Introduction: Lady Anglerfish Mask/Helmet

I like to make costumes.

I fine-tuned this Instructable by laernmoer. Thank you for the idea and many of the techniques!

Supplies Needed:

For the Body:

-Large inflatable punching bag balloons. You'll remove the big rubber band that's tied on. I found a pack of 4 16-in balloons at the Dollar Store for $3.

-Corrugated cardboard.That's the kind with the wavy structure inside for stability.

-Masking tape

-Florist's wire. Found in the fake flowers aisle at the craft store.

-Hot glue gun

-Scissors- a big pair and a little pair, and I also found a pair of curved scissors to be useful

For the Paper Mache:

-Newspaper, torn along the grain into 1-2in strips. Don't make them more than 8in long or they become difficult to work with and will wrinkle.

-A sturdier paper, torn the same as the newspaper. I found big rolls of brown kraft paper for $3/roll.

-Paper mache paste. There's lots of ways to make this, but I used 1c flour mixed with 1c cold water, then whisked in 1-1/2c boiling water, 1/4c Elmer's Glue, and 1Tbs salt to help prevent mold.

-cheap toilet paper, about 1/3 roll, for making paper mache "clay." The thinner the toilet paper the better.

-A serrated steak knife and a drywall saw for cutting the paper mache

-Sandpaper, for smoothing the paper mache. Once it's dry it behaves a lot like drywall.

For Decorating:

-paint- I used an outdoor acrylic with brushes and a sponge roller

-LEDs- I found a string of 30 red LEDs for about $7 on Amazon, and for the dangly thing I used a single LED and added long wires

-Ping Pong balls for the eyes

Step 1: Plan Your Fish

Blow up a balloon and imagine putting your head inside of it. Is it big enough? Good, because you're going to want to wear thing thing and be a sexy lady anglerfish allll night.

Now get a Sharpie and start planning your design. I found that the nipple-thingy where the rubber band had been attached was really useful for finding the center of the balloon. I figured out roughly where I might place the mouth, eyes, fins, tail, and hidden places for ventilation. No one likes sweaty mask-face.

After doing this, I went away for a few days, and when I came back, the red balloon had deflated some. Luckily I had 3 more, so I saved it for reference, blew up another one, and got to the paper mache-ing.

Step 2: Paper Mache

This is by far the messiest and most time-consuming part of the project. It took me about a week to finish layering the paper mache. Put down a bunch of newspaper over your work area, and wear old clothes. Drips happen.

Mix up your paper mache paste. Here's the recipe I used, but feel free to try a different one.

1c flour

1c room temp water

1/4 c Elmers glue

1.5c boiling water

1Tbs salt

***Whisk the flour with the room temp water FIRST, then and add the salt and glue. Then whisk in the boiling water. If you do boiling water or glue first, your paper mache will form clumps. Let it cool before using.You can store the stuff in the fridge for 2-3 days in between applying layers. I was able to do about one layer a day, and had to mix up several batches.***

I started with a layer of the sturdier kraft paper. Dip the strips in the paste, let them sit a minute until they seem saturated, then squeegee off the excess paste with your fingers.

Put down layers in opposing directions for stability. You can use a paintbrush to smooth out any excess goo.

I used a big pot to hold the balloon while I worked. I found I had to cover all but the part in the pot, let it dry a little, turn, and finish the layer.

MAKE SURE TO LET THE PAPER MACHE DRY COMPLETELY BETWEEN LAYERS. Leftover moisture between layers can breed mold.

When the first kraft layer was dry, I did a layer with newspaper. After that I alternated until I had 7 layers, finishing with a layer of kraft paper because it has a smoother finish than newsprint. Once the final layer has dried, I used my fingertips to apply some pressure to the structure to identify weak spots, then added another layer to them just to be safe.

A fan is helpful for drying!

Something to think about: Since you're using a balloon full of air, a drop in temperature will cause the air in the balloon to contract and the paper mache walls will start to collapse! I found this out the hard way when I put the fish in front of a cool window, but I was able to get the air to expand again by moving her back into a warmer room (the kitchen, with the oven on). So I recommend keeping your baby at a consistent temperature as it dries.

Another thing to think about: Even if you let each layer dry completely before doing another, the addition of the new layer will make the dry layer below get wet again. So even if the top layer looks dry, the layers below might still contain some moisture, and moisture=mold. You also won't be able to cut it if they underneath layers are still wet. I finished paper macheing the body, then moved on to the next step so it could dry for a few days.

Step 3: Fins, Tail, Teeth, and Pathetic Male Anglerfish

Pathetic Male Anglerfish:

Time to learn about nature! The mask you are making is a big scary *female* anglerfish. The male anglerfish is much smaller. When a male and female anglerfish mate, the male bites the female and releases an enzyme that dissolves his face, fusing to her body until he is basically just a pair of gonads releasing sperm whenever the female needs it. We'll be making our pathetic male anglerfish out of foil. Go ahead and crumple your foil until it looks like a sad little man-fish. Then cover him in paper mache. I stuck some wire into him to make a hook so I could hang him up to dry since he is weirdly shaped. Obviously making the man-fish is optional, but too much fun to skip.

For the tail and fins:

Imagine you are building the animal from the inside out. Start with the spiky bones first. Decide how long you want them to be, and cut your florist's wire accordingly. Wrap the wire in about 3 layers of masking tape, leaving a little tail of wire sticking out. Then wrap each spike in a layer of paper mâché strips.

For the base of the tail, dorsal fin, and pectoral fins, begin by cutting a piece of cardboard to the size and shape you want. Make two cardboard shapes like this. Once your bones are dry, tape, glue, or jam them into one side of the corrugated cardboard. You can bend them into the shapes you like. Tape the other side on. You can add tape partway up the bones for extra structure. To add dimension to the tail, I gently bent both pieces of cardboard so they could be formed into a curved shape. I jammed some newspaper inside to help hold the shape. Then I stuck my glue gun into the spaces between the bones and injected them with glue for stability.

Adding skin: So far we have the "skeleton" part of the fins. To cover them with webbed skin, Lay your structure on top of plastic wrap or parchment paper. The paper mache won't stick to it. Tear a sturdy piece of paper much larger than the fin you are covering. Soak it thoroughly in paper mache. While it soaks, use your paintbrush to brush some glue or paper mache liquid onto the bones. Squeeze the extra liquid out of the paper and lay it gently on top of the bones and cardboard base. Starting at the bone furthest to the left, use your fingers to gently shape the paper around the bone. At the top of the bone, press the paper down at the tip, and sort of pinch it and fold it over. This will add length to the top and ensure that it's nice and pointy when it dries. Do this to all the bones, working from left to right. Smooth out any wrinkles- a paintbrush is nice for making the paper stick and lay smoothly over the bones. Once the first side is completely dry, flip the whole thing over and do the same thing on the other side. When it dries, you can trim and cut your fins and tail to any shape you like. I made them scalloped to accentuate the spikes. Little curved scissors were great for this! Use sandpaper to gently file away any jagged edges. I also painted some glue on the tips to make them stronger.

I made the teeth the same way I made the fin bones- florist wire wrapped in tape, wrapped in paper mache. Make extra teeth in lots of different sizes so you can decide what looks best. Once dry, you can use sandpaper to smooth out any wrinkles and dry chunks of paper mache. Then I painted them with an outdoor acrylic paint in warm white. It gave them a nice shiny look, without being too smooth and uniform.

Shout Out: I adopted these methods from Dan Reeder, who makes incredible paper mache dragons with wings that looked exactly how I wanted my fins to look. Dan uses fabric (old bed sheets) to make his wings, but I used paper because it weighs less and because my structures are much smaller than the wings he normally makes. Check him out at, and buy his books on Amazon!

Step 4: Cutting Holes

First, pop the balloon! The tied end should be sticking out, so grab it and poke. Hold onto it and let it slowly deflate- if it sticks to the inside walls of the structure it could cause them to collapse. You may loose the balloon inside of the body, but you'll be able to get it out after you cut the holes.

I used a drywall saw and an old steak knife to cut through the structure. Get started by scoring an "X" in the spot where you will start, until your knife can poke through. It helps to have someone help steady her while you cut to ensure you don't go smashing through the paper mâché. To cut curved holes, hold your knife or saw at an angle as you cut. Sandpaper is very effective for smoothing edges and fine-tuning the shape. Start with the hole for your head to go in, and then figure out where the mouth will go. Keep in mind that the more you cut, the more you weaken the structure, so start small and gradually make it bigger where you need to. Cut the head hole only as large as it needs to be to get your head in.

Step 5: Attaching the Teeth and Extremities

Hot glue the teeth on first, attaching them to the INSIDE of the fish's mouth. The don't have to be straight or even or perfectly spaced. The rougher they are, the scarier the look. Hot glue is nice because if you decide you want to change the placement of a tooth, you can easily peel it off without much damage to the fish body or the tooth. A benefit to the way we constructed the teeth is that they will always stay somewhat pliable, so you can continue to bend them into the shapes you want, even after you're done.

To help stabilize the teeth and make them look more natural, cut short, thin strips of paper: about 1/2in wide and 2-3in long. Saturate each of them in paper mache paste, and then wrap each tooth with a strip at its base. Bring the strip around the inside of the tooth, then cross the ends over in the front so they overlap with the mouth.

Now you can hot glue the tail, fins, and male onto the fish. They will make the whole structure much more ungainly and difficult to move, so do the teeth first. You'll notice gaps between the fins and body where the cardboard doesn't line up perfectly. We'll fix that too.

You can also cut gills. This is optional, but it adds ventilation and the LEDs will shine through and look cool. Cut them with you knife as before, going over them a few times with an angled knife to make them wider. You can smooth and shape them with sandpaper.

Step 6: Adding Detail

First fill in the gaps between the fins and body. We do this with paper mache "clay."

Making Paper Mache Clay

1/3 roll cheap toilet paper- the thinner the better

1 bottle regular white Elmer's glue

a big bowl for mixing



cheese cloth

Unravel some of your roll of toilet paper and place it in the bowl. Cover it completely with water and let it sit. It will becomes super soggy and start to dissolve. Dump the whole bowl of water and mush into the blender and blend on high until it looks uniformly paste-like. line the colander with the cheese cloth, and slowly pour the mixture into it. Squeeze out as much water as you can, and return the paper to the bowl. Add in the bottle of glue a little at a time until the mixture behaves like clay. It will be very sculptable, and when you squeeze it in your fist it squishes out through you fingers just like Play-Doh!

Use this clay to fill in the gaps. Use only what you need, pushing it in between the fins and body and smoothing it out with your finger. A small rubber spatula also works great for this. Any stubborn clumps and bumps can be sanded away once it is dry.

Use the clay to add detail wherever you like. Fish don't have lips, but their teeth grow out of their gums. I made clay worms and mushed them around the teeth. I also used it to build up around the gills, gave it a jawline, a spine, and after cutting ping pong balls in half for the eyes, I mushed some in there as well. You can store the clay in an air-tight container in the fridge if you need to save it for later.

Step 7: Lights!

The deep sea anglerfish has bioluminescent cells in it's body that make it all glowy. It also has a lure on its head with a glowy thing on the end to attract prey.

I used my old steak knife to poke holes along the length of the body, and also underneath the eyes so they would glow from the inside. Used the sharp tip of the knife and apply gentle presser and you twist it around and it will eventually drill through. Start small with the hole- you can always widen them if they're not big enough.

For the body lights, I used a string of 30 battery-powered LEDs, kind of like Christmas lights. I drilled 28 holes along the spine of the fish, and underneath each eye. Each LED went through a hole from the inside and the battery pack was glued to the inside. Don't glue the lights inside yet! They will make the whole thing much more difficult to work with and you'll get paint on them later.

The anglerfish also has a protrusion on its head that's used to attract prey. This is the "angler," more often referred to as the glowy dangling thing.

For the glowy dangle thing (scientific term) you need:

A 12in piece of plumbing tubing, about 1/2in wide.

wire hanger cut and straightened to 12in long

Single LEDs. I found 10 on Amazon for about $10. According to the seller, single one of these LEDs for some reason needs to be powered by a 9V battery. They had 7in long wires already attached to them.

scrap electrical wire


I needed the wires on the LED to be long enough to run through the tubing and reach a battery pack that could be glued to the inside after painting. I joined more wire to the LEDs to make them longer. I then joined those wires to a 9V snap-on connector and added a switch so it could be turned on and off. I used a little cardboard jewelry box as a battery case. I had no experience in building with any type of electronics before, so this made me feel like an electrical engineer. Maybe there is a better way to build this, but I couldn't find any super long LEDs with battery packs, so I made one!

After you paint the tubing, feed the LED through it along with the wire hanger. The hanger allows you to bend the tube into the shape you want and makes it stand up. Then I cut a little hole in a ping pong ball so it would fit over the end.

Step 8: Painting

I learned how to do a lot of things for this project. I'd never paper mached or played with LED wiring before, and I hadn't done much painting either. This is my first Instructable too!

If you're really awesome at painting, share some pictures! If you're new to it like me, here are some tips:

Put down a ton of paper, because this will be messy.

Mix paint in very small batches.

When mixing colors, start with the lighter color and add the darker color to it to avoid mixing more paint than you need.

Blend in lighter colors for highlighting areas. Blending was tricky and took some practice. You can go back in later with your highlight color for touch ups.

Paint the male fish first and hot glue him on after you paint the female.

The only paint colors I bought were black, warm white, and sterling silver. I used outdoor acrylics because they will protect the paper mache if they fish gets a little wet (I live in Buffalo, NY and rain or even snow is a strong possibility on Halloween.)

I painted my fish a very dark grey (I mixed the black and silver) with silver highlights on the fin bones, gills, and mouth. I lightly went over the whole thing with silver on my sponge roller for texture. I painted the rubber tubing the same way. Note: It's hard to cleanly drill your knife through the paint, so leave a little unpainted spot on the head and touch it up after you drill the hole for the tubing.

Step 9: Adding the Lights

Figure out the neatest way to insert the string of lights into the fish's back. The battery pack gets hot glued to the inside of the fish. Make sure to glue the side that doesn't open, so you can change the batteries when you need to. Glue the battery pack along the center line of the fish for balance.

With the dangly thing assembled (hanger and LED in the tubing), insert the tubing into the forehead hole, attach the battery case, and glue that to the inside as well. The tubing will probably flop around all weird and not stand up the way you want it to. Hold it where you want it to stand, glob some hot glue around it, and hold it in place until the glue has cooled completely. It will stand on its own.

Step 10: Finished!

The last problem I had was when I put the mask on, it fell forward so I had to hold it up to see. It was also kind of pressing into my shoulders. I wore it with a scarf wrapped around my neck and that solved the problem!

Also close up of the pathetic make anglerfish with one doofus googly eye.
Halloween Costume Contest 2015

Participated in the
Halloween Costume Contest 2015