Monday, October 20, 2008

How to make a Paper Mache Mask - Art Project

Here is a paper mache mask you and your kids can make for Halloween.
I 've made these flat on the back so they are more for hanging on the wall than wearing.
This makes it easier to display in the classroom and I wasn't up to having 20 half mached balloons sitting around drying in my workspace.

The paper mache technique I use is slightly different than the traditional one. I use a paper towel and white glue method. It is less messy (yay! for all the Moms out there) and it produces a better result.
I supervised 19 8 yr olds making their masks last week and we had very little clean-up.

Materials Required:
cardboard base, paper towel, newspaper, regular tape, duct tape or packing tape, regular white glue , recycled plastic container, water, paint, paintbrush, wax paper
Take some fairly heavy cardboard and cut out a face shape. Make some eye holes and cut them out too. You'll have to use an exacto knife so be VERY CAREFUL (adults only).
Take some newspaper and start forming the parts of the face. This will add the 3-D look to the face and save you from having to build this up with layers of the paper mache. Tape up individual parts with regular tape and then attach to face with packing or duct tape.
It doesn't have to look pretty it just has to be stuck on and it doesn't even have to be stuck on very well for when you mache it will be covered.
Make some interesting face shapes...
you should have seen what those 8 yr olds came up with....horns, teeth, extra noses. You can also use parts of an egg carton or some little boxes or pieces of toilet paper rolls.
Place your mask on some wax paper. Take some paper towel and rip into strips. In your plastic container add plain regular white glue(not tacky) and an equal amount of water, mix.
Dip your paper towel in the glue mixture and start applying to mask. You want to cover all the areas. The paper towel absorbs the mixture so you have less mess, you can also place dry strips on top of the wet ones and they will absorb any excess glue. ... Now you can spend time building up some of the features if you want or just do a single coat all over the mask it's up to you.
Try not to tent the features with the paper towel, you'll lose the definition, use your fingers to shape around the features to keep your contours. Don't worry about the other side as it will face the wall.
When done place in a warm dry area .
Let dry completely, usually about 36 hrs.
If your a fan of paperclay you can make your own by putting paper towel strips in enough glue mixture to saturate, let them sit for a few minutes and then pull apart mixture a bit with your fingers. Keep in a air tight container until you are ready to use. You can mold and sculpt all sorts of things and it will dry rock hard.
You can tell your mask is dry as most of it will be rock hard, there might be a few soft spots but as long as they are not moist you are ready to paint. Because we used white paper towel, the large areas I want white I just leave unpainted.
Paint as desired. I used tempera as this is what the kids will use at school. For a shiny finishing coat, wait until all the paint is thoroughly dry (even if it feels dry give it a few extra hrs. to fully cure), then paint on a thin layer of full strength white glue. The curing ensures you paint won't start running when you put on the glue as it is water soluble. You also need a light touch as it may start smearing a bit even after curing.
You can use this paper mache technique on a variety of sculptures. Check out the Art Attack site in my links section as Neil uses this technique on lots of different projects. It is very kid friendly.
I think paper mache is an under-utilized medium. When I was a kid we were always maching something. Of course, we had a lot of mouldy projects too as we used the flour and water method. The white glue eliminates this issue and your project will be stronger too.
see you soon


  1. These are great masks and thanks for the tutorial. Look forward to trying this with my kids soon.

  2. Thanks Dim Sum,Bagels,and Crawfish. Good luck with the project. I'm sure you will enjoy it as much as we do. The third graders finished all their painting today and I hope to post a group shot of their masks.

  3. Thanks a lot. My daughter has to make a mask for school and we are excited to try your technique. Thanks for posting!

  4. Love the masks! I'm wanting to do masks with my grade 7/8 class and i'd like to try the paper towel and glue method. Would you recommend a good quality paper towel over a cheaper brand, or does it not matter?
    Thanks for sharing all your great ideas and expertise. I love your site.

  5. anonymous,
    it doesn't really matter what type of paper towels you use as long as they are absorbant. I don't use the paper towels the school stocks for the washrooms as I find they are too stiff, you want some softer ones like you use at home.
    Thanks for your wonderful comments!

  6. Artisitically Challenged MomMarch 25, 2010 at 8:39 AM

    We love this idea and my 6 year old cannot wait to make his own mask. Can you please tell me if we can use the watercolors that come in regular kids art boxes or is tempera paint something special? Will the glue still stick and give this bright effect with the watercolors? Your advice is deeply appreciated.
    Thank You!

  7. Dear Artistically Challenged Mom,
    You can try the paint that you have...the only issue may be that the paint does not have enough pigment in it so the color will be light. Really depends on the brand. I would give it a try and if you're not satisfied use acrylic or the disk tempera. The glue will still stick as long as you're not scrubbing over and over with lots of water. If you find it's getting too soft but still have more painting to do just let it dry and then cover with another coat.
    Hope this helps and good luck.
    Take care

  8. Artistically Challenged MomApril 19, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    Dear Gail,
    We ended up buying poster paints as we did not want to experiment. Your instructions were very clear and my son had fun designing and making his own mask. He cannot wait to do another art project :-)
    Thank You!!

  9. Hi, Gail-
    Do you have a particular brand or type of paper towel you feel works best for paper mache?

  10. gail,
    my dear friend and i are making a paper mache mask. is this to challenging for a simplistic school project?!?!?!?

  11. Hey anonymous,
    I think paper mache masks are perfect school projects, I have done them with Grades 2 and 3, Grade 6 makes plaster bandage masks. You need one session for construction and maching....about a week drying time and then one session for painting.
    If you are worried about the size of the project you can just make masquerade type masks where it is just around the eyes and add a stick for holding. Use the same method as described here but your base can be in cardboard or if you want a shortcut you can purchase those eye masks at the Dollar store to use as your base.
    Thanks for asking and I hope I got to you in time.

  12. I just discovered your blog.
    I love these masks.
    I do appreciate the step-by-step instructions.

  13. I absolutely love your blog, and I'm encouraged to try your paper clay recipe. Can I use Elmer's glue paste as my glue?..I'm trying to avoid a paperclay recipe that uses flour.

  14. This is a really nice way to attack this project with kids. Thanks!!!!

  15. Just wondering if Elmers school glue will work? I have a lot of that on hand, but can certainly get the regular if needed. Thank you, Thank you for all of the work you put into helping all of us "regular" folks. :)