Make the Dragon

I made this dragon with lots of help and techniques from the fantastic book Paper Mache Dragons by Dan Reeder. It was my first time (as an adult) working with paper mache, and his book is both amusing and inspiring. I won't go into a lot of detail about the paper mache build process in this guide.  Dan is the expert! Watch his videos and get his book.

Since my dragon is wall-mounted, it's really only a little more than half a dragon. It has one full leg and one full arm. The head is complete, but the body and tail are bas-relief style, sitting flat against the mounting board.

Step 1: Layout

I got a piece of cardboard about the size I wanted the finished project to be. I took a sharpie and sketched out my dragon - where her head would be, the shape of her tail, and where I wanted the egg to sit. This changed a bit throughout the project but it really helped a lot to have a full-sized reference template.

Step 2: Body Pieces

I used crumpled newspaper, coat hanger wire and lots of masking tape to rough out the shapes for the head, neck, body, arm, leg, and tail. I went ahead and made the body and tail full-sized at this point, and cut them in half for the bas-relief effect later on.  It's just easier to make things round-ish at this stage. I left good sized wire loops at the ends so I had something to attach them together with later on.

Step 3: Teeth and Claws

I made my teeth and claws out of glow-in-the-dark Fimo polymer clay. I didn't know how many teeth I'd need so I just made lots, and varied the sizes from about 1/2" to about 1.5". For claws, I needed just three for each limb sized around 2-3" long, but I made a few extras of varying sizes anyway. I'm sure they'll come in handy for another project.

Bake them in the oven according to the directions on the package.  Teeth and claws, teeth and claws. Grrr.

Step 3: Paper Mache

Mix some warm water and white flour until it's a medium-thick paste. Soak strips of newspaper and wrap them all around your body pieces. Make sure there are at least 3-4 layers of newspaper everywhere (more, if you're making a larger, heavier dragon). Let them all dry completely. 

Step 4: Assemble the Pieces

Cut the body and tail in half, leaving only the left half of the dragon, and empty out the paper mache shell so there's room for the wiring to get through. This will create a flat side that will sit nicely against the mounting board. Use copious amounts of masking tape and the wire loops to attach all the bits together. The layout sketch is very useful at this point to make sure you're getting the size and shape you want.

Cut the jaw off the head and tape it back on in the position you like, then add the teeth with hot glue. Empty any extra newspaper out of the inside of the mouth and poke a hole at the back of the head so it's easy to get the wires and LEDs in later on.

Step 5: Hands & Claws

Use more newspaper and masking tape to make a hand and a foot on the ends of the limbs. Spend a little time getting all the bumps and knuckles just right. The wire mounting point will ensure that you can bend these around a bit and get the placement just right over the egg. Glue the claws on with hot glue. 

Step 6: Dragon Egg

I used a real ostrich egg shell for this. Did you know you can buy blown ostrich eggs on Amazon? We live in the future. They diffuse light beautifully.

Mark where you want to cut the egg. Don't draw on the egg with a sharpie! The sharpie soaks in and then doesn't come off (even with 99% alcohol). Instead, place a piece of masking tape around the egg's International Date Line and then mark on that.

A vice is helpful for holding the egg still. Cut along the line carefully with a rotary tool and cutting wheel. You'll want a mask and eye protection, and very good ventilation! These things smell like a mixture of burning hair and week-old battlefield when you cut into them.

My egg had a hole in the bottom where the yolk had been blown out, so I cut to one side of that instead of directly through the center. Also, this way, if you mess up one side, you've got another chance with the other side.

Step 7: Wings & Horns

Add any extra details like wings and horns using tape-wrapped wire for supports. I wrapped these in cloth mache (cloth soaked in white glue) before attaching them. We'll add "skin" for the dragon with cloth mache later on, after we've added the electronics.

This guide was first published on Apr 02, 2019. It was last updated on Apr 02, 2019. This page (Make the Dragon) was last updated on Feb 10, 2020.