Making the Jack Skellington Mask

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5 min read | 1036 words

We were invited to a Halloween party this past weekend and, as soon as I heard there would be fancy dress, I couldn’t resist trying to make my own mask. Given that my last laughable attempt at a mask was Felix Morton from The Dream Machine, I knew I would need some professional help. Ultimate Paper Mache by Jonni Good has lots of tutorials and how-tos for everything papier mâché and sculpture related. I picked up her book How to Make Masks (2012) which gives several examples of projects using a very different style to the newspaper papier mâché I grew up with. I wanted to make a mask of Jack Skellington, the ‘Pumpkin King’, from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Given the apparently simple shape I thought this would be a good first project and even encouraged Lizzie to dress up as his love interest, the humanoid rag doll, Sally. nightmarebfchristmas_026pyxurz The Mask Form To build a mask I needed something to build on. In other words, a Mask Form. Since I didn’t have a convenient mannequin lying around, I decided to follow the DIY example in Jonni’s book. I started by wrapping tinfoil around my head - as you do - with a lot of assistance from Lizzie. It turns out the mouth hole is kind of important as I very quickly realised I couldn’t breathe. It was also surprisingly hot under there. img_5107 Next, after carefully removing the tinfoil headpiece, I covered the inside with petroleum jelly (aka Vaseline) and then damp Plaster Cloth strips which, once dry, gave surprising strength to the form. Once solid enough - two layers was enough - I removed the tinfoil allowing the form to stand on it’s own. [gallery ids=“9315,9316” type=“rectangular”] The rough shape was made smoother by adding a couple of layers of papier mâché. Rather than newspaper, Jonni advocates using Scott Shop Towels and a Gesso mixture made from Plaster of Paris, PVA glue, water and vinegar. It works extremely well with the mixture being easy to spread and the towels easy to work with. I found them in Halfords, here in the UK but apparently they’re found in any hardware store in the U.S. Only a few towels were needed to completely cover the face. To avoid creases, the cloth was easily torn to create overlaps and pushed deep into recesses like the nose. A final layer of Gesso paste was added to seal the patchwork cloth and it was then left to dry. [gallery ids=“9318,9319” type=“rectangular”] Since I wanted a helmet-style mask reaching to the back of the head, once dry I repeated the steps to create the crescent shape for the back. I added more papier mâché to fuse the two peices together, although I didn’t have any joint compound around to smooth out the form as suggested in the book. [gallery ids=“9320,9321” type=“rectangular”] I packed the inside of the form with newspaper and taped it to a Coke bottle filled with water to let it dry overnight. A flower pot would have been an alternative but all the work going on in the house and garden at the moment made this difficult to source! img_5133 The Mask The above took two nights including time for drying, leaving me just a night and a day to create and finish my mask. Talk about pressure! I covered the Mask Form in petroleum jelly and a plastic bin liner since this makes the mask easier to remove later. I then used modelling clay to build up the features of the mask. I mistakenly bought air drying clay rather than an oil-based equivalent that would remain soft, but in the end it worked out fine. [gallery ids=“9323,9324” type=“rectangular”] The main consideration with this step is the more clay covering the surface of the mask form, the more the internal structure will change. For this reason, I decided to forget about trying to create Jack’s ball-shaped head, leaving much of my head shape intact. In hindsight, this project might have been easier with a balloon or ball as the Mask Form. I tried to make the mask Jack-like by emphasising the eye sockets, nose and mouth. I gave him his angry toothy grin, however a closed mouth might have made him more recognisable and saved a lot of work. I covered the clay and mask form in papier mâché in roughly the desired shape. It was around 4am by this point and as tiredness got the better of me I started getting frustrated that my paste was drying too quickly. I called it a night and completed the papier mâché in the morning. I let the mask dry while I picked up some pieces for our outfits. For the whole project I used our desk fan to make the drying go quicker, though later, once the clay was removed, I also used a hair dryer. img_5137 When the mask was dry enough to remove from the Mask Form, I pulled the plastic bin liner down and across to break the connection with the petroleum jelly. Slowly but surely it came away - moment of truth - and thankfully my mask, albeit a bit soft, held its shape. I removed the clay that was still stuck in the mask and - to add strength - added another layer of papier mâché on the inside of the mask. [gallery ids=“9326,9327,9328” type=“square”] Once dry I lightly sanded the Mask with a sandpaper backed sponge to remove any major bumps. I could have added a slightly different Gesso mixture for even more smoothness but time was against me. I painted the mask using white and black acrylic paint and highlighted Jack’s creases around his mouth using an eyeliner pencil (although I felt this was a bit too dark in the end) img_5146 It’s not the best rendition of Jack Skellington, and the rest of my costume left a lot to be desire, but the skull face is good enough for Halloween and I had a lot of fun with this different technique. As a bonus, I still have the Mask Form to build my next creation on too!

Did you make a costume for Halloween? Do you have any papier mâché tips?

clay Jack Skellington NanoPoblano NanoPoblano2016 papier mache plaster of paris The Nightmare Before Christmas Tim Burton

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