HOW TO MAKE A PLASTER CAST FACE MASK!
Mask Making Materials Check List:
There are a number of materials for body casting on the market these days. However, I still find that using
plain old gauze bandages that are impregnated with Plaster of Paris work fine and are most easily found and used by
All the materials I use are easily available from any "decent" craft store (such as a Michael's, Ben Franklin,
Craft Barn, etc.)
If you have trouble finding plaster bandages, you can order them by mail from Dick Blick Art Materials Catalog
(800.828-4548 or www.blickstudio.com. Product Rigid-Wrap Q33507 (about
$4.55) works fine... A roll should be enough for several masks.
There are other casting materials they list in their catalog that you might want to experiment with. I've found
that the simple plaster bandages work just fine.
So, for making a Life Mask you'll want the following materials:
- Roll of plaster impregnated gauze strips
- 1 Cup of DRY Plaster of Paris
- 2-3 plastic or paper bowls
- warm water
- petroleum jelly (or other suitably thick cream/moisturizer)
- paper towels
- cloth head band
- cover up drape sheet (or old shirt.. I use an old bed sheet)
- clean up soap & towel
- mirror (hand mirror for client, or hanging mirror if you're doing yourself)
- instant camera (opt'l) – very interesting to capture a photo while "being plastered"
- table and comfortable chair ( I use a high chair for clients so I can easily move around them while
Got your materials? Well then: Ready, Set, GO!
Mask-Making Steps and Procedures:
A note on preparation: I consider it a kind of "sacred space" when I work with clients or groups to make their
For me, thoughtful preparation and inquiry by the person making the Life-Mask is one of the most important and
valuable aspects of the mask-making process. (Even kids have incredible personal insights, and take home something
far more valuable than a "cool art project" if you give them the opportunity for some self-inquiry prior to and
throughout the experience.)
So, when I make masks with clients or in groups, I do several things to help them get the most out of the
experience, using a series of questionnaires, dream work, journaling, and guided visualizations I've developed.
(I'll have more of my own tapes, interviews, and processes available in the future -- stay tuned...)
Ok, here we go with your face mask!
Start by putting a wide head band on your client (or yourself if your making your own mask).
Try and cover the hair line all around face as well as possible. I often just tear an old piece of sheet and use
that as a head band.
Apply a good even coating of petroleum jelly to the entire face –being sure to put extra along
hair line, on eyebrows, eyelashes, and lips. (you can substitute petroleum jelly for something more "appealing" but
make sure it's a heavy cream (I've used vitamin e-oil with a little wax and other herbs – combining mask making
In one of your plastic bowls, put about 1/2C of warm or cool water and sprinkle in about 1/3c
Plaster of Paris (Always add plaster to the water, not the other way around). This light plaster/water mixer makes
a smoother finish (and a faster set time) for the plaster gauze strips.
Dip one plaster strip at a time into the water/plaster mixture and apply to face (see diagram
for hints or refer to references to order my booklet which goes into more detail)
I start along outside of face.
Make sure each strip overlaps with previous strip and smooth into close contact with face with your
I put small pieces around nostril area early on (and while clients eyes and mouth are still free) so that your
subject is certain of his/her ability to breathe. (that includes you, if you're doing yourself).
Having the eyes and mouth covered with plaster depends on what you (or the client) wants for the finished mask.
If you want a mask with a screaming mouth for example, you might want to leave the lips free of plaster.
If you want an inner mask, often the eyes closed (covered) is more powerful. In either event, I save around eyes
and mouth (if the subject wants these covered) for the end.
Let the subject know when you are about to cover the eyes or mouth, taking care to smooth the wet strips into
place so you get a good mold without poking too hard.) (If you are doing this on yourself in front of a mirror, I
suggest you keep your eyes uncovered …duh! – though I've done myself covered a few times).
When all areas of the face have been covered (2 layers is usually fine for most places with a little extra
layering along the outer face line and jaw line.. (This is because this is where the most stress is place when
taking the mask off.)
Finally, I add a little more plaster to the water bowl (so its a thick cream texture) and I
work to really smooth and finish the mask.
While your subject is still under the plaster, its a great time to (wipe your hands and) snap an instant photo!
(After the experience, people love the mysterious look of themselves completely sealed under a plaster mask – its
Ok: On getting the "^#!@#)($" thing off!
I've never had a problem removing a face mask - and I've done easily 300 + face masks on people ranging in age
from 17 months (that was a little scary) to 101 (that was too!) …Here's the trick:
Given that you remembered the petroleum jelly, and the head band, you shouldn't have a problem.
First, I tell people before they "go under" the plaster 2 things:
"If you feel a little nervous or panicky (very few people have any problem with it at all, but its
worth calming potential fears – without making them any bigger by "over doing" the discussion of potential panic
attack) -- the mask can be taken off at any time (though it will probably mean ruining the mask so I recommend
trying to relax into the fear and see how that goes first)"; and
"When you get ready to take it off, consciously avoid the inclination to get it off quickly, or the natural
feeling that it's stuck".
(I always encourage the person and talk through the process of taking it off – helping them go slow, helping
them realize that it is coming, and sometimes helping release a couple of hairs at the hair line (no big
The mask becomes hard enough to come off (usually it gets a little warm as it sets and is rigid and ready to
carefully take off in about 12-15 minutes or less – you can tell and so can the client).
The person under the mask is really the best person to take it off as they can tell what's going on, how they
Start by having your subject move his/her mouth and face around inside the mask once it is set
up and rigid (about 12-15 minutes or less);
then untie the head band and slowly begin to rock the two jaw line sides of the mask with both hands;
and gently (slowly) pull the mask down and away from the face.
If you are facilitating, help mainly by encouraging, letting the client know it’s coming off, keeping them from
going too fast (often a tendency), and helping to release a hair or two at the hairline if need be (no big deal) –
et Voila le masque!
Personal Responsibility & Care: I will say one
more thing about this mask casting process. It really is easy and fun to do (as I said: I’ve done children as young
as 17 months, and an old woman as old as 102; I’ve done groups as large as 80, and I’ve made masks of myself
Even so, it is worth noting that you should take responsible care if you’re going to try this process by being
sure to read any warnings on product information, fully disclosing and discussing any concerns with clients or in
classes, and following basic professional standards of ethics and conduct.
In over 300 mask making episodes, I’ve never once had a problem and it’s always been a real treasured experience
for the client and myself. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
I’m always conscientious and sensitive to unexpected possibilities and to the unique needs or circumstances of
each individual. In my experience it’s a marvelous and great life affirming shared experience. I wish you each the
Ronda LaRue, M.S., Master Mask Maker