Paper Mache Masks

How to Make a Paper Mache Mask

How to Make a Mask
Note: I no longer make masks this way. If you would like to see a more recent (and much easier) technique, watch the videos for my Pantalone mask, beginning on this page. But the way shown below is more traditional, and it certainly does work. Enjoy!

Project Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Paper mache masks are a lot of fun to make. Many traditional cultures use masks as a way to bring spirits or gods to life – and kids (and fun-loving adults) use masks on Halloween. The mask I made is a wall decoration, but it could be used as a traditional mask by making eye holes to see out of.

I chose our cousin the orangutan for my mask because of her beautiful brick-red color and expressive face. If you don’t already have all the supplies on hand, the total cost of this project would be less than $20.

Paper Mache Orangutan Mask, Step 1

Paper Mache Orangutan Mask, Step 1

Step 1:

I started by cutting out a piece of scrap cardboard in the basic shape of the orang’s face. I then added crumpled pieces of newspaper with masking tape. In the photo above I have added her muzzle, cheeks and forehead.

Paper Mache Orangutan Mask, Step 2

Paper Mache Orangutan Mask, Step 2

Step 2:

I continue molding the underlying base for the paper mache mask by forming a long, thin roll of paper to shape the eye socket. I also added a small bump for her nose.

Mask, Step 4

Paper Mache Mask, Step 3

Step 3:

Now you fill in above the eye socket with more paper, build up the lips with two pieces of crumpled paper, and add the eyeballs. I also filled in the cheekbones a bit, and worked all around to give her the face I wanted.

Completely cover the paper with masking tape. The paper mache won’t stick to it very well, and you’ll be able to remove the form when the “skin” is dry.

Once you have the shape you want, you start to add strips of paper and paste. Completely cover your mask with at least two layers of newsprint. You will probably need more in order to get a nice firm shell.

Mask, Step 4

Mask, Step 4

Step 4

In the photo above, you can see that I added one last layer of paper, using brown paper from a light paper bag. With three layers of newsprint and one layer of brown paper, this should be enough for a mask that is displayed on a wall, like mine will be.

Paper Mache Mask, Inside Form Removed

Paper Mache Mask, Inside Form Removed

Step 5:

Let your mask dry completely, and then turn it over. You can now carefully remove the paper form the mask was built on. If you’re lucky, you may be able to get it out in one piece and use it again for another mask.

Orangutan Nose, Painted

Orangutan Nose, Painted

Step 6:

You’re now ready to finish your mask. Sand the paper mache if needed (wear a face mask) and then use gesso or white paint to give a nice bright base for your paint. I used acrylic craft paint over the gesso, but you could use oils or any other medium you enjoy. A matte acrylic varnish will protect the finish.

Adding Hair to the Paper Mache Mask

Adding Hair to the Paper Mache Mask

Step 7:

The only thing left to do is to add the orangutan’s wild orange hair. I used cotton yarn from a mop head and dyed it orange. During the dyeing process the yarn got a bit unruly, but I decided that the tangles fit with the subject. To attach the hair I carefully drilled holes around the top edge of the mask and inserted the hair, three or four strands at a time. The strands were held tightly together with little twist ties left over from a box of garbage bags.

Once the hair was all in place, I dropped a bit of glue on the yarn to keep them from moving.

Finished Paper Mache Orangutan Mask

Finished Paper Mache Orangutan Mask

And here she is, all ready to hang on the wall.

To make a mask you could actually wear, you would make the form exactly as I did here.  When the paper mache layers are completely dry you would cut a hole where the eyes go. Even if you hang your mask as a wall decoration, cut-out eyes look very striking, since they add a sense of mystery to the mask. That may be why they have been used so extensively as stand-ins for the gods.

You would also need to create a way to hold the mask on your head if you want to wear it. If you have ideas for doing that, please let us know.

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About the author

Jonni Good

I'm a sculptor, author, gardener, and grandma. When I'm not catering to the needs of my obnoxious cat, I make videos, create stuff, and play around with paper mache. I'm also the author of several highly-rated books on paper mache. You'll find them in the sidebar, and on amazon.com

76 Comments

  • Could you please explain how to rig up a mask so it could be hung on a wall ? Or, would you recommend a site or book that would tell how, hopefully with photos ?
    I don’t know anything about the best way to hang a mask — and if you make holes in it to string something thru, do you need a drill ?

    Thanks very much.

      • I already finished the paper Mache steps. So now I am at the step where I am going to paint. I am starting with the base and I am going to use white paint. I just wanted to what kind of white paint I am going to use? Will acrylic artists’ paint work or should I use another kind of paint for the base?

        • Sometimes I use an acrylic gesso to start with, because it makes a nice base for the the other colors.

  • Jonni,

    Hi I have bought your book How to Make Masks. Your gesso recipe works great for texture of my mask. I am having a problem with the back of my 1st mask. I painted it forest green the put some soft linen backing. I am wondering if should mold silicone or something rubbery to get the full effect. don’t want someone to feel uncomfortable. should I put some more layers of paper mache’ for the backing?

    also can you recommend some repair for the front of my mask. As I tried to shape after I finished the formation and design. This is my first mask so please if you can give me some constructive thought. Thank you for taking time to answer my question. I love your technique and hope to sell my masks for people to enjoy. I used gold leafing for the effect of midsummers night dream…

    thank you,

    Jennifer Davis
    Allen, TX.

    • Hi Jennifer. I think the linen will be a nice finish for the inside of the mask. Or felt would feel nice, too. If you’re thinking about selling them, perhaps one more layer of paper mache on the inside would make the mask feel more substantial, a little stronger. If it feels strong enough as it is, though, you shouldn’t need to add anything. You can use a bit of paper and paste to repair spots that get bent or broken before the mask is really hard enough to handle. You can often do the repairs from the inside, where they won’t interfere with the sculpting you did on the mask.

      I hope you’ll let us see your mask – the gold leaf sounds really dreamy.

  • Hi Jonni,

    Have you, or would you recommend using the paper mache’ clay for masks? I’ve retrofitted some cheap cat masks for Halloween, and I want to use the clay rather than paper.

    Thanks

    Mary

  • great, actually the aluminium foil and duct tape sound like a good standby when i run out of gumstrip- nearest seller an hours drive away in Sligo. Think I cracked the Orangutan head, thanks for the inspiration! now all i need to do is get the body in low relief and I’ll have it finished. Orang feet are ‘Interesting’ too! hope you don’t mind that i put an image of yours on pinterest.com let me know if that doesn’t suit you. good luck. Cathy

    • I hope you show us your ‘rang when he’s done. And yes, those feet are interesting – so close to human, yet not human. And the face that looks so familiar…

  • hi, I have been making papier mache animal mirrors for some time and was recently asked to make an orang u tan mirror which I have started and ripped apart several times because she keeps looking like a neadathal – and scary with it! Your mask has re-inspired me!
    As to making a mask sit well on the head, I was taught to make a skull cap in 4 layers of gum-strip over paper towel taped around the head and attach the mask to that. Gum- strip is the brown paper tape that is used to seal the back of picture frames. Art shops usually have it in Ireland/U.K

    • Hi Cathy. I saw that idea of using the gummed tape in a book, and looked all over for it. There is no store in my little town that carries it. That’s why I used the aluminum foil and duct tape.

      Orangutans and neanderthals do look a lot alike. Maybe you’re closer than you think.

  • You really inspired me to try paper mache and I must say….. it is working out beautifully!!! Thank you so much! I have my orangutan face completed, just have to add the hair. I was going to post a pic of what I have done so far but unfortunately cannot figure out how to post a pic in here :(

    • Ahhh read up on it and found out how… Here is a pic of my orangutan without her hair! I will post a picture of the finished product later :)

      Paper Mache orangutan

  • Wow, this is amazing looking! I almost can’t believe it’s paper mache. I’ve never worked in paper mache before, but I will be working on several masks from Bioshock here soon using this method.

    Thanks for posting this lovely site!

    • Love your work. Thanks for posting and explaining in details. I wanted to suggest using a few drops of essential oils to the paste to help with mold issues (the oils are antibacterial). It makes the working even more sensual. I have tried using clove oil and Lavender in the past. I think lemon and or orange would be nice also.

  • Hey Jonni, im new to the paper mache world and I just want to say thank you so much for all the help you have given me through your website. I recently moved to New Mexico so we some new decorations for around the house. Your site has helped me create some of my own paper mache pieces. Im currently working on a smiling Mexican sun and moon, bowls, vases, Mexican masks, and an English Bulldog all with paper mache. I am also an acrylic abstract painter so i have a little experience with it.

  • Hi Jonni – love the way you mold that newspaper for your masks!

    Anyway, if anyone is interested – the way I make my masks is to form them over a face form made from my own face – plaster strips applied to my face, omitting my eyes, over lots of vaseline. Once this sets take it off your face. It’s a little risky but some of me goes into every one of my masks this way! When this is dry you close the eye holes and build it up with lots more plaster strips for rigidity, paint it with acrylic of your choice to waterproof, then secure it to a painted board with some plastalina clay. Can’t say this is my secret I learned it from master maskermaker – Jackie Miller from her video. Works for me.

  • I am in charge of costumes for a jr. high homeschool production of Junglebook. I love the mask and want to adapt it to a half mask. Something that could be worn more as a hat, leaving the face open for singing. Any ideas??

  • Hi Jonni,
    I was just wondering whether you use the masking tape which has a paper-type surface or the one which has a plastic-type surface?
    Anyhow, your tutorials are amazing, and you explain each step very well. I would surely try some of your paper-mache sculptures.
    Regards
    M.Rohan

    • Hi Meeta. That’s something I have not yet done, but it does sound like a fun project. I would start with a cardboard armature for the “hat” part, built using the techniques used for the ceremonial Dogon mask. Then I’d build out the shape of the giraffe and zebra on the front and top of the cardboard, using crumpled paper and masking tape. After that, you can add paper strips and paste, at least 8 layers to be sure it’s strong enough for steady use, or use the paper mache clay recipe, which would be easier and faster. To get an idea about how the faces can be built, take a look at the video I made to show how to build the face on the pig that I included in my book.

      Good luck – and be sure to let us see the giraffe and zebra when they’re done.

    • Hi Shirley. We don’t have a tutorial specifically for Gollum, but some of the other posts should help you get started. You can find some of them here, or use the search bar with the word “tutorial” for the posts that haven’t been added the tutorial page yet.

      • Thanks, Jonni. Also ppl suggested to use fabric stiffener for paste. What do you think I should use? I tried once with Elmer Glue and water and it seems to stay together pretty well.

        • I’ve never used fabric stiffener, but it would probably work. I think it’s mostly corn starch. The only way to find out is to try it. Elmer’s glue and water is probably the strongest thing to use, but a paste made from white flour and water works well, too. Check the recipes section – link at the top of the page – for other options.

  • Hi, Jonni
    I hope I gave justice to this project. It didn’t quite turned out as I imagined it would, but I guess this one is of different species. Thanks for the instructions.

    paper mache orangutan mask

    Best regards.

  • I am working on a dragon mask for my daughter for Halloween. Does anyone have any ideas on what would be the best material for a lining?

    • I’ve considered using felt, but I’m not quite sure if it could be molded to fit the inside of a mask. It would make a much more comfortable mask, though, if you could get it to fit.

      • Felt is extremely versatile if you make it yourself from carded wool. (With needlefelting, you could actually create an entire mask with almost as much detail as papier mâché, although with a completely different texture of course) If you felt yourself a basic form, then shrink it into shape on a former similar to the one used for the papier mâché, you will end up with a felt liner that mirrors the mask’s contours almost perfectly. If you’re not used to feltmaking, and don’t fancy getting into it, then this is of course rather a lot of effort. Also, if the mask covers a substantial portion of your head and has any thickness of felt at all on the inside, then it will be incredibly warm!

        On a simpler note, perhaps small pads of felt could be stuck on the inside (like the padding in a cycle helmet) at key points to make the mask more comfy. If it’s the type of mask that goes all the way to the back of the head, then a sort of skull cap of thick felt might be enough to keep the rest of the mask away from the face enough that it doesn’t rub/stick into you.

  • Hi Jonni
    I’m a little confused. For this mask you say that the paper mache will not stick to the masking tape which is good for removing the initial form, yet you use a lot of masking tape for your other projects which don’t have a form to be removed. How come it sticks to your other armatures? Sorry, maybe a silly question, but has me puzzled.
    Stay inspired!
    Michelle

    • I saw this before I even found the site, I was browsing paper mache masks and POOF! I saw you “Coyote”, You’ve really inspired me to make one for myself, not neccesarily a coyote, but something canine for sure. I think you did an awesome job! Hopefully mine will come out pretty decently!

  • Finally got ‘Coyote’ all finished up. Thanks so much for your expertise on the craft, I had a blast making this mask and have another in the works.

    To make it wearable, I made the original paper shape the same size as my head and kept checking the size to make sure it was about right. Because of the shape, I had to leave some of the tape/newspaper/cardboard base sculpture in the finished mask. I made two small holes in the sides and used fabric grommet eyelets and the cooresponding punching tool to secure them in the mask, then looped some thick elastic thru them to make a headband. Added some foam inside the face area to make it more comfortable against the skin, but it’s still pretty uncomfortable over time, and hard to see out of. But all in all, it will work great for my photo project.

    Paper Mache Coyote Mask

  • I enjoy your web site a great deal and can’r wait to try the paper clay.
    In reading about the mask wall sculpture…I remember seeing foam heads that I believe were used to store wigs on. Cheap in cost, might make a full head attempt possibile. Also by cutting through the clay/foam you would end up with a 3-D mask. Possibile? Also pre-soaking the cardboard cut out and pressing it over your face somewhat, then removing it and letting it dry before building the mask would give it a rounded closer fit if you wanted to wear it. Just some thoughts.

    • Excellent ideas. It would definitely make it easier to get a mask that has the right shape. If you try it, please let us see how your mask turned out.

  • I really love your tutorials! I haven’t made paper mache since middle school, but I wanted to create a couple of animal masks for an upcoming photo project, so I browsed the internet and found this site. Just looking at the quality of your work kicked my butt into gear, and I started my Coyote mask that night (2 days ago). I’m now letting the second newsprint coat dry, and had planned on one more layer of brown paper bag, then possibly the ‘skin’ layer you mentioned. Is that enough layers for a mask that will be worn? A lot of the original cardboard in the form will have to stay there once it’s done, so that will help with the strength, but how many layers of paper would you recommend?

    • Hi Leonard. Three or four layers of paper mache should be plenty if there’s cardboard, too. For areas without cardboard, or where you might be attaching a string to keep the mask on, you would probably want to add more layers. I think the idea of a coyote mask is wonderful – I hope you let us see it when it’s done!

  • This is amazing, I wish I could be as artistic as that. AT my school we are doing a topic called animal magic, we have to construct a face mask for a chosen animal. Any ideas?

    • You can make the masks the same way as the orangutan above, but make it in the form of any animal you like. You might also want to look at the African mask, because a ceremonial mask is made because it’s magic. The one I made is a spotted hyena, but you could change the form to make any other animal.

    • Ooh – sorry, I don’t know the answer to that. This is a fairly challenging project, and the paper mache needs time to dry, so I’d give it plenty of time. But exactly how much time, I just don’t know. When you find out, please let us know.

    • Dang- most of my post has disappeared. Thanks for letting me know, Paula. I’ll replace the lost content sometime today. The blog spirits must have stolen it….

    • I have a quick question. The shiny finish on the mask do you do that or does it turn out like that. I would like to know this because Im making a life size spartan shield and it has a shiny surface. Just wondering how to do that with paper mache

      • If you need a very shiny surface, you’ll need to sand the surface of your shield after all the paper mache is dry, to get it as smooth as you can. Then you can use a coat of gesso and sand that with fine sandpaper after it’s dry. (Use a mask whenever you sand, to keep the dust out of your lungs. Once it’s in there, it never comes out). Then you can color your shield and give it a finish coat using a glossy varnish or Verathane.

        I hope this helps. Good luck with your project.

    • Hi Nora. I do often use clay or polymer clay as a form. Especially when there are small details. The short-eared rabbit was made over a clay form. And I’m doing the details around the face and feet of my newest project, a flying pig, with Sculpy clay, which will not be removed from the finished piece. Do you have some examples you’d like to share?

  • I think it is facinating. I would love to study with you. Your talent is unique. I am attempting to make a deer mask for a ballet and love this organic, batina that you acheived. Bravo!

    • Hi Nancy. We’d love to see your mask when it’s finished. It is amazing what can be created out of simple ingredients, isn’t it?

  • Wonderful mask, Christopher. It’s really inventive. The image was too large for it to fit into the comments, so I added a link to your post so people could see it. Thanks for sharing.

    I’ve been making a glue-based gesso to finish my latest pieces. I don’t know how environmentally friendly it is, though. I’m sure the thick flour-and water paste I used for the orangutan mask is about as environmentally-friendly as you can get. And you can add color to it – but it does take three or four coats to get a good thick finish.

    Let us know when you have some more masks to show us.

  • I likey monkey! I make paper mache sculpture too. I usually finish the paper mache with gesso before I paint. Do you know of any other primers that I could finish with… preferably environmentally friendly? I tried making my own milk paint once, but the lime in that totally destroyed the piece. More Masks Please! Here is an example of one of my masks.

    • Christopher, I usually finish the pasting with a final layer of white xerox paper, torn into smaller pieces to wrap around better. This will give the mask a smoother look AND take care of the white primer coat!

      Hope this is helpful, if late.

      Jim W.

  • This mask is well done. The processes you used and a little creativity exhibit how a few low cost materials can turn newspaper into a great class project. I certainly will adopt this lesson into my class curriculum because it obviously forces the students to think outside the box and have a good plan to achieve this level of success.

  • what i always love to do, is teach the kids, then grandkids, nieces and nephews…all how to make a mask. kids love making them. and all of these children have grown into artistic people..my family credits me because i always think of making a mask or a different Valentinesday box..
    but this story made me remeber the good times with all the kids.
    this mask i must say…is by no beginner…it looks real.

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