Art Project: A Paper Dragon

I made this hanging dragon out of paper and cardboard.  It would make a good art project for children and the easily amused.  It’s simple, but because it requires waiting for things to dry, it takes about three days.

You will need:

  • One cereal box or other non-corrugated cardboard box
  • Paper, preferably with colors or interesting designs
  • Acrylic paint and/or acrylic gloss medium
  • Paintbrushes
  • String or thin copper wire
  • White glue
  • Staples
  • Waxed paper
  • Scissors and/or a hobby knife
  • A marker
  • Bulldog clips
  • A pin or something else to poke holes with
  • Some kind of rack to dry things on

Step 1:

Cut off the side panels of the cereal box.  Cut them into thirds.  Roll each piece into a cone shape the wide way.  Use staples or glue to hold the cone together (I used both) and clip it with a bulldog clip while it is drying.

Use the end flaps of the box to make smaller cones, so that the dragon can be wider in the middle and tapered in the tail.  I also made a small tube-shaped piece for the end of the tail.  Allow the glue to dry and then remove the bulldog clips.

Step 2:

My dragon's head and jaw

Use the rest of the box to cut out a head, legs, and wings.  To make the head, imagine how the head would look from the top and then draw the head slightly wider than that.  It should be symmetrical (I did this by folding it in half and tracing).  You will also need to cut out a piece for the jaw using the same method.  Bend these pieces so that they are curved and look the way you want.

My dragon has four legs and no wings, but feel free to give your dragon as many legs or wings as you want.  They can look however you want, but you should probably trace them to make matched pairs.  If you want to cut out an interesting shape to put on the end of the tail, you can do that, too.

Step 3:

When all the pieces are cut out, prime them by painting them all over with white paint.  This way, whatever pattern was on the cereal box will not show through.

Step 4:

You have two choices of how to decorate your dragon: paint or paper-mache.  You can also do a combination.  These are the instructions for paper-mache; if you want to paint your dragon instead, you can skip this step, although you may want to do it anyway because it makes the cones look more scaly and covers over the seams.

Lay out some waxed paper to work on.

Make a mixture of glue and water.  Use plenty of glue so that the paper-mache will be very stiff.  About 1/4 c. glue to 1 c. water is about right.  If you want to add a light color to the scales, you can add some food coloring or watercolor pigment to the paper (only do this if you are not using colored paper already).

Take some paper with interesting colors or patterns (I used pages from an M.C. Escher calendar).  Cut the paper into triangles and squares to use as scales.  Soak them in the glue-water mixture.  Cover the outside of the cones with these pieces, working from the base to the tip so that the pieces overlap like actual scales.  Let the corners of the paper pieces stick out over the edge of the cone to make it look scaly.  Hang them on the rack to dry, or let them just dry on the waxed paper.

Also cover the head, legs, wings, and tail tip.  Let the paper hang over the edges; you will trim it off once it is dry.  I only covered one side of the legs and left the other side white.  If you do this, make sure you cover the opposite sides of each pair of legs or wings.  Allow everything to dry.  Trim off the extra paper.

Step 5:

If you want to paint the dragon, go ahead and do it now.  Even if you used paper mache, you may want to paint on details like eyes, teeth, and wing ribs.  You may need to use several coats of paint.  Paint the flat pieces one side at a time, so they can lay on one side while the other side is drying.  Put the cone pieces on the rack to dry.

If you didn’t paint the dragon, or if you only painted parts of it, cover it with acrylic gloss medium, inside and outside.  This is basically just clear paint.  It can be found at art stores.  It will make the dragon glossy and stronger.  Put the cone pieces on the rack to dry.

Step 6:

Decide how you want the pieces to go together.  Place the head at one end and the tail tip at the other and place the cone pieces in between, with the smallest ones at the tail and the biggest ones in the middle.  Put the wings and legs where you want them.

The jaw should have six holes

Poke two holes through the end of each cone.  Poke six holes through the back of the jaw piece:  Two on each side and two on the back edge.  Poke one or two holes through each leg and wing and through the tail tip.

Step 7:

Thread the dragon together using string or wire.  I used wire because it makes the dragon more poseable.  It’s fine copper wire with a black coating used for making necklaces.  You can find it at art and craft stores.  Cut a piece about two feet long.  It may need to be longer or shorter depending on how big your dragon is, but it never hurts if there’s too much.

Start at the tail.  Thread the wire through the holes and twist it tightly.  If you cut out a fancy shape for the tail, it probably only needs one hole.  Then thread on the first cone, putting the wire through the hole at the end (not through one of the holes you punched).  Don’t let it drop down all the way; leave a little space between it and the tail tip.  If you painted a pattern on the dragon, such as making the back and the belly different colors, make sure the cone is oriented correctly.  It helps if you have someone else to hold the tail while you do the threading.

How to tie the knot

Knot the wire around the tip of the cone.  Loop the wire around and put it in one of the holes you punched and out the other.  Then put the tip of the wire through the loop and pull it tight, holding the cone where you want it.  This is just like tying an overhand knot, except with the cone in the middle of it.

Thread on all the rest of the cones in order the same way.  When you get to a pair of legs, thread the wire through the hole in one leg and then back through the knot, leaving the leg on a long loop of wire so that it will hang the right distance from the knot (it will look funny if the legs are sticking out from the exact middle of the dragon).  Then do the same thing on the other side.

Cut two short pieces of wire, about two inches long.  Thread them through the holes on either side of the jaw and fasten them where you want on the head.  You can either punch holes in the head to hold them on or glue them (I glued them using acrylic gloss medium and then painted over them with white acrylic paint so the black wire would be less noticeable).

Then thread the jaw onto the body of the dragon by passing the wire through the two remaining holes at the back of the jaw and twisting it tightly.

Step 8:

You’re done!  If you threaded it with wire, you can pose the legs and wings any way you want.  You shouldn’t play with it too much, though, because it is made of paper and not very sturdy.

You can hang the dragon using string or more wire.



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3 responses to “Art Project: A Paper Dragon

  1. thats really cool.
    nice one

  2. Mom

    What is this cute little guy’s name?

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