A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Commedia Masks

Year 10 and I have been exploring the wonderful theatrical style of Commedia dell Arte over the course of the term. One thing I absolutely love to do with the students is get them to make their own Commedia style mask.

The brilliant thing about having your own mask is that it fits your face so it doesn’t feel like you are even wearing a mask when you perform because it sits so snuggly to your face.

After having studied the stock characters, I give the students a worksheet with a face on it. They have to draw a design of what they would like their mask to look like. It needs to draw on an animal of some kind. Preferably not one that is related to the stock characters and it needs to have a large nose and eyebrows in keeping with the Commedia style. The colours and patterns I leave up to them.

It is incredibly easy to do with your class. Here is my step by step guide to making a half face mask.

To Make A Half Mask

You will need:

  • Plaster of Paris (preferrable in bandage form)
  • Toilet Paper or Tissues
  • Vaseline
  • Towels
  • Bowls
  • Scissors

1. Pair your students up so that one person (A) will place the mould on the other’s face (B) and vice versa.

2. Place a towel underneath head (B). Ensure that girls don’t wear make-up because it will smudge.

3. Spread a thin layer of vaseline around the edge’s of the face. Particularly around the hairline and over the eyebrows.

4. Create small squares of tissue to fit over the eyes. Dampen them with some water placed in a small bowl.

5. Cut strips of plaster of paris (approximately 10cm in length), dip them in the water and place around the edges of the face, over the eyes, nose and above the lip line. Smooth out the plaster.

6.  Layer over the face three times, particularly reinforcing the edges of the mask. Leave to dry for about 15 minutes.

7. To remove the mask have the person scrunch up their fake like they just ate a lemon and get them to move it around. Wriggle the mouth and nose. Ensure that you pull the mask off gently and slowly and hold it delicately around the edges.

8. Ensure you label the mask with the student’s name on some masking tape and stick it to the inside. Leave to dry for a day or so.

9. Once the mask is dry, cut the eyes and string holes out using a drill. Mark where you will drill with a permanent marker. You will need to use scissors to make the eyes bigger and to push out the plaster. To smooth the edges of the eyes place masking tape on the inside.

If anyone has a skin allergy have the students place glad wrap over their face. If the students are uncomfortable about that they can use a pre-existing neutral mask and place the mould over that.

To Build Up the Features

You Will Need:

  • Newspaper
  • Wood Glue
  • Water

1. To create the eyebrows, rip thin strips of newspaper and twist them into a long thin snake like shape.

2. Mix one tablespoon of glue with two tablespoons of water.

3. Work quickly. Cover the strip in glue and place it above the eyes. Hold it in place. Repeat until the eyebrows are a considerable height and thickness.

4. To create the nose scrunch the newspaper into balls, cover in glue and place over the nose, building it up until it is large and the shape that is in the design.

5. Once the features are appropriately built up, glue a single layer of newspaper over the entire mask to cement the features in place.

To Decorate

1. Provide a range of paint colours and preferrably have the students paint the eyebrows and nose in a different colour so that they will stand out in performance.

2. Any additional decoration such as feathers, glitter, sequins etc is up to the student to bring in and attach using craft glue.

Image Credit: Commedia Masks, karlao, 2008

8 Comments

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