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Sunday, September 21, 2014


       We all want to be loved and everyone loves a monkey, so, why not become one?   Give into your simian side by constructing a paper mache monkey mask.  

 Let me show you how.

    It's relatively easy; you start by building a frame out of thick paper then cover it with wet paper strips.

  If you make enough of them you can turn your whole neighborhood into the next Planet of the Apes movie.
      I have been making paper mache masks for many years. I prefer the "paper band method" that allows you to construct an inexpensive full-face mask that will fit you perfectly. 
    To begin, gather the necessary materials, strips of poster paper, newspaper, white glue, and a small brown dog.  

      A pet isn't absolutely necessary but this take hours. A small brown dog make good company.

    Cut about dozen strips of paper about one-inch wide.  Most any paper will do but I prefer the heavier stuff, like poster paper.  Wrap the first one around the widest part of your head.  Don't make it too tight.  Mark and fasten it with glue or a staple. Having a helper is good but you can do it yourself using a mirror.

      Now continue building your mask frame by fastening a strip from to back-to-front with a 3-inch overlap.  Do the same from ear-to-ear.
How exciting, you're looking like a gladiator!

   Actually, at this point, you     could begin building a gladiator mask or that of any other creature.  You now ask yourself, "What paper bands do I need to add to fill out my basic form?

     In in this case I needed to study the shape monkey heads.   
When I made my skull mask ten years ago, I stared at many, many boney heads first. 

For the fish it was the same.

The Grove Guy at today's Climate Change Rally in Downtown Miami.

 After looking at a dozen images of our ancestors,  I decided to to be a chimpanzee.

  I asked myself, "How is a chimp's head different from my own?".   Noticing the protruding brow and jaw, I added a structure of strips accordingly.  I continued to glue more on to close the gaps between strips.   This would provide the most realistic results when I began to cover it with paper.

      We all need to breathe.  I planned for an open mouth and large nostrils to facilitate this.  Open areas also help keep the mask from becoming too hot.

                  Paper frame, another view

     When the paper band frame was complete I  put on my first layer of paper mache.  If you haven't done this before, watch a couple of YouTube instructional videos on the basic process.
There are dozens.  My friend Dan Reeder ("The Monster Man") has several on his website,    

First layer complete .  The retired teacher has spent decades teaching folks how to make fantastic creatures from paper and glue.  His books got me started.

  You're going to need a lot of newspaper (copy paper, bags, and old cotton sheets work too) and for glue?  There a many choices including white glue (mixed with water), flour (same mix) or wallpaper paste.  Glue works best for me.

     The messiest art projects are the most fun and this one is "extremely fun".  Lay down two layers of newspaper to protect the Chippendale desk that you've chosen for your work place.


    You begin by tearing newspapers into one-inch strips.  Dip them into the glue mixture getting rid of the excess glue as you pull each strip out, and begin laying them smoothly on the frame. 

 IMPORTANT:  Before you cover your hands with glue, put on some music.  Learn to enjoy the long, meditative aspects of this art form.  It's been around for ages. A local art museum features a 3000-year old paper mache mummy mask.  You may later want to make one of your own to see yourself into the afterlife.   
If you like that idea, put something in your will asking your loved ones to bury you in your monkey mask.  It's going to be that cool.


    So there you are, building a monkey face one layer at a time.  Changing the directions of the strips regularly makes your creation much stronger, like the multi-directional frame of a house.       You can't build it all at once.  After applying the first or second layer, you need to let your mask dry.  This could take up to 24 hours.  It may take that long to get the glue off of your hands.
         The dog came in handy after all

     Okay, now that the water has evaporated,  try on your mask.  If it does not fit comfortably, now is the time to change it.  You may have to wear it for eternity.  Too tight?  Widen the main interior band.   
      You are ready now to begin laying on the second layer of wet paper strips.  Don't forget the "changing directions" part.

    Add enough layers to make the shell strong.  You can see weak ("thin") points by holding it up to light or by poking it a bit.  I add extra strips to these areas.


     Now that you've covered your frame with enough paper strips you have the option to add
features and texture.  I do this with "paper clay".
You can buy dry bags of it at an art store or chop
up paper in a food processor (adding glue). 
   On this mask I added a bit to the brow, nose and created the hair texture.  It can take several days to dry.
    I made the teeth from "Sculpy" (translucent white) a moldable plastic clay sold in art stores.
   Now the "building" is over and it is time to paint.  I start with a thick coat of white paint to "prepare my canvas".
       (Note:  At this point I realized chimpanzees don't have mustaches.  I trimmed this one off)

      It's time to paint your canvas.  I tried it in
weird colors but didn't like the results.
 I bought a bottle of Monkey Brown for the second effort. 
In truth, us used a number of acrylic earth tones to to create the final version.  When the paint was dry I used thin-point sharpies (black and brown) to draw small details.  It was then given a clear coat to protect the surface.                  

   That's it,  how I spent twenty hours making a mask out of paper and glue. 

  If you'd like to see other masks that I've made see my 6-29-14 blog, "Paper Mache Masks".

  Note:  Some people have asked me to put together a workshop on mask making.  I may do this in a month or two.  If you're interested, write to me at

1 comment:

  1. Do you have more pictures on the paper band part of the tutorial?