Introduction: Creating a Papier Mache Head of Felix Morton

I was invited to a fancy dress party last weekend and wanted to do something a bit different. I absolutely love the point and click adventure game The Dream Machine by Swedish indie developers Cockroach Inc. If you haven't played it, I highly recommend you give it a try (the first episode is completely free!). It's made with clay and cardboard and I felt it was appropriate to try to make my own home-made version of one of the main characters: Felix Morton the caretaker.

I haven't used papier mache since I left school, and I did make some mistakes along the way which i'll point out, but overall it's a very forgiving and easy medium to work with. This was also my first time using acrylic paint and they are wonderful to use. There are things I would have liked to improve but owing to time constraints it wasn't possible. Overall i'm happy with the end result and I think it looks a little bit like the character;-)

Step 1: Materials and Preparation

Materials needed:

Papier mache mix (flour and water)
Strips of newspaper
Balloon(s)
Primer / white matte paint
Acrylic paint (various colours)
Cardboard (cereal packets work great)
Masking tape
Black marker pen

Tools
Scissors*
(optional) Stanley Blade* or similar

*children should be supervised

Preparation:

Papier Mache Mix

There are several ways to make papier mache, and some involve cooking, but I went with the way I learned as a child: simple flour and water . It's cheap and easy. I've read that you should do two parts water for every one part flour, however I simply added water/flour as needed to get the right consistency. It should be gloopy like thick glue. The important thing is to sieve the flour first , otherwise the mixture will be lumpy.

Balloons

I needed a balloon large enough to make a framework for the papier mache to cover my whole head. Normal, birthday party balloons simply aren't big enough, so I used punch bag balloons. They blow up very large and have an elastic band on one end for kids to run around with them.

Blow the balloon up until it's larger than your head. I didn't use any measurements for this, I just went by eye. You could probably blow it up as large as it will go but I was concerned about it bursting so I stopped when it was a decent size (buy extra balloons just incase!). You should be able to untie the elastic band and remove it since it will just get in the way of the papier mache. Place the balloon in a suitable stand so that it remains steady while you apply the papier mache. I just used a humble cereal bowl.

Newspaper

Cut or rip the newspaper into strips about an inch wide. I found it easiest to cut from the spine then cut the strips in half to make two lots. I've heard that ripped paper gives a smoother join but I haven't tried it.

Step 2: Creating the Basic Shape

Dip the strips of newspaper in the papier mache mix, making sure there's an even covering on at least one side (you can always apply more paste to the bare side once it's in place). I found that the paper started to come apart with too much paste so don't go overboard.

Stick the paper strips to the baloon, overlapping them at alternate angles for strength. I was conscious of how long it would take to dry so I didn't put too much on in one go. I did a layer at a time (roughly), letting the previous layer dry before adding the next. I used around 3 layers on the basic shape.

It can take some time for papier mache to dry so give yourself ample time. I cheated a bit and used an electric fan to blow cold air (not hot!!) over the balloon to make it dry quicker. It was also quite warm here at the time so the whole base structure was completed in a single evening (I let the final layer dry while I slept).

Step 3: Building in More Detailed Features

So far, we have a nice, strong (we hope!) ball shape, but it's not looking much like Mr Morton. Now it's time to build in more features. The beauty of papier mache is that anything can be used as a framework: from cardboard to chicken wire, you name it. I was conscious of weight so I went with some light cardboard that I got from a cereal packet.

Mr Morton's face is quite angular, coming down in a triangle, so I started by drawing a rough sketch of one side of his face on one side of the cereal packet. I made full use of the flaps when positioning the ears rather than having to add something on later. I then cut out the shape and used this as a template to draw the other side on the remaining piece of cereal packet. The cardboard was just long enough: I considered adding more later to make his chin, but in the end decided this wasn't necessary.

I then used strips of masking tape to fix the pieces to the balloon shape, lining them up to make the shape of his face. I had some PVA glue but masking tape is better for this since you can reposition it easily. I also used masking tape to shape the flaps to make the ears.

I then packed the space between the cardboard and the balloon with scrunched up newspaper. This is where I made my first mistake: I forgot to cut the eye holes before fixing the face to the balloon! I had to remove some of the scrunched up paper and use the Stanley blade to cut out the eyes. With that done, I replaced the scrunched up newspaper, using masking tape around the eyes to leave a space between the eye socket and the balloon so that I could cut a hole for the eyes later. I discovered later just how difficult it was to cut through the papier mache balloon, so it may have been wiser to leave eye-shaped sections of the balloon uncovered when applying the papier mache. This would have been a good measure of where the eyes would be placed (as I discovered later, I made a critical mistake!)

I then covered the whole structure in more papier mache. I'm not sure how many layers, but I would recommend at least two. Once that had dried, I rolled up half-pages of newspaper to make the grooves for Mr Morton's hair and stuck these in place using more masking tape. I then covered this in more papier mache.

Although I didn't consider it at the time, I think the final result would look better if the more detailed features like the beard and lips were built up using papier mache.

Step 4: Painting on the Basic Colours

With the structure finished, I first applied the primer paint to give it an overall white base on which to paint the colours. I highly recommend doing this to prevent the newspaper content from showing through the coloured paint. This also helps to seal the papier mache layers. The primer paint dried incredibly quickly so next up was the colours.

I had purchased just two acrylic paints: Pale Umber and Burnt Umber. The pale umber was just right for Mr Morton's skin colour, a sort of dull pinky grey, while the sample guide in the shop showed that the Burt Umber could be mixed with water to make a lighter brown for his hair.

In practice, I wasn't able to get a satisfactory hair colour. I think I used too much water and, although the hair originally looked more orange which was appropriate since Mr Morton has streaks of highlights, further application of the paint just made it darker. I tried mixing both paints but that didn't look good either, so in the end I went with the Burnt Umber as-is, then applied lighter browns along the tops of his hair. I also painted his beard and found masking tape useful to get nice edges. Like the Primer, the acrylic paints dried very quickly.


Step 5: Decorating With Details

As planned, I used a black marker to draw the feature lines on Mr Morton's face, however this might have looked better using paint and creating some shadows. I had intended to have a two-tone approach on his skin with the Pale Umber, but I didn't have time (I painted his head on the morning of the party!). Again, features like his mouth would look better if they were built up with papier mache.

Step 6: Final Touches

Finally I took a deep breath and popped the balloon. Thankfully the structure was solid and I set about tidying up the edges of the hole. I measured out the diameter I would need for my head, favouring the hole to be towards the back of the head, rather than directly underneath, and I snipped round the hole with scissors until my head fit. I used masking tape to strengthen the edges and quickly painted more of the skin colour on top.

I also cut holes in the balloon shape for the eyes. This was very difficult given the limited space for the scissors in the eye sockets so would have been better thought of earlier.

Step 7: The End Result

Here's the final result. I couldn't find a sweater like Mr Morton's so I cut the sleeves off an old V-neck sweater that i've never worn and I wore a white shirt underneath.

Unfortunately when I tried the mask on I discovered that the eye holes were actually too high! While it's possible to see a little bit through the holes I made, I can't walk around in the mask without someone to lead me! This meant I spent most of the party carrying his head around rather than wearing it. I posed for some pictures but had to wait in ignorance until I saw the flash through the eye holes!

I could have made his eyes bigger which wouldn't have differed too much from the character (the lines from his nose are actually meant to meet his eyes but they don't in my version), but it was too late for the party. In future, I think planning the placement of the eyes on the balloon base would be the best approach;-)

I hope you like my instructable and I challenge you to make masks of your own, game characters or otherwise. I definitely intend to do more in future. Videogame characters will never be safe again;-)

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