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Sustainable Sculpture and Christmas Shop Windows: How I made a plastic-free reindeer!

Here on Cramblings, alongside the interviews, I want share with you some of my own projects and I thought what better way to start, seeing as Christmas is well and truly here, than to share how I made my plastic-free, recyclable reindeer with you!

I posted it on my instagram (@bydorafurn) and so many of you asked me how on earth I made this, with no glue, no plastic and no plastic tapes, well it’s a lot easier than you think! And the best part? You can use this method to make literally anything.

So, let’s get started!

First of all, a little context.

This year I had the pleasure of creating the Christmas window for Coco Confectionery, a local sweet shop here in Gloucestershire. Both myself and the women at Coco are passionate about sustainability and we agreed that we wanted the window to be as sustainable as possible.

I always wanted the window to be as plastic and waste free as possible but even I didn’t expect that it would be made of fully recyclable materials, what a result!

This a process that I learnt during my degree and we used it to make giant paper sculptures of pigs. When I say giant, they were about 8 feet tall, so you really can use this method to create all sorts of wonderful things!

When we made the pigs, we used a huge amount of plastic tapes to make them so I wanted to adapt the materials to be more eco-friendly but using the same process.

So, what materials did I use?

  • Cardboard

  • Biodegradable Tape (and lots of it!)

  • Newspaper

  • Recyclable Gumstrip Tape

  • Kitchen foil

  • Wire

  • Recycled Paper

  • Staples and a staple gun

That’s it! Well, this reindeer also had a pink saddle and bridle which was made from cardboard and pink craft-felt which unfortunately is not recyclable but, once the reindeer has retired from the window, the felt will be recycled by me in future craft projects.

Now that we have our materials, let’s get started on the base structure.

So, the first thing you’ll need to do is draw out the animal you want to make.

Remember to draw it out the size you want the sculpture to be, so in this case it’s lifesize. Then, you need to find one big shape, within the body, to cut out of cardboard that you can start to build up the body around

Now, imagine you are looking at the 3D animal in front of you, and cut some round shapes to spot onto the big cardboard shape you just cut. These might look weird now, but they will be super helpful when you come to filling the shape in. You can add as many of these as you want, you only really need a few but the more you add, the stronger it’ll be.

Once you’re at this stage, it’s time to fill in the gaps and pad out the body - literally, with newspaper pads.

You make these pads by taking a sheet of newspaper and scrunching it in on itself until it forms a small, rounded, flat pad. It’s important that they are flat and not scrunched-up balls of newspaper because the pads are more flexible and easier to shape.

It can take a while to make all the pads but bear with it!

When you’ve got your pads, start taping them onto the cardboard base with your biodegradable tape. Again this bit takes time but is the most important part; you’re using the newspaper to sculpt your shape! Keep adding layers of tape over the newspape, until it is mostly covered. It’s important to kee the tape as tight as possible and when you pat the body with your hand, it should feel like an inflated football - firm but springy!

A few tips for this stage:

  • The more compact you can get the newspaper, the stronger your shape will feel

  • Take your time and really think about the shape you’re making.

  • If something looks wrong, don’t be afraid to cut off the newspaper and change it.

  • If you’re struggling to think in 3D, make sure you have lots of reference images of the animal/object that you’re recreating, from lots of different angles.

Once the main body shape is created, now you can add things like legs, ears and antlers.

It’s much the same process as before; cut out a leg or ear shape out of cardboard, attach it onto the body and build it up with newspaper and tape.

Now, attaching it can be a little tricky, but I found that the staples work well for this part.

The antlers were the only part that’s made differently, and would need to be removed and recycled separately. They were made using wire and kitchen foil; simply create a rough antler shape out of wire and scrunch the foil around it to make it round and 3 dimensional. You can use a cardboard template to help you. Leave a length of exposed wire at the bottom of the antler that you can push into the head of the reindeer, to attach it.

Eventually, you’ll have a final shape! It’ll look like a bit of a scruffy, newspaper and tape mess but don’t panic, now we take our gumstrip to smooth it all over.

Gumstrip is a tape that becomes sticky once it’s wet, like licking an envelope. It is used in fine art practice for all sorts of reasons: stretching watercolour paper or backing picture frames and you can pick it up at any craft or art supply shop.

Most Gumstrips are recyclable and use plant based gum adhesive, but you do have to double check!

For this stage you’ll need your Gumstrip, a pot of water and scissors.

Cut the Gumstrip into small pieces, the smaller the pieces the more detail you can get into and the smoother it’ll look.

Then, dip the pieces of Gumstrip in the water and collage them onto the newspaper body. Simple! It’ll take some time but it’s worth it; the Gumstrip will dry really hard, making your shape strong and secure.

Perhaps the most important tip for using Gumstrip is keep the roll of tape away from the water and cut off sections to use one at a time, because if you get lots of water onto the roll itself, you’ve guessed it, it’ll all stick together on the roll and be un-usable.

You might want a couple of layers but I found that one was enough.

Now, at this point, you could simply paint it!

But, I wanted my reindeer to have a nice, furry texture. I took inspiration from piñatas for the fur, it seemed fitting for a sweet shop but also stayed within the recyclable, paper realm.

So, take your recycled paper roll - you can use any colour but we chose white - and cut it into strips. As I was making a big animal, the strips were quite thick, about 5cm, but you’d make them smaller for a smaller animal.

And then, you simply snip into the strips, to make fringes. Once again, you’re going to need lots of these!

Then you start to staple them on! Now, I chose staples because they would allow it to still be recycled without plastic glues, but if it works better for you or you don’t have a staple gun, you can use PVA glue. This will means it’s no longer recyclable though!

It’s important to start laying the fur in the right direction, and building it up so that the staples are covered. Again, look at photos of your animal to see how it’s fur looks.

When you get to more detailed areas like the face, use lots of smaller, shorter lengths of fringe to get more precision. You might need to do some shaping and trimming as you go along; I think my favourite part of the process was giving the reindeer and little haircut with my scissors.

I chose to leave the hooves, nose and antlers as uncovered gumstrip but you could paint them. The eyelashes are made from black card and the eyes are painted, but can be removed from the body when recycled!

So, here she is! Coco the Reindeer, made from recycled and recyclable materials.

I had so much fun making her and, honestly, all I want to do now is sit on my bedroom floor making paper animals forever. If you do have a go at this, do let me know how you get on and feel free to adapt this process to however suits you.

As I said, you can make absolutely anything with this process, the only limit is your imagination!

Merry Cramblings!

Dora x

Thanks for reading and I hope this has inspired you!

Here are some useful links:

My Instagram: @bydorafurn

Coco Confectionery on Instagram: @cococonfectionery

Coco Confectionery Website:

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