Paper Mache Angler Fish – All About Fins

As you know from my previous post, Wilbur is actually a female angler fish. I posted on Facebook and Margaret MacKay Hefferman suggested my favourite Wilburine. “Sort of like Wolverine, but the feminine!” So Wilbur is now Wilburine. Other fish do tend to shorten it to Wilbur though. 🙂

Now on to the topic of this post – Fins. It was time to finish the fins. I have been putting this off as I have not been happy with the tail fin I made. Here is a pictorial diary to show you the process.


  • Details on the Melanocetus murrayi
  • Weldbond glue This stuff is fast drying and amazing to use.

I live in Canada so my links are to Canadian suppliers but similar products are available.

Houston. We Have a Problem. Wilbur is a girl!

While researching a angler fish gills I made a surprising discovery. The ferocious version of angler fish is female. The male is 1/10th the size and latches on to the female to become a parasite. (No comment.) has a funny comic called How The Male Angler Fish Gets Completely Screwed.

TheOatMeal comic on angler fish males - Click to view

TheOatMeal comic on angler fish males - Click to view

The website Baby Names Hub displays stats on names so I looked up Wilbur. Between 1880 and 2012, 55,259 boys have been given the name Wilbur while we have no record of any girls being named Wilbur. NONE

Number of Boys Named Wilbur

Number of Boys Named Wilbur

The Problem

So I have a female angler fish with a male name. The thought process starts, what should she be called?

Paper Mache Angler Fish – Operculum

The ridge above the eye gave me an interesting idea. The separation between the fish head and the body is the hard bony flap that covers and protects the gills. In my Mahi Mahi paper mache fish it is just a ridge which I painted. Using the shoe laces I thought why not build a proper ridge that would represent the operculum.



I glued a long shoe lace on the face starting at the mid top jaw, around the eye, under the jaw and back to the jaw. Once the inside edge is paper mached over it will create a true flap, rather than just a painted ridge.

Operculum created with shoe laces

Operculum created with shoe laces

Shoe Laces Paper Mached over

Shoe Laces Paper Mached over

Once the paper dried I found the hard ridge lines on the top of the head too much so I applied a layer over them. This left the ridges as skin contours but the hard flaps over the gills and jaw line. These shoe laces are fun.

I bought a small hot glue gun to hold the fin spines in place while I apply paper. That is for today. Till next time.

Nice clean face.

Nice clean face.

Now the top of the head and face is smooth

Now the top of the head and face is smooth

Operculum showing over gills

Operculum showing over gills

Nice transition to the body

Nice transition to the body

Paper Mache Angler Fish – Adding Eyes

Before getting into building the eyes I did one funny thing. On my Facebook page we have been having funny discussions about Wilbur. One suggested he could be afraid of the dark. This would be an interesting situation as anglers live deep in the ocean where there is little light. Another suggested glasses. I put some old glasses on him but it made the character too cartoonlike. I want contrast and conflict in the look.

I had a thought. If Wilbur is trying to prove that he is a tough guy, he might get a piercing, but what type? I did some surfing and found lip rings were popular. But a fish like Wilber would want more, a lip ring with a fishing lure hanging that he took from a fisherman. Here is the result.

Lip Piercing with fishing lure

Building the eyes

I did not want the eyes to look cute. I like the conflict in look of a ferocious fish with braces. Eyes are very important as they are often the first focus of attention on a face.

I found some stick on clear eyes and cut off the trim then glued them on. Next is building up the eye structure around the domes. I call them eye lids but as fish can not blink that is probably the wrong name.

The first image is attaching folded cloth around the eyes. This was part way through the positioning. I didn't want any of the glued base with cut plastic to show. The eyes need to be symmetrical so each step was repeated before it dried. The folds here are too far apart by the mount. In the second picture the cloth is in place and paper was applied to cover the cloth edges.

I tried some blue garage towels to help bridge the layers but did not like the result. It expanded and looked rough. Two types of cloth were used. The top and bottom small lids were folded muslin cloth. This works nicely but has no give. The lids are a stretchy fabric. Then I could get better curving. Each cloth had glue applied, folded into the glue then more glue applied to the bottom and stuck on the fish. Some masking tape was used to hold them in place. Then strips of kraft paper towel applied. I applied lots of glue (90/10) to the cloth to firm it up.

Once this is hard I can go in and touch it up. I can see adding pieces of the stretchy cloth and gluing it in place. Then cover with more kraft paper to create effects on the skin.

Building Eyelids

Building Eyelids

Eyes paper mached in

Eyes paper mached in

I need all of this to dry. Putting on too many layers of wet glue can melt the structure below. Once this is rock hard I will start building up some of the muscle structures around the eyes.

I realized when I papered over the cloth I could create ridge lines. I had a box of large shoe laces. I cut and glued on two strands on top of each eye to give an interesting ridge line. I am going to try cut pieces of felt under the paper to build more interesting structure. This gives me tremendous control.

Adding Ridge Lines with shoe laces

Adding Ridge Lines with shoe laces

Eyes including ridge lines

Eyes including ridge lines

Eyes include ridge lines head on

Eyes include ridge lines head on

Paper Mache Angler Fish – Adding “Braces”

Braces? Let me back track a bit. Once the lower teeth were glued on I started posting pictures of the progress on Facebook. The fish gained a name, Wilbur and people started commenting. A friend said he needed braces for his teeth. As the back story on Wilbur grew I decided he did need braces, but not to make his teeth straighter but more crooked. After all he is supposed to be a ferocious fish. I looked up braces and figured I would get some silver cube shaped beads, wire and glue them on.

First the top teeth are painted with a titanium white and burnt umber bland of acrylic paint. I glues on the alphabetic beads then strung silver string through them. On the end beads silver paint was applied to fill and hole and secure the string. I could not string wire through as the beads were so misaligned. While the appearance is nice, I felt armature wire would look so much more realistic.

Top Braces 1

Top Braces 2

Top Braces 3

There are two interesting things about the images. The first is the top braces but also the bottom teeth gaps are filled in with red acrylic paint, medium and chopped egg carton pulp. Next I finished the bottom lip like the top. As the inside was already complete this was simple to complete.

Bottom lip yarn glued on

Bottom lip applied and final touch up paint applied

The completed bottom teeth look so nice. I wanted to do an even better job on the braces. First I painted them to match the top. I bought a small roll of armature wire. This creates a more realistic look but you can not pull it through when the beads are not aligned. The trick is to glue on end beads with loose ones in the middle. Then once the glue sets, bend the wire and glue in the close ones.

Armature Wire

Gluing on lower braces

Lower Braces complete

I love the end result. The armature wire creates a much stronger look.

Well that's it for now. I just started the eyes. That will be the next post. Till then.

Paper Mache Angler Fish Lower Teeth

Completing the upper teeth taught me several things about the easiest way to construct them. Some of the steps were not done in the optimum order. As an example I finished the inside of the top mouth after the teeth were installed. As the teeth are sharp this was at times painful and made getting to the area beside the teeth difficult. So for the lower jaw I set out a more logical order.

  1. Finish the inside of the jaw
  2. Glue on the teeth
  3. Fill in the gaps between the teeth
  4. Glue on edging yarn
  5. Cover the lips

Finish the inside of the jaw

First a yarn border is glued into place. This gives a nice edge for the teeth to meet minimizing any gaps.

1. Lower Jaw Inside with yarn border in place

Next I apply a red paste made of acrylic paint, medium and chopped pulp egg carton.

Mixing chopped egg carton pulp with acrylic paint and medium

2. Lower Jaw Inside Finishing Started

3. Lower Jaw Inside Finished
BTW, the green handled scissors in the shot are the pair I used for cutting the teeth from coffee stirs.

Glue on the lower teeth

The lower teeth are much larger and more random in size and bend. There is an order to them though. The teeth are symmetrical, that is the left and right side pair match in size and general shape. This gives symmetry to the look.

The first tooth is glued to the jaw centre and held in place with a cloths pin. I use full strength white resin glue. The top teeth are hanging and small so you can just hold them in place for 10 seconds then let go. The bottom teeth die to their size, weight and that they are standing up need a few minutes to bond. Each pair of teeth are added to build the symmetrical look.

1. Attach first lower tooth in the centre

2. A few minutes later attach a symetrical tooth on each side

3. All lower teeth glued in place

  1. Finish the inside of the jaw
  2. Glue on the teeth
  3. Fill in the gaps between the teeth
  4. Glue on edging yarn
  5. Cover the lips

With steps 1 and 2 completed logically we fill in between the teeth, glue on the edging yarn and cover to create the lower lip.

Well this was the plan. Are you can see from the third picture above the fish was starting to get a personality. My wife named him Wilbur and his back story starting evolving. Wilbur is a teenager and because his teeth are not crooked enough he need braces. (I know braces make teeth straighter, this a fiction people.)

In the next post I will show how I got side tracked and put braces on the top teeth then finished the bottoms also adding braces.

Paper Mache Angler Fish Teeth

So far we looked at:

This one I found very challenging on several counts including:

  • What to make the teeth out of
  • How to attach them
  • How to create the gums and lips around them
  • How to finish it all

For teeth I thought about using Fimo. Fimo is a name for a brand of polymer clay made by German company Staedtler. Dan (the monster-man) Reeder at Gourmet Paper Mache uses Fimo for his dragon teeth. My concern was they were too thick for my fish. I had a thought - why not bend coffee stirs and cut them into teeth.

Bending Coffee Stirs

I bent many coffee stirs then cut them to form teeth with scissors. The final fish has 61 teeth so every few hours I would remove the dry stirs and put more wet ones on the board.

Small teeth ready to mount

I did the top teeth first. The inside where the fabric attached was still raw. I glued on the teeth by applying some glue, press into place and hold for about 10 seconds. I could then let go.

1. All top teeth attached

2. Yarn edges glued on and lip started

3. Lip complete

Next was to finish the interior and exterior of the lip. Between each pair of teeth was a gap and the end of the lining cloth showed. On the top it is not as important inside as you have to look from below to see that area. I still wanted to work out how to do it.

Mixing chopped egg carton pulp with acrylic paint and medium

If you go with a fibre glass comparison I wanted a loose pulp that I could mix with red paint and acrylic medium. My solution was to chop up a pulp egg carton with a spice blade grinder. The result is a pulp fibre that could be mixed to form a paste. Using a palette knife the paste is applied to the edge of the lip and between the teeth. As the teeth were going to be painted white I was not worried about some red getting on them. In the picture below the inside and outside of the lip are complete as well the gaps between the teeth filled in.

Upside down view of the completed top teeth

It was now time to work on the lower teeth but putting in the top teeth had provided many lessons learned. In the next post I will document how the lower teeth were put in more efficiently.

Paper Mache Angler Fish Tongue and Mouth Lining

Cut out a piece of cardboard, cut the length of a white sock and insert

The shape of the mouth gives a ledge to rest the tongue on

The tongue is painted with a 50/50 glue/water mixture then full strength glue is applied to the cut end. Two heavy bowls were placed on top to hold it in place

Once dried the back is reinforced with more paper mache.

As there is a lot of glue under the end it is important to let this dry overnight. Excess glue can cause the body to warp.

Next step is to create the interior. I tried crumpled paper and cloth but it did not look convincing. A trip to a used clothes store resulted in an elastic girls tube top. The elastic made it so that I could stretch and form to the odd mouth shape.

To attach the fabric I drilled holes and sewed it on with black thread. A simpler solution is to buy a package of cloths pins. Run a bead of glue under a part and clip into place. Then once the glue is dry just remove the pins. If you are using wooden pins, you may need to put a stirp of plastic to prevent the glue from attaching to the pin jaw surface.

A slot for the tongue to stick through and cut and here is the result. The cloth is soft and pliable so the next step is to paint with 50/50 glue/water mixture to solidify it. Then acrylic paint is added to give it colour and more stability.

Mouth lining in

Mouth Lining being painted

One after thought was why didn't I leave most of the red and pattern showing? Good question. In hind-sight I probably should have left it. Around the edges I need to build up the lip and get rid of the white and blue. My idea was if the lining was all one red that would be easier to do. Next time I will leave the pattern.

Creating the Paper Mache Angler Fish Body

Balloon with several layers of kraft paper towel applied

Inspiration in place, it was time to start construction. The classic paper mache from our childhood is covering a balloon. The basic angler fish body shape is a pear. Inflating an 8 inch balloon to full yielded the desired shape. The paper I work with a brown kraft paper towel. It is durable, easy to tear and cut and lets glue pass through. I apply my glue with a paint brush, not my fingers. I know this is not how most people do it but using a brush gives more control. Also resin white glue is not the easiest stuff to wash off your hands. It is safe, I just prefer to stay clean.

Another interesting lesson learned was cut vs tear edges. With newsprint a torn edge will disappear while a cut will show when dried. Using kraft towels this is not the same. Even a cut edge disappears. Kraft paper is so much thinner but strong.

The resulting paper mache is smooth and pliable. You can bend it as well as cut with a knife or scissors. The pictures below are about 5 layers of paper. The mouth was cut out with a razor knife and scissors. I think of the paper mache like fibre glass. You build layers.

Cut and brace the mouth

Join the mouth to the body

I needed small wooden sticks that I could use to build fins and the tail. At first I tried wooden skewers. The problem is they are bamboo and do not soak up water. Coffee stirs on the other hand are soft wood, are pliable when water-soaked and retain their shape when dried. My local dollar store had packages of 150 stirs for $1. Perfect.

Bending Coffee Stirs

Avin's blue angler fish inspired the tail shape. Using a combination of bent coffee stirs and bamboo skewers I created this structure.

Tail Structure in bent coffee stirs and bamboo skewers

The Tail Covered

The next step is to move inside the mouth. As illustrated in the time-lapse construction video, you work from the inside out. I will start that in the next post.

Paper Mache – Angler Fish

Now that the Mahi Mahi fish was done I wanted to do another fish but I wanted to create it from scratch. I looked for inspiration and found several ideas.

My biggest boost came from a YouTube video called "Gourmet Paper Mache Fishwichwich."

Watching the time-lapse creation showed me that you had to basically build the fish from the inside out.

Two artists provided my key inspirations

Elements of each image inspired me.

Timothy Klanderud

Akin Vong

Akin Vong