JKStudio homepage
Demonstration, How-To And Photographs Related To The Sculptural Process, With Much Emphasis On The Creative Why…
Painter Kelly's Academic work in masks
Links of interest

Making A Paper Mache' Mask:

-In the workshop- 

I begin with The Captain -a character from Italian medieval theater, commedia dell'arte - face form/base.  I go into the making of a face base and appliances to go on them (noses and snouts, mostly) elsewhere [less pages pending all the time]. 


-First, I smear Vaseline/petroleum jelly generously on the base...  The paste holding all the paper together is glue, after all.  (Info on making the paste here [page pending], but simple flour-and-water will do.)  Next, I stuck some dry paper around in key places (around the edges for getting the prying-the-dry-mask-off-the-base later started, and around the nose and low points in the middle of the face that tend to fight separating smoothly) sticking (poorly) to the vaseline.

-This has two effects; A) it further helps the mache layers I'll apply on top separate from the base when dried - most of this paper will peel off the back while I'm trimming.  B) the paper soaks up much of the vaseline, saving me aggravation during the latex coating of the back /inside of the mask later.

Next, I pulled on the rattiest old pair of overalls I own.

The paste gets all over my hands, and though I lay a big rag over my lap while I'm working for shielding and hand-wiping, an apron, or work jumper, or this, is called for to save the washing machine a lot of work.  -Same goes x10 for when I'm working with latex; it don't wash out once it's dried, and good luck picking all the specks and drips out of the fabric of your pants and shirts...

So, I started on the edges with pre-cut strips of construction paper.

I would have started around the outside edges anyway, doubly-necessary because the vaseline strips want to move around, and these strips pin them in place more and more as I add strips that glue them in place.

The single biggest lesson I've learned since I took this up as an adult almost 20 years ago is - the paper needs to lay flat to make good, dense, durable, neat mache.  Sometimes you have to let a strip go where it wants to go, not where you meant for it to - or pull the strip up and try again.  You don't want wrinkles or edge-bulges, and sometimes you need to tear a split in the end when you're wrapping around a complex shape -moreso the wider the paper strip- to separate or overlap, depending.

I continue to work in from the edges, covering that first layer...

I'm starting out with construction paper, cut, because I cut up a huge pile of paper years ago, before I figured out torn strips are completely better except for the work of tearing a lot of paper fairly straight - I have a lot to use up.  -Like cut, extra-thick paper doesn't want to lay as smoothly around the edges, so I start with this stuff and finish with thin torn newspaper, which encourages the layers underneath to lay down flat and smooths over iffy bits.  I'm not just burning off the thick construction paper, either – a thick-strip base layer strengthens the mask, causing me to spend a little less time putting on more layers for strength.

This is where it was (and is) when I knocked off for lunch (and cat session, and unscheduled helping my brother trim off a dangerous high-up tree branch - and writing up/posting this much).

I prefer to do a whole mask in one sitting -takes an hour or two- but my mommy was calling, and it does no actual harm to let it sit a while, as long as I don't take so long it dries completely...

I finally got the first layer finished.  Most everything in the middle of a face curves in two directions, and noses are especially bad to fit the paper around, especially with thick, cut, not-terribly-narrow strips of paper - but I got it done w/ a minimum of wrinkles and disjoins.  I don't always bother to get the entire middle of a face with construction paper...

-Note that I'm not covering the entire face form, leaving off the top and bottom.  An arch has more flex to get off the base later -and beLIEVE me, that MATTERS- and is more comfortable to wear.  Including the very top of the face would also cover too much, unless the Captain was supposed to be bald - and I can actually cut out a nicer, square-jawed, profile during trimming if I leave out under the chin.

-It doesn't stand out in the pics, but I went over the outside edges with another layer -the edges are where I've always by far had the most problems with masks holding shape- before I switched to the newsprint.

So, it's not necessary to do all the strips in a layer in one direction -and some troublesome shapes let a strip lay flat better in a particular direction; the lips would work better for horizontal than this vertical- but it IS easier to keep track of what's covered and what isn't this way,

Like the first layer, I start the second -cut newsprint, now- on the edges.  I'll do a few rows on one side and turn the base around and do a few on the other, working inward.  -With the construction paper beginning, I tried to avoid overlapping strips as much as was practical -that thickness is surprisingly forgiving about a double-thickness, but still- to minimize distortions to the final outside shape.  I went for touching, not overlapping, where I feasibly could.  Newsprint is thin enough that overlapping is desirable; stronger that way, and an overlapped edge can't decide to stick up while I'm not looking.

Note here, the latest strip went up against a nostril and needed to curve around, so I let it veer off over the lips at a funny angle.

When I get to the cheeks and brows, I start tearing off/ending strips as I reach them and doing each row in two parts.  The cheeks and brows are double-curves that are trouble to get a strip to lay flat over, and I'd be breaking up the rows even if I wasn't leaving cursory gaps -which will save me a minute during trimming- over the eyes.  When you tear off and end a row early, you can continue in a slightly different direction; a great help in negotiating the complex shapes, like around the nose.

Sometimes, I can rub out a wrinkle with the blunt end of a sculpture tool.

This gets used most around the top of the nose, where it's curving into the brow/forehead, and down the inside corner of the eyes next to the nose, a deep bit tough to cover without making sloppy wrinkles in the paper.

The forehead covered now, I begin on the nose - it gets separate rows from the top and bottom pof the face...

The nostrils are a [girldog] to cover, pretty much every single time.


Covering the complex curves at the bottom of the nose left many strips haring off over the lips and chin at angles...

Not a lot left to cover at the bottom of the face, now...

A closeup under the chin, layer finished.  The yellow paper is the vaseline-separation strips...

Note how the strips converge and overlap under the chin.

They do so to a lesser extent at the top, but converge non-trivially, they do - and must, lest that edge come out all wavy...

Layer two done.

Taking pics and writing it up is adding to how long it takes, considerably.  I began over eight hours ago - and should have finished by six or less ago, normally.

-Losing patience, methinks I'll switch to torn paper a little early, and hope wrapping it up a layer or two sooner is made up for by I don't always bother with the tricky bits in the middle (nose)  in the first layer…

Something more than one more layer - especially around the edges of the face.  (The outside edges is where you'll have the most visible distortion in storage and over time if you skimp on strength/thickness...)


It came off the mold base fine this morning, without a lot of trouble. 

-The separation strips sitting on the vaseline coat at the beginning are a terrible aggravation at first, wanting to move around as you work, but save you much worse aggravation at this stage, when you’d otherwise find yourself damaging the mask and the face form separating the two.

Now awaiting trimming...


I do the trimming with scissors (mostly the outer edges) and a sanding drum on the dremel (mostly eyeholes, also nostrils and mouth slit).


That’s still frequently a creative/artistic part of the crafting, not mere scut-work cleanup.

The overall shape of the mask often matters to the look beyond neatness of craft, and note the shape of the eyeholes here – the Captain (think the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island, only more full of himself)  is a smug, vainglorious, fellow, and I raised one eyebrow and pootched up the cheeks and raised the nostrils in the base-crafting, to give him a self-satisfied smirk; the wide eyes and arch of the lower edge of the eyeholes follows the bunching-up of the cheeks and nostrils to convey a smile/smirk.  Note also below, that I was careful to cut the bottom the give him a square jaw (to go with the exaggerated dimpled chin I built up on the base) in profile...

I could, incidentally, trim a mask off this same base to look enraged,  despite the original intent; make the mouth opening large and squared-off, taking out much of the (smirking) lips, and cut out the eyes narrowed and slanted upwards slightly…  There definitely can be art to how you trim the mask…


Top               Home