Saturday, March 16, 2013

Theater Masks: A Fun DIY Papier Mache Project

Theater Mask craft project--Fun and Easy

This was fairly easy and a ton of fun!

My youngest daughter came up with a great idea to satisfy a requirement at school regarding the influence of ancient Greek drama on modern entertainment. Her idea: make a pair of those iconic and seemingly timeless Tragedy and Comedy theater masks.

This post is about our do-it-yourself theater mask project, and I encourage readers to try this at home. We both had a fun time making these life-like, wearable and decorative masks. The masks are painted papier mache over aluminum foil forms. I have not seen the aluminum foil form idea before, but it worked really well! All the steps you need to create your own masks are outlined below.

Step one: chose a design concept

There are many variations on the classic theme. We looked at the various designs that are already out there before developing our own designs. You can buy prints, pre-made masks, and for the crafty, even paint-ready plastic masks. We were feeling uber-crafty, and bent on custom-making our own masks. For inspiration, we searched for images of Theater Masks and found results like these:

Step two was to gather the materials and set up the craft studio.


  • 1/4 C white flour, 1 Cwater, and 1/2 tsp salt
  • Sauce pan in which to boil the ingredients to make paste
  • Bowl for dipping the newspaper strips into the paste
  • Stapler
  • Spray paint for the base coat (we used white)
  • Marker to draw features before painting
  • Acrylic paint (we used red and black) and brushes (some flat and some pointed)
  • Ribbon (we used red and black)
  • X-acto blade to cut through the mask for eyes, mouth, and ribbon holes 
  • Large cardboard box to use as a paint booth
  • Aluminum foil, about 21" wide and 40" long per mask. Fold the long strip into 3 plies thick
  • Newspapers--just the newsprint, none of the glossy stuff. 


  • Wear clothes that can stand a little washable paste and paint
  • Cover a large table with newspaper or an old, washable tablecloth
  • Stir the paste ingredients over medium heat until they boil, then turn off the heat and let the mixture cool and gel. Boiled paste is not quite as strong as raw, but boiling helps the masks last longer by preventing mold. 
  • Rip (don't cut) some newspaper into ~1" wide strips. You'll need about 50 each 6" long strips for each layer of each mask, and each mask will need at least two layers
  • Shred some paper to make a kind of modeling clay for some additional features 

Step the third: the frame

Fold some newspaper into 1.5" wide strips, at least 4 plies thick, and as long as you can make them from a sheet of newsprint. Staple or tape the plies together to reinforce them and prevent them unfolding. You'll use these reinforced strips to frame your mask, so you'll need enough to wrap around the perimeter of your model's face, one time for each mask.

Wrap a strip of the reinforced paper around your model's face from under the chin, straight up over the top of the head, and back around to the start point. Staple the form into a closed loop. The shape should slide on and off of the model's face snugly. When you set the frame down on the table, it should retain the oval or almond shape of your model's face. 

Step fourth: the molded face form

The forms were made by pressing 3 plies of aluminum foil over Madeline's highly expressive features. You want enough foil so it keeps its shape when you layer paper mache over it. You want the foil to completely encase the face, so gently press it against the model's face with plenty of slack in the middle to allow you to form-fit it to your model's features. Have your model smile so you can gently press the foil around lips, nose, and eyes and capture the expression. Do the same with the frowning pose so you have two foil face forms.

Step 5ive: apply the papier mache

Tuck the foil forms inside the paper frames. You'll eventually remove the foil from the inside of the finished mask, so be sure the foil fits snugly against the inside of the frame. The combined frame and form is fragile at this point of construction, but it should give you an excellent idea for what the finished mask will look like.

Pour the cooled paste into a large bowl and start dunking strips of paper into the paste. Squeeze off excess pasted with fingers and drape the paper over the form. Keep applying paper until the entire mask form is covered. While the first mask dries, repeat the process on the second mask. You'll need at least two layers of strips.

You can smoosh some of the shredded paper into the paste to make modeling clay. This clay can then be used to build up eyebrows or cheeks as desired.

Excess paste can be stored in the fridge and warmed up for later use, but I do not recommend eating it.

Step 6th: Paint

Let the masks dry for 24 hours before painting. Gently pull the foil away from the inside of the mask. Check to make sure all the paste is thoroughly dry. You can sand the masks at this stage to smooth out rough spots before painting.

I used a large cardboard box as a spray booth, and sprayed a white primer base coat on both masks, and then let the paint dry for 2 hours. Once the white paint was dry, I used a marker to draw the outlines of features such as the eyes and mouth before brushing black and red paint to complete the design.

Step 7: Finish the masks

Time to apply the finishing touches. Use an X-acto blade to make cut-outs for vision and voice. Cut some slices in the temples of the masks just wide enough to pass the ribbon through. Attach the ribbon, long enough to tie behind the wearer's head, et viola!

 ... and anguished with the finished masks.
As you can see, my daughter was both ecstatic ...

Step 8: Clean up

Clean up is a snap. Close out the project with more photos and a celebratory coconut cream pie! 

If you like this idea, why not make some masks at home? Masks have been used for dramatic effect for centuries. Western civilization celebrates the classic Greek theater masks, but masks have been used for many purposes and across diverse cultures. 

Native American, African, and Asian masks are strikingly different in features, scale, and colors. Such differences reveal interesting culture clues. 

Native American

What about death masks, such as the famous mask made just after President Lincoln succumbed to his fatal wound? 

Lincoln Death Mask

And don't forget the often elegant masks worn at masquerade balls.

Elegant intrigue

What types of masks are favored by thieves? And what explains their preferences? 
Anonymous thuggery

Why not make your own Hallowe'en masks? You can be whomever your heart desires. 

The Penguin of Batman fame

One final example: Mardi Gras!

laissez les bons temps rouler!

Feeling inspired? Consider making your own masks using the technique we developed and described above. Then share your results in the comments, or send us a link to your own blog post. Have fun! 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pi Day Treat

PhilosFX is celebrating Pi Day (3.14) with some tasty numbers!

Friday, March 1, 2013

President Obama's 2d Term Agenda

Photo by WaPo. For a full transcript of the SOTU address, go HERE
This is the second in a three part series of articles about the President's agenda for his second term.

First impression: I need some new ties. I have no pastel, Easter-colored neck ties. I was not invited to attend the SOTU address this year, but had I been present in the House Chamber, I would have looked out of place. Lilting Lilac. Sky Blue. Fuzzy Peach. Mint Green. Bunny nose Pink. We went from Mardi Gras to Easter Sunday in one fell swoop.

As long as we are dispensing with the trivia, what did you think of Marco Rubio's "water moment" in the Republican rebuttal? I found the moment humanizing but the hoopla about it de-humanizing. If you don't know what I am referring to, consider yourself lucky and the matter closed. Enough said?

Speaking of social media, my Facebook friend and frequent PhilosFX commentator, CT, said this fanfare of banality all reminded him of a favorite Frank Zappa quote,

"Politics is the entertainment division of the military-industrial complex."

Frank may have been on to something, but, like it or not, we are governed by the people we elect, following the process outlined in our Constitution. So let's take a more serious look at what the State of the Union Address tells us about where the President sees the Nation in relation to where he'd like to take us.

  • Increasing the minimum wage
  • A path to citizenship and tougher border security
  • Only “modest” Medicare and Social Security reforms
  • Increased gun control
  • Ending the war in Afghanistan
  • Increased infrastructure spending
  • Addressing climate change
  • Increasing sharing of information to prevent cyber attacks

Some folks look at this list and see a fairly pragmatic agenda. Some other folks look at the same list and see a threat to our freedom in the form of big government take-over. Some folks never get past the fact that our President self-identifies as a Black man, although I dare say that fewer and fewer citizens are paying attention to race and gender. President Obama is not the Black President. He is the President (who happens to be Black). That color-blindness is a good thing, as long as people are truly focused on issues that matter more, such as the strength of the Nation and the health and well-being of her people.

Personally, I look at the list and I see a fairly pragmatic agenda, which is what I want to see. Which is why I am immediately suspicious. Rhetoric sways people. Recall these stirring words from Part One, the President's second inaugural address.
" . . . each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution.

"What makes us exceptional, what makes us America is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration . . . We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

"The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few, or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people. Entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed . . . "

A President of the United States can use phrases like "unalienable rights" and government "of, by, and for the people" in speeches, even as his policies

"... point away from a republic of liberty and toward bureaucratic despotism.  President Obama's policies - from Obamacare, to higher taxes and runaway debt, to increased regulation of the economy and of family life - are in direct contradiction to these words in his second inaugural address.

"President Obama can only get away with misusing the words of America's founders because too many Americans today have not been properly educated about our American Heritage.

"And if this is allowed to continue, our great nation will become less free and less prosperous, and the intrusive bureaucratic state will expand." --Dr. Larry P. Arnn, President, Hillsdale College

Let's get past the melody and the message and get to the meat. How will the agenda laid out in the SOTU address contribute to the strength of the Nation and the health and well-being of her people? So the challenge now is to connect the beautiful melody of January's Inaugural Address with the inspiring lyrics of this State of the Union Address and produce the actual sheet music of the President's Budget for FY 2014. Follow the money.

Of course, the words are eloquent, but as we know, a brilliant plan without a supporting budget is just fantasy

Given the gridlock in Congress and their track record of producing budgets of late, I would say,

"Welcome to Fantasy Island."