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6-8: Expressive Papier-Mâché Masks

by Kerri Fuller, Learn NC

Students will be creating an original papier-mâché mask that expresses an emotion. In doing this, they will be expanding upon their knowledge of representing the human face while further developing technical skills in papier-mâché sculpture and acrylic painting.

A lesson plan for Grades 6–8 English Language Arts and Visual Arts Education

Students will:

  • 1. discuss how the human face changes to express an emotion, and apply that knowledge to what they already know about drawing a human face in proportion.
  • 2. create a papier-mâché mask that shows an expression, further developing their technical skills in working with papier-mâché and acrylic paints.
  • 3. mount their mask on a piece of matboard that has been designed as a background complementary to the expressive mask.
  • 4. critique their own work and the work of their classmates.

Time required for lesson: 15.00 Days


  • -newsprint or sketchbook for generating ideas
  • -plastic face forms (one per student)
  • -plastic wrap
  • -modeling clay (approximately one 1-lb box per student)
  • -newspaper
  • -papier-mâché paste
  • -acrylic paints, brushes
  • -matboard pieces (one per student, 10″ × 12″ or larger)
  • -hot glue gun or E6000 (brand name) glue
  • -scraps of matboard (optional)
  • -construction paper (optional)
  • -yarn (optional)


Students will need prior knowledge of drawing the human face with correct proportions. A quick review of this might be necessary before beginning this project, depending on how long it has been since they worked with drawing portraits.

Students will also need prior knowledge of working with acrylic paints—mixing colors, tints, shades, etc. An excellent point to review would be between Lessons 3 and 4, giving the masks a little extra time to dry (see below).


(NOTE: Each “day” is one 45-minute class period.)

LESSON 1 (1 day):

1. As a class, students will brainstorm ideas of different emotions that are expressed on the human face, and discuss/demonstrate how facial features (especially eyes, cheeks, mouth, eyebrows) change as an emotion is expressed. Students will then individually sketch ideas for three potential masks that communicate an emotion; they will later create their best mask design.

2. Students will also be encouraged to think of different “props” that could be incorporated into their mask to help communicate the emotion or to give greater interest to the mask—hats, hands, hairstyles, jewelry, etc.

LESSON 2 (3 days):

3. Students will be given a plastic facial form that should be covered with a slab of modeling clay. (It is easier to press small pieces of the modeling clay onto the form and then smooth them together rather than trying to roll out a slab with the modeling clay.)

4. Once the plastic form has been covered, students will need to build up and exaggerate the facial features with the modeling clay in order to create the expression they have designed.

LESSON 3 (5 days):

5. Students will then wrap their finished modeling clay armature with plastic wrap. The plastic wrap needs to be draped loosely onto the clay at first, then carefully pressed down around the details of the clay armature. (This works better if several small pieces of plastic wrap are used rather than one large piece—the purpose of the plastic wrap is to keep the sticky papier-mâché paste away from the modeling clay so that the modeling clay can be used again.)

6. Students will then begin putting the strips of newspaper on their armature with the papier-mâché paste. They will need to be reminded that smaller pieces of newspaper will be necessary in the detailed areas so that the expression they have created is communicated effectively. Five to seven layers of papier-mâché make a sufficiently strong mask.

LESSON 4 (2 days):

7. Students will use acrylic paints to add color to their masks. It is helpful for them to know to add white (highlights) to “higher” areas of the face (nose, cheekbones, forehead, etc.) if they want a realistic outcome.

LESSON 5 (3 days):

8. Students will be given a piece of matboard to design a background that is related to their mask. They may use acrylic paint, matboard scraps, construction paper, yarn, or whatever is available to add interest to their design. When the design is complete, students will attach the mask to the matboard with hot glue or E6000 glue.

LESSON 6 (1 day):

9. Students will be asked to individually complete a written critique in which they will describe their mask, consider whether or not they were successful in communicating their intended emotion, and evaluate what was successful about their mask and what could be done to improve it.

10. Following that, students will discuss orally what is successful about their own work and the work of their classmates and give suggestions for making improvements.


The following will be considered:

  • -Did the student create a papier-mâché mask of a human face that expresses an emotion, and attach it to a background that relates to the mask?
  • -Is the work neatly and carefully done?
  • -Does the artwork show evidence of originality and creative thought?
  • -Did the student use his/her class time wisely?

The written critique will be assessed on both content and demonstration of descriptive writing skills.

Supplemental information

Information on facial proportions can be found in ArtTalk by Rosalind Ragans and A World of Images by Laura Chapman.

Examples of student work (see image)

If possible, when working with papier-mâché, alternate layers of newspaper with layers of brown paper towel strips. This helps the student to see what has been covered and ensures a stronger papier-mâché product. Related websites

Websites on facial proportion

Websites on masks and emotions

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