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Paper mache isn’t a complicated art, but there’s no reason to make it more hectic than it needs to be. Here are some tips to make your time more about the project than the mess.

1. Have your supplies together before you start.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a huge pain in the neck if you realize you’re out of newspaper when you’re up to your elbows in goo. Make sure you have way more newspaper strips than you need already made before you even mix your paste. Keep them in a shoebox or a bowl so you can store them for later.

2. Designate your space and keep it there.
Whether it’s on a table, on the floor, on the balcony of your apartment building or your kitchen counter, make sure you’ve given yourself enough room to work. If this isn’t a team effort, keep your projects and all your supplies out of reach of children, pets and guerilla art critics. Pick a space with plenty of light and that’s comfortable for you, whether sitting or standing. If you like listening to something while you work, be sure you have a set-up that prevents you from getting goo all over your electronics. If you have long hair, tie your hair back. Don’t wear long, dangly necklaces or clothes you don’t want getting dirty. Perhaps most importantly, know the quickest route to a faucet, as you may need to stop and wash your hands at any time.

3. Make clean-up easy.
You don’t want to bother with the parts that aren’t fun any more than is strictly necessary. Plastic bags are your friend here. Cover your work surface with a trash bag and tape it down to protect your table/floor/counter. Line your bowl for paste with a grocery bag so you can simply tie it off and toss it when you’re finished.

4. Always follow safety precautions.
If you’re using an X-Acto knife or other sharp objects, please please treat it with respect. Always use protective mats (or thick catalogs) beneath cardboard that’s being cut. Never try to paper mache over broken glass. If something spills, don’t freak out, just clean it up before it dries. Read all instructions that come with tools more complicated than a ruler. Common sense will generally see you through on this front.

5. Remember: It doesn’t have to be perfect, and you can always start over.
Paper mache is always going to be bumpy, uneven, kinda lumpy and nowhere near factory quality: that’s why you love it. If one layer isn’t molding to your frame’s surface, no worries — you’re covering it on the next round. If the weight isn’t perfectly distributed, you can find a way to compensate and make your fat cat not tip over. If it all becomes an overwhelming hash of things, remind yourself that you’re working with cardboard, grocery bags, old newspapers and masking tape. You’re out nothing if you chuck the whole thing and start over. How cool and liberating is that?

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