Gorilla Mask – Made with Plaster Cloth, Paper Mache and Air Dry Clay

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This was an experiment, but I think it turned out great. The plaster cloth shell was formed over a WED clay form, then a small amount of texture and detailing was added using paper mache (one-ply paper towels, white glue and water) and air dry clay. It only took a few days, so it would make a great school project.

50 thoughts on “Gorilla Mask – Made with Plaster Cloth, Paper Mache and Air Dry Clay”

  1. I am starting a sculpture project. I am making a creature with a human face and a deer’s body. It will only include down to about the shoulder of the deer, like you would see mounted on a wall. I was planning on using an armature of newspaper perhaps to get the basic shape of the face and neck area, go over it with your air dry clay recipe, and then texture it with the paper mache recipe. Does this sound doable to you? How would you get started on this? I don’t really work with clay or mache, so I should be able to use all the advice offered to me.

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    • Hi Warner. Yes, this is totally doable. And exactly as you described – since you already laid out the steps, I don’t know how much more I could add. You might want to do a smaller project, just to get used to the material.

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  2. I am new to your website and I could spend all day watching! There are so many interesting and helpful tips/techniques! I have 2 questions. I am preparing to make an Olaf costume (from the movie, “Frozen”) for my 10 yr old granddaughter. I will make the head using either plaster cloth or paper mache with the clay. I will make a full 360 degree head – not just a front mask. I haven’t been able to find good ways to secure the head to the body, which will be a sewn body costume. I saw a mention about securing to a backpack.
    Question 1: Because of weight issues, should I use plaster cloth or paper mache? Question 2: Can you direct me to information showing various ways to secure a full head mask?

    Thank you so much for sharing great, fabulous stuff!

    Reply
    • Hi Sharon. The paper mache mask will probably be lighter than plaster cloth. However, paper mache will shrink slightly, so make sure you make the mask plenty big enough to allow for that. The combination of two layers of plaster cloth and 1 or two layers of paper mache would probably be the strongest, without being terribly heavy. How long will your granddaughter be wearing it?

      I haven’t ever attached a helmet-style mask to a costume, but I think some of my readers have done it. I hope they’ll see your question and offer some advice.

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      • Thank you for your suggestions – I’ll take them. She will be wearing it in a talent show, so not long. I was thinking of taking some ribbon and draping it over the head, embedded in the paper mache and extending down past the paper mache. From there, attach to a waist belt. Would work like a set of suspenders. Also think of padding the inside with some soft foam glued on so the head fits snug on her head and doesn’t bobble around. We’ll see!

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        • Sounds like a good plan. Good luck with it – and be sure to post a picture when it’s done. I’d love to see it.

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  3. Hi Jonni,
    Michigan has been long and cold this winter. I am so happy that we have met. My question is about glazing. Do I need to seal the armature with a varnish finish before putting on a glaze?

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    • You might want to test a small inconspicuous spot to see if you get the look you want with and without sealing first. I never seal my paper mache sculptures before painting, but I do use a gesso, which covers the paper mache and gives a nice white ground to paint on. I always use a varnish to seal the piece after it’s finished.

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  4. Do you think I could use this on a balloon armature? If so, should I spray with Pam or other type of aerosol spray?

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    • Yes, you can put plaster cloth over a balloon. I don’t think it would stick, but you might want to test it to make sure.

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  5. Hi Jonni πŸ™‚
    I just wanted to share some photos of the mask I made for Halloween. I couldnt have done it without your Air Dry Clay recipe. Thank you!

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  6. Hi Jonni! I have really enjoyed poring over your website for the last couple of months. Your work and your attitude about it has been enormously inspiring to me. I have dabbled around with cartooning since I was a kid, and got into making sculpey figures off and on for fun over the last fifteen years or so. The fascinating work that you have been sharing really struck a chord with me. I bought your mask book and made a mask inspired by the memory of my boxer Millie, who was a faithful friend and beloved family member. It ‘s kind of a neat way to keep her memory alive for us. I am pretty pleased with my first mask, and the first paper mache creation I have done since an ill fated attempt at a mouse in third grade! Thank you for your work and your generosity is sharing your methods! I have another mask sculpted and standing by for paper mache, and I have ordered your Animal Sculptures book too, so there are lots of newly fired projects in the pipeline! Again, thanks!

    Reply
      • Hi Jonni, I hope you had a fun Halloween! Attached (I hope) is a photo of my Millie mask- I tried to send it once but messed up, so I apologize if you get two replies, (one sans photo!) I have a Creep mask in the works that wasn’t able to be completed for a Halloween debut, but is coming along nicely, so hopefully I’ll have another photo to send your way soon. I’m having a blast!

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        • Hi John. The photo came through just fine this time = and the mask is great! All these wonderful masks are making me sad that Halloween is all over for the year – but I guess that just means it’s time to get ready for the next one, right?

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          • Hi Jonni- thanks for the kind words about the Millie mask- I really appreciate your encouragement! Attached is my Glow Goblin mask, just completed today- too late to spook out any trick- or -treaters this year, but he’ll hang around in my little workshop until next Halloween! I wanted him to be kind of creepy but not bloody or too bizarre-an old fashioned goblin- I painted him up with some fluorescent paint obviously, and he is shown here with a blacklight shining on him. Maybe he will keep out any unwanted visitors to my workshop! I will start thinking Christmas thoughts now and hopefully be a little more timely with my homemade holiday decor!

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  7. Dear Jonni, I am in the process of doing a 12″ bear and want to do a 4′ falcon. When applying the finish clay how long does it take for it to dry to become unworkable? I am planning on covering it with a damp cloth inbetween sessions, but am interested in your thoughts on the best ways to achieve fine detail in feathers, etc. I am willing to be patient and work on something like this over weeks if necessary. I am usually a 2d artist/teacher but am so intriqued with your techniques and results you have caught my attention quite thoroughly. Thank you, Kate Schroeder, Freeport, Maine

    Reply
    • Hi Kate. Are you using my original paper mache clay recipe? You can continue to use it for several hours uncovered, but then it starts to form a skin. If you are applying it in thin layers over a paper armature, the armature will suck some of the moisture out, so it’s hard to keep it workable for a very long time. You probably hope it will work much like pottery clay, which can be kept covered with a damp cloth and stays workable forever. With this pm clay, though, that probably isn’t going to happen. I suggest that you make a small experimental piece – nothing that really matters to you, just a cube or something. Then see how it handles, so you can find out first hand if it will work the way you need it to.

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  8. Jonni,

    Can you tell me if the automotive wax you used affects the clay in any way? I would like to use clay to make forms, then re-use the clay for other forms without having to buy more clay.

    Thanks,

    Lisa

    Reply
    • It didn’t appear to affect the clay at all. The WED clay is a little “waxy” to start with, although I don’t think there’s any wax in it. I’ve coated it, at various times, with a clear spray from Krylon, with an oil and soap mixture, with petroleum jelly, and now with the car wax spray. Each time I just throw the clay back in the bag and use it again. The thing that you have to watch out for is the little bits of plaster or paper mache paste that get embedded in the clay. They need to be scraped off or dug out before you can use the clay again. That doesn’t seem to be too hard.

      You can’t fire the WED clay, of course, but if you’re just using it for a form, like I did, it’s nice to work with. I like it a lot better than oil-based modeling clay because of the way it feels in the hand.

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  9. Attempting a Halloween gift for a friend who is a Golden Retriever lover. This is my first try using your air dry clay (TP) I just draped the clothier over to see how it will look but have yet to add the paint detail. I’m not happy with the jowels yet. Can I add more clay on top of the already dried clay? I haven’t spent much time on detail as I would like and still have to buy the fabric stiffening solution for the sheet. Any suggestions here? I LOVE your site Jonni. I wish I could do this all day long!

    Reply
    • Hi Judie. Yes, you can add new air-dry clay over a layer that has already dried. If you’re using the original recipe, which is quite sticky, you just spread it on. If you’re using the new smoother recipe, which isn’t very sticky, you will want to paint the dried layer with a glue and water mixture (white glue and water, half and half) and then spread the new clay over that. I would love to see your project when it gets done – is it a Golden Retriever mask?

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  10. I found my set of colored waxes in a box in the basement, and added just the barest hint of silver to the ridges on the gorilla’s fur. I think it really finishes him nicely. Of course, I thought he was already finished, but I really wanted to see what would happen if I did one more thing to him. Again, it’s hard to see in photos…

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  11. Nice experiment, Jonni! You always seem to pull them off so well. πŸ™‚ His eyes are great, just the realistic point that pull it all together into an actual face, someone to relate to.

    That must be one of Jessie’s paintings behind you, right? Lovely!

    Reply
    • Yep, it’s one of my favorite Jessie paintings. I don’t know what kind of birds they are. Do you?

      Do you have any big projects coming up? Any new greyhound paintings for us to see? And on another note, did I ever ask you if you’ve written-illustrated one of those graphic novels? I can see a saluki wearing a cape, swooping down to rescue his friend, the whippet, enslaved by the evil puppy mill owner. OK, maybe it needs a better plot… πŸ˜‰

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      • Heh! I like your graphic novel idea, Jonni! I used to color comic books, back in the ’90s. It was good money, back then, believe it or not! Maybe your idea is worth developing!

        Um, the birds … are … um … seagulls? Not very specific, I suppose! We should ask Jessie. I like that painting, too. I’m a big Jessie fan. We have 3 of hers in our house!

        I’m working on a portrait of a greyhound (painting, not sculpture), and will be putting my progress on my blog today (I hope). It’s been a slow summer due to circumstances out of my control (shingles! *shudder*). I do like the new look of the blog, by the way. I’d love to see your studio set-up, too. I wonder if other artists are as fascinated with the creative spaces and solutions of other (other) artists as I am!

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        • I hope you’re feeling a little better. You must be, if you’re working on a portrait. My studio seems to meander all over the house – I can’t seem to settle on any one spot, so art supplies are spread around in every room of the house. I promised myself I wouldn’t do that in this house, but what can you do? I think you’re a bit more organized than I am.

          Does anyone else out there have a “perfect” work space you’d like to tell us about?

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          • Your “studio” sounds like my husband’s “office”, actually!
            I aspire to organized, but the other side of my personality is pretty sloppy. Still, I almost always know exactly where to find an art-thingy. (Don’t look at that big table behind me covered in … miscellaneous paperwork!)

            Confession: I sometimes search images of other artists’ studios!

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  12. I will say that you never cease to amaze, inform, and create, all while adding inspiration. I love the gorilla.

    I just finished – no matte finish yet – (and hopefully my last) balloon piggy bank, Kune Kune style. It was a pain because I did paper strips on the balloon, then added paper mache, and when dry added the legs, nose, ears, etc. Masking tape doesn’t really like to stick to the clay very well.

    I am trying to close on a house and then move, so life is hectic. I’m staying with a cousin and her whole family are making paper mache pumpkins. I can’t wait to get my camera and send some photos to you. (My computer is still in California.)

    I have also started my 4th and 5th horse. I’ve thrown two in the trash, and I’m determined that at least one of these will be somewhat acceptable.

    By the way, the gram recipe I sent you has a problem. I have been using a “lightweight” joint compound, and my cousin bought the regular compound and I believe there is a weight difference between the “lightweight” and the “normal.” So back to using a cup measurement for the joint compound; otherwise, wasweighing the toilet paper dry and wet has been a BIG help.

    Thanks for all you do. The gorilla is just smashing. Maybe I’ll get settled one of these months and can try some of these things. Fascinating.

    Reply
    • Hi Rex. Good luck with your move. Buying a house is always stressful, but it sounds like the worst is almost over, and you’ll get to move soon.

      I haven’t had a chance to try your gram measured recipe yet. I hope to get to it soon. Even with just the gram measures for the paper, it should be a big help. I’m trying to finish up the initial images on all my posts, but something is wrong with my internet connection so I’m getting way behind. The cable guy is supposed to be here on Thursday.

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      • Hello Jonni,
        This is an idea for an ongoing Monster Halloween Project I have been working on these last few weeks. I was planning on making a 3D Monster Plaque for my room however, it was too heavy for hanging when you add all the creatures on there so that was changed. I saw your gorilla mask tutorial and decided t make some hollow face masks of some the Universal Monster Movie characters instead. Here are some of my mosters inspired from these older movies and some weird alien creature that I made. It’s good to recycle ideas and make them better and your mask tutorial took me in a far better direction….I wasn’t 100% satisfied with these guys so, I plan on doing their face masks instead and let myself focus on making a far more superior set of monsters in the same scale as you Wild Man mask. I wasn’t satisfied because I rushed on this project and the I stayed last night watching that video as well…thanks Jonni! I will send you pics before Halloween so that we can share ideas with other artists on here.

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      • Ooops,
        I forgot to include this guy, The Creature From The Black Lagoon as idea for a Halloween movie mask. This is the first guy I made and I like him however, I can do FAR better than this first attempt.

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  13. You never cease to amaze and delight! Nice job- he/she isn’t too menacing looking as gorillas can be but you were still able to capture his charachter. I love the way you used the single ply paper towel to get the wrinkled/fur look. I have always just used the paper clay and tools to get the fur look-sometimes that looks too contrived if you know what I mean. I wonder if that method would work over a base of the paper mache clay. I want to try this way next to see if I can do it as well as you!
    How does the painting go over the glue and water mix? When the glue dries, doesn’t it get a little plastic like? Would that make the paint harder to adhere? Or does the paint basically soak into the paper?

    Reply
    • Hi Eileen. I’m not sure if the paint would work over the glue and water or not – it does seem kind of slick when it dries. The home-made gesso takes care of that, though. The drywall joint compound (or you could use plaster of Paris) is very absorbent, and it takes paint really well.

      I don’t think this guy looks too scary, either – as long as I remind myself that he can’t help having those overhanging eyebrow bones. I wonder if Neanderthals all looked slightly angry, without meaning to?

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