Yes, I know I’m too old to go trick-or-treating. I’ve been too old for about 50 years… But why should the kids have all the fun? The weird alien mask I made is probably not what you have in mind for your own Halloween costume, but the techniques used in this tutorial will work no matter what kind of face you decide to put on your mask.
My alien was inspired by my old create-a-critter game, which I designed years ago when I was teaching myself Flash animation. In fact, most movie aliens are designed in sort of the same way – you mix and match parts of real animals and come up with something that looks like it might live on another world.
I chose a tapir for the nose and topknot, (do a google search for “baby tapir” – they’re adorable!), and then added some frog-like eyes, ears borrowed from an African hunting dog, and gills so I could see through the mask. The eyes and ears were put in the “wrong” place. You, of course, will probably make a mask that looks like a witch, or a ghoul, or Dick Cheney, or whatever.
I decided that I didn’t want to wear the mask during my pretend walk around the neighborhood, so I put it on a “stick” made of heavy wire. That way I can raise the mask in front of my face during the trick-or-treat part of my walk, and hold it at my side between houses so I can see oncoming cars and other dangerous things. If you prefer to wear your mask in the normal fashion, you might want to make it in a helmet shape, like the ceremonial Dogon mask, or put an elastic strap around the back like the traditional rubber Halloween masks. Don’t feel like you have to follow my directions exactly – I just made this up as I went along.
If you come up with any useful variations to this tutorial, please let us know in the comments section. And we would love to see how your own mask turned out. If you aren’t sure how to add your photo to the comments, send me an email so I can help.
Step 1: Draw a life-sized image of the way you want your mask to look. If you intend to wear it, you’ll need to make it big enough to go over your face, so be sure to measure. If you want to see out (highly recommended) you’ll also need to measure the distance between your eyes and the distance between your eyes and the top of your head. Then draw your mask with these measurements in mind.
Then, using your drawing as a guide, draw the basic outline of your mask onto a piece of cardboard or foam board.
If you intend to hold the mask in front of your face instead of wearing it, you’ll need to create a handle. I chose a very heavy wire that I bought at the garden center. The wire was then bent to match the outside shape of the mask, and folded over at the bottom so no sharp edges would be left exposed. I then put the wire aside for later.
Step 2: Now, you cut out the basic face shape, which is the beginning of the inside form you’ll be making for your mask. Then cover the edges with plastic tape. I used a wide tape sold for wrapping packages, but regular Scotch tape would be easier to work with. You use the plastic tape to keep the paper mache from sticking to your form.
I left off the ears, because I’ll be adding them later.
Step 3: Now you start adding crumpled newspaper to the front of your shape with masking tape. This will form the inside space of your mask. Just keep adding more paper and tape until you have the shape you want.
Step 4: When you have the shape you want for the inside of your mask, cover it with the plastic tape. This will let you easily remove the paper from inside the mask. As you can see, I did not include my alien’s bulging eyeballs because I thought it would be easier to add those later.
Step 5: Now add three to five layers of paper mache, made with torn strips of newspaper and held on with a simple paste made from flour and water. I used brown paper for my last layer for added strength, but plain newspaper would work just fine.
Don’t cover the eyes or nostrils or whatever part you intend to see out of.
I placed paper strips over the gill area that I’ll look through when the mask is finished, but the paper I chose was not heavy enough, so I later replaced them with heavier card stock. If you’ll be looking out of the eyes like a normal person, just leave the eyes empty of paper mache.
Allow the paper mache to dry completely.
Step 6: Now turn the mask over and carefully cut through the tape that holds the cardboard or foam board backing to the crumpled paper inside the form. A sharp box cutter works well for this. Remove the cardboard backing, and then pull out the paper form. It may come out in one piece, or it may need to be removed a bit at a time. If it comes out in one piece you could use it again to make another mask.
If you’re using a wire to hold up your mask, now is the time to attach it to the outside edges of your mask with several layers of paper mache. Use a few pieces of masking tape to hold it into place so the paper mache can be added more easily. If you aren’t using the wire, you may still want to reinforce the outside edge with some paper and paste to give it a nice finished edge.
Step 7: Now go ahead and add the final details. You can see in the photo above that my alien now has new gills, I’ve given her a topknot made from corrugated cardboard, (I made my giraffe’s mane the same way), and I’ve added the ears.
Step 8: You’re almost ready to paint your mask. First, give it an undercoat of gesso or white paint so your final colors will be nice and bright. After I covered my mask with gesso and it was dry, I dropped some thickened gesso onto the mask to make some alien-like warts. I thickened the gesso with calcium carbonate (powdered marble) but a bit of flour would probably work too.
Step 9: And finally, you paint your mask in any way you like. I used light yellow and orange tones, borrowed from a frog, and I finished the mask with a coat of acrylic matte varnish mixed with a very small amount of gold metallic paint. The metallic paint gave the mask a somewhat lizard-like sheen. It also catches the light so my mask will be easy to see when I’m scaring my neighbors into giving me candy, and it may also help me stay visible as I walk around in the dark. (OK, I’m not really going to walk around town on Halloween begging for candy – I really am too old for such things – but one needs to stay safe even in one’s fantasies, right?)
OK – now it’s your turn. Please let us see your mask when it’s done – you can show it off in the comments below. And if you have any suggestions that would improve on my ideas (and I’m sure you will), please let us know.