For a few terms now, I have been doing a mask-making project with Grade 7s. It's very involved, but the kids love it and I've found that almost everyone experiences a successful result. I've also loosely tied it in with a Social Studies unit where students study ancient Greece (and Greek theatre). I take about 20 minutes of the class before the mask-making to look at examples of Greek theatre masks and talk about the exaggerated facial features. Students roughly design their mask expression and theme before the next class.
Working in pairs, students put on garbage bags to protect their clothing, and then the first partner (the model) puts on a shower cap to protect their hair. A generous amount of Vaseline is applied to the model's face, making sure to cover the eyebrows and sideburns well. The model then sits down in a chair, head slightly back, and an exaggerated expression is made. The other partner begins applying small plaster strips (pre-cut into pieces of about 1 x 3 inches) dipped in lukewarm water, directly to the face. (The plaster was purchased on a large roll at the art supply store.) Care is taken to avoid the eye area and the mouth. After applying strips all over the face, a second layer is added. Lastly, the nose area is covered and students have to breathe through their mouths for a little while.
A few minutes after the final strips are laid, I usually go around and check for weak spots in the masks before students remove them. If all is well, students start scrunching up their faces and wiggle the masks off. Masks are initialled with pencil on the inside, and laid to dry on balled-up newspaper.
The process is then repeated with the other partner. (It takes about 45 minutes to prep and cast each partner, so two blocks are needed to make sure everyone is casted.)
The next class, masks are dry and the exaggerated features can be built up using papier mâché pulp (I used Claycrete- a popular one found at art supply stores). As per package instructions, the pulp is mixed with water to create a clay-like consistency that can be molded and shaped into eyebrows, lips, noses, horns etc.
Some students take only one class block for this step (45 minutes), but others make take up to two, depending on how elaborate they want their masks to be.
|Nose, chin, and horns are built up|
|Eyebrows and lips are built up|
The pulp takes at least 48 hours to dry completely, and then paint can be applied. I have students use acrylics on their masks. With some colours, two layers of paint may need to be applied.
After the paint is dry, I give students several choices for finishing, such as adding gloss varnish, glitter, fabric embellishments (attached with a glue gun), or ribbons on the side of the masks.
Here are some of the amazing finished results. Students are hoping to perform with these masks in a play later this year.