My work held a Mardi Gras themed party a couple weeks ago. I originally purchased a mask for the event, but when the event was postponed for a month I decided that it would be way cooler if I could have a mask custom fitted to my face. The easiest way to get a mask like that would be to make one! I did some research on the web and I found that it really shouldn’t be super hard to make a simple mask. I was able to put this thing together in two days time (barely).
The first step was to make the base mask. I wanted it to fit my face perfectly, so naturally it had to be molded to my face. My Internet research showed that the simplest way to get this result was to cover my face in petroleum jelly and then layer plaster strips on my face until they dried. The jelly prevents the strips from sticking to my face or any of the hairs. I obtained the plaster strips from our local Michael’s store.
First, I covered my face in the petroleum jelly. I paid special attention to places like my eyebrows and hairline where there was more hair that could possibly get dried into the mask.
Next I had to start layering the strips onto my face. I tried to make sure they cris-crossed often to improve the strength of the mask. I had some help from Shannon with this part. That is until we kept making each other laugh. Laughing is a good way to wrinkle the mask so I had to boot her out of the room until it dried. We didn’t get too many photos of this process since it was so messy.
Once I had all the layers on and it had dried enough, it was time to try and remove the mask. This involved me wiggling my face all around in weird ways to get the mask to detach. It seemed to stick to my forehead the most, but it came off with relative ease.
I let the mask dry overnight. The next day, I used some paper towels to try and wipe off most of the petroleum jelly from the inside of the mask. The mask was actually pretty strong with just the plaster. After I removed the jelly I cut the mask down a bit to pretty it up and get rid of any parts I just didn’t want.
Next I decided to try and build up some features onto the mask to make it more interesting. I used black craft foam to build up some cheek bones and eyebrows. I cut out some shapes from paper as a template and then cut them out of the foam. I glued the first layer of foam to the mask using super glue. Then I glued the rest of the layers together to build up the features.
Once I had the features built up, I had to cover the mask up in Wonderflex. Wonderflex is this awesome material I found online. It’s a stiff plastic sheet that becomes soft and sticky when heated. You can use a heat gun to make the plastic malleable, and then apply it to a surface and use your fingers to mold it to shape. The plastic is self-adhesive so it sticks to the object you are molding too. I decided to use this stuff to smooth out the mask and get rid of that rough plaster texture. I figured the plastic would also smooth out the cheek bones and eyebrows.
I first cut a piece of Wonderflex that I thought would be big enough for the entire mask.
The Wonderflex has a smooth side and a rough side. I wanted to put the smooth side on the outside so the mask would have a smoother texture.
I didn’t get a lot of photos of this process because I was finishing the mask on the day of the event so I was in a rush. You can get a basic idea of what I did with the few photos that I did take. I ended up having to cut my one sheet of Wonderflex down into smaller pieces. I was hoping to use just one piece to prevent any seams from showing on the mask but the mask had so many features it proved difficult.
It seemed like the best approach was to just get the Wonderflex to stick to the mask and get a basic shape around all of the features. It helped to wrap the Wonderflex around the edges of the mask to help it stick down. Once I had an entire piece of Wonderflex stuck down it was easier to reheat areas and smooth it all out with my fingers. This stuff is so great in that you can reheat it as many times as you want. I also found that if you heated it and pressed it enough, you could basically squish two pieces of Wonderflex into each other and almost completely remove any seams.
The next step was to paint the mask. The cosplay website that sold the Wonderflex recommended using acrylic paint. I bought some red and black paints from Michael’s so I would match Shannon’s outfit and got to work. I didn’t get any photos of this process because time was starting to run really short and my hands got pretty messy with the paint.
After the paint was applied, I had to add feathers. What proper Mardi Gras mask doesn’t have feathers? I added a couple of black and red feathers for flair using super glue. The super glue didn’t work out too well because once it fully dried, it left some white residue on the front of the mask. I’m thinking I can probably just paint over that if I ever want to use this mask again though.
Next I super glued some felt to the inside of the mask. The idea was that it would cover up the plaster and hopefully provide a softer surface against my skin. This didn’t work as well as I had hoped. The felt I put in the forehead area stuck pretty well, but the felt in the cheeks didn’t stick enough and I ended up having to remove that felt because I ran out of time before the party.
The final step was to add some sort of strap to hold the mask to my face. I used my Leatherman knife to poke some holes in the sides of the mask to attach some lace. I found some suede black lace at Michael’s that I thought would give a fancier touch to the mask. I just poked the lace through with a small screwdriver and tied it to the holes. Voila! Mask complete!
Once thing I wish I had noticed before I started this project was that the super glue says on the packaging not to use it for fabrics. Apparently the glue eats through the fabric and doesn’t work as you would hope. I learned this the hard way by using the glue to hold the felt in place. When I got to the party I assumed the glue had completely dried since it had been about 45 minutes to an hour but I was WRONG. I wore the mask for about 45 minutes or so and then took it off. What I saw after that was a bit disconcerting.
Those white spots on my forehead are from the super glue. It hadn’t dried to the felt but it dried really fast once it made contact with my skin! Luckily, the mask didn’t actually glue itself to my face. The glue just seeped through the felt and dried to my skin. I ended up leaving the party early to go remove the glue from my face to ensure I didn’t break out in some kind of rash. I had to rub acetone onto my face (probably not the best idea) in order to dissolve the glue. I removed most of it with the acetone and now a few days later there is barely anything left of it. My skin seems fine so far, but consider this a lesson learned the hard way. Don’t use super glue on fabrics, especially if those fabrics are going to be pressed against your skin!