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Painter Kelly's Academic work in masks
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The Bold, Heroic, Origin OThe Captain!

-In the workshop-

You’ll need a foundation/form/base to build a paper mache mask on – it can be as simple as a plain store-bought mask resting on wadded foil or newspaper, the art being in what you add on top of that and how you paint it.  Some online tutorials suggest half a milk jug for beginners, but there are more advanced approaches worth pursuing.  You can craft an entire face from scratch, of sculptamold/cellulose, plaster, or polymer baking clay (over a pre-existing face to save space and material or not, leaving the base mask/form embedded in the new or not, depending).  I’ve done all of those.  I’ve done several this year with a paper mache shell over a whole base, added features or a pre-existing facial appliance made of Sculpey, and enclosed the whole in more paper mache to hold it together and then coated it all in latex for water and glue-resistance, which seems to yield a pretty durable base, removable face parts (noses and snouts, mostly) otherwise tending to be fragile under the stress of mask removal – and with a little plaster gauze and someone who will lay still for you, a cast of a real face is not that hard to make, and endlessly useful – and you can modify a cast of a real face to exaggerate features and fit your artistic vision, which is what this page is about.

 -It began with a generous friend mailing me a cast of his face just to be helpful.  A mask artist can never have too many faces to work with.


When I saw that masculine chin, strong facial lines and broad boxer's nose, I immediately thought of making a copy to modify into The Captain.

The Captain is a commedia dell'arte character -think The Skipper on Gilligan's Island in a smug and bragging mood- and we've been talking for years about doing up a set of the stock characters from that genre.

Since I wanted to keep the original face –and it was cast in something concretish/extremely hard/tough-to-carve, besides- I first made a mold as if I was just making a paper mache mask of the whole thing, and lined it with a water (sweat) resisting layer of latex inside, as always.  Difference is, instead of then cutting out the various holes, I poured it full of plaster.  You can make a quite decent mold that way.

A handsome devil

Here, I’ve commenced carving away on a bottom corner of the face –I imagine The Captain as burly, but not completely gone to fat yet- with a big pocket knife, and most of all, a pseudo-plane/rasp.

-Also sandpaper.  There was lots and lots and lots of sanding. 


Here, I’ve gotten the basic shape of the changes I wanted roughed in:


-A non-trivial portion of the work I put in on my art is thinking about a thing I haven't done yet, or aren't quite ready to finish.  This, I'd built up the chin a little with more plaster, and built up the left side underneath where it doesn't show –the cast of my friend’s face wasn’t as deep on the upper left- but improves the symmetry.  There was smoothing left to do, and it needed to wait for more added plaster than shows to dry thoroughly first.  –Which is where the thinking time came in, while I was Doing Something Else and waiting.  There were a couple of ways I could go from here to build up the cheeks and mouth to make a faint smirk -paint on more plaster or mache-shell-and-sculpey- and I thought I'd show it to Kelly and get her input first...

I'd deliberately cast the face in a light plaster mix -1 to 1 instead of 2 to 1- to make it soft enough to carve easily; but that resulted in a pretty fragile base that chips wanted to keep volunteering to come off of around the edges.  I'd definitely be encasing the end result in mache and latex for strength...

And here's where I was about a day –and considerable sanding- later with The Captain:


I do believe I've reached the practical limits of what I can do with varying densities of plaster, here –you can see bits of newer fill-in plaster on the bottom edges in all three shots that  resisted sanding way more than the adjacent parts, not for lack of trying- time to paper mache over the base, smoothing over some roughnesses in the process, and alter the mouth and cheeks with added sculpey...


Okay; here I’ve glued the base to a piece of plywood for stability on the soft underside, and put a layer of mache on.


…Looks more like Dick Van Dyke than Alan Hale Jr. at this stage…

I’d started with a face that was thin-lipped and very much not smiley – but that’s easily enough remedied.  Smiling lifts the cheeks upwards, bunching muscles/tendons anchored to the sides of the nose and pulling up the nostrils.  That’s what I’ve altered with added Sculpey –less of it than it looks like here- also smoothing over some unevenness left from the plaster of the jaw line and improving the symmetry, to boot.

So without even altering the mouth yet, I’ve got the face looking pretty pleased with himself.  However, I see The Captain as having a sensual, pleasure-loving, streak, too, so I want to make the lower lip fuller – and I’ll introduce a faint upward curve while I’m at it; it’s to be a smirk, not a grin. 


Later, having done that and added a smidge over one brow to cock it a little -and cut the plywood backing down to fit the bottom edge- then covered the lot with a couple layers of paper mache to hold it all together, my boy The Captain was lookin’ smug.

Ready for the first coat of latex before I go to bed:


(I also finished up the mold into a mask - and managed to make him smile, too.

(-Wasn’t that tough to do with clever trimming – turned the slit cut between the lips up at the corners of the mouth just a tad, and wide eyeholes with a distinct arch on the bottom make the cheeks look bunched, and you’ve got a smile/pleased/pleasant/friendly expression – it’s basic cartooning in 3D.

(I did a later second trimming pass on the outer edge, too; you don’t want the entire forehead included in a mask –unless it’s supposed to be bald or you need the space to attach a wig- and much left under the chin, even on a huge face like this that would be big even if he was skinny, makes for a very uncomfortable mask to wear.  You need to move your own chin to talk, and that needs a little room.

(-The original owner of the face –a [gifted] artist himself - points out [correctly] that this one would really lend itself to being painted as a sinister clown…)


Here it is several days and latex layers later, freshly coated and set in front of the dehumidifier to speed drying.  Concurrent projects drying with him: upside down, the half-mask is drying on a base cast of the upper part of my own face, and the upright ape face is a shell base with a separate/optional ape nose drying, with the shell an apelike nose-less alien face – that one had an interesting creative evolution, and I think enough pictures taken at different stages to write up well for another tutorial/creative/crafting process page.  Stay tuned.


(Latex mixes with a little acrylic/latex paint well enough, and I often bother to color my bases as I coat them –sometimes even going for details and realism- here you can see purple on the forehead in the dry coat underneath – it’s possible to imitate translucent Caucasian skin tones with semi-colored translucent latex pretty well, if you’re careful and have a good eye for color, not that this one ended a resounding success in that, as you’ll soon see.)


After close to a week, I think the Captain might be ready to make a mask...


...First, I smear a lot of vaseline on the base...  (Making the paper mache mask.)

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