Since Halloween is upon us, what better way to creep someone out than by casting a life mask of your face. In addition to enjoying the expression on your loved one’s faces when they see your mug looking at them from a dark closet, you’ll be creating a historical artifact of you in three dimensions. They make interesting gifts, too.
Life masks are cast exactly the same way as a death mask. The only difference is that you’re living. A definite benefit. The ingredients to create a life mask are available at your local craft or hobby shop. Since price is always a concern, consider your local hardware store as well.
Here’s what you’ll need that costs money:
- Plaster gauze (available from Michael’s or Hobby Lobby). I bought the 8″ by 180″ size since I was sure I’d muck up my first attempt (which I did). The cost was about $11.00.
- Plaster of Paris (available from any hardware store). I purchased the DAP dry mix tub from Orchard Supply Hardware. It cost $7.99 for a 4 pound tub. This will make about two masks.
- A tub to mix your plaster (from the hardware store). My initial attempt used a small Tupperware container. No bueno! You need something that will hold about 6 cups of mixture. I bought a Orchard Hardware tub for $2.99.
- DAP Vinyl Spackling paste (from the hardware store). While optional, I found that the spackling worked well to fill any bubbles and cracks in my dried mask. The cost for an 8 fluid ounce tub was $4.99.
- Vaseline Petroleum Jelly (from the supermarket). Vaseline is important if you have eyebrows (trust me). The cost was about $2.00.
You’ll also need some towels, sand paper, water, and, if you want to hang your creation, a wire coat hanger.
Step One: Mise en Place
Although normally used for cooking, mise en place, French for putting in place, is appropriate when about to embark on your life mask. For instance, I found that by not cutting enough plaster gauze ahead of time, I had to stop often to cut more strips. Since plaster dries quickly, having supplies ready makes the face covering go faster (and smoother).
Mise en Place strips of plaster gauze in a variety of sizes. Keep in my that your face has all kinds of nooks and crannies. Pieces too large will not pick up all your characteristic wrinkles, moles, and other weirdness that is you. Pieces too small will be hard to handle. Also have ready a small tub of room temperature water. You’ll use this to activate the plaster gauze.
Step Two: Vaseline your Face
I’ve never been keen on putting greasy stuff on my face so this was the part I hated. On the other hand, I needed my face lubricated for two reasons. First, Vaseline will prevent your eyebrows and those tiny hairs along your hairline from embedding in the plaster gauze and becoming permanently embedded. Second, a thin coat of Vaseline will allow the plaster gauze to pull from your face easier. I did not use Vaseline the first time and I should have.
So, grease up that face! Make sure you put a generous coat over your eyebrows and along your hairline (for us guys, remember any “sideburn” hair).
Step Three: Plaster Gauze your Face
The plaster gauze is simply that: gauze with plaster on it. It is, for all intents and purposes, fabric with tiny holes – some filled with plaster and some not. Your goal is to make sure all those tiny holes have plaster in them.
Dip a piece of gauze in the water and rub the wet fabric until the plaster dissolves in the tiny holes. Yes, it’s a bit time consuming but is needed to ensure you get a smooth result. If the holes are left as holes, your casting will have tiny holes (makes sense, right?).
I found it easier to start at the top of my head and work down. I also had to consider that the final gauze mask would be taking about four cups of plaster mixture. This means that I had to make sure I covered enough of my face to make a suitable well. Start as high up on your face as you can and cover with gauze to as low as you can. Go from ear to ear.
This part is the longest part so have patience. As you move from top to bottom, you’ll feel the plaster begin to dry. It happens fast so work quickly. Also, do not plaster over your eyes and nose holes. Plaster your mouth but not your nose. Remember, without air we’ll end up with a death mask.
Step Four: Remove the Mold from your Face
Once you’ve covered your face, give yourself about 15 minutes to admire how creepy you look.
Touch the surface of the gauze. It should be dry. When you think it’s dry enough, begin to remove the mask by wiggling your mouth. You’ll feel the plaster pull away from your skin. Keep wiggling your face. Arch your eyebrows, furrow your brow, squint. When enough of the mold feels like it’s pulled away, grab both sides of the mask with your finger tips and slowly rock it back and forth. Don’t put too much pressure on the sides since they are thin and could break. After a few moments it should completely pull away.
Viola! You now have the mold to create your life mask.
Now go clean yourself up, you look terrible!
Step Five: Fill the Holes
Since you did not cover your eyes or your nostrils, you’ll have to take a little time to plug these babies up. Use some plaster gauze to carefully cover all the holes. While you’re at it, hold the mask up to the light. Do you see any pinhole sized spots? If so, gauze them up. Feel free to add additional gauze on the outside surface if you think it needs some support.
Because I ended up doing this twice, I did learn one thing. When doing the eye and nose holes, push the plaster gauze in a bit to create some depth to the eyes and nose holes. If you don’t, you may end up with a strange looking end result.
Step Six: Prepare the Mold
Before putting plaster into your mold, you need to create a shield to prevent plaster from sticking to plaster. If you’ve ever greased a baking sheet, it’s like that. YouTube suggested two ways of preparing your mold: oil or Vaseline. I tried both. My initial attempt used baby oil. Although it smelled good, the problem I had was that it was wet enough to seep through the plaster. It did not, however, affect the end result. It just felt icky wet.
The second attempt used a thin coat of Vaseline. This worked better but left me with a thin coating of grease on my final product (which I had to wipe off). Perhaps the real answer is in between. Either way, use some sort of oily stuff to coat the inside of the mold.
Step Seven: Cast the Life Mask
Line a small box or something with a towel and set your mold in place. Make sure your nose does NOT touch the bottom (the nose on the mold, not your nose). When you put your plaster into the mold, the weight of the gooey stuff will drag your mold down a bit. If the bottom of your container is too close to the nose, it will flatten. I did this and had to reconstruct my nose out of spackling paste.
Anyway, in your 6 cup tub, mix your Plaster of Paris. My big mug needed about 4 cups of plaster to 2 cups of water. Do your best to estimate how much you’ll need… and make a little more. If you pour your plaster, realize you are short, and have to mix a second batch, there’s a good chance the first batch may have set a bit before pouring your second. The end result is a thin line between the two.
After you mix your plaster, pour a little in the nose area and shake your mold a bit to ensure the plaster gets in all the little spaces. Finish up by pouring the rest of the plaster into the mold.
If you plan on hanging your face, now is the time to put in a hook of some sort. I cut a piece of wire coat hanger and bent it into a loop. Give yourself enough length to cover in plaster.
Let it set for about 24-hours.
Step Eight: Remove the Mold
Unfortunately all that work you did to mold your face with plaster gauze will end in its destruction. With the plaster of Paris fully dried, remove the plaster gauze. You’ll end up needing to cut or tear it to shreds. Once that’s all off, you’ll have your (almost) final product.
Step Nine: Clean it Up
This is optional. My initial attempt was missing the end of my nose and full of cracks so I spent considerable time filling in, building up, and sanding the spackling compound. However, my end result didn’t quite look like me.
For my second attempt, I opted for a more rustic look and only focused on major flaws. I think it looks more like me (or Abraham Lincoln, I can’t be sure…).
Be that as it may, if your looks too cracked and full of holes, use the spackling compound to fill in the tiny cracks (like what you’d do to fill nail or screw holes in drywall). It dries quickly so you can sand within an hour or so. Repeat as needed.
And there you have it: your life cast. Since I had two versions to work with, I painted the first with white spray paint and the second with a clear coat. At this point you can do what you want and be as creative as you need to be.
Happy Halloween, everyone!