Paper Mache Halloween Mask

Yes, I know I’m too old to go trick-or-treating. I’ve been too old for about 50 years… But why should the kids have all the fun? The weird alien mask I made is probably not what you have in mind for your own Halloween costume, but the techniques used in this tutorial will work no matter what kind of face you decide to put on your mask.

My alien was inspired by my old create-a-critter game, which I designed years ago when I was teaching myself Flash animation. In fact, most movie aliens are designed in sort of the same way – you mix and match parts of real animals and come up with something that looks like it might live on another world.

I chose a tapir for the nose and topknot, (do a google search for “baby tapir” – they’re adorable!), and then added some frog-like eyes, ears borrowed from an African hunting dog, and gills so I could see through the mask. The eyes and ears were put in the “wrong” place. You, of course, will probably make a mask that looks like a witch, or a ghoul, or Dick Cheney, or whatever.

I decided that I didn’t want to wear the mask during my pretend walk around the neighborhood, so I put it on a “stick” made of heavy wire. That way I can raise the mask in front of my face during the trick-or-treat part of my walk, and hold it at my side between houses so I can see oncoming cars and other dangerous things. If you prefer to wear your mask in the normal fashion, you might want to make it in a helmet shape, like the ceremonial Dogon mask, or put an elastic strap around the back like the traditional rubber Halloween masks. Don’t feel like you have to follow my directions exactly – I just made this up as I went along.

If you come up with any useful variations to this tutorial, please let us know in the comments section. And we would love to see how your own mask turned out. If you aren’t sure how to add your photo to the comments, send me an email so I can help.

Creating Your Design
Creating Your Design

Step 1: Draw a life-sized image of the way you want your mask to look. If you intend to wear it, you’ll need to make it big enough to go over your face, so be sure to measure. If you want to see out (highly recommended) you’ll also need to measure the distance between your eyes and the distance between your eyes and the top of your head. Then draw your mask with these measurements in mind.

Then, using your drawing as a guide, draw the basic outline of your mask onto a piece of cardboard or foam board.

If you intend to hold the mask in front of your face instead of wearing it, you’ll need to create a handle. I chose a very heavy wire that I bought at the garden center. The wire was then bent to match the outside shape of the mask, and folded over at the bottom so no sharp edges would be left exposed. I then put the wire aside for later.

Cutting Out the Basic Shape
Cutting Out the Basic Shape

Step 2: Now, you cut out the basic face shape, which is the beginning of the inside form you’ll be making for your mask.  Then cover the edges with plastic tape. I used a wide tape sold for wrapping packages, but regular Scotch tape would be easier to work with. You use the plastic tape to keep the paper mache from sticking to your form.

I left off the ears, because I’ll be adding them later.

Adding Paper to the Mold
Adding Paper to the Mold

Step 3: Now you start adding crumpled newspaper to the front of your shape with masking tape. This will form the inside space of your mask. Just keep adding more paper and tape until you have the shape you want.

Adding Plastic Tape
Adding Plastic Tape

Step 4: When you have the shape you want for the inside of your mask, cover it with the plastic tape. This will let you easily remove the paper from inside the mask. As you can see, I did not include my alien’s bulging eyeballs because I thought it would be easier to add those later.

Cover with Paper Mache
Cover with Paper Mache

Step 5: Now add three to five layers of paper mache, made with torn strips of newspaper and held on with a simple paste made from flour and water. I used brown paper for my last layer for added strength, but plain newspaper would work just fine.

Don’t cover the eyes or nostrils or whatever part you intend to see out of.

I placed paper strips over the gill area that I’ll look through when the mask is finished, but the paper I chose was not heavy enough, so I later replaced them with heavier card stock. If you’ll be looking out of the eyes like a normal person, just leave the eyes empty of paper mache.

Allow the paper mache to dry completely.

Remove the Form
Remove the Form

Step 6: Now turn the mask over and carefully cut through the tape that holds the cardboard or foam board backing to the crumpled paper inside the form. A sharp box cutter works well for this. Remove the cardboard backing, and then pull out the paper form. It may come out in one piece, or it may need to be removed a bit at a time. If it comes out in one piece you could use it again to make another mask.

If you’re using a wire to hold up your mask, now is the time to attach it to the outside edges of your mask with several layers of paper mache. Use a few pieces of masking tape to hold it into place so the paper mache can be added more easily. If you aren’t using the wire, you may still want to reinforce the outside edge with some paper and paste to give it a nice finished edge.

Adding the Final Details
Adding the Final Details

Step 7: Now go ahead and add the final details. You can see in the photo above that my alien now has new gills, I’ve given her a topknot made from corrugated cardboard, (I made my giraffe’s mane the same way), and I’ve added the ears.

Covering the Mask with Gesso
Covering the Mask with Gesso

Step 8: You’re almost ready to paint your mask. First, give it an undercoat of gesso or white paint so your final colors will be nice and bright. After I covered my mask with gesso and it was dry, I dropped some thickened gesso onto the mask to make some alien-like warts. I thickened the gesso with calcium carbonate (powdered marble) but a bit of flour would probably work too.

Painting Your Halloween Mask
Painting Your Halloween Mask

Step 9: And finally, you paint your mask in any way you like. I used light yellow and orange tones, borrowed from a frog, and I finished the mask with a coat of acrylic matte varnish mixed with a very small amount of gold metallic paint. The metallic paint gave the mask a somewhat lizard-like sheen. It also catches the light so my mask will be easy to see when I’m scaring my neighbors into giving me candy, and it may also help me stay visible as I walk around in the dark. (OK, I’m not really going to walk around town on Halloween begging for candy – I really am too old for such things – but one needs to stay safe even in one’s fantasies, right?)

OK – now it’s your turn. Please let us see your mask when it’s done – you can show it off in the comments below. And if you have any suggestions that would improve on my ideas (and I’m sure you will), please let us know.

23 thoughts on “Paper Mache Halloween Mask”

  1. Hey I read your instructions and really got a better understanding of how to do Papier-Mache. But, I do have a couple of improvments/suggestions. #1 If you dont like the smell then you can use brown sugar or cinnamon to fix it #2 you can use regular box cardboard, that comes from UPS, for your papier-mache mold and #3 If anyone wants to know whats measurements to use I used anywhere from 1/2 cup to 1 whole cup flour and same amount for the water. But besides that your instructions came in VERY good use!!!!! 🙂

  2. Hello Jonni!
    I was delighted to find your site & I’ve spent some time making a few of the masks – I even made the paper mache clay with linseed oil etc… I would like to ask you about taking the paper – or the clay off the “form” – I tried to put tape on the form, so the dried paper or clay would come away from the form, but I simply was not successful. I had to kind of rip it away & start a bit from scratch. I’m determined to get great results & I feel like you’re showing some awesome tips and recipes and directions – I totally appreciate that, it’s very inspirational! A few more pointers, for me, about peeling the paper or clay away from the form (after it’s dried) would be very very helpful. Thanks so much! Karin

    • Interesting – I’ve never had a problem pulling the dried paper mache clay away from a form that was covered with tape. Did you let your clay dry completely? Or did bits of the tape get stuck under the clay, perhaps?

      • Well, maybe I didn’t let it dry 100% – can I ask what kind of tape? Masking tape? Thanks for your prompt reply! Karin

        • I’ve used both masking tape and plastic tape, and both of them worked. How thick was the clay? Is it possible that it was so thin that it tears when you try to take it off the form? (It’s hard to know exactly what’s happening when I can’t look over your shoulder.) 🙂

  3. Great Mask! Any ideas how to use a full mask out of a 24 inch balloon. We have it completed and cannot figure out an easy way to stabilize it on my boy’s shoulders. He will only be wearing it for about 10 minutes. It has breathing and eye site holes. It wobbles alot – even on mine when it just fits over my head. I need this in less than 36 hours so your ideas would be greatly appreciated.

  4. I’ve been making masks over forms made from my own face – plaster strips all over my face – you know. But your idea for the base upon which to build is much better and SAFER! Thanks for the enlightening, face saving tip! If you would like to see some of my masks – made my old way – I’ll send some pix.

  5. So cool! We made a crash dummy head tonight for halloween. So far so good! We used alum. foil over a real face, I filled in the nose, lips, and eyebrows with hot glue and let it dry. Then half-way stuffed the foil head with plastic shopping bags. We placed the foil head over a foam wig head and taped the base to the table. We then used news paper and flour/water paste. One layer is drying so far. Looks pretty good! of course, with a couple more layers and some paint, it will look lots better! Thanks for your ideas!

    • Hi Kathy. I hope you let us see the finished mask. Your way of doing it sounds really interested, and we’d love to see how it turns out.

  6. An artist friend of mine introduced me to using blue “shop towels” on a roll for papier mache.
    They’re great because they’re thick (so the work goes quicker and is stronger) and also because they’re quite supple and drapable while wet. The towels have usually been found in automotive depts and stores, but saw them the other day at my local Safeway right next to the regular paper towels. Might be fun to play around with anyway.

    Diane B.

  7. hey!
    i’ve been lurking around here for the last few weeks – your projects are beautiful! and your tutorials are so well done.
    today is paper mache day around here, and the page about paste recipes came in handy. i’ve wasted DAYS playing around with different formulas! i’m making some christmas ornaments today, with your raw flour/water recipe, and i’ve found that brown paper towels (from public washrooms) are working pretty well. we’ll see how they dry…
    thanks for the wicked resource!

    • Thanks for the tip about brown paper towels. I’m sure you could get them pretty cheap at a place that sells supplies for restaurants. The paper is heavier than newsprint so the finished article would need fewer layers to be strong, but the paper is also a bit softer than brown paper bag paper, so the edges would melt together better. I think I need to go find myself a few packages to play around with. Great tip!

      • so, i’ve been playing with this craft all week, and i thought on monday that newspaper was a little too stiff for the small stuff that i was doing. that’s how i discovered the brown paper towel thing.. but as the week went on, i realized that the problem was one of technique, not of materials.
        so i’ve been using newspaper for structural integrity (i hope), and paper towel for later layers.
        i’ll comment again when i finally finish something.
        thanks again!

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