Fiberglass Costume Face Mask




Introduction: Fiberglass Costume Face Mask

I wanted a custom-fit, custom-made face mask, one that was light yet durable, sturdy yet flexible.  I considered papier-mâché, but the flour-water-newspaper combination took forever to dry and was much too fragile.  A direct fiberglass casting of my face might have been fine except that it would have been impossible to control the messy resin on my own face and the smell would have been absolutely unbearable.  So here was what seemed like the solution: make a crude mold of my face using plaster and cotton gauze, then cast a second fiberglass mask inside.  I hoped this would produce a snug-fitting final mask.  Turns out, the dimensions of the human face are so subtle that the mask I made at first-- which was basically a negative of my own face-- produced a second mask that was by definition too small (duh).  So I had to cast a new third mask over that mask, this time using fiberglass and carbon fiber mixed with fiberglass resin.

Let me be clear about this: although I made my first positive mold using plaster and bandages (i.e., I dipped the bandages in plaster and draped them directly over my vaseline-covered face) I would never, never do this a second time.  I got liquid plaster in my eye, and some of the plaster bound to my eyelashes.  I have learned that sodium alginate is a much safer alternative, and strongly recommend against the steps I actually outline here for making the first positive mold.  Use alginate.  It doesn't hurt nearly as much!

This Instructable will cover how I made a mask out of fiberglass and carbon fiber by first making a plaster & gauze mask, then a fiberglass mask, and then a final fiberglass & carbon fiber mask. The process took most of one day to do the casting in plaster and then another 2 or 3 to do the follow-up castings in resin including clean-up (which was substantial).  Decoration will happen on another day.

Phase 1 - The plaster negative mold:
* Plaster of paris, 1 cup
* Cool water, ½ cup
* Pair of disposable gloves
* Petroleum jelly, about ½ oz.
* Sponge, 1
* Old towel to use as a rag, 1
* Small mixing bowl
* Cotton gauze strips, approx. 8" long x 3" wide, 8

Phase 2 - The fiberglass positive mold:
* Fiberglass sheet, approx. 2 sq. feet (Mine came from eBay)
* Fiberglass resin and hardener, 2 oz.
    * (Optional: postal scale for exact measurement of resin, if you are fussy)
* Pair of disposable gloves (that's a second pair)
* Small disposable mixing tray
* Small disposable paint brushes (I made mine as I went, using little bamboo sticks with a roll of fiber glass on the end tied with a rubber band)
* Scissors
* Saran-wrap, approx 2 sq. feet
* Newspapers as a drop cloth for drips

Phase 3: Re-casting the mask as a negative mold using fiberglass and carbon fiber
* Same supplies as above, plus carbon fiber fabric, about 2 sq. feet (again, eBay)
* Epoxy glue for filling cracks

Phase 4: Adding final curve details and painting with gesso
* Sculpey III polymer clay, 1 block
* Sandpaper, 150 grit, 2-3 sheets
* Dremel tool
* Gesso
* Small paint brush

Step 1: The Plaster Negative Mold

First I made a negative mold of my face using plaster of paris and cotton gauze:

*Again, let me reiterate: the following activity was a very bad idea.  I really should have used sodium alginate.  The instructions below are only for a fool to follow.  I leave them here as a record only.

I laid out the cotton gauze strips for easy access to them.  I cover the relevant parts of my face with a thick layer of petroleum jelly-- going back nearly to my ears, up past my hair line, all around my eyes, and extra thick on my eyebrows. Know that any hair on your face or head which the plaster surrounds, no matter how well slathered in petroleum jelly, will be encased in the plaster and likely need to be torn out!  This could include your eyebrows, and your eyelashes!  Before creating a plaster cast of your face it is crucial to cover each eye with a square of Saran wrap big enough to cover the entire eyebrow and all eye lashes.  Don't ask how I figured this out.

Anyhow: I put on the first pair of disposable gloves, and put the plaster in a mixing bowl and added water, just enough to make it look like pudding.  You do not want it runny, just creamy.  If runny, you will risk having it pool and drip into your eyes, ears, and hair; creamy does not "drip"!  I took my first cotton gauze strip and dipped/ pressed it into the plaster mix, then squeezed it in the mixture so that it was thoroughly wet. Then I flattened it out with my hands and squeezed off the extra mix.  I laid this piece of gauze across my forehead... 

--Do NOT let ANY of the plaster get in your eyes.  If this happens, stop immediately and rinse the eye with cool water.--

...I quickly took a second strip, dipped it, squeezed out the extra plaster, and draped it over the bridge of my nose.  I did this again, covering my temples, upper cheeks, and the zone between my eyebrows.  I was not aiming for anything fancy or nice right now, I was just trying to create a mold of my face.  Once my entire "target space" has been covered with the gauze strips, I laid back and listened to some music.  The plaster needed about 20-30 minutes to harden enough to be removed from my face.

After 20-30 minutes, the plaster had become quite hard.  I gently tried lifting the mask up from around the edges to see if it was holding firm. Then I lifted it off my face.  No matter how much jelly you used before you started, the mask will stick somewhat.  I did what I had to to get it off.  Do not let it sit on your face for an hour: after 30 minutes you can remove the mask and still get the almost-cured plaster off your skin and out of your eyebrows.  After an hour, this will be much more difficult.

I put the plaster mask/ mold in a warm place to finish curing/ drying.  In two hours it was ready for the next step.  The photo of my actual mold looks Frankensteinian.  That was not a problem, though.

Step 2: Execute the First Fiberglass Positive Casting or "pre-mask"

Once the plaster mold was thoroughly hardened, I cast the fiberglass pre-mask in it.  I began by cutting the fiberglass fabric into a dozen or more strips about 1½" to 2" wide and from 4" to 6" in length.  I then covered the inside of the plaster mold loosely with Saran-wrap, and poured about 2 ounces of resin into a disposable mixing bowl to which I  added 20 drops of hardener.  I put on a pair of disposable gloves, took the disposable brush and stirred the resin mixture thoroughly.  Then I paint a layer of the mix onto the Saran-wrap on the inside of the mold.  Once I had a complete layer of the wet resin on the wrap, I took a strip of the fiberglass fabric and pressed it into the mixture on the mold.  With the plaster, I could dip the strips in the mix and then apply the strips to a surface; with fiberglass, I had to apply the mix to the surface and then apply the strips to it.  Once I had a complete layer of fiberglass fabric strips laid down on the mold, I used the brush and applied a second coat of resin.  I followed this with another layer of fiberglass fabric, then more resin, then fabric, until I had at least 3 solid layers of fiberglass pressed into the mold.

This sounds much easier than it was.  The resin was extremely sticky, and as I applied each new strip of fabric the previous ones would want to stick to the latex gloves.  Pulling the pieces off made other pieces stick instead.  Soon I was hardly able to tell where the layers were covering things and where there were bare spots.  And all the while the clock was ticking, the resin hardening, and I was running out of strips. When the resin hardened, it hardened FAST and HOT (not a euphemism— the temp.  spiked suddenly and the gel turned solid in a snap).

Here is an important tip: once you lay down the final layer of fiberglass fabric strips, remove both of your gloves and tear off a section of Saran wrap about a foot long.  Lay this sheet over the sticky side of the mask, and press it with very carefully with your ungloved fingers against the layers of resin-coated fiberglass fabric.  With your gloves off, the saran wrap will not stick to you and you can press it against all the layers of fiberglass fabric underneath, working them together and ensuring a tight bond.  When you are done, leave the saran wrap in place.  I also used clothes pins and butterfly clips around the edges to hold them down while curing.  You can peel the saran wrap off later after the resin has cured. 

Also, the moment you add the hardener to the resin, the resin will begin putting off an offensive chemical smell in waves.  You will need lots of ventilation or you might get a pounding headache. As soon as you are finished applying the last layer of fiberglass, put everything with resin on it (the mixing bowl, brush, your gloves, etc.) outside so that the chemicals can off-gas there.  The cure time is stated on the container as being a few hours, and until then you should not keep anything with resin on it indoors.  The resin will continue to smell for at least 24.

Step 3: Create a Second Fiberglass/ Carbon Fiber Mask on Top

Once the fiberglass resin has cured, I removed it from the plaster mold (which I then discarded).  I thought I was done making my basic mask right here.  I was wrong: this mask was actually much too small for my face.  I had to cast yet a third mask, this one on top of the one I had just cast.  I placed a new layer of saran wrap over the fiberglass mask I had just created, mixed up a new batch of resin and hardner, and began painting it onto the mask.  This time I started using carbon fiber instead of fiberglass, just to see how it would work.

It worked pretty well, but even so I was far from done.  Once this round of resin had cured, I examined the mask and found that there were thin spots I had noticed before.  I also decided to make it a Zanni mask and add a long nose and wrinkled brow.  To make the nose, I took a piece of curved PVC pipe and hot-glued it to the inside of my original too-small fiberglass mask.  Then I coated that mask with saran wrap once again, placed my new carbon fiber mask on top of it, mixed up more resin, and slathered a new layer of resin and carbon fiber fabric on the mask and the new extended nose.  I then let this cure.

Once this round was solid, I removed the PVC piping and examined the mask: new thin spots had appeared in the newly cast parts of the mask, and so I had to do another round of carbon fiber mesh and resin on top of what I had already made.  I then took some Sculpey III polymer clay and applied it to the mask in places that were still hollow-looking or that had gaps.  Then I put the entire mask in the oven at 270 degrees F for 30 minutes to harden.  This worked perfectly: the resin came out undamaged, and the clay had hardened nicely.  I then sanded the entire exterior of the mask first with my Dremel tool and then with 150 grit sand paper by hand to remove loose fibers and to smooth out the surface a bit.  I also gave the interior a light hand sanding so that it would fit nicely on my face.

Step 4: Sealing the Edges and Painting the Mask With Gesso

Before I could start to gesso the mask, I needed to do something about the edges: the fiberglass was sticking up in a few places creating dangerously sharp needle-like protrusions around the rim, and when I sanded these down I ended up creating an opening between layers of fiberglass.  To seal the edges of the mask I mixed up some epoxy glue and wiped it into the gaps around the edges of the mask and around the eye holes.  I let this cure for 6 hours in a warm oven (gas oven with only the pilot light on).  Once cured, I was able to sand the entire mask down once more to achieve a smooth surface.

Now that I was satisfied with the configuration of my mask, it was time to paint it with gesso.  Gesso would give the mask an even white surface that would readily take other paints, glues, etc.  I painted on the gesso, let the mask dry in the oven again, painted it a second time, let it dry, and then applied a third layer and let that dry.  After three layers the mask was stark white. 

Step 5: Painting and Gilding

I wanted to decorate the mask once I was done making it.  I wanted most of it to be gold, and this meant applying a layer of red base paint over the white gesso so that it would give the gold a rich hue.  I let this paint (a red and black mixture of Testor's oil-based enamel paints— just a drop of black went a looooooong way) dry completely, then painted a layer of boiled linseed oil over that and let IT dry (for about a day).  Once the linseed oil was tacky but no longer wet, I began applying sheets of "Dutch" gold leaf (copper mixed with zinc) to the mask.  I used a previously unused large soft paint brush to push the foil sheets into all of the nooks and crannies as best I could.  Then I let this dry for another 24 hours, then painted on another layer of linseed oil, let it dry, and stuck on yet another layer of gold foil to be sure to cover all of the places I missed the first time. 

Even then I was dissatisfied. I ended up applying several sheets of pure copper leaf over and around the gold ones using epoxy as n adhesive (resin from the fiberglass mix was very strong but messy and did not produce the smooth surfaces I was hoping for but oh, well).  I then covered the metal bits with masking tape and sprayed the mask down with black primer and then flat black paint.  I then removed the masking tape and went over the edges of the metal parts with more Testor's black modeling paint so that the edges would be crisp and clear.

Finally, on to the feathers.  I used a package of green-dyed goose biots to which I had attached ¼" long segments of hollow brass tube.  I inserted the tubes into holes I had drilled into the eyebrow ridge of the mask and secured each with a drop of hot glue.  Using brass at the base of each feather means that if for any reason I want to remove one of them later (say, if it becomes bent or broken) I can apply a soldering iron to the brass and it will re-liquefy the hot glue, allowing me to remove the feather, without damaging the feather or brass itself.

I also wanted to make my mask comfortable to wear against my face, so I added some thin broad strips of neoprene padding to the inside of the mask.  These were already adhesive on one side so applying them was easy.  The mask can now sit on my face without leaving any marks or digging into my skin anywhere.  I drilled a hole on each side of the mask near the ears and ran a black leather cord (shoelace-like) through each which allows the mask to be tied behind the head.  The final mask turned out heavier than I had hoped, so eventually a second set of holes and a second set of cords were also necessary.  These cords crisscross as they go around the sides and back of my head so that the mask is properly held up by them and won't slide forward or tip off my face while being worn.

And that is how I made a fiberglass mask.  I didn't really know what I was in for when I began...  Fortunately I am happy enough with the result!  This project ended up being surprisingly time consuming and expensive.  Don't say I didn't warn you, but at least you now have this Instructible to help guide you along the way, right?  Good luck.

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    The Rambler
    The Rambler

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Very cool. Thanks for this. One question: When you say that the resin cured FAST and HOT is that a figure of speech or did it actually get hot?


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    epoxys that are used in making fiberglass are two part glues resin and hardener. They bond together in an endothermic reaction, which means they give off heat. When mixing large batches, I have had them melt thru plasitc cups, so watchout. The thiner the mixing volume, the less it can heat up rapidly. The larger batches I've mixed have sometimes flashed solid in less than a second, which is pretty remarkable given the volume.

    The Rambler
    The Rambler

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Wow good to know! I've been reading about this a lot and itching to try it, but somehow I have never seen anyone mention the heat it creates. I'm glad I read this. I would hate to get into a project and then freak out because I didn't know it did that..

    Thanks KDS4444 for including that tidbit and cyberviper42 for the explanation.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Great instructions! I've been wondering how to do this without making massive two part mold, and this will do exactly what I need, ty.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Really? Fantastic! Post pictures when you are done, if you are willing! Would very much like to know how things turn out and hear how the process went for you along the way.