Human beings tend to identify other humans by their face. Our eyes hunt the faces of people speaking to us, of new acquaintances, of actors on the stage or the silver screen. Masks change the look of a person’s face which is why they seem to change a person’s identity. Masks erase our features or exaggerate them. We become automatons, animals, spirits, ghosts or gods. These changes aren’t limited to the way other people see us. They also affect how we see ourselves. Anyone who puts on a mask and then looks in the mirror almost immediately starts to act differently, more in the character of what the mask suggest than their regular selves.
You can make a mask out of just about any kind of material, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to be focusing on paper masks for several reasons: paper is 1) cheap, 2) readily available, 3) non-toxic, and 4) you don’t need special tools or knowledge to work with it. I am sticking to paper construction and am largely avoiding paper mache which starts to get into sculpture techniques.
Let’s begin with what is probably the first mask most of us ever made: the brown paper bag mask. Remember those old grocery bags, the ones you have to ask for specially now at the store? Those paper bags have come a long way since the cut-some-eyeholes-and-wear-the-bag-over-your-head-days. A paper bag mask can still be very simple, but they also have the potential to be very complex. You can draw an elaborate design on them or use the paper bag as a base for embellishments.
This 2010 paperbag mask was made by L.A. artist Freehand Profit as part of his mask-a-day project.
This impressive tiki mask was made by Donald Drennan in 2006. He created it out of brown paper glued over a cardboard structure and then painted. Here’s a link to his page where he describes the process. Properly this mask qualifies as paper mache, but I thought it was too good to pass up.
Full fledged paper sculpture animal skull mask made by MoriChax for the Newgrounds Brown Paper Bag Mask contest. Posted October 2011.
The paper plate mask was most likely the second mask that we ever made. Again, these masks have come a long way from the ones we remember making in elementary school. A paper plate mask can be very simple, very colorful, and very sophisticated.
An awesome Day of the Dead skull mask made by Jessica Wilson. Here’s a link to her blog.
Lion’s head mask by Martine. Here’s a link to her tutorial.
A couple of things you want to ask yourself before making your mask:
- Do I want a mask that covers my entire head or just part of my face? Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Half or three quarter masks are easier to wear for long periods of time. With masks that cover the head, you need to be sure that they are light in weight and are easy to see out of and breath in.
- How will I attach my mask to my face? With a full head mask, that question is easy–it just slips on. With a half, quarter, or full face mask, how to keep it on becomes a little tricky. One idea: attach the mask to a pair of glasses, either your prescription lenses or a pair of sunglasses that you’ve taken the lenses out of. Another possibility is to build the mask over a hat base like a baseball cap with the visor cut off.
- How will I create my design? Don’t be discouraged if you can’t draw. The good news is that there are free templates everywhere on the web. Just Google “printable mask template” and see what comes up. There are downloadable templates of all kinds for both kids and adults.