Noe Valley Voice October 2000

How to Make a Papier-Mâché Mask (Without Making a Total Mess)

By Alison Pence

Perhaps you did not have an adventurous, creative, and, shall we say, crazy-for-fun mom. Well, I did. I fondly remember putting on a big smock (my dad's old shirt) and covering a balloon with papier-mâché. In the process, I became crusted with gross gray globs that itched as they dried. That is why every year I get out a tarp and a bucket and borrow the neighborhood kids to make masks for Halloween.

But making a mask is really quite easy and not as messy as you'd think. If you start on a small scale, you can do it at your kitchen table with flour, water, salt, and newspaper, and skip the itchy globby part.

I like papier-mâché (pronounced paper muh-shay) because it is a good vehicle for self-expression and because it is impermanent. I can throw the mask away after trick-or-treating or burn it on a beach in a purgative ritual. For centuries, people have been using papier-mâché in this way. Country festivals from Shanghai to New Orleans have made masks to celebrate life or to scare away evil spirits.

The following recipe is highly variable. You can replace the newspaper strips with paper towels, shredded paper mashed into a pulp, or paper bags. Fabric may also be used.

Don't put the paper and goo on too thick, or it will never dry. Three overlapping layers are probably enough. Allow two days for the different steps. Clean the paste off of anything it's not supposed to be on, because it dries like cement. If you know what kind of mask you want ahead of time, you may want to tape shapes to the bowl that define the nose, mouth, or other features. I use toilet-paper tubes for most noses. Have fun!

What You Will Need

One round bowl (face size)

One plastic shopping bag

One section of the newspaper torn into strips or shredded

A bucket

1 cup flour

1 cup water

1 tablespoon salt

String or elastic

Scissors or knife

Paint and decorations

Place the shopping bag over the bowl making it snug. Make a paste of the flour, water, and salt. It should be the consistency of potato soup. Place a few strips of paper in the paste, shake off the excess, and place over the plastic covered bowl. Make a few layers, sculpting the cheeks, a nose, eyebrows, or whatever. Place in a sunny spot or in a gas oven (pilot-light only) to dry.

When dry, remove the plastic. Trim the sides of the mask with scissors, poke holes in the sides for string, and holes where the eyes should be. Paint the mask. You may want to add ears, hair, gems, or feathers for the full effect.

Need inspiration? Here are some wacky web sites to visit:,, and