a bird in the hand…

There’s a young lady out there who would like to know how I made the paper bird sculpture in my hallway. So here’s the first of two posts on the process. I have a cat sculpture armature in hand and will be taking pictures of the padding and paper gluing process in the next few days. (It takes a while for the glue to dry, so it all takes a while to put it together.)

The bird is built on an armature of wire from a wire coat hanger. The body is built up from wadded paper held together with masking tape. Layers of white tissue paper are then glued onto the bird, with each layer allowed to dry before another layer of tissue paper is glued on, using ordinary white glue. The glue penetrates the tissue paper easily, so you can just stick it down using the tip of the glue bottle. The feet were then stapled to a piece of driftwood, and paper added to the feet to hide the staples.

So, one of my favorite design blogs, design*sponge, did a sneak peak on Heather Chantos’s home, and she had a lovely little sculpture of a bird, made in Haiti, on a chest of drawers.

I loved the bird, and, remembering it when I was thinking about something to place on the cabinet that houses our power connections in the flat, I decided it would be fun to make my own version. I wanted a bird that reminded me of the shorebirds where I grew up, the San Francisco Bay Area, so I purposely did not go look at the picture again until well after I was done. When I did go back to look, I discovered that there were significant differences, so I was happy that Heather’s bird served as inspiration, but that I hadn’t copied the sculpture, feather, as it were, by feather.


You’ll need:

a wire coat hanger
two pairs of pliers (one will do, but two makes it easier)
white craft paper
masking tape
white tissue paper
white glue
electric stapler (optional, you can use a screw and screwdriver instead)
driftwood or other base materials

Using the pliers where necessary, untwist the coat hanger into one straight wire.

Fold the wire in more-or-less half. Twist the ends into oval loops for the feet and bend the feet up. Figure out how long you want the legs (I wanted long) and tape the place where you want the body to start together.

Now bend the body at right angles to the legs. Then curve the body up and over like the shape of the body of the bird. Don’t worry if you’re not sure, you can always re-bend the wire if you decide to change it later. Stand the armature up on it’s “feet” to check that it’s the way you want it. Feel free to play with the wire; you may need to use the pliers to get it to do what you want.

Now take the craft paper (you can use anything at all for the wadding, though, like grocery bags or cloth, or whatever you have to hand — just remember that the last layer should be more or less white, or paint it with some white paint, or the tissue paper layers will have a hard time covering it so the color doesn’t show) and wad it up to about the size of the body you want.

Tape the body to the armature with the masking tape. Feel free to add balls of wadding wherever you like, using paper or masking tape to make sure there’s no holes in the shape.

Then wad another ball of paper for the head and stick that on with tape.

You can add a beak using paper or using tape. (I used tape.) You can add a tail by folding paper however you like for whatever shape tail you like, and stick it on with masking tape.

Cut strips of tissue paper about 2-4 inches wide off the end of the folded up tissue paper, and unwind the strips. Open up your bottle of white glue and put some glue on the end of one of the strips and start winding it around one of the feet of your bird. As you get past the glued bit, just squirt a bit more glue along the tissue strip. Your goal is to always have glue on the tissue paper so it’ll stick to itself. Use the tip of the bottle to press the paper down to itself and to the wire as you wrap it around the leg.

Wrap all the way up one leg and back down the other. It’s better to have more glue than less glue, but you can also put glue on the top of the paper and rub it into the paper with the tip of the bottle and it will soak right through.

Once the legs are to your satisfaction (and you can always go back later and add more paper and glue), cut some 5-7″ strips of tissue paper and start gluing it onto the body. Start with the tail. Spread glue onto the tail and body near the base of the tail, stick the paper onto it, and add more glue on the top of the tissue, pressing it down into the glue. (If you want thicker legs faster, scrunch the tissue strips up as you wrap, using more glue.)

Spread more glue on the body and stick more tissue paper down, overlapping it onto the tissue you’ve already placed. Work your way up to the head. Then take a square of tissue and spread glue over the beak and head. Put the center of square of tissue onto the beak, and fold the tissue into the glue around the head, adding more glue on top and pressing and rubbing the tissue into the glue to hold it down.

Let this first layer dry. When it’s dry, add more paper to the tail and body. Repeat layers and drying until you’re happy with how the bird looks.

You may want to leave some paper loose, you might want to fluff some of it up, you might want to add more layers here or there (like for the wings), as you wish.

Let the bird dry out thoroughly, about 24 hours.

Stand the bird up on your base materials. I used a piece of driftwood, since I wanted to be reminded of the seabirds on the beach near the house I grew up in.

Make sure the base materials are heavy enough to keep the bird from falling over and that the bottom of the base is square enough to keep your bird from wobbling.

Staple the bird’s feet to the base, making sure the staple goes over the wire in the loops of the feet. Add some more paper and glue on the feet to cover the staple.

And you’re done! I need to find a piece of sea artwork to go behind my bird — he looks like a seabird anyway, though.

I’ll be doing a second post in the near future showing the glueing process, which takes a lot more words to describe than it does to simply do.

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