DIYdiy projects

diy project: paper clay barnacles

by Brenna

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.

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