Making a Helmet Mask with Paper Mache

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OK, this video is a bit choppy and weird, but I spent too many hours making it, so I went ahead and posted it. The mask itself came out really nice, but the video is a bit – well, I’ll let you judge for yourself.

Let me know if you like the faux iron and bronze version, or the iron oxide-colored paint over the metallic coatings. Or do you think just plain old paint would have been more effective? And, I’d be even more interested in knowing if you make up stories when your working on your art projects. If not, what does go through your mind when you’re building your sculptures and masks? I’ve been thinking a lot about the creative process, and that’s my excuse for asking. Besides, I’m just naturally curious. 🙂

Links to items mentioned in the video:

  • Paintings by Jessie Rasche – one of her paintings was accepted in the Oil Painters of America Western Regional Show in Topeka, KS. It’s almost impossible to get in, so way to go, Jessie! And another painting recently won first place at a local juried art show. That’s my kid, in case you didn’t know why I’m bragging.
  • WED clay. I recently made a mask using WED clay, and used thin plastic wrap to keep the clay from causing the discoloration of the paper mache. Watch that video before making a helmet mask.
  • My mask book
  • Styrofoam head I uses as the mask form

45 thoughts on “Making a Helmet Mask with Paper Mache”

  1. Do you put paper mache strips over the modelled wed clay? How did you get if off = did you say you cut it in half then put it together = then did you paper mache strip again?

  2. Hi – having a rare bout of insomnia so decided to watch your interesting helmut mask video because I want to make one.

    BUT – something I don’t understand is –

    How did you get the shop towels over the whole form once sculpted? Other words did you paper those cardboard feathers individually and was this difficult? If you could explain this a little further that might help me. If I tried your new method of the turtle wax would this work better for release of the form? In this case I would use the WED Clay to sculpt with.

    Also how did you get the paper form, once dry, off the styrofoam head? Seems to me there were undercuts around the chin and nose areas – so did you cut it if half to get if off? If so where did you make these cuts?

    Any help is appreciated.

    • Hi Joanne. I did put one layer of the shop towels over the cardboard “feathers.” I didn’t leave the camera running nearly as much as I should have, but I can’t remember why not.

      When I made the original helmet. I think I cut the dried paper mache right down the middle, on one side of the feathers, but I don’t have any photos so I may be remembering it incorrectly. I just lifted the two pieces off the form. Since the WED clay was still wet, it was soft, so the undercuts really didn’t matter. The clay sculpture was ruined in the process, but it wasn’t hard to get the helmet off the clay. The wet clay did leave a brown residue inside the helmet, though, and that’s what the Turtle Wax would have prevented.

      Putting the two sides together wasn’t easy, either. I should have made this helmet the same way I made the Viking helmet in my mask book, and then I wouldn’t have had to cut it apart.

    • And my system tells me that you were writing this at 3:36 in the morning! I do hope you’re now getting some sleep. That’s just about a half hour before I got up this morning.

  3. I think this is one of your most interesting works to date. I am so serious when I say that this would make a lovely instructional video for anyone wanting to sculpt. Congratulations.


  5. Did you know about the turtle wax when you did this? Would that have worked and would the form pop off – are there undercuts to deal with with this project?

    • No, darn it, I didn’t know about the turtle wax. It would have helped a lot. There were undercuts, but I think now that I should have put a heavy piece of plastic, or even some fabric, over the styrofoam head form before I started to add the clay. Then I could have pulled up on it, like I do when I make masks like the ones in my book, and the clay and helmet both would have pulled off the head. The clay sculpture would have been destroyed when I pulled it out of the inside of the helmet, but there would have been no need to cut the thing apart. It’s too bad that I forget to follow the instructions in my own books!

    • Yes, that would have been possible. I did do something different to the helmet after the video was made, but I gave it away last year and now I can’t remember what, exactly, it ended up looking like. And of course I didn’t take another picture…

  6. Hi Jonni,
    I love your site! I have a quick question for you. I am a middle school theater teacher and producing The Lion King next year. I am making plaster molds for all the headpieces this summer. I would like my students to apply the paper ache and paint the masks during my stagecraft class. I would like to premix the air dry clay from your recipe.

    How long will it stay moist and workable if sealed in a plastic baggy?


    • Hi Patricia. The air dry clay will stay moist in a plastic bag for three or four days. You may want to add some salt or oil of clove to prevent mold, though, if you’re keeping it that long. You’ll also want to do a test with the clay in plaster molds. I haven’t tried it myself, but I do know that it will probably stick to plaster, so you’ll want to seal the molds and use a release. Also, test a dried mask to make sure it’s strong enough, and to see how much it shrinks when it dries. You’ll be in uncharted territory, so experimentation is important before the class.

      You might also want to check out Adam Shaw’s guest post. If you scroll down to the bottom of the article you’ll see his method of using plaster molds with shop towels and fast-setting paper mache clay.

  7. Hi Jonni, I just want to tell you that what you do with paper mache is amazing. Inspired on your work, i´m about to start making japanese mitology masks like kitsune, kabuki, oni, etc. Sadly Amazon does not deliver to my hometown in Mexico, so i can´t get your book. But for now i´m going with the tutorials. Thanks for the great tips. (Sorry for bad english)

    • Hi Marco. I’m glad you’re enjoying the site – and your English is excellent. I do hope you’ll show us some of your masks when they’re done.

  8. Hi Jonni –
    I loved the iron/bronze effect you got and was sad that you painted over it.
    Back when I first saw this video, it made me want to make something that looked aged, or tarnished.
    I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and recently devised a way to create an oxidised effect with just acrylic paints.
    I’m quite pleased with the effects so far, and I’m sure that I’ll get better with practice. I am endlessly fascinated by ancient artifacts and the effect they have on the observer (me, that is), even though they must now look nothing like their creator intended.
    When I get around to varnishing and photographing the pieces, I’ll upload them here and, if there’s any interest, I’ll share the painting method.
    If I’m absolutely honest, I didn’t devise it myself, but it’s a distillation of lots of different methods I’ve seen online.
    It differs mainly in that it doesn’t use anything except plain old acrylic to obtain the effect.
    Thanks, as always, for the inspiration your website provides.

    • I would love to see your process – the bronze product I use is expensive, and I have to order it online. If you can get a similar look with acrylics, that would be great.

  9. you have some really awesome ideas on here. the mix is awesome I have used the same mix for years and was looking up ideas found your page. your mix is a lot like mine just the oil I never thought to add oil! that really helped a lot awesome idea.! I have been making paper mache masks and other things out of paper for 25+ years now this site has made me want to lock my self in my studio and work none stop I will keep an eye on your page good work!

    here is one of my newer masks ( Horakhty )

  10. Hello Jonni, i was wondering about what you did with the clay afterwards. Your video really caught my attention because i want to make a helmet, and was wondering if you reused your clay, and if it broke and crumbled. Thanks.

    • Hi robert. Yes, I reused the clay. It isn’t fired, so even if it dries out you can just add water to it and use it again. If it gets paste or plaster or something on it, you have to scrape that off or throw those bits out, but you can reuse most of it.

      When you get your helmet done I hope you’ll let us see it.

      • Thanks Jonni, i will also try to use other techniques iv’e seen with other projects, such as using fiberglass and Bondo. Thanks for the reply, i really appreciate it, and i love your work and your website. Thanks again.

  11. Hello Jonni,

    I hope you are doing well. I love your work and I am so excited about creating a positive clay form for a mask. I am wondering if you prefer super sculpey or WED clay for masks? What are the pros and cons of each?


    • Hi Andres. The Super Sculpey leaves the inside of the mask clean, and comes out easily if you put on a film of petroleum jelly. The release doesn’t damage the clay at all, so you can use it again to make another mold. On the other hand, the WED clay is much less expensive, so if you want to do a number of different masks at one time, it would be a good option. It does leave a light film of grey coloration on the inside of the mask, though. This can be covered with a coat of the home-made gesso.

  12. Hi Jonni,

    Love your work. Could I ask for the names of the products you were using for the bronze/ iron oxidisation finish? – Trying to source them in the UK.

    Many Thanks

    • Hi Corinna. I used the metal coatings from Sculpt Nouveau. I used the iron and bronze in the video, and ended up using copper after the camera was turned off. I just checked their distributor’s page, and the closest one to the UK is in the Netherlands. If you send them an email, they might be able to tell you how to find a similar product near you. It’s fun to play with.

  13. Hi,
    I found your videos by accident, and they are AWESOME thank you so much for this site. I did the helmet mask for a piece for comicon coming up. mine is a Roman style, like a gladiator would wear to honor the god Liber Pater. after I let it set, I am unable to get it off the mold. did I hear you right, when you said you cut it off? how did you go about that?
    Many thanks,

    • Hi Roman. I did need to cut my helmet because the mask wouldn’t flex enough to come off the rigid foam head. I can’t remember where the seam was, but it may have been possible to cut up the back near the middle where the seam would be easy to repair, then spread the halves apart without actually taking the helmet apart into two pieces. I’m not sure if that makes sense – I guess it would be sort of like a zipper.

      You do need to put it back together quickly, after you get all the clay out, to keep it from warping out of shape. Once the clay was out of the middle of mine, I could use the original foam head as a stand, and it helped me get the pieces back together correctly. I repaired the seam with another layer or two of paper mache.

      I hope this helps. Be sure and show us your Roman helmet when it’s done!

        • I used a utility knife-box cutter. With a very sharp blade. With only a few layers of the shop towel and paste, it isn’t hard to cut. Getting it back together is rather messy, though…

  14. Hi!
    first, you are amazing. I have loved finding your site!
    I am in the process of designing and making costumes for the local theater, for the production of the little mermaid. I have been thinking it would be fum to create some of these costumes out of paper mache.
    DO you have any tips for this? these will be worn by kids 12-18
    thanks so much for any bits of advice you can offer.

    • Hi I tried making a mask using the shop towel mâché paste and it never got hard. I followed the video and used 1/4 glue 1/4 plaster Paris 1tablespoon water 1 teaspoon vinegar. Spread with a paint brush and it’s dried for 24 hours but just is spongy and weak. What did I do wrong? Would it be better to dip each strip of shop towel in the mix instead? Please help!

      • Hi Anthony. The towels do need to be completely soaked in the plaster-glue mixture. I put an extra layer of the mixture over the paper, as well ans between them, to make sure it soaks in really well. If the mixture is applied too thinly, the paper will not get hard. You certainly can dip the strips instead of using a brush, if it’s easier to get a full coating that way. I often do, when I’m working with smaller pieces of paper. At this point if the outside seems to be absorbent, you might try adding another layer of paper mache, with the paste thickly applied, and see if that helps.

  15. Hi, Jonni,

    I’m afraid I have to come in on the side of the original metal finish, rather than the “terra cotta” look. I agree that a lot of the facial detailing on the “eagle” portion was overwhelmed by the patina. It occurred to me, though, that you might have been able to salvage it with a little bit of highlighting. I was thinking that a bit of gold (guilding, or patina) on the eyebrow crests and the beak, or possibly doing the beak in bronze would have made it “pop” a bit more, and stand out from the iron of the helmet proper. Still, it is a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  16. You left us with a number of things to think about! First, the video was really good. It is always good to see what works and what does not- you help us learn. Second, I can not decide which coloration I prefer. First it was the clay colored one, then the metal patina…I like them both-alot! Either one work really well, but it was up to you to decide! Isn’t it fun to be an artist?
    To answer your question about what we think about when we do artwork- that is a tough answer. Nothing sometimes, only the sculpture sometimes, sometimes in another world-making up stories as you say. I just know that when I am doing it- all is right with the world and the problems of the day disappear. Not bad to have that in your life.
    Lastly, congratulations to your daughter for her achievements. I knew right away that the painting behind you was hers. She has quite a talent and she comes by it quite honestly! I wonder if your grandson will have the same? You have every reason to brag!

    • Thanks, Eileen. I’ve been reading lately about the need for kids to have time alone so they can learn how to listen to the ideas and thoughts and conversations inside their heads – and that alone-time is something that many modern kids don’t get. Is it making it harder for children to learn who they are, and what they’re personally passionate about?

      Jessie is doing great, isn’t she? As for grandson, he doesn’t yet have great eye-hand coordination (it will come – he just needs more time for the synapses to connect up) so he doesn’t really enjoy “art” so much. But he is really inventive, and can design amazing new games in the Little Big Planet world. It will be fun to see what happens next. (First day of first grade is next week – my own experiences in grade school weren’t so great, so grandma is a bit worried. . . But I’m sure he’ll do fine.)

      • Interesting. I would not want to be raising children right now in the modern world as you say- children’s time is too structured and hurried. I understand why it has evolved that way-safety issues and such- but I still don’t like it. My kids are grown now and they often thank me for not overstructurung their lives, letting them just play or go fishing etc. In the summers we had “quiet” time where they were sent to their respective rooms to read, draw, play quietly during the heat of the day. While they thought they hated it then, they grew to love it and all appreciate alone time now. I would like to think it helped them to define themselves but it did not guarantee that they would always make the right decisions in life.
        Your grandson will do fine in school and will probably love it during the early years anyway. My oldest told me on his first day of school “I have learned how to ride a bike, tie my shoes, and blow a bubble with bubble gum, now all I have to do is learn how to read!” He was excited. Kids are like sponges and he will love all the new experiences. Best of luck to you and to him.

  17. Hi Jonni,

    Regarding the clay residue – for a large mask like this it would be cheaper to use an oil based clay such as either Chavant clay or Monster clay – the paper mache will still stick very well. Also, you could cover the sculpture with Saran wrap (both water or oil based clay) creating a smooth layer and then do the paper mache over that.

    Check out this artists masks – Bruce D. Mitchell,

    Nice work!

    • Follow up – I meant to complete the sentence that the oil clays would be cheaper to use than Super Sculpey for a large mask like this. But WED clay is certainly the cheapest.


  18. Hello Jonni, I thought this was a really fun video, and I want to show it to my son, who I think will really like it, he makes a lot of props for his movie projects and I think he will find it interesting too.
    I did love that bronze look you had and the iron look too, and the final mask looks real good to me. I love the stories you add to it too.


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