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  • Writer's pictureKaaren Poole

What's Next With Paper Clay

What’s next with paper clay? A black bear. But not just any old black bear—a spirit black bear. After recently creating another of my paper clay burdz (the one I did the video of), I thought it might be fun to do something a little bigger, and I decided on one of my favorite animals ever—the black bear.

There is a popular belief that there was a prehistoric Cult of the Cave Bear in which humans conducted rituals centered around this impressive animal. But modern day archaeologists take issue with this idea, believing it is largely based on conclusions by Dr. Emil Bachler from his excavations between 1917 and 1921 in caves in Switzerland extensively used by early man. There, he found large numbers of cave bear bones. He concluded that the arrangements in which the cave bear bones were found could not have been due to natural causes and hypothesized a special relationship between the two species, perhaps a ritual one. It took off from there. Recently, archaeologists have debunked the idea of the Cult of the Cave Bear, at least as ‘proven’ by the finds in the Swiss caves. This view is based on new research on how material is deposited in caves over long periods of time.

Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, it’s easy enough to see—and justify—how an early human would worship a bear, an impressive animal with many awesome qualities. And, in culture after culture, all around the world, bears have played a significant role. My view of them is uncomplicated. I think they’re beautiful and appealing. I’m drawn to them, and relate to cultural traditions which see them as deeply connected to both the earth and the sky.

So, with that brief background, here’s my very own spirit bear.


I began much as I began my burd—with a crumpled aluminum foil core which I covered with paper clay. After manipulating it into a vague bear-head-and-body shape, it was time to add legs. Bear legs are quite thick, but rather than having aluminum foil cores for them, I used rolls of heavy paper which I glued shut and cut to length.

Pretty pathetic at this point! I thought she looked an awful lot like E.T. and didn’t see how I could save her. Onward! But first she had to dry overnight.


Here she is the next day after I did more work on the face (nose and ridge over the eyes) and added paper clay over her back legs. The legs are wrapped in a damp paper towel because I intended to do more work on them.

Sorry to say that at this point, I forgot to take progress photos. But I can tell you that the rest of the sculpting was quite a job. I added the front legs, again over cores of rolled paper, and once again, let her dry overnight.


From there, I worked mostly on getting her face the way I wanted it and gradually fattening her up by adding more clay where I thought I needed it. And also, I shaped her big, round paws.

Then, after another thorough drying, it was painting time.

Here she is in her unadorned state. As I prepared to paint her, I thought about how I would embellish her. I decided on the dual theme of her as a dweller of the earth and a walker of the sky, so, although mainly she’s natural colors, I painted her back, the top of her head, and the tops of her front legs the dark blue of the night sky.


As with my burd, she now became a canvas for mixed media.

Ideally, I’d have represented both the bear’s connection to the earth and her connection to the sky. But, as it turned out, I had many found objects that could relate to the sky, but none—or hardly any—representing earth. So, my solution was to represent both earth and sky in the text I added but focus the found objects on the sky.

As for the text, it’s just some phrases I composed, wrote on the computer using a font I thought would go with the mood of the piece, printed them, sprayed the page with fixative so that my adhesive wouldn’t smear the ink, tore them out, and glued them in place. Then I added a wash of Burnt Umber acrylic and also a few rubs from a small ink pad.

I fashioned her necklace from several components—the clasp from a vintage crystal bead necklace as well as a few beads from that same necklace, a crystal star bead, silver and silver/gold metallic embroidery thread and a tassel made from that same thread.

On her back, I painted stars and a comet, glued on a few crustal flatback stars, and added smears of silver glitter glue.

She’s holding a crystal star bead threaded on some embroidery thread that’s looped around her wrist in her right front paw.

On her head, I have a crescent moon made from paper clay. It's painted with pearlescent paint, and smeared with silver glitter glue. To attach the moon, I poked a hole with a toothpick in its bottom when I made it. Then I drilled a hole in the top of her head. I broke the toothpick so it would be short enough, slathered it with glue, and poked it into the holes in the head and in the moon. That toothpick piece, along with the glue, forms a strong bond between the two pieces.

The final touch was adding the tiny walking bear to the moon. It’s a small silver fetish bead, badly tarnished. I had my doubts about using it since it’s such a special bead. But in the end, I decided this little bear was worth it!

I hope this gives you some inspiration—both to venture into 3D mixed media if you haven’t already, and to constantly expand your collection of found objects and images. You never know when one of them will be just what you need!


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