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How to Make a Paper Mache Mask

How to Make a Mask

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.

78 comments

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  • 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.

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