Mask making may not be the most mainstream artform out there, but the possibilities for creative expression within this niche hobby are endless. Some people use it as a way of connecting to their ancient heritage, others enjoy it for the purely aesthetic, and some make specialty masks as theater props. Whatever the source of your interest in mask making is, you will find a style of self-expression that will fit you.
To begin, it is important to decide what kind of life the masks you’ll make will live. Will they be only for display or will they be worn? Will they have to survive years of wear or be discarded shortly after creation? Will you fix them to the wall or arrange them on a shelf? It is questions like these that will influence your choice of material and the amount of work you’ll be putting into each mask each mask to be.
One of the simplest ways to begin making masks is with clay. Clay is a material that is easy to manipulate and shape as you please. What clay also allows you to do is use a face mold to construct your first mask. You can buy face molds or, if you somehow have that available, use a mannequin head. The point is that the face doesn’t need to be anatomically detailed for your first attempt. What you’re doing is experimenting, getting a feel for the material and looking to see whether this kind of mask making is fun for you. When you’ve selected the mold, cover it with vaseline or hairspray – that way you won’t have any problems separating the mask from the mold.
If you have the mold, choose your clay. There are basically
two types – water based and oil based. The difference between them isn’t very
significant, but oil-based clay is known to be harder to work with than water
based. Since this is a guide for beginners, we will recommend the water based
clay as a start. The method of applying the clay to the mold might surprise
you. The intuitive approach of some people is to roll the clay into a pancake
and then cover the mold with it and work from there. This approach will
certainly maximise your speed of applying the clay, but it will cause problems
when you’ll be shaping it. The problem will be making sure that the end result
is of a uniform thickness. This will be hard to gauge when you’re adding
features to the mask. The trick is to roll the clay into balls, about the size
of a large gumball and apply them gradually to the areas of the mold you’re
looking to cover. That way you wont need to cut out the eyes and mouth later.
Then you will need to sculpt the clay to cover the face. By ironing out the
clay balls into a uniform surface, you will automatically be evening out and
adding features to the clay while having a better feel for the thickness of it.
This is a good beginning as a way of gauging how you like the process. Once you
get a handle on the clay, it will be time to move on to the next steps.