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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  • Oh my goodness this is such an awesome project. My first glimpse at the post before i read it I was thinking, this is so awesome, where can I buy these for my house, even better an easy way to make them myself! Thanks for sharing!

    – Briana

  • I’ve seen this type of paper-ceramic stuff before but never knew what it was–thank you so much this is something I”ve been wondering about for a long time!

  • Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod. This is absolutely fantastic. Would recycled printer paper/ kraft paper work? I know it wouldn’t end up pure white, but I wonder if soaking longer would help compensate for the lack of tissue-softness.

    I am SO going to try this.

  • PJ – That’s a good question! I would think if you coat them with several layers of a matte sealant (or gloss, depending on what look you want), then they would be waterproof. But let me experiment with it and get back to you!

  • there is a product called PaperClay that one could use instead of making it. I use it to make dollhouse miniatures and it can be rolled out quite thin. you can also mix paint into it before molding around the balloons. this project makes me want to hunt down my Paperclay when I get home!

  • This is so much fun! The things you can do with balloons are serious limitless! We did a project with balloons as well but we turned it into a lantern as decor. Great post :)

  • This may be a really stupid question, but I wonder if you could use these for votives? I imagine not, since paper and fire don’t tend to mix well… but I wonder if there’s a way to prevent them from being flammable. I think they would make really lovely votive holders.

  • Lovely! I think I’m going to play around with leaving a hole in the bottom, sealing the inside, and using these as little flower/herb planters!

  • This, too, has been on my mind but very thin papier mache 2/3 of the way around a big oval watermelon to make a pendant light. gold leaf the inside. I think the light would have to be a cool fluorescent to prevent a fire

  • @Amy, I was wondering if you could use oven baked clay. I think there was a tutorial on here for small bowls using it or something like it? It would be a whole different feel from the paper version but be safe for votives!

    These are beautiful, Kate! Thanks for sharing!

  • Wow this is so awesome! can’t wait to try it!
    How would you suggest hanging it? I’d really like to hang it using a string, maybe fishing twine? so that it looks like it’s dangling freely.
    Or: how would you hang it against a wall?

  • These are so clever! They would be perfect for salt and pepper vessels! I know what I’m doing this Friday!!

  • Could you spray them with fabric flame retardant? so you could us them as votives. Love the idea of large ones used as light pendants!

  • These are beautiful.

    I know there are other products available BUT this is just such an affordable way to make paper clay.

    I will be hunting down an old mixer at the thrift store asap.

    Love this-one of my favorite DIY projects posted here.

  • What an awesome technique! A must try. Thanks Brenna! Thanks also to Heather for the tip on PaperClay — I’m going to look for it :)

  • This is amazing. I am going to experiment with this and use it for my wedding. Awesome post!

  • So supercool, I can’t wait to try it! I can see painting the inside with a subtle pearlescent paint so it looks like an oyster shell……

  • Please google ‘Ultimate Paper Mache’. The woman who runs that site is AMAZING. Her art is seriously great. She’s been using the toilet paper/joint compound medium for a long time. You can find great recipes there and tons of inspiration. Thanks for this post!

  • RE: water proofing,

    Coating these with some gel medium would work well. Golden (brand) makes gel medium in different finishes (matte, gloss, in between) that are basically clear acrylic paints. You could even tint the gel with a bit of paint; I put a bit of silver in some once and it does a pearlescent effect. They also make “interference” paints that appear to be different colors depending on the angle light bounces off of them!

  • For those of us not in the USA (but in the original Jersey ! (Channel Islands)) what is joint compound? I am guessing that white glue is what I would call PVA. OnceI get the answer,I’ll be making these – they are lovely and I am so up for papier mache – one of my favourite things.

  • Robin,
    Joint compound is similar to spackle if you have that. It is used to fill in drywall seams and holes. Look in the drywall/sheetrock section of your home improvement store.

  • I wonder if there is a way to do this with some sort of cement mixture, paint the outsides with a water-based non-flammable spray paint and put votives in them. I agree…. AWESOME centerpiece idea for a beach wedding if you can put candles in them.

  • Lovely shape and texture…the idea of painting them in pale hues or pearly shades is calling me! Some way to fireproof them has real possibilities for a candle. What about making the bottom slightly flat, then lining the container with a clear votive holder and a candle? Some careful experimenting will find a solution.

  • So beautiful! I can’t wait to play with this, all of the parts seem easy to procure and the making is simple = I can do it!

  • Can you use a tealight candle in them, or is the joint compound flammable? I assume the barnacle in general is flammable, what with it being PAPER clay, but I hoped the glue would make it a little protected…?

  • Absolutely a great project. I have been looking for a new catch-all for my desk and this is just perfect. I’ll be adding this to my wedding inspiration board too.

    Think I’m going try to make a larger one and see what it looks like.


  • I do paper mache too and have been using a similar recipe for my projects. I love this one. The way you got the texture for the barnacles is ingenious! So creative! I’m very impressed. Thanks for sharing your project. Yeah, I too love that making this paper clay paper mache is so much simpler, less messy and takes less time to dry than the dipping and strips!

  • 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!!!

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

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

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

  • 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 homedepot.com, by the way haha)

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

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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!

  • 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.


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

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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.

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

  • 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!

  • 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.

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

    • It is the white plastery stuff they use when putting up new walls made from dry wall. They would sell it anywhere they would sell supplies for that. Here they sell it in the same area as paint you would use to paint your house. It’s all in the same section here. But be different where you are.

      It is this stuff…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uFK8OGV2UM

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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!!

  • 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

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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

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

  • 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?

  • 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. http://ultimatepapermache.com/

    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: http://ultimatepapermache.com/

    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.

    • 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.

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

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

    Joint compound is Cornice cement powder in Australia

  • 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!

  • 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!!

  • 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!

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

  • 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?

  • I just tried this but couldn’t get it to work – my mixture was just too crumbly. I added more glue, then more compound, then more flour, eventually more water but to no avail. I couldn’t get the mixture to stick to the balloon, then the balloon popped mid-project! Not sure what I did wrong but it was a disaster!

    • It can be stored for a while in air tight bass. There isn’t really any ingredient that would spoil b it you might keep it somewhere out of the light and cool

  • My try was also a “pinstrosity”. Mine never got to a smooth consistency, just crumbly.

  • I made this with paper clay that I purchased from Hobby Lobby. I rolled it out on plastic wrap, put it around the balloon and then wrapped the plastic wrap just as shown here. They turned out great! Thanks so much for the idea!

  • Thanks for the recipe. It worked just as described. Not a Pinterest fail! The only thing I changed is that I baked them in the oven for 3 hours at 200 degrees to speed the drying up.

  • Thank you for sharing this process. I just tried it and ended up with marvelous barnacles for “abandoned art” at our upcoming waterfront festival. Your instructions are excellent (and entertaining!) Hope you get alerts for new comments – it must be a great feeling to learn that people are still finding this, 6+ years after you first posted it.