Sculpt a Wild Man Face with Jonni’s Air-Dry Clay

It was fun to sculpt this wild man face, using a combination of techniques borrowed from both my mask book and my doll book. Admittedly, this is a much longer video than I usually make – let me know if you like everything in just one video, like this one, or if you prefer the different steps to be broken up into separate videos. (I think it needs a musical background, but I haven’t been able to find a royalty-free track that won’t either drown out my voice or put people to sleep. If you have a favorite, let me know).

Also, I hope you’ll let me know what you think about the new blog design. There’s still tons of work to do, but I’m trying to make it more mobile-friendly and easier for people to find stuff. Also, someone suggested that there should be a special page for paper mache questions. I think that’s a great idea – and I may work on it soon.

By the way – you can use the techniques in this video to make any kind of face – it doesn’t have to be a silly Wild Man – but this one was fun. And you don’t need to use the WED clay for the initial form – any kind of clay will work. Use whatever kind you have on hand.

Links for Items mentioned in the video:

38 thoughts on “Sculpt a Wild Man Face with Jonni’s Air-Dry Clay

      • Hi Jonni,
        Oops, I have a question. When making a face with the clay and plaster cloth…….. when do I remove the clay or does it matter? I made my simple Santa shape with 2 layers of plaster cloth and now beginning to add more detail with the paper clay, I thought I would remove the clay now before the details and have discovered it is a little weak and am afraid I will lose what is dry thus far. Will it be difficult to remove clay later or will it be rock hard and sturdy, with no worries of distorting details?
        Thanks, Janie

        • Hi Janie. Ideally, you would wait until the plaster cloth is quite firm. If you’re using oil-based clay for your inner form, it will stay soft. I you’re using a wet clay, it does get hard to remove if you let it dry too much.

  1. Hi Jonni, you are great thx for the tips and tricks. I had fun making the Grinch and hes so scary no one wants him guess he is going in the Halloween box. Bye bye wild man Janie

      • Hi Jonni,

        I used untwisted jute rope that my dog had already fizzed out for me ha ha I put small strip of masking tape on a tuft of rope, trimmed to length and inserted into wet paper mache’ every half inch or so. It dried tight and masking tape that was visible painted up very well. I am on to Santa faces now. Will send a pic.

          • Hi Jonni,
            After writing a nice newsy note I lost it ,darn so this one is shorter. That was a very good question to ask, What will I do with my creations? I am sending the face below to a friend and it supposed to be a character portrait. I didn’t make glasses but I still might do it. My Santa may work in a Christmas wreath that I am going to hang on the door soon and the one I had a question on removing the clay, is just an experiment to see what kind of detail I can get. Thanks for your kind words ;0 ) Janie

  2. Jonni…Thanks for another wonderful tutorial. One tip about painting the pupils: I’m not as steady as I used to be so instead of brushing, I use pieces of dowel rods of various sizes from very small to large, depending on the size of pupil I want. Dip in shallow pool of paint and dot. Clean, dip, dot for second eye….or third, fourth……. 🙂 Works for me. Thanks again for sharing such helpful info.

  3. Hi Jonni
    Loving your website and tutorials. I am a visual arts student looking for your advice. I am constructing a life size doll sculpture and considering using your silky smooth recipe to get a smooth porcelain like effect. The arms and legs are made of expanding polyurethane foam, the body is made of paper mache strips and paste and the head is built with an armature consisting of polystyrene foam and masking tape to resemble a scull form with glass eyes fitted into the sockets. I am thinking that I could use the silky smooth to build up the skin, eyelids and fleshy cheeks leaving the glass eyes exposed in the same way as your Wild Man. Do you think the silky smooth recipe would apply directly to the expanding foam, paper mache, polystrene foam and masking tape using pva/water mix? Or will I need to apply modrock (plaster cloth) to these first? I also have some acrylic gesso I could apply first to create a ground for the silky smooth. Lastly can you clarify if each 1/16-1/4 inch layer of silky smooth must be dried fully before adding the next layer? Any advice greatly appreciated. Many thanks. Andrea x

    • Hi Andrea. I know the air dry clay will stick to masking tape and paper mache. I”m not sure about whether or not it will stick to foam. If you put it on a rounded form and not just in small spots, it should dry in place and then stay where you put it. If it’s just added to a few places on the foam, it will probably fall off when it dries. The ModRock will add expense, so I’d suggest doing a small test first. You may not need it.

      I do allow each thin layer of clay to dry before adding more, but you can get away with building up the clay as soon as it’s stiff enough to work on without distorting the shape. If you do that, make sure you allow it plenty of time to dry all the way through once you’re done sculpting.

      Good luck with your project. I hope you’ll let us see it when it’s done.

  4. Oh my goodness! This website is like a goldmine and I loved watching you sculpt this wild man! I have not done paper mache since I was in elementary school (I am now 29 years old) but have been looking for a way to release my creativity. All your creations are so amazing and your tutorials are so fun to watch. I cannot wait to get my hands dirty and start making some of my own creations!

    • Gosh – I’m glad you like it. I’d love to see what you make. Do you know what you’re going to do first?

      • I don’t know! I love fantasy and medieval history so perhaps something along those lines. I make chainmail, and would love to make a little doll with a chainmail shirt.

        I have a four month old daughter though, so it will probably be forever until I get to make something, but for now I can sketch ideas out!

  5. Hello Jonni
    Firstly, thanks for your work, it is a great service for anybody interested in paper mache. I am attempting to do my first paper mache project for a large 12 foot performance puppet. I’ve performed in a lot of puppets but never made one for myself. I am going to make an iguana dragon like puppet, which body will be mostly fabric but full head will be paper mache. In preparation for doing this I have been watching and studying your website quite extensively. I am also going to order your book (but I do not have enough time to wait for your book to arrive). I am using a water based clay with a styrofoam armature and was planning on using your paper mache clay recipe to create the form of the mask. In watching your videos I believe that I understand you to say that it is problematic to use paper mache with a water based clay. Am I correct with this notion? Also, I remember from one of your videos that pulling a mask from WEB clay is quite messy even with the use of a clear based coat of Krylon. Do you recommend any particular direction to avoid the messy aspect? Is using your PM clay recipe on top of the water based clay redundant in any kind of way that I should just use regular strips of paper?
    again, thanks!
    Michael

    • Hi Michael. The problem with paper mache over a water-based clay is that the paper mache can’t dry until the clay underneath is dry. And if the clay dries, then it’s really hard to get it out of the paper mache skin. If the features are not terribly detailed, you could use a film of plastic over the clay, and put your paper mache over that. Paper strips and paste work fine, but they take longer to place on the armature than the one layer of paper mache clay – that’s the biggest advantage of the clay over the strips and paste. If you do make a puppet head out of the clay, don’t use the linseed oil, because it has an odor and contains chemicals. Use the mineral oil instead.

      I hope this helps. Be sure and let us see your creation when it’s done.

      • that is very helpful Jonni, although I am still a little confused about whether or not I should return my water based clay back to the store for some of the super sculpy that you use. This is my first ever sculpture attempt and I wonder if the sculpy is a little more forgiving? But then does oil based clay have any draw backs?
        I thought I would share with you the sort of giant puppet that I am attempting to make. This website is the site of Maria Lexa’s whom is the puppet maker and director I performed with for almost 10 years: http://www.sunandmoonensemble.org/performances.html
        She actually uses WEB clay.
        Again, thanks very much for your generosity! I will share pictures when the time comes.
        Michael

        • If I was making a mask that size, I’d use the WED clay. You can keep the water in the clay from soaking into the paper mache if you put a layer of thin plastic over it – the really thin plastic wrap used in the kitchen will stick really good to wet clay, and it makes it really easy to pull the dried paper mache off the mask, too. Super Sculpey works, too, but the WED is easier to use, and you already have some, so I’d go with that.

  6. Hi. Your videos are so helpful and all the information on your site is wonderful. I am new to sculpting, but am eager to try your method of making a mask. I am wondering what type of tools you are using in the video on sculpting the wild man face. They seem to help a lot with the finer details. Are they standard clay sculpting tools, and are they stainless steel? I saw some sculpting tools sold on the internet that are made of wood, but wondered if those might tend to stick to the clay.

  7. Hi Jonni, Im having a ball with making things and learned so much from your books.
    Question, I wanted to add some air dry clay to make a face over the wood. I bought amaco brand and added it and the next day it was cracked and didn’t really work. What would you use I wanted the face to look kind of smooth and the paper mache clay was to bumpy

  8. I really like this wild man! His details are amazing! I love sculpting faces and this gave me courage just to make them without any “deeper” purpose 🙂 I liked your long video and didn´t feel any great need for baground music. Your calm and happy voice and occasional “miau´s” are perfect for me. I also think your new website looks really beautiful, clear and easy to use.

  9. Jonni,
    You mentioned background music for your vids. You might like to consider Incompetech for Royalty-Free music. See here (http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/faq.html). We’ve used the tracks for instructional videos at work before; they work well and there’s a lot of styles to choose from. I’m not affiliated in any way.
    Also, I’m viewing the blog on an iPad and the new design looks good. I like the cleaner, uncluttered look.
    Regards
    Rob

    • Thanks, Rob. I have downloaded some of the music from that site. I agree that it’s a great service. I just haven’t quite figured out how to integrate it into a video in a non-annoying way. One of these days I might figure it out. 🙂

      • Hi Jonni. Love your wild man face. Regarding a music background. As a semi retired video producer, I can say that music must be used judiciously in instructional videos. Watched your Wild Man video, You have a soft voice and way of presentation. I think almost any music would drown you out. You have a lot of detail without voice but your hands are busy. Best of all, you do not waste words. Anyone watching this has to be paying attention to everything in order to learn. Music not necessary. Yes, there are slow quiet areas during some of the detail. It gives the viewer a chance absorb the lesson. One way to achieve wakeup points is by breaking the long program up into segments as you mentioned but keep the program continuous. Each segment would have a visual transition and title of the segment overlaying a freeze frame. A sound hurrah could be added to the introduction of each segment. With segments, a viewer can pause or leave at the end of a segment and return easily picking up where they left off. They can easily keep track of a part they may want to review later. Transitions and sound for segments is a lot more work and costly if you hire a professional editor. The easiest thing to do would be to overlay text to a segment and give it a number, i.e., “No. 3 Eyebrows,” at the bottom of the screen, leaving it there for 5 to 7 seconds while you keep on talking. Remember, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Focus on paper mache. Love your videos.

        • Excellent suggestions, Glenda. Thanks! I hadn’t thought about chapter or section headings, but it’s a great idea. I might try that the next time I do a longer video. Do you have any videos out on YouTube that we could watch?

    • Thanks,Jonni, for the helpful video on how to measure the wet paper for the new recipe…I can’t wait to try it. I am working my way up to a bigger project, but in the mean time am making butterflies and hummingbirds. Next, I plan to make some closer to nature birds I find near me here in south jersey. I’m going to start with the little titmouse s (or is it titmice?) fond of visiting my kitchen window….in the mean time,here is a photo of my first butterflies….

    • Alyson, if you tried to upload a photo of your giraffe, please try again. You may need to edit your photo to make it smaller, so the system will accept it.

  10. Thank you for the info. So it is called WED. Boy, did I miss that one a mile. The ease with which you used it in the Wild Man video is precisely what I have been looking for. I wondered if it could be fired so I called Laguna and they told me that it is made with super fine particles which helps it to stay moist longer, and makes it easier to work with, but it really is not made for firing in a kiln. With the humidity in my MD studio between 55 and 60 in the summer it should work fine. I have plans to make some relief wall panels in paper mache (using your receipe of course) and I will order some of the WED to get them started.

  11. Your work is so fantastic. Thanks for posting a long version of how you work through a project. It’s very helpful.
    I have a situation I’m wondering if you might have words of wisdom for; I work in a craft booth at a Renaissance faire every summer, we teach how to paint/decorate venetian masks for the public, but we’d LOVE to offer a way of building up a mask, rather than just paint and decorate, we’d love for folks to be able to alter the facial expressions on the basic unpainted masks we order en masse. The situation is not appropriate to do a 3 day process with them, so we order already made unpainted masks.
    I’ve made a few of your masks out of your Mask book to some success; and while it was a BLAST for me, I’m not sure either of these processes will work for the situation at Faire. (The one you show here, nor the ones in the book.)
    Have you made a mold you can use more than once? And, do you know a process that one could do within a day? Most participants in our craft booth, are willing to take 2 to 3 hours, start to finish, and a FEW will come back the following day to finish up, if theirs is more involved. But most people want to finish and wear it out of the booth.
    Can you make a suggestion? I can get more specific if you have time. I’ve ideas but wonder if you’ve gone down that path before, and might offer some suggestions or absolutes.
    Thanks again, your work is inspirational, and your CAT adores you. How adorable!!! Love seeing that kissy kitty.

    • Susan, I can’t imagine any kind of paper mache drying as fast as you need it to. However, you could use the methods in my book and the Pantalone mask videos to create your positive mold, but substitute plaster cloth for the paper mache mask itself. Plaster cloth hardens in about ten minutes, which fits your time frame – but of course it isn’t actually dry in that short amount of time. Since there have been traditional mural techniques that use paint on wet plaster, I think it could be possible for your participants to paint their masks right away, as long as they understand that it will still take the plaster another 24 hours, at least, to fully cure.

      You could also make your mask forms with plaster cloth, again using the techniques from the book, but making them small enough so that another mask could be made over the first one. You’d need to use plenty of plaster cloth, four layers or so, to make them strong enough to withstand lots of handling. Give your designs very few details, just big sweeping shapes, etc., so that the final mask can be made quickly by people who aren’t familiar with a very fast-setting medium. Your mask forms could be made in a number of different characters, to give your participants a chance to choose their own. The mask form would need to be carefully sealed with varnish or shellac, and given a release. Wax would work, I think, or a mixture of oil and dish soap.

      Do remember that I haven’t done any of these things, and certainly not with a crowd of fair-goers. Experiment long before the fair, to find out if it will work or not, and to iron out any kinks. And do let us know what you finally come up with!

      And my cat thanks you for your kind thoughts.

      By the way, you might want to put a question on Matt Lyon’s guest post – he didn’t make his masks as fast as you want to, but he obviously knows a whole lot about design!

  12. Thanks for the link and info Jonni. I’m excited to try out this type of clay and seems rather affordable.

  13. Jonni,

    You mentioned using EB (or was it EP?) clay for sculpting the Wild Man. Having never heard of this clay, I am interested in finding out more information about it. Please let me know more details.

    Gary

    • The clay I mentioned was the WED clay made by the Laguna Clay company. Many local pottery supply stores sell it, and you can buy it on amazon.com. According to the sales blurb, it was first developed for the models for Disney’s anamatronics, and the “WED” stands for Walt E. Disney. It’s now used by studios that create the life-sized models for movie monsters and such. It’s great stuff. I bought the 50 lb size (you can also get just 25 pounds) and since I have the amazon prime the shipping was free. If you have a local pottery store so you don’t have to drive very far, you can sometimes find it for as little as $10 for 25 pounds. That’s way cheaper than any oil-based modeling clay, and I think it’s easier to work with. You use it just like pottery clay. You have to keep it covered to keep it from drying out, but it doesn’t dry as fast as normal clay does, and it holds perfect detail.

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