Dragons -- bat-winged, monstrous, fire-breathing lizards -- are a key feature in legends all over the world. Chinese dragons are traditionally kindly and bring good luck, but in other cultures, dragons are symbols of evil. The word "dragon" derives from the Ancient Greek for both "snake" and "to see clearly," perhaps a reference to the creature's deadly glance or its habit of keeping watch over hoarded gold. The mythical reptiles-with-attitude come in many varieties, but whether kindly or wicked, a dragon makes a highly satisfying subject for a paper mache model.
Lay tracing paper over a drawing of a dragon. Trace the main shapes of the dragon's body, as a series of simple ovals. A leg would take the form of three linked ovals: a large one for the thigh, a smaller one for the shin and a third one for the foot.
Use a tape measure to find the maximum length and width of each oval you have drawn. Scale up the measurements to the size of model you plan to make. For instance, if the oval for the dragon's torso is three inches long and you want your model to be four times as big, calculate 3 x 4 to get the scaled-up size of 12 inches. Write the scaled-up measurements onto your tracing-paper plan.
Make loops of garden wire to match the scaled-up size of the ovals on your tracing paper. Check the dimensions with a tape measure, then cut the wire to size using pliers. Twist the ends of each length of wire together to form a loop.
Make each limb as a single loop, measured from the top of the thigh to the tip of the foot. Twist the loop at the knee and ankle to divide it into three smaller ovals. Form the neck and head as a single loop, then twist to divide it into two ovals. Form the tail from a long, drawn-out oval shape. Form the torso from a single large loop.
Scrunch up sheets of newspaper into balls and push them into the loops to fill out the basic body shapes of your dragon. Wrap each filled-out loop tightly in aluminium cooking foil, to hold the newspaper in place. Gently mould each foil-covered body part to the exact shape you require.
Add a cup of powdered wallpaper paste into a large plastic bowl. Add water from a jug little by little, stirring it into the paste with a spoon until you have a mixture that looks like runny cream. Make up the paste in small batches whenever you need more.
Tear newspaper into strips, around one inch wide and four inches long. Dip each strip into the bowl to cover it with paste. Squeeze out the excess paste, then wrap the strip around one of the foil-covered body parts like a bandage.
Cover each body part fully with three layers of paper. Work from left to right over each body part with one layer of strips, then from top to bottom with the next. This will strengthen the finished model. Allow the body parts to dry fully. Depending on the room temperature, this may take a day or two.
Hold each body part against the appropriate part of the dragon's torso. Use a pencil to draw around the body part, marking the position of each joint on the torso. Cut around the pencil marks with a craft knife, to leave holes in the torso. Push the end of each body part into its hole. Tape it into position with masking tape.
Stand your assembled model on a board and tape it securely in position with masking tape so you can work on it easily. Cover the entire model -- including the board -- with three more layers of paste-and-paper strips. Allow the model to dry. Add extra strips around the dragon's joints if they are not secure.
Mold fine details, such as eyeballs, ears and teeth, using scraps of newspaper soaked in paste. Stick claws to the dragon's feet, using short lengths of wire wrapped with strips of paste and paper.
Cut lengths of garden wire to make the ribs of a wing. Twist the lengths together at one end to form a ball, then fan out the other ends of the wire to extend the wing shape. Wrap two to three layers of paste-and-paper strips around the wing ribs to strengthen them. Allow the ribs to dry.
Lay two sheets of newspaper over the ribs to form the wing membrane. Use a paintbrush to cover the sheets in paste. Allow the paste to dry, then trim the edges of the membrane to the desired shape, using scissors. Make a second wing in the same way. Attach both wings to the dragon's back, using more paste-and-paper strips. Allow the model to dry fully.
Give the dragon two coats of white household emulsion paint. This seals the surface of the model and "kills" the newsprint so that it will not moulder.
Paint your model, using powder paints, building up successive layers of colour. Add a little white glue to your paint to make it gleam, for details such as teeth and eyes. Paint the board too, so that it makes an attractive stand to show off your dragon.
Tear newspaper along the grain to get neat strips. If you get ragged strips, turn the page through 90 degrees: it should then tear neatly. Cover the bowl of paste when it is not in use. As long as you do not leave it open to the air, it will keep for several days in a cool place. Study other paper mache dragons for ideas on how to sculpt and paint your model. You can also get inspiration from TV shows about real-life reptiles. There are some suggestions for where to look in the Resources section of this article.
Tips and warnings
- Tear newspaper along the grain to get neat strips. If you get ragged strips, turn the page through 90 degrees: it should then tear neatly.
- Cover the bowl of paste when it is not in use. As long as you do not leave it open to the air, it will keep for several days in a cool place.
- Study other paper mache dragons for ideas on how to sculpt and paint your model. You can also get inspiration from TV shows about real-life reptiles. There are some suggestions for where to look in the Resources section of this article.
- Encylopaedia Britannica: Dragon
- Monstrous: Dragon Etymology
- Online Etymology Dictionary: Dragon
- The Papier Mache Resource: Getting Started With Papier Mache; Jackie Hall; September 2002
- Ultimate Paper Mache: How to Make a Paper Mache Dragon
- Chiang Mai University: "Journal of Social Science and Humanities"; The Concepts of Dragon in Chinese Language and Culture; Xu Xianming and Ji Hongli; 2008