Last week I played around with some paper and clay to find a more spontaneous way to make temporary forms for paper mache display masks.
I stole the wet paper armature idea from Jim Kransberger (thanks, Jim). He told me who he got the idea from, but I can’t remember who it was.
This process wouldn’t work for a mask that actually needs to fit a real person’s face, but it does work for a display mask like this Einstein-ish mask I’m working on now, and I can think of many other paper mache sculptures that could be made this way. You could use modeling clay instead of the pottery clay I used. And if you’re using paper mache clay for the mask like I did, you could skip the pottery clay step entirely and just go straight to step 5. (You would need the plastic wrap, though, or the PMC would never dry).
So here’s how it was done (see photos below):
1. Get some newspaper wet, squish out the water, and start using it to form a very basic face shape. Be sure to have some plastic down on your table to protect it from the water.
2. Roll out a sheet of clay (optional, see above.) I used some pottery clay that I bought locally, but modeling clay would work too. If you do use an oil-based clay, you’ll want to put some plastic over the wet paper first.
3. I was just trying to get slightly more realistic details, but this is really just an extension of the paper form. The actual details will be created later, because I used paper mache clay for the mask. I liked the fact that this process allows you to be spontaneous and playful. If you prefer to use paper strips and paste, you’ll want to get the details fixed in this step.
4. Lay some plastic wrap over the clay face. Because the paper underneath is wet, the clay won’t dry out and you can use it again for something else. If you’re using paper strips and paste and you don’t want the plastic to obscure the details you put into the clay form, you can use a release like petroleum jelly instead of the plastic.
5. Create the actual display mask now, using paper mache clay, like I did, or with paper strips and paste. Let it dry in front of a fan, remove from the form, and paint.
It was fun to play with this idea, and I’m sure I’ll be using variations of this technique again.