Revisit your childhood with a papier mache project! It's easy, it's fun, and you don't even have to buy anything. The next time the kids are bored, drag out the flour, water and paper and let them make a totally water-soluble, non-staining mess.
You may remember papier mache from grade-school art projects, but chances are high that it doesn't immediately come to mind when you think about art - which is a shame, because it's a highly versatile medium that's tons of fun to fool around with when the creative urge strikes. And since you can make it yourself, doesn't require much in the way of budget.
It's also a great way to entertain the kids on rainy afternoons, allowing them to get plenty dirty without risk of staining or other permanent alterations to the decor. In the end, they get their own personal sculpture that will last quite a long time with proper finishing.
You need something sticky to hold the paper where you want it, and there are two options - white glue, or a flour/water paste. Your adhesive should have the consistency of heavy cream, so the glue may need to be diluted with water up to 50%.
To make the flour paste, use one part flour to four parts water and boil until thickened - make sure it's totally cool before handling. To prevent the formation of mold (always a possibility, especially when using the flour paste), add a few drops of clove oil to the adhesive mix.
The strip method is probably the one you did as a kid. It's easy and requires little advanced planning (except for the adhesive preparation) - all you need is a stack of paper. Newspaper is most commonly used, but copy paper or even paper towels will work.
Simply tear the paper into strips - half-inch strips are the most common, but adjust the size of your strips to the size of your project. Bigger project = wider strips, and vice versa. To apply, just soak the strips in the adhesive until they are saturated, then apply to the project. Speaking of the project...
The strip technique is usually used for molded projects because the strips are flat and take on a shape well, but they do not support themselves. One simple project is the decorative bowl - cover the outside of a large bowl with plastic wrap, then cover with up to four layers of strips.
Let dry completely, then apply up to four more layers until you reach a decent thickness. Allow to dry, then gently lift the paper mache from the bowl. Set aside to dry completely (may take up to a couple of days in humid weather) before finishing.
The pulp method requires a bit more advance preparation, but it's more versatile and allows for more sculptural projects.
Tear newspaper into pieces - not necessarily strips, just pieces smaller than a page. Place the paper into a large stockpot, fill the pot with water and allow to soak overnight.
The next day, top off the water in the pot - the paper will have absorbed some - and boil until the paper dissolves into a cellulose pulp. This can happen in as little as 15 minutes, or may take up to two hours in a crowded pot.
Stir the pot often to help break up the paper fibers and check the progress of the pulp. Allow the finished pulp to cool, then drain off excess water. Stir in your adhesive until the mass reaches a workable consistency, then start building!
The pulp technique works like clay, allowing you to build whatever forms you can imagine.It can be molded just like the strips, but you could also build freehand or use a wire armature to support large sculptures.
Build gradually though, because thicker pieces may never dry completely - if you let each layer dry before adding a new one, you end up with a very strong and durable finished piece.
Once your project is completely dry, whether strip or pulp, you must finish it properly for durability. Use a fine-grit sandpaper to smooth rough areas and level edges, then spray with a coat of acrylic primer.
Once that dries, you can use regular acrylic craft paints to decorate as you wish, allowing for thorough drying between coats. Top it all off with a coat of spray varnish, and your project should last a long time.