Making Masks with Plaster Bandages

A lesson plan for 5th graders easily modified for any student, age 8 or older.
Michael Delahunt

[ * Links to definitions of art terms:
Any word that is linked with an asterisk
(*) beside it connects to a page where you will find that word's definition in ArtLex, the online art dictionary that Mr. Delahunt publishes on the Net.]


First, Making the
Foundation Mask:

The base mask captures the *shape and *form of the face of the person on whose face it is constructed. It can be made in one 45-minute session. In later sessions it should be altered — *carved, built upon, *painted, and given a hook from which to hang. And finally the *artist will create an accompanying label to display on a wall beside the finished mask. The label's *text identifies the artist who made it, its *subject, and a one paragraph biography of its subject.


  1. Pair up. One student will be the maker of another student's foundation mask, while the second student acts as the *model for the base mask. (They'll switch roles the following session.) The model becomes the owner of the mask, who does all later work on it.
  2. The model should put on a *smock and sit with his / her head tilted back, holding his hair away from his forehead. He / she might wear a headband or cover some of his / her hair with a plastic bag, securely taped.
  3. The maker, meanwhile, gets a can two-thirds full of water, and places it on a table beside the model. He / she also places a pile of plaster bandages a few inches farther away. (Although these bandages should have been cut to about one-inch by four-inches each some time earlier, it's good to have some scissors handy in the event you want to make a specially shaped bandage.)
  4. The model and / or maker apply a thin coat of petroleum jelly to the skin of the model's face, being careful to cover the eyebrows and any other hair which will be covered with bandages, because this will allow the mask's *release from the face. (— keeping hairs from the — ouch! — grip of the plaster.)
    No foreign material should be allowed to get in the eyes. If the eyes are irritated, get and follow medical advice.
  5. The maker builds the mask on the model's face one bandage at a time. Each bandage must be dipped individually into the water, rubbed slightly, placed so as to *overlap previous bandages, and wiped smooth and flush with the skin, however it curves or creases. Create an even layer to cover the mask's entire area, then cover it again at least another two times, making the areas at the temples, bridge of the nose, and all outside edges especially strong. The eyes may remain uncovered, and either the mouth or the nostrils may remain uncovered, or both. If the model chooses to have the eyes covered, a small piece of cellophane should be placed over the eye before it is covered with bandages.
  6. Wait 3 minutes after placing the last bandage on the mask, then work the mask off the face. The maker pries at the edges with spread finger-tips, while the model wrinkles his nose and forehead underneath. Bend the mask as little as possible. If any hairs have been trapped, pull them out of the plaster rather than out of the head!
  7. Once the mask has been removed, the model's sole task is to clean himself up. First, wipe the face with dry paper towels. Then wash thoroughly with soap and water. Although Vaseline is used medically to protect skin, it can encourage temporary blemishes if not completely removed. The model is dismissed as soon as his face is cleaned.
  8. The maker's role is to place the mask on a foam rubber form so that the mask will continue to harden in the shape of the model's face. Before leaving it he must write the name of the model on a piece of paper and place it beneath an edge of the mask. (Your teacher will mark the mask with permanent marker when it has completely dried.) The maker must then put away any remaining unused bandages which were never wetted at all, clean the water can, and wipe the table with paper towels, etc., and leave only when the table is dismissed.


After you've made the "base mask"--

1. Repairing, Trimming, and Strengthening

*adhesive (Elmer's Glue works well)
plaster bandages
can 2/3 full of water
foam-rubber pillows which fit under masks (crumpled paper can substitute)

1. Check to be sure your mask has your name on it, spelled correctly, and be sure it always does in the future. And if you ever come across a mask which is poorly marked, or in the wrong class's storage area, let your teacher know about it.

2. Clean off any Vaseline left on the inside
*surface of your mask with a dry piece of paper towel.

3. Whenever you're working on the front side of the mask, do so while it is sitting on a mask pillow, rather than on the table, so that you aren't putting damaging pressure on the back
*edges of the mask.

4. When bandages have separated from each other, put adhesive (Elmer's Glue) in between them. Then clamp the bandages together so that they are in contact with each other as the glue hardens. Do this clamping with a paperclip if possible. Consult the teacher when it's not possible.

5. Cut the edge of the mask back wherever you need to. Then strengthen the edge with glue and bandages.

6. Add strengthening thickness to any thin or weak areas of the mask with glue and bandages. And whenever you are about to put new bandages on bandages which are thoroughly dry, spread a thin coat of glue on the dry bandages before you apply the new ones.

7. At the end of every class put your mask away by placing it on a pillow where instructed, and clean any surface of plaster with a damp paper towel rather than a sponge.

Mask links:





see thumbnail to leftChina, Ceremonial Axe with Mask Decoration, 12th/11th century BCE, bronze, Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Berlin. See Chinese art.







Egyptian, Mask of King Tutankhamen, gold and inlaid stones. Cairo Museum, Egypt. The Egyptian pharoah named Tutankhamen (King Tut for short), who reigned from 1347 to 1337 BCE (New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty). His tomb was opened in 1922. See Egyptian art.




see thumbnail to leftEgypt, Mask of a Mummy, 656-332 BCE (Late Dynastic period), Vatican, Rome.






Italy, Sallet in the Shape of a Lion's Head, 1470-80, steel, copper-gilt, glass, polychromy, height 11 3/4 inches (30 cm), weight 8 lb. 4 oz. (3.7 kg), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. This mask was made as armor for a soldier in the Middle Ages.




see thumbnail to leftAfrica, Nigeria, Edo peoples, Court of Benin, Pendant Mask: Iyoba, 16th century, ivory, iron, copper, height 9 3/8 inches (23.8 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See African art and pendant.




American, Boingo, contemporary latex Halloween mask.





Search SILS Art Image Browser. Type "mask" into the form's box at Object Type, and look at numerous masks, mostly African.



Here are some completed masks by my students:


The media used in the completion of these masks included plaster, papier-mâché (in paper-strip and in paper-clay forms) cardboard, and tempera. Some also incorporate wire, tinted cellophane, acrylic gloss medium, glitter, feathers, rhinestones, and other materials. Each student also wrote a brief story about the creature portrayed. Those narratives were not available when this page was posted.


Natalie, Cow

Hayley, Flora

K K, Glittering Griffin

Sarah, Cat Eating a Bird

Megan, Monkey Man

B. Roope, Eagle

See more masks by Mr. Delahunt's students.



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