Tips for Paper Mache Masks Made Over WED Clay

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WED clay form for paper mache maskI love using WED clay for my sculpted paper mache masks, but I was always irritated by the grey residue left inside the mask after it was removed from the clay form. This week I found a product, entirely by accident, that really seems to isolate the clay from the paper mache, and leaves the mask clean inside.

I can’t remember what I bought the Turtle Wax for (certainly not to wax my poor, unwashed little pickup!)  But for some reason, when I saw the can sitting on the shelf I decided to see if it would get dry if it was applied over wet WED clay. It did. That gave me a dry surface that could be given a light coating of petroleum jelly. Then I added my shop-towel mache,  and when the paper mache was dry the inside of the mask was left with almost no clay residue at all.

I tried paste wax and a spray type of car wax over WED clay several years ago, and I wasn’t very excited about the results of either product. And I’ve tried using petroleum jelly by itself over the clay, and that didn’t seem to work all that well, either. The combo I tried this week works very well, as you can see from the results in the video.

To be honest, the “problem” isn’t all that big a deal – you can always cover up the dried clay on the inside of the mask with one more layer of paper mache. That isn’t usually a bad idea, anyway, because it makes the mask stronger. But still – I’m happy that this product worked, and it was fun seeing my angry-man mask in his green wax skin, even if it was only temporary.

By the way, I received a tip this week by one of our readers, who suggested that a polyurethane varnish is a better choice for sealing the inside of a paper mache mask. She said that matte acrylic varnish doesn’t hold up well to the heat and humidity inside a mask when it’s worn for any length of time. Thanks for the tip, Joanna!

Links to items mentioned in the video:

I also found a product similar to the Sponge-its on amazon.com, but I’m sure they were much less expensive at Wall-Mart.

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30 thoughts on “Tips for Paper Mache Masks Made Over WED Clay”

  1. Hi Joni

    Thanks again for all your great tips and sharing.

    I’m curious if you have tried letting WED clay dry completely. How hard does it get? Is it durable? Would ears and things break off?

    I’m trying to find the simplest way to make a number of different animals (~ 8′ tall) and wonder about just using WED clay. Period.

    I know it takes a long time to dry, that’s OK. It still seems like the least complicated process, but maybe the final product is fragile.

    My second choice would be to make them out of WED, let them dry, then add a layer of silky-smooth clay over them.

    I love the process of sculpting regular kiln clay, but get all the details and potential pitfalls of glazing and firing take the fun out of it. I’m trying to replicate it with an air dry version.

    Do you have any suggestions?

    Many thanks

    • Hi Sarah. The WED clay will dry as hard as any wet pottery-type clay. It’s easily scratched, and anything that sticks out will either be knocked off or fall off, eventually. It’s a modeling clay, so it isn’t intended to be used as the final sculpture. The people who use it for models will make a silicone mold of the WED clay sculpture and then cast it in resin or plaster or foam.

      Don’t leave the WED clay inside of a sculpture. It shrinks as it dries, like any water-based material, and you’ll eventually have little pieces rattling around in there. And if there are any thin areas, like legs or ears, they’ll crack or fall off before you have a chance to cover them with the air dry clay. Another problem is that it will soak up water from your air dry clay, which will make it ‘puff up’ a little, and when it dries again the air dry clay layer on top will crackle and probably fall off. (I’m just guessing about that, but it is possible.)

      For small pieces that can be made without a kiln, you might want to try epoxy clay. It doesn’t feel exactly like real clay but it works very much the same. You can get very fine details, and it cures overnight into a very strong sculpture. You’ll save a lot of money if you make an armature first, like I did for my squirrel, and then cover the armature with a thin layer of the epoxy clay – but you can make them out of solid epoxy clay if you want to. It cures rather than drying, so you don’t have to worry about water getting trapped inside. My favorites are Magic Sculpt and Apoxy Sculpt.

      Just to show you what’s possible with the epoxy clay, I recently made these goats with Magic Sculpt. I started with a cardboard pattern, wire, foil and hot glue on the inside, then the epoxy sculpt ‘skin.’ The baby is only about three inches high and the legs are really thin, but they’re plenty strong. They were shipped to a relative, and those horns on the mamma goat arrived unbroken.

      mamma and baby goat sculpture

  2. I am concerned about toxicity when you mention the idea of using polyurethane as a sealant on face masks. Even if it is completely cured (which could take months, as far as I know) I wonder if the high heat/humidity created by the wearer’s face could release unhealthy fumes.
    That said, I love polyurethane as a sealant for paper mache sculpts other than masks. It creates a great hard shell.

    • I’m not a chemist, but you bring up an important question. Unfortunately, I’ve been told that an artists’ acrylic varnish will not hold up well on the inside of a mask, if it’s worn for a great length of time on stage. What would you suggest as an alternative?

      • I’ve heard that linseed oil is “natural” and “environmentally-friendly” but takes a long time to cure. I don’t have any scientific data to prove it though.
        The only thing I’d be sure is 100% non-toxic is PVA “white glue” (Elmer’s Glue that kindergartners can eat).

  3. Jonni, great video and your site is an amazing resource!
    Towards the end of this video you mentioned that the WED clay might be usable again if you knead in the turtle wax, were you able to reuse the WED clay you used for that mask? Did you notice any difference in the way it behaves after the addition of the wax? I like the look of the WED clay (and I’ve enjoyed working with earthen clays before so that appeals to me) but I’m not thrilled at the thought of discarding it after one sculpt.
    Thanks for any info you can provide!

    • Hi Molly. I didn’t try to reuse the WED clay with the wax still on it, so I still don’t know if that would work or not. I scraped off the wax as much as I could, and it wasn’t too difficult to do.

  4. I remember seeing somewhere that WED stood for Walt E Disney. Either that’s the stuff he used for modelling, or it’s another example of duff information being propagated on the Internet (in which I may just have played a small part).
    Question for Jonni – is that the only type of non-oil-based clay you use?

    • The rumors are correct – the WED stands for Walt E Disney, and the clay was developed as a modeling clay for people making big sculptures for theme parks. It’s the only non-oil based clay I know about. Are there more?

      • Yes, there is Crayola air dry clay. It is off-white and seems to dry slower than Wed Clay, which is great for under-talented people like me who need a lot of time. It can be smoothed with water like Wed Clay and it is similar in price if it is bought in the 25 pound box.

  5. Hi Jonni!

    Thanks again for teaching us. While I am waiting for my clown face to dry completely, here is another wall hanging I am currently working on.

  6. Hello and thanks for all of your efforts/sharing! I’ve spent hours perusing your site and watching the videos.
    I have a question. Above you wrote “you can always cover up the dried clay on the inside of the mask with one more layer of paper mache.” If I remember correctly you said in one of the videos that no clay from the form should remain in the mask because the oils will affect it. Is WED clay oil free? Also, why do you use plastic over the clay/under the paper mache/plaster cloth for some projects and now the wax/jelly? Does it have to do with more detailed work?
    Thanks so much, Jonni.

    • Oh dear – I think you’ve caught on that I do things differently almost every time! I remember saying that oil-based clay, including unbaked Super Sculpey, which I like to use as a modeling clay, must come out of a model because the oil will eventually seep out and ruin the finish. I made the mistake once of leaving the clay inside the head of a horse, and the result was very disappointing.

      WED clay has no oil, but you wouldn’t want to leave it inside a sculpture unless you were absolutely sure it had no moisture left in it at all. Here, the problem would not be oil, but mold. The gray smudge left behind when removing a mask from WED clay would not hold enough moisture to cause problems, but it doesn’t look very nice. That’s why I mentioned that it could be covered with another layer of paper mache.

      If you’re making a mask with large or simple features, you can place a layer of light plastic wrap over the WED clay before putting the paper mache over it. This makes it easy to get the mask off, but finer details could get lost that way. The angry-man mask I made for this demonstration had fairly small details, and I wanted to make sure they weren’t lost by putting plastic over them before the paper mache – so yes, it does have to do with the level of detail.

      The masks in my book were all made over unbaked Super Sculpey that was coated with a light film of petroleum jelly. The masks come off easily, no details get lost, and there’s no clay residue inside. In many ways, that’s actually a better choice for making positive molds for masks. But, I like to play around and experiment.

      Not to confuse things too much — I do like to put a layer of heavier plastic over a hard mask form before sculpting with a soft oil-based clay, if I’m going to put paper mache over the clay. When the paper mache is dry, the plastic helps you to pull the clay away from the hard mask form, and then the soft clay can be pulled out from the inside of the mask, often in one piece, leaving the mask nice and clean. Without that sheet of plastic under the clay, it’s easy to distort the shape of the mask when trying to pry it off the clay. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to do the same thing when working with WED clay, as a matter of fact.

      Since writing my mask book, I found the WED clay and discovered that I really like sculpting with it. However, it can get tricky when using it as for a positive mold for a mask. An soft oil-based clay can often be a easier choice.

      I hope that helps clear up some confusion. Let us know if you have any more questions.

      • Yes, I understand now. I think it’s great that you explore and utilize different methods.
        I’m looking forward to the completion of my current project so I can create something using your wax and jelly method!

  7. Hi Jonni.

    Thank you for taking the time to show us all these wonderful ideas. I have been working with paper mâché for a few months now, making pumpkins and such. I took your mask idea and decided to make a wall sculpture instead of the traditional mask. I love your new fly recipe as it was the first time I have used it. I was used to the paper insulation and it is nowhere as smooth. But anyway, I just wanted to show you what I have come up with so far. Can wait to paint it.

    • Hi Christopher,

      I think you intended to show us your wall sculpture, but the image did not get added to your comment. The file size was probably too big. Could you edit the photo and try again? We would love to see it.

    • Hi Judy. WED clay is a wet earth clay, a lot like the clay used by potters. However, it has something added to it (glycerine, someone said) that keeps it from drying out as quickly as regular wet clay. It will get all over your hands, just like pottery clay does, but it is much easier to work with than the harder oil-based clays that need to be heated up to soften them. I found it online a few years ago, and really enjoy using it. It was developed for the Walt Disney theme parks – and now movie companies use it when making models for their larger creatures and robots, when oil-based clay would be too time-consuming or expensive. My local pottery supply store used to carry it, but now they have to special order it. I recently ordered 50 pounds from Amazon.com, since I could get it faster that way. However, if you can find a local pottery supply store that will order it for you, it would be less expensive because probably wouldn’t have to pay for shipping. It’s made by the Laguna Clay company.

  8. A great tip, thanks Jonni. I can remember as far back as high school digging clay out of a casting. That is so tedious and frustrating. Anything that makes that job simpler is a great thing to know.

  9. Great video and tip Jonni! And I love your mask….he’s kind of hauntingly angry. Actually, I think my daughter would say he looks like my “angry dad face”! I may have to borrow him for Halloween….or just do a sculpt over my own face! LOL Thanks for another great vid Jonni!


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