Paper Mache Masks

Paper Mache Hippo Wall Hanging is Finished

Hippo Wall Hanging

This is the second in the planned series of display masks/wall art/? – I haven’t quite figured out what to call them yet (suggestions welcome, as always).

I’m happy with both the cougar and the hippo. They’re now hanging on my office wall, and I enjoy their company. Black Bear is next.

Hippo Wall HangingI’m also enjoying the process of creating them with the clay > silicone mold > “instant” paper mache > acrylic paint > beeswax varnish. If you missed the recipe for the paper and plaster mix I’m using for these, you’ll find it on the cougar page. I wanted to make a video of the various processes, but I managed to break my video camera a few weeks ago. Oh well — it was a fun toy while it lasted…

One idea that keeps floating around in my mind is the possibility of designing architectural details to make with this material. The Victorians did it, but with an army of cheap workers and some industrial equipment that I wouldn’t be able to reproduce. However, it might still be possible to do it just for my house, using the techniques I’m using for the masks. A sculpted chair rail would be a fun project to start with, but I need to do some research to see if the pieces can be nailed or sawn, and if the surface would be too prone to chipping. I’ll keep you posted.

But the bear will come first, of course. [Edit – I got distracted and never made the black bear with the DIY paper mache, but I did make a 3D pattern for a black bear wall sculpture. You can see it here.]

22 Comments

  • Hi Jonni
    Are the hippo mask instructions in your book?
    I triumphantly showed my wife the hyena mask for our party as we have been to Africa a few times. She loved it but then saw the hippo and wants me to go as a hippo. Are there plans showing how to make the hippo anywhere?

    As an aside hippos are hugely dangerous, but appear like a ‘fun bus’. They make this snorting call that sort of goes “hiphiphiphipooooooo”. Cool animals unless you annoy them or get between them and the water.

    • Hi Simon. The hippo isn’t in the book, and I don’t have a pattern for him. I made a clay model and then went to a great deal of trouble to make a silicone mold, which was a silly waste of time for just one mask. If I did it again, I’d skip the mold and cover the clay model with the shop towel mache, like I’m doing with the owl mask I’m working on now. Since you’ve seen these beasts up close, you could probably make a very realistic mask – I have to rely on photos, since I’ve never seen a real one.

      I have heard that hippos kill more people than any other animal in Africa (could that be right?) but they look so lumpy-dumpy adorable. At least in the pictures. I wouldn’t want to make one mad.

  • Can you please explain or show how to hang a mask on a wall ? I’d like to know what you have to do to rig up the mask in order to hang it and any advice. Or have you already mentioned that somewhere online ?
    I’ve done searches with no luck.
    Thanks very much !

    • Hi Lori. I do lots of different things to make the masks hang-able, mostly depending on what mood I’m in and what material they’re made out of. For most of the masks in the book, I made a hole in the side of the masks and tied ribbons – this doesn’t work all that great for putting them on the wall, though, unless you put the holes in a better spot so they’ll hang correctly:

      Hanging a mask with ribbons

      If I’m making a mask with paper mache clay, a serrated picture hanger can be pushed into the clay while it’s still wet:

      Using a serrated picture hanger embedded in paper mache clay.

      I used hot glue to attach a wire to the back of the gorilla mask – the mask needs to be pretty light for this to work:

      Hot glued wire picture hanger.

      And sometimes, I make a mask that just naturally hangs on the wall, like the Kudu in the book. The top curves down at the back, and I just hang it over a nail:

      Hanging a mask with a natural lip at the top for the nail.

      But I just make this stuff up as I go along, you know. I have no idea how other people hang their masks. 🙂

      • Oh my God, thank you so much. You are a true professional ! I plan to buy your book when I get a little extra money !

  • Help! I’m helping grandaughter make an elephant for a school project that is due in two weeks…How did you attach the metal ears to the paper mache elephant. We watched the baby elephant instructions on youtube…loved it!

    • It’s been a long time since I made the elephant, so my memory is a little fuzzy. However, I think I made the metal ears large enough so the bottom portion could be bent and laid flat against the elephant’s head. Then I held it on temporarily with a few pieces of masking tape and covered the metal with paper mache. Since the paper mache is quite heavy, I’m sure I allowed the portion that covered the head to dry completely before adding any paper mache to the ear itself. Use lots of paper mache, so the joint between the ear and the head is well-reinforced.

      I hope your elephant is coming along well – that’s quite an ambitious school project. What grade is your granddaughter in? Is the project going well?

  • Found this wonderful webpage of yours and must say its heaven sent. The Hippo is beutiful also. : ) I will re-pay you Jonni, by contributing in the near futrue as I experiment with ideas you have whirling in my head now.

  • This is one of my favorites, s/he’s got a lot of beautiful details in the face, very nice and life-like! You should definitely do a bird of sorts, I think it would looks excellent in this type of wall hanging. This one in particular reminds me a lot of african animal masks, but with like a more realistic feel to them. Most of the masks I make are not meant to be worn, I just refer to them as decorative masks.

    • By the way, the more I look at this piece the more i’m falling in love, if you ever sell one of these hippo masks, you must let us know cause i’d be very keen to pick one up.

      • Hi Sebastian. Now that you mention it, I do hope to start a store at etsy.com as soon as I have several more designs. Naturally, I’ll make an announcement on the blog. The scary part for me is the next step – finding out if I can paint the next one the same way I painted this one. Wish me luck.

    • Funny that you mention birds – I thought about putting an oxpecker sitting on hippo’s head, but I gave it up because I’m trying to design things that could be shipped. Still, I might need to give my hippo a bird of her own…

      A toucan mask would be fun.

      • You should look at it like this: Molds make it so the model looks the same every time, but the paint job will make it unique! It makes them all the more special cause the people who buy them will know that while their are many molds of the same critter out there, THIS one is painted a bit different then THAT one. And that’s what makes it do unique and enjoyable for mask collectors!

  • This hippo is exquisite! Can you describe a hippo as being exquisite? Maybe not before now! Bravo! As usual, your piece is truly wonderful! There is SO much to be learned on your site, and I am constantly in awe of your work!

    • Thanks Ginny. This was a fun project, but I admit there were a few times when I thought “why am I doing this?” Hippos are such weird creatures, and I sure wouldn’t want to meet one while riding on a canoe down the Zambezi river (inflatable canoe on a river inhabited by crocs and hippos? Aren’t even tourists supposed to be smarter than that?) but I like getting to know new creatures this way – which is much safer. Now I’m looking forward to making the black bear with a cinnamon muzzle. That should be fun, too.

  • Spot on capturing the hippo face…perfect coloring and details. Perfection!! My suggestion for the masks would be simply “Images” . Going over to the cougar post to download the recipe; hopefully this Spring I can try my hand at more paper mache projects….did do a Halloween penquin that I’m proud of…named him “Percy Penguin”. Your art work inspires me!!

    • Thanks, Judy.

      Remember – the paper and plaster recipe I’m using for the wall masks is really only useful if you’re using molds. For direct modeling, the paper mache clay recipe is much better. It gives you time to work, while the plaster recipe hardens within 6 minutes.

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