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Making my first Theatrical Mask: The Process

Last year I did some mask theatre at Bible camp and I LOVED it. It was so fun, and was such a great way to include the kids in the story telling. I would give them a paper mask of one of the characters of my narrative - such as the three little pigs, for example - and as I told the story I'd give them directions on how to act out their part.

As I did this, I became interested in making more sophisticated masks, like venetian masquerade masks, or classic theatre masks. So I did some research. I started a Pinterest board to get inspiration for my new mask obsession, and tried to find helpful "how to" articles on line. I ended up buying a book on Amazon called "How to Make Masks: Easy New Way to Make a Mask for Masquerade, Halloween and Dress-Up Fun, With Just Two Layers of Fast-Setting Paper Mache." and, following the author's instructions, I got to work making a mask form of my own head!

It was a while ago that I did this (summer of 2022), so I don't totally remember the whole process, but I do remember it involved wrapping my whole head in tinfoil and duct tape, then using that tinfoil duct tape shape to construct a paper maché mold which I can use over and over again as a model for my real face. I think in the future I might do it a bit differently because I'm pretty sure the tin foil got a bit warped when I took it off and started filling it with the paper maché! But for now it's just fine. :D

Making "the Good Farmer" Mask

A main character of my little productions is "The Good Farmer." He's an allegorical representation of God, and he is meant to be wise, strong and trustworthy. So I went to work laying on clay shapes on top of my face mold to try and create a character that looked the part! Now that I've completed the process I'm not sure he looks entirely like how I wanted him to (a little too Guy Fawkes-y), but I still generally like his moustache and his shapely nose.

In the "How to Make Masks" book I was instructed to: 1. make the basic face shapes with the clay, and then 2. stick on layers of shop towel strips soaked in the author's own special modge-podge recipe. Unfortunately the modge-podge she recommended dried really fast! It was so difficult for me to get the hang of that I was obliged to give up the project and shelve it for the time being. I had hoped that I could quickly whack out several characters from my plays to use as I did camp speaking last year, but of course art is never done quickly! It always takes much longer than you think it will. So, I was left with a blue, papery old man face sitting in my closet.

A breakthrough!

This year I took another look at theatre mask making on the internet and came across a very informative video showing a mask maker's process. Zarco Guerrero uses plaster strips and Paperclay to make some of his theatre masks, which are two ingredients that are very easy to work with and easy to find!

I was very impressed by his process, so as soon as I could I went to Michael's to buy some plaster strips and Paperclay. I was immediately blown away by how easy it was to sculpt his features, and now I am a super-fan of Paperclay. I am Kylart and I endorse this product!!

Sculpting over the first layers with Paperclay!
Sculpting over the first layers with Paperclay!

Painting my theatrical mask

This was a tricky step for me. I wasn't sure if I wanted the Good Farmer to be painted in a luminescent way, or in a Joe-regular way, or kept solid white, or what! Now that I'm done painting him I do miss the simplicity of the bare clay, but in the end I'm happy with the shiny-ish dramatic look I ended up with. I used a pearlescent base, and mixed gold and copper into all the colours I used. At first I used paint brushes to apply the paint, but it looked quite streaky, so I changed my strategy to sponge application. I like how that looks a lot better!

I glued black felt to the inside of the mask and hot glued straps to each side so an actor can tie the mask to his or her face. And then was the grand reveal: how it looked when I put it on! Of course at first I had no idea what it looked like because I wasn't wearing my contact lenses. So I put my glasses on the mask and had a good laugh at how my bangs peeked over the high forehead of the mask. All in all, a successful first try! I am really excited to move on to my next mask!

Me, wearing my First Mask!
Me, wearing my First Mask!

I hope you enjoyed my process for my First Mask. Let me know what kinds of masks you think look really cool in the comments! I think for my next mask I may attempt a faerie-venice-masquerade-bird crown thing. How do you like the sound of that? :D

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