Get Organized With Paper Mache: Pencils and Markers

Every year just after the holidays, I go on a three-day bender of organization.  I guess it’s my way of purging the previous year, but I can go a little crazy and drag everyone down with me.  This year I forced my teenager and husband into indentured servitude, and they built shelves and organizers for the tables where I keep all my crap.  The fruits of their labors are super fruity indeed as you can see in the first picture below.  The remaining table in the second picture obviously needed some serious work.


Two days of glue-stuck fingers later, and I have marker-organizing, pencil-keeping, ATC-displaying bit of happy, and you can too if you follow this simple but ridiculously time-consuming tutorial!

First a warning:  Don’t be a moron like me and do this all in a 24-hour period.  I’m so tired of sticking stuff to stuff that I could scream!  There’s lots of time where you’re waiting for stuff to dry, and you should totally spend that time shopping or something.  If you build something with compartments like I built, there will be lots of fiddly areas to cover with paper, and that gets boring really fast.  Save yourself the headache and go slow with it!

Okay, mommy blathering out of the way, here’s your

Materials List:

  • Cardboard box
  • Used wrapping paper (or newspaper or junk mail or old math homework)
  • Masking tape
  • Paper Mache paste of choice
  • Paper napkins or tissue paper
  • Acrylic paint

If you want to make pods on sticks, you’ll also need small balloons, small dowels, and 16-ish-gauge wire.

Traditional paper mache is done with wheat paste – a mixture of flour and water. This is probably the cheapest way to do it, and all you have to do is mix warm water with flour until it is smooth and lump-free with a pancake batter-like consistency. I choose not to use wheat paste mostly because I live in the country and don’t want to encourage mice to chew on my art. My paste of choice is a one-to-one mixture of plain old white all purpose glue and water. There are specialty powdered and premixed mache pastes available at craft stores as well, and Cindy swears by Elmer’s Paper Mache Art Paste (and even sent me some cause she’s awesome!)

Start with a cardboard box.  If you’re like me and managed to do all of your Christmas shopping done online, you probably have about a hundred of these laying around, maybe still with stuff in them as you just had to order some origami paper from Dick Blick and couldn’t justify spending less than 100 dollars.  I won’t judge.

The long flaps of my box were 18 x 6 inches, and that seemed to be a perfect size for me.  I could make six 3-inch-wide compartments, the size wasn’t too out of control to take out of the house when necessary, and it gives me room to expand at least a little bit.  I decided to make the front of my box shorter than the back so that I can keep my sharpened pencils there and still be able to see them, so I cut a piece 18 x 3.75 and cut seven 6 x 6 pieces.  I then trimmed them as you see below so that they are 6 inches tall in back and 3.75 inches tall in front.


In summary, I cut two 18 x 6 pieces (bottom and back), one 18 x 3.75 piece (front), and seven pieces 6 inches long, 6 inches tall in back and 3.75 inches tall in front for the sides and dividers.  Whew!  Do yourself a favor and use a box knife for all of that cutting.  I tried using scissors – my hand is still on strike.  Once you have all of your pieces cut out, use masking tape to tape them all together.  I use blue masking tape because we always seem to have some, not because it makes any difference.  At this point it looks like some bizarre beekeeping science project that my kid forced me to do at 9:00 on a Sunday night, but it’ll get better!


Now roll up your sleeves, tear up a bunch of wrapping paper, pour your glue into a large bowl or pie pan, and prepare for four hours of sticking stuff to stuff (okay you don’t have to do it for four hours.  It really did take me four hours to get the paper laid into all of those compartments, so be prepared!)  To start, pretend I’m using wrapping paper in these pictures instead of newspaper, but dip your paper into your glue and then run the paper through your fingers, using pressure to squeegee the excess glue off.  You want your paper saturated but not dripping!


Start laying your paper down in overlapping layers, paying special attention to corners and edges and all those spots where your cardboard kisses.  Cardboard is very passionate.  Just keep going and going and going.  Let that dry and then flip the box over, covering the sides and bottom.


For optimum stability, you should do at least four layers, but I only did two layers of wrapping paper and then a final layer using paper napkins applied with a brush as in the pictures below (apply glue first then lay the napkin down, gently brushing more glue over the top and smoothing it down).  You can also use tissue paper for this final layer, but I never go without one or the other.  It hides all the edges from your previous layers, gives one extra bit of strength, and, if you use a dark napkin (I used black), you don’t have to paint it afterwards.


Once your box is completely covered with that final layer of either napkins or tissue paper, set it aside to dry.  Setting it on a heater vent will make it dry in half the time.  If you want to make the pods, blow up some small balloons and cover the bottoms with two layers of wrapping paper and a layer of napkins, then set them on a heater vent to dry.  Curse the day I was born and have a shot.  Once they’re completely dry and you can tap your fingernails on the ends making them go “click click click”, pop the balloons.  This is my most favorite part.  Trim the edges (I cut them jagged), poke a hole, and glue a dowel rod in.


Paint them when the glue has dried, then wrap wire around the stick.  Bend the end of the wire into a spiral, and this will hold your favorite pictures or ATCs.  Paint your box however you like it (I masked off stripes, painted them white, then splattered the whole thing with turquoise paint).  Now fill that bad boy up!  I just inserted my sticks in with the pencils/markers.  I filled my little pods with stubby pencils, refills for my electric eraser, and random guitar picks.  Clean up the mess from November’s creating frenzy, and you’re done!

OMG you made it to the end!!  You deserve a cookie, a backrub, 14 pirate poker chips, and a finger zombie.  Or a contest!

Here’s the deal:  Make this project, a project inspired by this project, or a project inspired by either Ann or Cindy’s projects that will be posted over the next two weeks, take pictures and post them in our flickr group by 11:59 PM on February 5th, and you could win a Sugar Skull Bunny!  We’ll put up a poll and let the public vote on their favorite project, and the winner will be featured on our front page for the rest of the month.  So you win a prize, some time in the spotlight, AND you get to ORGANIZE STUFF!  WOO!

You won’t win this exact bunny but rather a similar bunny in your choice of colors that will be handmade by me once the winner is decided.  Yay!



  1. cindyjob

    I need to rent that husband and teenager, then I need to rent you to make me organize….or I really do need to move in! The box is awesome, I want to make one for my desk at school AND one for home!

  2. Russell

    Once again, a very cool project that I need to make. It would not only tame the supplies that are running rampant at my house, but also tame some of those wild boxes I've been collecting as well.

  3. I just want to know where you are lucky enough to have that huge crafty room in your house?! When I do crafts, I have to bring out my rolling cart of shelves/drawers, into the dining room and then the diningroom table becomes one massive art table for at least a month or so, until I am finished with whatever it is that I decided to attempt and then rested enough afterwards, to tackle the clean-up and put away again (into a closet). It sure would be nice to have an entire CRAFT room!!! Just imagine how much crafting I would be able to do! 🙂

    • hahahah! I actually don't have my own room either – I just took over a corner of the living room and made it my permanent space. I am pretty lucky in that my husband gets bored and builds me stuff!

      Maybe you could get a smaller dining room table and just take over half the dining room as your permanent space! I like having mine in the living room so that I can watch back episodes of Being Human, Eureka, and X-Files while I'm gluing stuff to stuff. 😉

  4. Cheeka

    Not to brag, but the joys of being single & childless mean I get my own room for art! When i moved in here, I commandeered the largest bedroom for art (all I do in my actual bedroom is sleep so there's plenty of room for me & the dogs). It's wonderful! I am intrigued by your organizing goodness – but I think mine will be on a smaller scale, or then I have to get rid of my most awesome pencil-organizing thingie (which I will never again let anyone use my pencils because they mix up the watercolor, inktense and prismacolors! bastards!) so we'll see what happens. I actually have a big bag of paper mache mix that I bought from blick!

    • Brag on! 😉

      Ohhhh I hate it when people mix up my pencils. When I was moving them into this one, I found a blue pencil in with the reds and almost popped an aneurysm.

  5. Sarah, this is crazy great! I always say to my husband that you can spend two things in this world: time or money. On our budget, we would always rather spend time, which makes this the perfect way to get a cool, custom storage piece that looks fantastic and works like a beast. As ever, you are brilliant!

    • If you were spending the same amount of money that you'll spend in time, it'd cost you a bazillion dollars plus a penny, so you're good. I can't wait to see what you do, missy!

  6. nanner

    Things to put in your will: "And to my old pal nanner, I leave my entire ARTSPACE." Of course, I prefer you alive and kicking (or "I like it kinky" if you're down with the misheard lyric version). So I will need to just make one of these my OWN self. IT IS FANTASTIC! As are you!

    • ha! It might be hard to pack it off to you, so logistically speaking it's probably better if you just come borrow it from time to time. 😉

  7. jennie

    This year is ribbon… Yes my ribbon containers, yes that was plural, all runneth over and of course I was in need of buying more when the holiday stuff went 80% off at hobby lobby. I do talk about Hobby Lobby a lot. It's my happy place. Anyway, I decided ribbon for ribbons, I'll show you when I actually accomplish it. But I did buy safety pins yesterday so I'm in the mood to do this. Wish me luck,I'm goin to need it.

    • Luck!! The only ribbon storage I've ever seen is with dowel rods down the middle of a stack of ribbon dispensers, so I'm excited to see what you do!

  8. TFBalding

    Omg, I. Want. A. BUNNY!!! 😀

    Might have to find time (read, a night without sleep) to do this…

  9. jennie

    I have my first coat of paper mache (sp) all over my wonderful ribbon holder, and me. And no stupid dowels. Slots, and doors gonna be cool. Hope I can find a place to hang it in my studio. Might have to move some mosaics around

Comments are closed.