Paper Mache Masks Made with a 3-D Computer Program and Negative Molds

batman masktnToday’s guest post is by Adam Shaw, the mask maker behind the company Paper Faces. Adam creates paper mache masks using a method that is so unique that I’m sure you’ve never seen anything like it. And the resulting masks are beautiful. Thanks, Adam, for showing us your techniques!

Even if you aren’t familiar with computer 3D programs, you’ll still want to see how Adam uses the shop-towel mache in negative plaster molds, and how he fine-tunes his original model before creating his plaster molds. And do check out Adam’s etsy page, because you might still have time to snag one of his hand-made masks before Halloween. If not, remember to bookmark the page, because carnival time isn’t all that far away. You can also find Adam at his Facebook page.

Update: Adam has generously offered to allow us to use one of his papercraft patterns for our own work. You can download the pattern for a 3/4 mask here (pdf). Thanks, Adam!

How Paper Faces make our masks.

©2014 Adam Shaw

I started making Masquerade masks under the Paper Faces name late last year when I found myself being made redundant. I had already been involved in costuming for some years, and started to think that there could be a way of generating an income from the skills I had picked up.

I started by making a fibreglass plug (or buck if you are in the U.S.). I was already aware that I needed to be careful of undercuts and closed details so I started with a simple 3/4 mask and set about researching ways to turn it into a product. I started with the idea of making the masks out of plaster wrap, but soon abandoned this. I found a few online resources what showed how Venetian mask makers go about their business, and decided to try that. I used the plaster wrap that I had left over to make a negative mould from my fibreglass buck and started experimenting with laying paper mashe inside it. At first I used a PVA/water mix with small bits of craft paper, however this needed around 10 layers and tended to curl away from the mould. This process never really produced a good result. It was then I found the Video by Jonni Good about using shop towels and a water/PVA/Plaster mix for glue. I tried with two layers, but this didn’t seem strong enough for me. I expanded to 4 layers, and this produced a really solid result. I stuck with this and added Jonni’s thick gesso, and I was away.

OK there’s the background, now let’s look at the process from the beginning. I pride myself on only making masks that I have sculpted myself, so that’s where we start. Also my sculpting method is not what you could call “conventional” so I will try and explain as I go.

After the success of the simple 3/4 mask. I decided to have a go at something more complex, so I started work on a stage style Phantom of the Opera mask. It seems fun to use this project as a story for the process.

When I started my costuming work I was working away from home, this meant that conventional clay sculpting was not convenient from me. I discovered a computer programme called Pepakura, which allowed 3D computer models to be brought into the real world, and this became the key to success for me.

I therefore used my computer 3D modelling skills to make a 3D model of the mask. I won’t expand on this any further here, but can write an entry on it later if there is any interest. It was important for me to think as I sculpted about how I would make a mould of this. I knew I could have more than one mould per mask, but the smallest number of moulds the better. Here I was able to design it in one mould.

pepakura-paper mache mask 1
3D Model of a Phantom of the Opera Mask

Once I was happy with this I used Pepakura to turn this into a flatpack paper model. I printed this onto 200GSM paper, cut it out and used super glue to stick it together. Again I can expand on this process and how to use the software if anyone is interested.

Mask Model in Pepakura
Phantom of the Opera Mask Modeled in Pepakura

Then came the secondary sculpting. I used fibreglass paste to reinforce the paper model from the back. Then used car body filler (Bondo) to sculpt and shape the front to remove any of the facets left by the paper model. I also adjusted the sculpt at this stage until I was happy. After a few months of felting, I got a mask shape I was happy with. Polished the surface until smooth and sprayed it white. I decided to make the plug as an actual wearable mask more then a tool, so I could test the concept.

Finished Sculpture/Plug
Finished Original Sculpture/Plug of the Phantom of the Opera Mask

Next was to make a negative mould. I filled in the gaps with clay, and pored liquid plaster over the plug (after using petroleum Jelly as a release agent.)

Once the plaster was dry I used 4 layers for plaster wrap to reinforce the liquid plaster. I left it all to cure for around 4 days, and pulled the plug out. Once I was happy with the mould finish, i covered it in Polyurethane based varnish ( the sort you can get from a hard ware store). I did two coats of this to really seal the mould surface in. The positioning of the plug in the mould was key to ensuring I could get the plug, and any subsequent paper moulding out.

The Negative Mold
The Negative Mold

Next was to cast a mask and see how it went. I mixed up some of Jonni’s paste and prepped the shop towels. The first job was to put petroleum jelly on the mould surface as release agent. The trick I learned here was to use as little as possible I just “waxed” the surface with a thin layer, it’s enough to ensure the casting comes away, but not so much that effects the shape of the surface. Venetian makers don’t use any release agent, and with the polyurethane on the mould I probably don’t need to either, but better to be safe.

Now to start with the paper, use small pieces to get around the nose and eye areas and bigger peaces for the rest of the mask. The main issue came with the first layer. I found that putting the paste on the mould side did not work, but not putting anything on the mould side of the first layer meant that the paper pulled away from the mould when brushing the paste on the back. To overcome this I put an even layer of PVA glue on the mould surface, it did not “wet” the surface because of the petroleum jelly, but it was enough to hold the first layer down tight the the mould while I pressed the layer down and applied the paste to the back. I then did three other layers with paste on both sides of the paper, I made sure each layer was dry before doing the next, then after the last layer I left it to dry for 24 hours.

First Paper Mache Masks Taken from Mold
First Paper Mache Masks Taken from Mold

The result was a nicely formed cast which was strong but light enough to be worn comfortably.

Paper Mache Mask Before Trimming
Paper Mache Mask Before Trimming
Paper Mache Mask After Trimming
Paper Mache Mask After Trimming

A quick trim with a craft knife and we are almost there, well…… Almost! Next I mixed up some of Jonni’s gesso. I found that Jonni’s process of smoothing with a wet sponge didn’t work for me so I used 180 grit sand paper. I sanded it down until just before the paper surface.

Paper Mache After First Sanding
Paper Mache After First Sanding

Next is a second coat of gesso. This I gently sanded with 180 grit paper until I got a smooth finish. There were still some rough areas, so I filled these with spot putty, sometimes called knifing putty, It’s an acrylic product (effectively thick Acrylic paint) which is used in the car industry for filling small cracks and scratches. It’s cheap and very useful. I believe wood filler will also work, but not tried this. I did a few rounds of filler and sanding until I was happy with the result.

Mask Ready for Final Finish
Mask Ready for Final Finish

After that, I applied a couple of coats of automotive white primer, and wet sanded (carefully so not to drench the mask) with 1200 grit wet and dry paper. With that done it was into final paint, which I use a mix of acrylics and specialist spray paints. Here’s what the final product looks like in cast bronze finish and glow in the dark finish.

Phantom of the Opera Mask with Glow-In-the-Dark Finish
Phantom of the Opera Mask with Glow-In-the-Dark Finish
Phantom of the Opera Mask with Ivory Finish
Phantom of the Opera Mask with Ivory Finish
Phantom of the Opera Mask with Bronze Finish
Phantom of the Opera Mask with Bronze Finish

I find this process produces a really professional finish, and as such started my own Etsy shop to sell them www.etsy.com/UK/shop/Paperfacesmasks

I’m only shipping to the UK at the moment, because I am just starting out, baby steps and all that…. But will ship the the US if there is enough interest. I’m also expanding the range. I have three styles at the moment, but will be soon adding a full female face, and a smaller eye mask style, again aimed at a female audience. But I’m not stopping with masks, I’m also incorporating my cosplay skills and will be launching helmets, sculpted and made in the same way. Starting with, well…… something fairly well known:

Batman Mask
Batman Mask

The next mask to go to market, this is a modern eye mask style, made popular in Asia, this is not a Venetian mask as it does not hide the identity of the wearer, a requirement for the venison style, however it has become very popular. An important feature is the large eye holes, which allow for ornate makeup to be seen under the mask. This mask is sometimes hand held on the face, by using a long handle attached to one side.

adam1

Currently in secondary sculpting is this full face, Doll mask. A staple of the venison carnival, these masks can be plain or highly decorated. The eye holes are traditionally cut small, but in recent years, they have started to be cut larger. These masks are just as popular as wall decorations as they are as masks. They can be held in place by ribbons or hand held, with the handle attaching under the chin.

adam2

The cat mask is very popular in Venice. The venison’s see the cat as sacred, as they keep the rat population down, protecting the city from the plague. Paper Faces’ take on this mask is a bit different, instead of the usual Kitty cat 1/2 masks, I have opted for an African cat 3/4 mask. This mask will be the next into secondary sculpting after the Doll mask, it will likely to be finished in a mix of realistic big cat colours, and ornate golds and silvers.

adam3

No stranger to the Ultimate Paper Mâché reader is the Plague doctor. I’ve only just finished doing the digital sculpt on this so its a way off. I’ve tried to stay traditional with this, as it represents such an important historical era. It will be available in the usual dark colours, as well as cracked bone and maybe leather style finished. The eyes will likely be open, but I may install some of the masks with red lenses.

adam5

And finally, something from a more modern era. This sculpt took about a year of work to do so I am taking my time with it, getting it right. This will not be a cheep helmet to make, and will be sold at a price that reflects this. Also license issues may prevent me from selling this in the U.S. But interest in it is high, so it will be added to the Etsy Shop as soon as I can finish it.

adam6

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25 thoughts on “Paper Mache Masks Made with a 3-D Computer Program and Negative Molds

  1. Brilliant! I am so new in this that I hardly understand anything. I am determined to learn some way to sculpt so that I can make a mold from the sculpture and then make a plaster mold from the temporary one. Do you understand what I am saying! I want to do unusual, original molds that would make more than one cast. If anyone would be kind enough to help me, I would be so grateful. I love the little elephant. 779-536-9496

    • Hi Martha. I can’t help you with the computer part of Adam’s process, but I might be able to point you towards some resources for making molds, once you have your original sculptures finished. YouTube has tons of videos about making plaster molds. I assume you want your final product to be made with paper mache, so Adam’s techniques on this post should work for you, once you’ve made your molds.

      Another option would be to not seal the plaster mold and use the pourable paper mache product called Li-Qua-Che, just like they do to make ceramic pieces. It’s a bit easier, but it is much more expensive, and I don’t think the final pieces are as strong as real paper mache.

    • A number of people have asked me about the digital element of my work, and I am trying to put together some words on this. CGI (computer generated image) work is not hard, espeshally if you understand conventional sculptre. It does however introduce new concepts which have to be explained first (how the computer understands 3D space, for example.) the biggest challenge is designing a computer model which can also exist in reality. there is a big difference in designing a CGI model for a film or computer game, and a CGI model which will become a real object. Ow and remember 3D printing is cheating :-), also it does not produce a good enough result.

      • Do you have any recommendations for which 3D program someone should start with if they wanted to try your techniques?

  2. Hi Adam,

    Love your work!!! I am keen to make some letters using a mold but my paper mache would be 1 inch thick at the thickest part. Is this possible using some kind of hardener in the mix. I have tried 1 part joint compound/1 part flour/1 part water and 1 part paper mix but it took about 3 days out in the sun to dry. I’m keen to use some kind of paper mix because of its cheap cost and versatility.

    Thanks

    Cam

    • Cameron, I hope you don’t mind me jumping in here. Adam is definitely more of an expert on using molds with paper mache than I am, but if you need the finished letters to be 1 inch thick, you might want to consider the option I talked about on this page: https://www.ultimatepapermache.com/paper-mache-cougar-and-instant-paper-mache-recipe

      The “instant” paper mache recipe on that page won’t be as strong as traditional paper mache strips and paste or paper mache clay, but it hardens quickly so you can get it out of the mold sooner, and then air can get to all sides and dry it out faster.

    • Cam
      Jonni’s comment is the way to go. Another option would be using a negative mould and make them in casting resin. They would be super strong, but it’s a messy and smelly process and can be expensive depending on how big your letters are. If you are more familiar with paper products, follow Jonni’s suggestion.

  3. Your masks are fasinating Adam. How do they stay on? I imagine you got lots of interest for Halloween. I looked at your Esty pieces and they’re beautiful and interesting.

    • Thanks,

      Thay all have ribbons, which can be tied around your head, but to make it even easier, all my masks are supplied with a bean lock, so just put them on, slide the been lock into place, and off you go 🙂

  4. Adam,
    I would love to learn more about the 3D program and what ever else you are willing to share.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Chawol

    • Where are you starting from? Are you interested in turning 3D models into real world models? Or would you need to start from the beginning with 3D modeling?

      • Okay I have to confess I don’t know what a bean lock is. I went out to look on the internet so I wouldn’t appear to stupid but couldn’t find the answer. So what’s a bean lock? Ribbons I get but lost on the beans!

        • It’s a small “bean” shaped spring lock. Effectively it’s a small ball with a hole in it, and a spring loaded clamp in side it. You put the ribbons through the hole and the clamp holds them togeather. So you put the mask on, push the button on the lock, which releases the clamp, then pull the ribbons through the lock until it’s as tight as you like it, then release the button, which clamps the ribbons, and holds them tight to your head. I Found that it is very difficult to tigh the ribbons tight enough without help, the bean lock over comes this 🙂

  5. Adam,
    You commented that you would teach more about the 3D program etc. Yes, Yes, Yes please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Great work!

    Thank you for this tutorial.
    Chawol

  6. Adam, great post! Thanks for sharing your technique.

    Where would a person find fiberglass paste?

    A thought on your etsy shop…you might be able to expand your shop revenue if you added plain masks that people could paint themselves. (just a thought)

    Another thought…You could write a how to pdf booklet and sell it as an instant download on etsy.

    🙂 tejae

    • Tejae

      Fiberglass paste is used in the car repair industry, it is like Bondo, but has glass strands in it. You can get it from any shop that sells car repair supplies, the product I use is called Isopon P40. You can also used Reguler fiberglass Matt and resin, but this is messy.
      Thanks for your suggestion of unpainted masks, I will give that some throught, I have to be careful as I can only make the masks in very small numbers, but I will have a think about how I could make that work.

      Thanks

      Adam

    • Well, that’s a very good question, as I said in the post, I have an eye mask and full face mask on the bench at the moment, also a “big cat” mask which I didn’t put in the post, but I’m always open to suggestions, what would you like to see ????

  7. I would love to use the 3D program. I do a lot of designing in 2D on the computer, and design actual objects in clay, wax or whatever. I don’t know anything about using 3D. I am going to look up the program you are using.
    Thanks so much for your detailed description. Kay

    • Kay, you can start slow, as I did. Its worth practising with basic shapes until you are fully up to speed with how it works, and remember when you start doing your 3D models work in a low resolution, otherwise you will end up with a model which looks good on the PC but is imposible to build.

  8. Wow! Thanks for sharing your process. I have used plaster molds in the past but only for latex masks. I’m looking forward to sealing one of the molds and trying with paper. You obviously have the hard work well in hand so “Good Luck” with expanding your business.

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