Bonewart, The Papier Mache Dragon

After watching this video I was inspired. So… I have started working on my own crazy large dragon for Halloween this year. Below are some shots of the progress.

I started by taking a look at some different wooden puzzles for dragons and dinosaurs. The way the pieces slide together seemed like a good way to start with the basic head shape. I looked at a lot of dragon drawings and dragon skeleton drawings to get ideas tha tI liked for proportion. I knew the body needed to be 20 feet long (mainly because I found a good deal on a drain hose that was the right size and was 20 feet long) Then I started cutting out cardboard, there was a lot of eyeballing and trimming. I made the head and jaw separate so they could eventually come together and still open and close. The base of the structure was created using corrugated card board.

The next step was to add some shape to the armature using cereal box cardboard.

Once the ribbing was in place I used fiberglass tape to fill in the gaps and to help further define the shape of the head. The tape worked great and made putting the strip mache in place much easier.

After it was covered in fiber glass tape I started putting on the strip mache. Nothing fancy, just a quick a dirty covering of 3-4 layers to give it some strength. Once that first layer dried I started placing the teeth. The teeth were cut out of corrugated cardboard and taped into place. I used little bits of wire to hold the teeth into position. Once dried I was able to clip the wire off.

Once the teeth had dried I started adding reinforcement to the joint of the jaw. After talking it over with STOLLOWEEN he gave me some ideas to use milk jugs/plastic where the joints are to add strength since the mache will eventually weaken if put under too much stress. I added section of plastic to the upper and lower jaw. I also cut a large section to act as a plate for sliding the hose connector through in the lower jaw.

After the plastic had been liberally hot glue into place with countless layers of my own skin I roughed it up with sandpaper and covered it again in another 3-4 layers of strip mache. While still wet I slid in the hose connector seen below.

Once all of that dried I was able to start working on the “axel” for the jaw. I ended up using a 5 inch section of 3/4 inch pvc pipe in the head and two plastic thread bobbins as plugs/bolts that can be inserted from the out jaw. A length of wire can run through the pip and hold the plugs in place. I cut a long strip in the bottom of the head and inserted the pip into it. 4 layers of strip mache have been added over top of it to secure it in place. In the eyelets on the jaw I cut a 1/2 inch length of the pvc pipe that fits as a gromet in the lower jaw, then the plug slide through those and into the pipe in the head.

More to come as I work on it. Next up is adding clay to the head to define the teeth and horns and possibly brainstorming on how to move forward with the eyes.

I did a lot of detail work on the head including adding the texture and shape to the teeth, horns, beak, and brow line. I also stared texturing the entire head. In doing so there were some clumps that I couldn’t break apart and they look like warts. Since this is going to be a bone dragon, I didn’t like the warts at first. However, they are really growing on me and I think this dragon now has a name… Bonewart.

After the top side of clay was all dry it was time to add some clay details to the underside.  I.E. the inside of the teeth, the flip side of the horns.

The final detail of the head was to cut a 1/2 section of toilet paper tube to use as an eye socket.  I have some LED flicker tea lights I plan to use as fire eyes and the toilet paper tube is the perfect size for a holder.  A layer of strip mache was added and then it was hot glued into place. (sorry no good working pic of that)

Now the fun part, painting!  The base coat was “Hotel Ivory” and then it was dry brushed with a tanish brown mixture.  The colors don’t photograph well with my cell phone camera but in person it looks a little bit like a dug up bone.  A little dirty in spots and a yellowish white underlying color.

Once the dry brushing was set, a brown acrylic-water wash was used to darken it all up.

Here are a few detail shots of how the drain hose was attached that will end up being the spinal column and how the jaw is connected the head.

The upper arms were made out of two RC Cola 20 oz. bottles connected together with large paper balls attached to each end. Then the whole thing was covered in strip mache. For the lower arms I used 1 and 1/2 RC Cola bottles. I cut one bottle in half, slid it over the cap end of the other bottle and taped into place. I used utility wire to create the second arm bone of the lower arms. Oval clumps of crumpled newspaper were added to the ends of each to help give it shape. Then again, more strip mache.

Once the arm and legs bones were completed I moved on to the hands.  The hands were made by cutting a rounded rectangle shape out of card board for the palm and toilet paper tubes for the phalanges of the fingers and thumb.  I added long claws at the tip of each finger.

Once the armatures were set the hands were covered in strip mache and then clay was added to the palm, top of the hand and claws.

A few random other bones were created by using cardboard shapes such as the hip bones, shoulder blades, and sternum.  The sternum was made like a T with the vertical section have a curve and the other section being bent to the curve.  Both the shoulders and the hip shapes were attached to the end of a simple trapezoid with a hole in the center for the spinal column and then covered in strip mache.

The vertebrae were tedious to say the least.  13 were made in all (lucky 13) not counting the shoulder, hip, wing, and tail vertebrae.  Two liter bottles were cut to about 3.5 inch sections and placed inside larger rounded cardboard squares, this ended up forming the shape of a wire spool.  The shapes were covered in a few layers of strip mache.

4 of the vertebrae had spikes added to them.  I was going to place the spikes on more but when I envisioned it in my head they would be lost behind the wings anyway so I just opted for four, they will end up forming the neck of th dragon.

Five of the vertebrae were used in the rib cage.  To make the ribs I cut long strips on cardboard and bent a pice of utility wire for shape.  The ribs were then covered in strip mache (only one coat).  Once dry I made a harness out of utility wire that goes over top of the vertebrae and attaches to the ribs.  The sternum attaches to the ribs via papier clay covered straws and wire.  I drilled wholes in the sternum where I wanted the ribs to attach and then ran wire through, that wire then fit into the straw attached to the tip of the rib.  Once the rough shape was set (note I had to crack the mache to adjust the shape on the ribs) I started strip maching the ribs to the vertebrae.  As soon as that dried I reinforced it with some papier mache clay.  The ribs were bound together with string to hold the shape as they dried.  The string will be left ing place and the ribs will be covered in papier mache clay to give them strength and girth.

Once the little bit of clay that was used to hold the ribs in place was dry the entire rib and top of the vertebae were covered in papier mache clay. To help hold the ribs in position, I left the wires that go through the sternum in place. I ended up bending the wire ends that came through the tips of the ribs to keep it nice and snug. The string was left in place too, it can be cut off and trimmed once it is all dry.

A special vertebrae was made for the wings.  Think of Mickey Mouse.  There are two large circles coming of the top right and top left of the vertebrae that have holes where the wing joining will be attached.  Since there will be considerable stress on this piece I used 4 layers of strip mache and put a hearty layer of clay on each side.  Hopefully it will hold up the the stress of the wings while they get setup and support via fishing line while setting the dragon up.

The feet were made in the same manner as the hands, a rough shape was cut out of cardboard and toilet paper tubes were again used a phalanges.  The main different was the angles at which the joints came together and the place ment of the “thumb”. I wanted some sort of post to attach the leg bones to so I cut off the top of a 20 oz bottle and placed it in the center of the foot.

Just like the hands, the feet were covered in strip mache and then papier mache clay was added for the pads of the feet, claws, knuckles, and top of the foot.

The tail was fairly simple.  I picked up two pool noodles from the dollar store that were different sizes.  I cut them into ~4 inch pieces and alternated string them on a rope.  The tip of the tail was carved out of a few pieces.  Once cut I covered them all in a few layers of strip mache.

The first hanging went well with only one little sna-foo.  One of the support lines broke and the hip slammed to the ground breaking some of the eye hooks I was using for joints.  However, this was a good thing, it gave me an idea of a new pose for Bonewart, a sitting/lunging pose.  Here is a video/photos of the first hanging where you can get a really good look at him all put together.

After painting and two coats of poly Bonewart was all done.  A labor of twisted love.

My ever patient and lovely wife, Kelly, was able to sew the wing webbing for me.  The webbing consisted of two layers of thick weave tulle and a gooey cheese cloth center.  The cheese cloth was ripped in places to give it a nice little decayed look.

I took Bonewart to Great Lakes Fright Fest 2010 and set him up outside of our campsite.  Here are some shots at dusk with the flicker lights in the eyes and the wing webbing on.

Some stats/facts:

26 feet

Variable, but at current setup ~8 feet (tips of wings, head is at ~5 feet)

~$75.00 (mostly in paint, poly, and pvc pipe for the wings)

45 Days (evenings and weekends, with a few days off for good behavior and illness)

8 – two liter bottles
18 – 20 oz bottles
Lots of recycled corrugated and cereal box cardboard
Lots of Recycled Newspaper
~22 lbs of flour
~1/4 a bag of cellulose fiber insulation
1/2 a roll of 16 gauge wire
29 toilet paper tubes
1 RV drain hose
4 pool noodles (1 large, 3 regular)
2 Soft foam pipe insulation
12 feet of rope
20 screw hooks

What I would do different:

I would run a wire through the arms and leg bones and form loops out of them since some of the screw hooks pulled out and had to be reset in place.

I would use a large paper/cardboard tube for the vertebrae and other pieces that slid over the body, the mache doesn’t stick well to the plastic and has a tendency to crack, there is already noticable wear on the inside portions that I will need to adjust.

I would make the next one bigger 🙂

I would like to have integrated lighting into the rib cage to light it from within.

The pop bottle cap and top that hold allow for the hands to be screwed on to the arm bone would have been integrated into the armature for more strength.  That was an after thought and did rip out a bottle cap from one of the hands.  This was fixed by driving a nail through the cap and into the hand and the nail was coated in gorilla glue, this fix held up well.

If you make a Bonewart of your own I would love to see pics and share ideas! I hope you find this tutorial helpful, comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.


6 Responses to “Bonewart, The Papier Mache Dragon”

  1. This was absolutely amazing.

    My 9 yr old wants me to make him one. I said, “Uh. No.”

  2. It’s easier than it looks! If you do decide to make one I would suggest starting with the head. I did that so if I got bored or overwhelmed I would still at least have a cool piece to show for all the hard work.

  3. Loved It So Much I’m In The Process Of Starting One For Next Year Except I Found A Deal On Cellulose Board Instead Of Using Just Cardboard So It Definitely Will Have Strength And Be Able To Withstand The Weather Here In The Falls Great Job!

  4. You truly are a talented man! This is incredible!

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