This is the most excruciatingly detailed record I have kept of my various giant papier-mache mask projects. This particular mask - a strange monster that I call the "Montessaurus" - was made for a preschool class at a local Montessori school. I made the mask, then a group of two dozen kids between the ages of three and six painted it. After that, it was auctioned off at a school fundraiser.
Step 1: Gather Materials
To make this mask, you'll need flour, water, white glue (optional), and lots of newspaper (I use The Onion because it's free).
Flour paste is made by whisking flour into water. That's all you really need! I like to add a but of white glue because I think it improves the finish, but that's up to you. You can make the paste as thick or as thin as you like; I personally like mine a little bit thick, sort of like pancake batter.
I used one large punch-ball balloon (those giant ones that come with a huge rubber band) and two tiny party balloons. You will also need duct tape, masking tape, and a hairdryer would be handy.
Step 2: Balloon Cocoon!
Cover the inflated punch-balloon with papier-mache! This form will provide the base for the mask, which means that if you wear the mask, your head will be inside where the balloon is.
This is where the white glue comes in handy - if you mix white glue in with the flour paste, it helps the paper to cling more firmly and also creates a smoother, slicker surface when dried. I like to smear paste on the surface of the balloon, then apply overlapping strips of paper, and finally smooth more paste over the top. By creating a layer of gluey paste between the balloon and the newspaper, you ensure a smoother inner surface when the balloon is removed.
You'll want to build several complete layers over the balloon (leaving openings at each end, where the rubber band and the knot poke through) and let the surface become quite dry. You must be confident that the paper shell can hold its own shape before balloon removal! In my experience, if you hold the paper-covered balloon by the rubber band, and the balloon does not immediately stretch down to the floor because of its weight, then you have not put enough paper on it. You can also press down on the balloon's surface next to the knot, and feel the shell's strength for yourself.
When you're ready, take a needle and burst the balloon, leaving the shell on its own. I like to take a blowdryer to the inside, because there is often still some damp in there. Then, cut a large opening at one end to make a hole for your head, and you are now ready to get started on the good part!
Step 3: Eyeballs!
Meanwhile, you'll perform a similar coating on the two tiny party balloons. These will become your monster's eyeballs, somewhere down the line.
Step 4: "Mouth" Area
This is where you start to actually sculpt features. The easiest way to do this is to simply twist various shapes out of newspaper and apply them directly to the form using masking tape or duct tape.
Newspaper is a very forgiving medium, easy to shape and reshape, and it can be smoothed down with surprising effectiveness as you go along.
For this creature, I have opted to build a sort of mouth area with strange feelers coming out of it, rather than a traditional mouth. All I did was twist stalks out of newspaper, tape them together, then plant them into holes that I cut in the mouth area. Then tape it down!
Remember, these features should be secure, but they do not have to be perfectly stable. All of this will be covered in papier-mache when it's finished, and that will create a firm shell over all of the features. Your taping should hold things steady while you work on the mask, but if the feelers are fiddly or the ears are loose or whatever, it's not something to worry about!
Step 5: Head Holes
Normally, I don't build masks for comfort of ease of vision, but since I was making this one for a group of children, it seemed probably that some of the kids might want to put it on and play with it.
Bearing that in mind, I tried to design a mask that would be a little less dangerous than the ones I make for myself.
First of all, I cut an enormous pair of nostrils into the front of the mask, then fleshed those out with a small ridge made from newspaper and tape. I also used paper and tape to smooth the nose area into the mouth area, creating a sort of muzzle.
On the sides of the head, I cut a pair of very large ear-holes too. Since these large masks will just sit on your shoulders, not turning in the least if you turn your head, it's advisable to have an opening on either side so that the wearer can see in those directions.
Step 6: Ears and Sauce
You can easily build features separately and then attach them later, but in this case I built the ears directly onto the head using paper and tape. Symmetry can be easier to achieve if you make them separately, though. Just a word of caution.
Once I had the ears completed, I decided to cover the mask with another coat of paper mache to tie everything together, and create a fresh new work surface before I started on the next important step...
Step 7: The Better to See You With!
Remember those wee balloons from earlier? Now you're ready to use them!
First I built a sort of shell around them (again, it's all done with wadded newspaper and masking tape, making this whole project practically free!) Then I attached them to the mask, coming straight out the sides of the head! That's right, this walleyed little critter has prominent eye stalks, all made from paper and tape.
Larger features such as these (particularly ones that stick out so far that you might whack them against something when walking through a doorway) I like to reinforce with plenty of duct tape, which improves the infrastructure even before it gets covered with the papier mache.
Step 8: Fiddly Bits: Fin
After another full coat of papier-mache, I added this fin along the top of the head. The fin was made with two pieces of cardboard and some tape, then coated with papier-mache.
Step 9: Fiddly Bits: Warts and All
The last bit of accessorizing for our peculiar friend here is an assortment of bumps. These are easily achieved by dipping some newspaper into the flower paste, soaking it up good, mashing it into a ball and then sticking to your monster's face like a giant spit-wad. The bump can then be papered over like any normal feature, and will dry quite firm and hard.
And that's it! Let the mask dry, then feel around it for weak spots that need reinforcing. Once satisfied at the monster's structural integrity, I gave the mask a coat of white primer and sent it off to the kids, who had quite a makeover in mind...
Step 10: The End!
This is what happens when two dozen pre-schoolers paint a giant mask!
It's probably not exactly the color scheme I would have chosen, but you have to admire the zealousness.