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Armour That Grows On Trees – Step 1

All Your Base Belong To Us


So the first step in building your papier mache armour is building something to put the papier mache on. In many ways this is the most important step (after all without a good foundation you are sunk), so I will do my best to explain it in detail. So break out the duct tape boys and girls and gather up the following materials:



Optional Tools And Materials

Get Only If You Are A Cosplay/Armour Junkie Like Me



Now Onto The Fun (And Tricky) Bit


You have to make a pattern for your armour. Look at your reference pictures and break each piece you want to make down into its basic shapes. Do some sketches if you need to. Which elements are important to the structure and which are just decorations?  How big is your piece? Is it going to need extra strong support? And, most importantly, how are you going to do important things like get it on and off? Let’s use my Gawl helmet as an example (clicking on the pics will take you to an enlarged version, if you need a closer look).


Here’s my reference picture. I can see right away that the head is fairly rounded but it has a very prominent ridge along the top as well as jaw ridges. Although Gawl has no visible eyes, I still have to see so I decide I will look out of Gawl’s “mouth”


First stage of construction. The idea is to block in all those basic shapes you took note of in your pics. The middle ridge in the reference pic reminded me of a sun visor so that’s what I use. I then built the rest of the helmet around it. Duct tape is your friend!  Also, now is the time to do some preliminary fitting. I used a water jug as a support surface so I had to keep trying the helmet on to see if it would fit!


Once I have a nice sturdy skeleton I go in with Bristol board and fill in all the gaps as well as add details like the “teeth” and the ridges along the top and sides of the helmet. Use whatever will hold the material together – tape, staples, string, hot glue etc. Keep trying that piece on to make sure it fits!!!!! This piece is now ready for Step 2.



I have to admit helmets can be a bit of a special case. But they are a good example of a piece that needs nice, strong corrugated cardboard supports. Now, though let’s look at some shots of the chest plate to get an idea of what to do with body sections. This is where things can get really fiddly. You are essentially doing what sewing-types call draping – you will be making and altering a pattern by cutting and pinning a piece as you go.


Here’s my reference pic of Gawl’s chest. Notice the bevelled edges as well as the large red ‘jewel’ in the center.




Here I’ve started by making a newspaper pattern. This way I don’t have to worry about using up all my Bristol board, trying out different shapes. See how I’ve taped and pinned everything in place? I just cut away any excess or tape on extra pieces if I need them. Once I get a piece where I want it I tape it down.

Using newspaper as a pattern also helps you create a symmetrical look. For the chest piece I started with a folded piece of newspaper and drew out the shape for half the chest. Then when I cut it out and unfolded it I had a piece that was even on both sides.

 NOTE – if you do not have the luxury of a body double then forgo the pins and form the newspaper pattern on yourself – stand in front of a large mirror and tape things in place as you go. Having a friend ready to hold and tape for you would be a big help.


When I have the pattern the way I want it I cut it into large pieces and transfer it to Bristol board. To get the pattern off Etak I cut up the center of the chest, across the shoulders and under the arms. The piece above shows the left half of the chest pattern. Incidentally I decided along the way that I would leave a gap under the arms so I could get into and out of the piece by pulling it over my head.

Remember those big bevelled edges in the reference pic? After laying out the pattern on Bristol board I drew chalk guidelines of where I want the bevels to go.


Here we can see the chest piece and some of the shoulder. Don’t worry if your piece ends up a mass of masking tape and Bristol board, as long as you have the shape right. Notice how I folded where my chalk lines were to create the bevels. I also left a space for the jewel to be added during the pulping stage.

Again, use whatever materials you have on hand, if they give you the desired shape and properties. Chicken wire was added to the shoulder spikes for strength and to give a rounded shape. I spent an half and a half trying to make a semi-circular, 1” thick collar out of Bristol board – until I clued in that “Wait. My upholstery foam is an inch thick, and it’s flexible enough to curve. Doh-eth!” Anything goes!



So that’s basically how you lay down the foundation for your armour. I wish I could tell you more but it is really a bit of a trial and error thing. Like most art you just have to play with it till you get it right. If I remember correctly it took me 2 full days to get all the pieces plotted out and ready for Step 2 – Adding The Strengthening Layer.


Armour That Grows On Trees



Tutorial by Kusanivy, August 2004,   Feel free to use this tutorial as you see fit, all I ask is that you do not try and pass it off as your own.