:

        Didn’t it say that the type of balloon used was a ‘water balloon’? Thanks for this cool project, all free and everything!

        1. Pam says:

          She meant “water balloon” TYPE of balloons as opposed to standard balloons. …because of size.

  3. Felke says:

    I was wondering: Which type of white glue did you use to make these beauties?
    Thank you!

  4. nancy says:

    I was just wondering what type of joint-compound you used? I found there are “setting” and “light” options, as well as different grades of the compound… what do you best recommend? (i’m basing this off of, by the way haha)

  5. Stephanie, England. says:

    DD, the balloons contained air, not water. They are called water balloons as they can hold water. Hope this helps.

  6. Felke says:

    Is this just white “school” glue? All-purpose glue that you have used?

  7. Felke says:

    I tried your cool DIY.
    I used the same quantities like you said, but my clay is too drie.
    Can I put more glue or water?

  8. Kathleen says:

    This is an amazing idea! I think I’m going to make a bunch and arrange them on a (DIY!) tiered tray to use as a jewelry organizer!

    What if, to make votive holders, you used small round dollar store glass ones and just shaped the paper clay around them? If you like the colour on the inside, you could paint the outside of the glass before applying the clay to minimize the risk of catching fire… though you’d have to use one that wouldn’t budge when you slap the wet clay on there.

  9. vesna says:

    I love this idea, but I wonder what a “joint compound” means? What it could be in other words?
    I am not that familiar with English language and the “technical” terms

    Thanks, Vesna

  10. brenna says:

    hi all! thank you for all of your thoughtful comments! to answer a few of your questions…
    i used “dap” brand pre mixed joint compound. they also call this drywall mud. it is similar to spackle, but not the lightweight kind. it comes in tubs in the paint aisle of the home improvement store. (i went to home depot)
    the balloons are filled with air, not water. let them pop or deflate on their own. make sure the papier mache is completely dry before you pop them or the barnacle will collapse. patience!! (i know its hard)
    i used white glue from target. you could use elmers, or whatever you can find. the brand shouldnt make much of a difference. if the mixture is too dry absolutely add some more glue, or just a tiny bit of water. but i would add more glue before i added more water. if it is too wet, add some more flour.
    thanks and have fun!

  11. vesna says:

    thanks a lot, this will help…

  12. This idea is simply amazing! So smart and cool!
    Thank you for sharing!
    Regards from Italy

  13. My Son and I made paper clay over the weekend and had a ball.
    So easy to make and fun to work with, and endless possibilities.
    Thanks for another great idea.


  14. Jenny @ BAKE says:

    Wow! This is amazing! I can’t wait to spend a day making these!

  15. Alicia says:

    This is so cool!
    About how long does it take to dry?

  16. leel says:

    I am SO making these when I have a day off! I can’t believe I’m JUST seeing this post now!! awesome project!!

  17. Paige says:

    Hi, I am trying to make a hanging light fixture and though this idea would be neat to convert into that by making one but keeping a hole in the top to connect a hanging light fixture with cord and bulb (what you would buy to rewire a lamp) I think this would be so cute and easy to make but do you think it would be flammable?

  18. Lorna says:

    LOVELY!!! Can’t wait to get stuck into making these, I can think of a hundred and one uses for them. Just need to find the time to make them, now. Anyone want to look after a lively whirlwind 16 month old?

  19. Mary says:

    Helpful hints on making the barnacles. I just finished my first batch and they are out in the hot garage drying. First of all they are breeze to mix up in the stand mixer. However, remove the paper mache to a big plastic bowl as you form the clay rather than use it out of the stainless mixing bowl. I put the formed disk in between two sheets of plastic wrap and rolled it to the 1/4″ thickness. No sticking and no mess. Plan on using lots of plastic wrap. I had to to use two sheets of wrap to gather all corners to twist and form the shape. Next time I’m going to cut dry cleaner bag squares to form the larger barnacles. I do have questions I hope someone will answer if they have made the barnacles. I tied the balloons as tight as I could but noticed the balloons are deflating slightly which is reshaping them a little. Also the size of the balloon was not in the material list and I could only find 9″ balloons which I think were too big. If you blew them up to the recommended 3-4″ it left the balloon softer due to the fact it was a 9″ size. I made larger 6″ size barnacles to experiment and they seem to be holding their shape better. Another question I have is should they be dried in air conditioning or out where it is hot but extremely humid. I wish the instructions would have stated an approx. time it takes to dry. I will post this once I make several batches. If the barnacles are a success I plan to make a grouping on my wall as an art arrangement.

  20. Stephanie says:

    Just so clever! This is why I love coming here . What a delight.

  21. Libby James says:

    These are FANTASTIC!! I love them sprayed inside! A fabulous way to incorporate color!! Thanks so much for sharing! You ROCK!!!!

  22. Kate says:

    Ours are drying now – we followed the directions to a T but unfortunately the paper clay came out extremely sticky. This made it difficult to shape it around the balloons. Does anyone have any suggestions as to make it thicker/less sticky so that we can get the pancakes to form? Thanks very much!

  23. krish says:

    would love to make some ornaments for coming Christmas using paper clay!

  24. Mary says:

    I made 33 barnacles and want to add a couple of cautions and hints. First and foremost don’t use colored balloons unless you are going to paint the inside because the color transfers to the inside of the paper clay once it dries. I used Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper and recommend mixing it in a small bucket half full of water and then draining it through a fine sieve. It is easy to do and makes a finer finished product. Put the clay between two pieces of plastic wrap and use a rolling pin to roll it out flat. It keeps things neat and clean and it rolls out so easily this way. I found rolling it thin made a lovely barnacle rather than pancake thickness as recommended in the recipe. Also use 4″ party balloons if you want smaller balloons. I made 6″ barnacles but had to use two big squares of dry cleaning bags because the plastic wrap is not wide enough when you go to twist the top. I tried one dry cleaning bag but it did not have the strength the plastic wrap has. I found you could roll it out in an oval shape and it created a different look. After making so many I began to find you could manipulate the clay somewhat when twisting the barnacle. The barnacle takes flat paint beautifully and joins together well with the hot glue. The recipe makes 10 small barnacles and 6 large ones. I have a 16 ft. wall and I made a grouping and used a couple of nails to hang them on the wall.

  25. Dawn says:

    I was wondering if pollyfilla would do the same job as joint compound? I’m hoping it’s the “UK equivalent” lol!

  26. helen says:

    Sorry what is paint aisle?

  27. jan says:

    I do this with proper paper clay which is made out of porcelain and paper pulp. Then fired to 1260c. I like the idea of creating multiples of small bowls though.

  28. jan says:

    also ‘ paper clay is actually real clay so it needs to be fired .. just info for those asking about buying paper clay.

  29. Irv says:

    Just getting started (re-started to be more precise since I haven’t done this since being a kid and I’m a gray hair now) in getting my hands wet in papier mache. I was browsing the net looking for ideas and a possible first project and voila, there was your site. To be quite frank, I almost by-passes it but something about paper clay barnacles stood out – and I’m glad it did. I’ll be heading out in the next couple of days to gather supplies and try my hand in making my own. One question – do you finish them with a white matte coat of paint or leave them natural? I believe you said that painting (in color) was an option but I wondered if left natural are they subject to any atmospheric conditions.

  30. Miss Keri says:

    I just tried my first batch and they are drying. I thought everything went well. The clay is sticky, yes, but instead of forming it with my fingers, I placed a round disk in the middle of a piece of plastic wrap and worked from there. I placed the balloon in the middle, pulled the plastic wrap up and gathered it and stared at the beautiful fall leaves while I “worked” the clay upward through the plastic wrap. @Mary, it sounds like you are using regular sized balloons and this works much better with water balloons. Also, water balloons seem nearly IMPOSSIBLE to blow up with your mouth so I grabbed the ole bike pump from the garage and held the balloon close to the tip. I did not need to wrap the top of the balloon on the bike pump to get it to work. The directions on the joint compound recommend drying at least 24 hours. I would go adhere to at least this much drying time. I plan on using these for my wedding! Can’t wait to see how they dry. Thanks for the tutorial!!

  31. Manuela says:

    A little late. I just found your wonderful tutorial via pinterest. Thanks so much for sharing these beautiful images with us. Duch an inspiration! Greets, Manu

  32. terry says:

    What about mold and mildew at some point if exposed to humid sea air? I do think the Golden gel would eliminate any problem.

  33. Ashley says:

    I love these! Will be making them as soon as I have all the materials!

  34. Deorah Mohler says:

    My brother and his love live in Tampa. Guess what is going in next Christmas’ package. So very many ways to use them. I love awnateral. I see them also as having little holes in base to insert rice lights around his lanai. Although he had to have his boat bottom scraped and repainted ($$$) a few years back…I’m sending them anyway! thank you for sharing. LOVE

  35. Elizebeth G.L.W. says:

    I thought this was a great idea, and I can’t wait to try it but, where I live during this time of year there is frost on everything all day long. Although during late spring and summer it is hot, dry, and breezy so I will definitely try it then. and i love the ocean so it will fit my personality too

  36. Elizebeth G.L.W. says:

    oh yes and does it matter what type of joint compound????

  37. Marlis says:

    Just found this and am so imspired. Interestingly enough I was at a local artists studio for a tour (in Sydney) and she made these out of clay. She enameled the inside in sea colors using blue and green glass chips that melted in the kiln and sometimes she gilded the edges otherwise they were exactly the same. They were so beautiful. She charged hundreds of dollars for them so I am thrilled to make my own.

  38. Extraordinary. Thank you so much for teaching us how to do. You opened new windows in my inspiration world.
    Greetings from Istanbul.

  39. karin champion says:

    hi there i tried there and the are curently drying out I did run into one issue so I am wondering if you can help…
    – very sticky clay – are you using a powdered version of joint compound or the already mixed version?

  40. Taria Lorehand says:

    Jonni from ultimate paper mache would be proud, these are great. And I’m not complaining about your work, but giving someone the credit for the recipe should be done, only because these are wonderful and very beautiful and the design is amazing.

    For the mold question: add a little bleach to the water before you tear the toilet paper up and let it set for a little bit. Salt works as well. But I’ve used the bleach and it works better in my opinion.

    For the holding water question: these won’t be able to hold water because they are made out of paper, but you could add a small jar or something that holds water inside and it should work, but be careful due to them being paper and any water will soften them. Some people seal them with boat varnish, or a polyurethane that you can get from Walmart. But I wouldn’t use them for food.

    Karin, it’s regular joint compound from Walmart, not the DAP brand, if it’s too sticky add more flour a little at a time until it starts to form, but its still spreadable. Jonni even suggested using a bit of corn starch.

    for the joint compound question these are what I found at Jonni’s site:

    “Drywall joint compound” in the United States (guys in the construction industry call it “mud”)
    “Drywall filler” in Canada
    “Joint filler” in the UK
    “Fugenmasse” in Germany
    “Joint finish” in Australia
    “Voegenmiddel” in Dutch
    In India it’s called “wall putty”
    In Guatemala joint compound is known as “Pasta de Tablayesero”

    check out her site for more info:

    again these are fabulous, very pretty and you have awesome talent when it comes to the design. so don’t take me wrong when I say what I do. I love your site and enjoy being here.

    1. LeAnn says:

      Im going to Australia just so I can say…joint finish. Lol yes, I’m acting like I’m 12 right now. This is a great idea, thank you for posting it. Can’t wait to try.

  41. Darlene says:

    Just found this on Pinterest. So cool – Thanks for sharing.

  42. Zara says:

    Just wanted to know as to how can I attach it to the wall directly as a wall art

  43. Karen says:

    Think about using the little battery operated LED tea light inside. No flame-no fire

    Joint compound is Cornice cement powder in Australia

  44. Sally says:

    I love this idea! Thanks for posting the awesome how-to!

  45. Lisa says:

    This a wonderful idea I love it! I was just wondering how many rolls of toilet paper you need to use and how many barnacles one roll will make? I would love to try this for a craft in my program.

    Thank you for sharing such a great idea!

  46. Justine says:

    I love this… exactly what I was searching for. Thank you thank you thank you. While one of your previous viewers, Taria heavily pointed out on Jonni’s specific paper mache website, I’d like to add that this particular paper mache barnacle design credit goes entirely to you, especially since the art of paper mache has been around for AGES (pre-Jonni), credit towards Jonni’s site for this DIY project would be an incorrect move; though she is INCREDIBLY talented. Thank you for sharing this unique DIY design that I have yet to find anywhere else.

    On another note, I’m thinking about these as a planter. Any thoughts on how to make the inside withhold a limited amount of moister (shade loving plant in dry environment). I read the advice of an earlier commenter to Golden’s gel compound… hmmmm. Thanks!!

  47. Joyce says:

    I see a pumpkin ‘bowl’ to arrange silk flowers in – real flowers if a waterproof container is put inside. I know you have all seen arrangements for fall using the real pumpkins – this would be so beautiful!

  48. Nidia says:

    Has anyone found an effective way to make these waterproof? I’d like to use them as planters.

  49. Penny says:

    Wonderful! Thanks for the instructions, one question…….I would love to use the mixture for making jewelry pendants that I would paint, how strong would they be, would they break in half if you tried to break them?


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