This is actually the second of my Halloween “costumes” which I haven’t worn yet. The first…. I have to write up extensively and resize images and stuff like that. And I’m lazy as hell, and also have started blogging (not about geek or fashion stuff) over on another blog.
This is not even so much a “Halloween costume” or outfit tutorial, but a How To Make a Splicer Mask or Any Other Type of Mask From Scratch Tutorial. Alternatively titled, GOD I LOVE PAPIER-MACHE AND GLUE GUNS. This is not your grandma’s “papier-mache the the balloon” project!
So yes, I made the mask from scratch out of papier-mache, and I followed this fan-made replica as inspiration and a guide for shape and overall look. That guy’s mask apparently took 18 months to make, is made out of real porcelain and actual gold leaf. My mask was made over a period of about 2 weeks, working on it for a few hours every other night and left to dry during the day. I probably spent about 6-9 hours actively working on the mask every week (although half of one week became a bit of a failed experiment), which is still a significant investment of time, but also a lot less than 18 months.
Sadly I did not take nearly enough progress pics while I was making this, but hopefully the instructions sound fairly clear.
Here’s what you need:
- PVA glue (often known as “craft glue” or “white glue”) (You could also try making glue with flour and water, which is the traditional papier-mache method, but I’ve not tried this myself and suspect it wouldn’t seal the surface as well.)
- White paper (printer paper works)
- A glue gun + glue cartridges
- Acrylic paints: I used two different types of white, yellow, gold, black.
- A solid “base” mask to work off. I bought a cheap plastic one for $2. Try to buy something with a smooth surface and with a shape that you want your final mask to resemble. Pay close attention to the nose and brow shapes. I ended up buying a half-mask that looked very much like this one.
- Optional: blow-dryer
- Optional: air-drying clay
FIRST, have a clear idea of the shape of the mask you want. Draw/cut out a 2D life-size equivalent of the edges of the mask if it helps. This will safe you pain in the future.
You know how you used to papier-mache balloons as a kid? (I’m assuming everyone did this at some point in their lives.) Do that with the mask, using torn off strips of newspaper with a water + PVA solution (I like about 60% glue, 40% water). The basics of papier mache: drench your mask thoroughly in the PVA/water mix and just paste that newspaper directly onto it. Keep going until you’ve covered the whole mask and then go back to add about 3-4 layers of newspaper, making sure each successive paper strip has the glue soaked through.
Long flat surfaces can be covered with large strips of newspaper, however, heavily shaped and sculpted surface areas will need smaller pieces of newspaper, otherwise the paper will bunch up and you’ll get these little ridge surfaces on your otherwise smooth mask surface.
Because I only bought a half-mask, my papier-mache had to actually go beyond the 3D parameters of the mask. That’s easy – just use extra-long strips that naturally follow the 3D lines of your $2 plastic mask. DON’T be too neat with it and make sure you extend the area beyond what you actually require. Only make the main facial structure of the mask – don’t make the ears yet.
STEP 2: SHAPING & DRYING
This seems really obvious, but you need to leave your mask to dry overnight. You can speed up the process with a blowdryer but often that only dries the top layer of the glue and the inside of the structure is still very damp. You’ll know when the mask is dry because the top layer should feel surprisingly hard to touch and also maintain it’s own shape (not droop or wilt) when you have removed the $2 plastic backing mask.
If the mask feels sodden or squishy then the glue still hasn’t dried. HOWEVER, you need make changes to the mask shape before it dries. In this case, I made the nose area a bit more flared and snout-like by drying the top layers with a blowdryer and shaping it by hand.
After this first layer is dry, remove the $2 backing mask. Cut your mask to the shape you want using a pair of ordinary scissors (this is why you should papier mache more than you think you need). The photo above left shows the end-product after these two steps.
STEP 3: MAKING APPENDAGES
The reason you can’t make ears earlier is because you didn’t have a solid base to build off. Now that the main part of the mask is dried and shaped you can make the ears in the same way. Make sure you use long strips of newspaper that over the original mask as well, and criss-cross the direction of your paper for structural integrity. Because you don’t have a plastic guide to go on, you may wish to cut out some shapes to use as a guide. Alternatively, you can wing it like me – approximate where the ears should go and then cut them into the right shape after the papier mache has dried overnight.
The result should be the image on the right.
OPTIONAL STEP 3.5: SHAPING THE EARS
I wanted to make the ears concave as per porcelain inspiration mask I mentioned at the beginning. You could possibly drape them over some sort of curved surface to dry but this is what I did instead:
Build up substantive flat layers for the mask, maybe about 5-6. After they dry completely, you should be able to bend/roll up the ears like thick cardboard. Unfortunately, like thick cardboard, bending it will result in creases and ridges in your mask. This means you will need to add several more layers of paper to smooth out the surface in step 4…
STEP 4: CLEANING UP THE PAPIER MACHE
I used white printer paper here for two reasons: 1. The mask is going to be primarily white and white paper means less layers of paint to prevent the newspaper print from peeking through and 2. the white paper is thicker than newspaper and will more easily cover creases if you did the Option Step 3.5. If you DO use white paper, keep in mind that because it is thicker the edges show through very easily as individual strips of paper. Try to tear the paper in a way so the edges look “torn” on an angle, rather than say, cutting the paper into neat strips with scissors.
At this stage you want to wrap the paper around the edges and smooth everything out as much as possible. Minor issues with rough surface can be solved by painting the mask once all-over with undiluted PVA. The glue should create another thin layer on top of the everything else and if its thick enough then joins between strips of paper can be completely smoothed out.
After the glue dries, you should be left with a shiny, smooth surface.
OPTIONAL STEP 4.5: AIR-DRYING CLAY
I originally bought the air-drying clay to do the 3D details with and….I would highly advise against doing that. I ended up adding a thin layer of clay to the ears and bottom of the mask to smooth out the surface even more. I actually ended up shaping the ears after Step 4 with the white paper so the creases were impossible to get out so do as I say, not as I do.
The clay does really hold and reinforce the curvature of the ears more though.
If you do decide to do this step, also let the clay dry fully.
STEP 5: 3D ACCENTS
Turn on your glue-gun and have a handful of glue cartridges ready to go. Pipe the edges with glue, pipe in the swirl detail. It’s a bit likepiping baked goods, except you’ve got a hot glue gun instead.
Try to pipe everything that joins at one time. Once the glue starts drying, the hot and cool glue will separate out and the design will look lumpy if you wait to much time.
STEP 6: PAINTING
Cracks: You can make you own cracked effect using this method with PVA glue and acrylic paints (note that this doesn’t work with metallic acrylic paints).
Colours: I used two differents types of white – a warm off-white and a cool white, plus tiny bit of cool yellow. You can paint it whatever colour you want, but the yellow suggests that the mask is aged because the paint is discoloured. I also painted parts of the mask without yellow to show inconsistent aging. Accents were painting with metallic
Aging: Black paint + dry paint brush. Add a tiny bit of paint to the paintbrush and start filling in the nooks and crannies of the mask; basically anywhere around the edges of the 3D accenting. Anywhere with a bit more of a cavity should be the darkest. You want your brush to have as little paint on it as possible, and for the paint to be highly dispersed. This is very difficult to explain in words, so you may want to experiment on some paper for yourself first. Basically the brush needs to be as dry as possible and only leave fleck traces of black paint when you brush it over the gold. The effect should look like the gold bits have tarnished.
STEP 7: FINISHING TOUCHES
I sprayed the whole thing with clear spraypaint to make it waterproof and added some ribbon so I could wear it.
And you’re done!
TIPS AND TRICKS
WAIT for everything to dry completely. This was especially difficult for me because I am not a patient person by nature. Often a blowdryer just won’t do the trick, and you actually need the base structure to be completely solid before you can begin building off it.
PLAN everything ahead. Plan the shape of the mask. Plan how you will shape it. (By hand? By drying it over certain objects?) Draw on where your accents will go and what they will look like. Decide how layers of paint in what colours and mix the right amount of paint.
USE small strips of paper for papier mache where there is detail. Smaller paper will almost always be better than bigger paper.
CHECK your mask against your own face periodically. Is it looking like how you want it? Do you want to adjust the shape? The size of the eyeholes? The length of the ears?