The Egyptians used cartonnage as a medium for jewelry and mask making. In an article written for the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeology Susi Pancaldo wrote: “The main periods in which cartonnage was used in Egypt were the Middle Kingdom (2025-1700 BC), Third Intermediate Period (1069-664 BC) and Ptolemaic and Early Roman Periods (330 BC – c. 250 AD). Each period produced its own distinct style of cartonnage manufacture and decoration.”  The type of cartonnage I am using in my work would be most closely related to the Ptolemaic and Early Roman Periods. I have used abaca pulp instead of strips of linen which would make my cartonnage a derivative and not authentic to the period.

Cartonnage can be made from plain paper pulp as well as linen, cotton linter or abaca pulps.   Abaca is coarser and dries to a harder finish than cotton or linen so I prefer using it as a sculpting medium.   It is a versatile sculpting medium that I use to create 3-D rock like surfaces for my paintings of the paleolithic caves of Chauvet and Lascaux.  Pictured on the right is a rock form created with cartonnage on a stretched wire frame.

I use water color to paint images from the caves onto the rock forms.  When I am finished painting I heat the forms in an oven to 170 degrees Fahrenheit, take them out and use a brush to apply melted beeswax.  I keep the temperature of the wax under 200 degrees Fahrenheit because it discolors at temperatures higher than that.  Also, if you get it up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit you will be in danger of toxic fumes from smoke and then the possibility of a flash fire.  Definitely keep the temperature below 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lascaux Remembered“Lascaux Remembered”
Encaustic on Modern Cartonnage
9″ x 12″

How to make simple cartonnage


For a simple cartonnage tear up regular paper.  Put a small handful of paper at a time into the blender.  Add a lot of water.  Buzz on high for a few seconds.  It does not take long to turn the paper into a soup.  Strain the water off.  Gather up the pulp and squeeze more water out of it.  Place the pulp into a bowl and cover with white glue.  Do not use too much glue, just enough to make a pastey mass of pulp.  It takes quite a few rounds of blending, sieving, squeezing and adding glue to make a useable mound of cartonnage.  You can use cartonnage just like a clay or modeling compound.  It dries faster than clay and does not need to be fired.  If you have added enough (but not too much) glue, when dry it will be almost as hard as a rock.  What you can do with it is limited only by your imagination.  One of the things I have used it for is to plaster over a wire frame to create rock forms.

Building A Rock Form Frame

Staple1Cut aluminum window screening a foot larger than the frame size and center the frame on it.

staple2Staple the edges of the window screening to the frame and allow the excess to bulge toward the front of the frame.


Turn right side up and stuff interior with crushed paper.  This will help hold the form while adding cartonnage.  Shape the wire into a form you like and then begin applying cartonnage.


Cartonnage is wet and messy to work with.  I usually set the frame onto a board so that when I am finished working I can carry the wet mass to an area set aside for drying.  Depending on the climate where you live, humid or dry, the cartonnage can take a longer or shorter time to dry.

When the top form is dry I make another batch of cartonnage and plaster the underside covering over all of the wire and staples and making a complete rock form.

Dry again and then apply gesso.  You can use any media on the cartonnage.  I have experimented with different gessos and since I work with watercolor I use the vegan gesso I invented for watercolor.  You can find information about this on the encaustic watercolor page.