Making a Papier-mâché Mask

In the midst of getting ready for Halloween this year, I came across a fabulous website called Ultimate Paper Mache that featured a video about making a portrait mask for Halloween. All of a sudden, I was overcome with a burning desire to make a papier-mâché mask. Like, right now.

Papier Mache Mask Pumpkin

When I get a creative itch, it can be very hard for me to not scratch it immediately.

Once the idea of playing with papier-mâché came to me, I went straight to Rougier & Plé for plaster, glue, paint, brushes, a painting knife, clay and ribbon. I bought How to Make Masks! by Jonni Good on Amazon.

It was on.

Papier Mache Materials

I started by taking a cheap plastic woman’s mask and sculpting a face on top of it. I used Plasticine instead of normal clay; this was a cheaper option, but next time I’ll be sure to get the softest version as the standard hardness was much too stiff to work with without putting it in a bain-marie first.

I was inspired by a Venetian Commedia dell’arte Colombina mask. I sculpted the half-mask and really exaggerated the features so they would be visible under the papier-mâché. I then rubbed the surface with olive oil to smooth out the bumps. 

Clay Mask Face

Next I covered the clay with Vaseline (to facilitate removing the mask from the clay form). I followed the recipe for paste from How to Make Masks! with glue, water, vinegar and plaster of Paris.

I wanted to work with a material that would allow me to capture the details of my mask, so instead of using newspaper, I tore up strips of paper towel to be the base of my mask. The paper towel was flexible, but it was a bit too fragile. Next time I will be sure to use Scott Shop Towels, like Jonni recommends.

When the mask had completely dried, I gently pulled it off of the clay form and cut off the excess paper at the edges.

I covered both sides of the mask with a coat of gesso, and it was ready to paint!

Painting was definitely the hardest part of the process for me. I knew that one slip of the brush could ruin all the effort I had already put into the mask, and I got nervous. But then I reminded myself that I was getting worked up over a papier-mâché mask, which calmed me down enough to just go for it. 

Last of all, I covered the mask with several coats of matte varnish and attached orange ribbons to the sides with a hot glue gun. It was ready to wear.

And wear it I did for this year's Halloween party. But within ten minutes, my face got so hot and sweaty that I abandoned it as a face mask and wore it alternately as a hat and as a back-of-the-head mask.

I am already thinking about what mask to make next. There are some wonderful masks from Greenland at the Musée du quai Branly that would be fabulous on the walls of my apartment...