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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.