Latex Mask Part 1: Head Mold and Clay Sculpt




About: I've been making movies as a hobby for nearly 8 years now, and I've always enjoyed the fantastical and imaginative. I occasionally take on the challenge of trying to construct some recreations.
This is part 1 of an Instructable which will show you how to make a latex mask. Eventually we will be taking a clay sculpture, and molding it in plaster, and then pouring liquid latex inside of it, and then pulling out the final mask. But before we get to that point, starting with an exact copy of your head will make for a nice, tight-fitting mask. You could start with a Styrofoam head and sculpt your head shape on top of it, but unless you're good at sculpting, it should be easier and faster to start with a cast copy instead.

Normally, molding a head can be difficult, but this method is simple and easy. With the use of paper mache, or plaster strips, you can make a 2-part mold, and you can even do the entire process by yourself. And, as always, without spending too much money. It should take about 45 minutes to make the head mold, and then another half an hour to make the clay copy.

Here's a video tutorial you can follow, or watch as an introduction to the overall process, including both Part 1 and Part 2. The step-by-step Instructables are more detailed and have more advanced tips and recommendations.

Step 1: Materials Needed

Materials needed for making the head mold:
  • Plastic Wrap
  • Duct Tape
  • Vaseline
  • Paper Mache (newspaper and flour-water), or plaster strips, and a bucket of water
  • Hair Dryer
Materials needed for the clay head:
  • Modeling Clay
  • Styrofoam Head
  • Plastic Wrap
Other tools you might use would be a comb, scissors, permanent marker, floral wire, and a long, serrated knife.

Total cost of materials (not including materials I already had lying around) would be $3 for the foam head, and about $10 of clay. A craft store would be the place to find the clay, plaster strips, and foam head (be sure to take advantage of the usual "40% off one item" coupons). Plaster strips are good to buy in bulk, from Amazon or eBay, or another online store. You'll need a lot of them for the entire process. A good price is around $50 for a 20 pound box.

Notes about clay:
There's a large variety of clay to choose from. My attitude is; whatever is cheap and gets the job done. For me, that ended up being a 25 pound box of pottery clay for $10. It was alright, but maybe a bit too wet and soft. Oil-based clay is better for sculpting, but more expensive. When we get to the step of adding clay to the mold, I'll make further suggestions.

Step 2: Make a Bald Cap and Lube Up

The ideal set up is to have all your materials gathered on a bathroom sink, with you facing a large mirror.

We're going to make a poor-man's bald cap. Start out by wetting your hair and combing it so that it sticks close to your head. Pull out a piece of plastic wrap about a foot and a half long and lay it lengthwise against your head, covering your front hair-line. Add pieces of duct tape to stick it to your face. Pull out another piece of plastic wrap, and wrap that one around the back side of your head, covering the bottom of your hair. Tape it up. Your hair should be completely covered.

Now, take some Vaseline and rub it all over your face and neck, and any exposed skin on your head.This will prevent the mache (or plaster) from sticking to your face. Put extra Vaseline on your eyebrows. Now you're ready for molding.

Step 3: Mache (or Plaster) Your Face

Plaster can be dangerous on skin. It is a common practice to mold a face with plaster strips, but the chemical lye (sodium hydroxide) is hazardous, above a certain percentage. Plaster seems to be a bit of a grey area, not totally safe, so it would be better to mold the head with flour-and-water paper mache. Or, at the very least, make the first layer of your mold with paper mache, and then build up with plaster strips. That way, the plaster never touches your skin.

If you haven't already, cut up your plaster strips with scissors to have them all ready to go. Dip one strip in the bucket of water, and lay it on your face. Repeat until the front half of your face is covered. Lay the strips all the way up to the middle of the top of your head, all the way down the sides, and a little on to the neck. You can cover up one eye, but keep one uncovered so you can see what you're doing, and keep holes around your nostrils so you can still breathe.

After you have your face covered, you can use a hair dryer to speed up the drying process. It doesn't have to be completely dry, but needs to be dry enough so that it holds its shape when you take it off your head. 5 minutes with the hair dryer should be fine. Keep your neck straight up, with good posture. When the plaster is dry, pull the mold half off of your head. It should come off easily, and the bald cap will probably come off with it. That's fine. We'll reapply it for the second half.

Step 4: Plaster the Back of Your Head

Re-apply another plastic-wrap bald-cap, and repeat the same process, covering the back of your head.

It's a good idea to have some overlap at the middle, to ensure that both mold halves will cover all of your head. We can trim off the excess in the next step.

Step 5: Clean Up and Refining the Molds

Take a shower to clean up your head. Wipe down surfaces with a warm, soapy dish towel. Your bucket of water probably has a bunch of plaster pieces in it; don't just pour them down the drain. It may clog your pipes. Strain out the larger plaster pieces, and dump the rest of the water outside.

To make a clean division between the two halves, put both of them on your head until one overlaps the other (on mine, the back one overlapped). Use a permanent marker to mark the edge of the overlap. Take off that half, and cut the mold with scissors right along the line. The two halves should now join together smoothly at that dividing line.

To finish off the molds, add more plaster strips to seal up the nostril holes and eye. It's also a good idea to add another layer or two of more strips for extra strength.

Step 6: Foam Head Preparation

Now we're getting ready to put clay into our molds, which we will then form around a foam head, removing the molds and leaving the clay on the foam head.

We are going to cut the foam head into pieces, and then tape it back together. Why? Let's take a quick look ahead: after we have sculpted this head in the design for our mask, we will then cover it with plaster. After that, we will want to pull out the insides, so we have an empty cavity to fill with liquid latex. Cutting the foam head into pieces will make it easier to remove during this process. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, you'll understand later once you get to that part of the process.

Cut the foam head like this: cut the sides of the head off, starting at the thinnest part of the neck. Then cut the face and back of the head off, leaving you with a center post. Then, re-assemble the pieces and duct tape them back together.

I cut the head with a long, serrated knife. This was very messy; little pieces of foam sticking everywhere. Do this over a tarp, or somewhere where it's easy to clean up. 

Step 7: Adding Clay to the Molds

First, for easy release of the clay from your molds, lay some plastic wrap into the molds. Then, take your clay and cut out some large pieces. Something that can help with this is floral wire; pull it out tightly between your hands and drag it through the clay brick to slice a large slab. Lay this down into the molds, and fill them completely with about 3/4" of clay. Press the clay all the way into the molds, with a lot of pressure, to ensure you're filling the details of the molds.

Put your foam head into one of the molds. Position it properly, centered in the mold, and press the other mold on the other side, squeezing them together until the plaster mold edges line up. You'll have to add and remove some clay in some areas to get it to fit perfectly.

Possible tip:
Something that might be good to do is to first lay in a 1/2" layer of oil-based clay, or any other good clay, and then fill in the rest with cheaper clay. Having the higher quality clay on the surface of the face would be better for sculpting. This is a good happy medium, considering higher quality clay is usually more expensive; this allows you to use it where you need it, and not waste any excess.

Step 8: Finish the Clay Head

Do your best to make sure that the clay in the molds fills all the empty space and is tight against the foam head. If you have a big hollow area between your clay and your foam head, the clay might collapse when sculpting, which isn't good.

Once the clay is in the molds, and pressed tightly against the foam head, you can then pull the plaster molds off. The plastic wrap will stick to the clay; peel it off. Add more clay to fill the seam where the two halves meet together, and smooth everything out, and you should then have a clay copy of your head, ready for sculpting!

Quick Note:
If you're using air-dry clay, be aware of how quickly it dries. You'll want to keep it wet and pliable so you can sculpt with it, and then eventually remove it from the final plaster mold. You can preserve the clay by spraying it with water and covering it with a plastic bag.

Step 9: Final Thoughts and Advice

This was the first time I'd ever done a process like this. It's not perfect, and I'm sure it could be improved upon, but it did work, and so it should work for others. The plaster head molds went smoothly, but making the clay head proved a little more difficult. This is what I learned, and could be good advice for future attempts:
  • Having good sculpting clay would be nice. Cheap clay is cheap, and not too easy to sculpt with.
  • Make sure your foam head is aligned properly in your clay-filled molds; mine was a little askew, so that the clay head was rotated about 10 degrees from the foam head.
  • Feel free to adjust or modify any step. It might help to fill the head with a different material, or attach the two molds together before filling the head, etc. My method is by no means perfect. It is what works for the way I'm making my latex mask. Follow through on my entire process to see what steps you might want to change.



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    10 Discussions


    1 year ago

    How much of and what kind of clay did you use??


    2 years ago

    This may sound weird but instead of Vaseline try using very creamy peanut butter... It washes out a lot easier!


    2 years ago

    what kind of modeling clay did you use?


    5 years ago on Introduction

    As far as the plaster strips goes when I buy the box like you have. Do I just wet them with water and apply to my face and head as is?

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    When I used plaster strips in the past, I put a bald cap on and put vaseline all over my entire head and face. It's a mess and gross to clean off, but at least the plaster won't take your skin off. Pay attention to eyebrows in particular, it's easy to get them caught in the plaster.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    thank you, you finally solved my problem, i did'nt found real size styrofoam heads from finland, but i make it my self!! I fill my plaster mold with paper mache and voil'a a head!

    poofrabbittech dawg

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I can answer that, yes it is. Plaster not only can burn you, but with out Vaseline you can rip off your hair and damage your skin, you need the layer of protection.