Thursday, January 6, 2011

Make a mask from plastic bottles. Happy Carnival!

Plastic jug and paper mache bird mask

Tonight is Twelfth Night, the start of Carnival Season, leading up to Mardi Gras! Fat Tuesday isn't until March 8th this year, so you have eight whole weeks to make a mask and put a costume together!

Here is a method I came up with that uses little more than some plastic bottles, scrap paper and cardboard, tape and glue. The mask pictured above was in an exhibition of masks made from recycled materials that raised money for SCRAP (School and Community Reuse Action Project) in Portland, Oregon.

1. Use a sharpie to draw outline of mask on plastic bottle. I used a 1 gallon white vinegar jug for this because it offered a nice curvature.

2. Cut the mask out. I like to use heavy-duty curved scissors for this, but sharp craft or paper scissors will work if you take it slowly.

3. Attach details to the mask with hot glue or masking tape. You can use more pieces of plastic bottle, twists of aluminium foil or paper towel, or just about any solid material you like the shape of. The eyebrow shape was cut from a plastic 1/2 gallon milk jug. The beak shown here was also cut from the milk jug, but I decided to use a different beak for final mask design.

Here is the new improved beak. I drew a beak shape on a cardboard cereal box, added folds and tabs, and cut it out. I used office staples to attach the beak to the face of the mask and taped over the sharp bits. Then I added some raised ornamentation to the mask using lo-temp hot glue. Folded cardboard shapes can be used to create noses for masks too.

4. Here is the mask after I applied a paper mache layer to both the front and back. I used brown tissue paper and diluted wood glue. Tear the tissue paper into small pieces (1 or 2 square inches) ahead of time. Then use a paintbrush to brush glue onto an area of the mask, pick up each piece of paper with the brush and apply, then brush a final layer of glue over everything.

5. The finished mask! I painted it with acrylic craft paint and sealed it with crystal clear spray. The back of the mask is lined with scrap foam cut into pads, covered with scrap polar fleece, and glued on with hot glue. The feathers were salvaged from a cheap feather mask that was falling apart. The elastic cord was saved from gift packaging. So besides paint, glue and staples, this mask was made from completely recycled and reclaimed materials.

Happy mask-making! And if you are in Portland, don't forget to stop by SCRAP for all sorts of interesting and affordable art and craft supplies.


  1. That came out amazing! Now I want to try it, even though our kitchen will be covered with sticky pieces of tissue paper for ages. That room could use some more color, anyway...

  2. Thanks! If you use the brush to apply the paper pieces and use diluted wood glue, there is very little mess.

  3. Gorgeous mask, and wonderful that it is all from recycled materials. Inspiring.
    I wish more people did 'Green' stuff. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  4. This mask is amazing! I think I'm going to use it for my school project! But can you replace the plastic bottle with cardboard or something else and still have the same result?

  5. Thank you very much. And yes, you can definitely make a similar mask using cardboard instead of a plastic bottle. I chose to use the vinegar jug because it was convenient and provided me with a strong, curved shape. But you can get ceral box cardboard to curve like that too. Or you could create a cardboard pattern for a face similar to how I construced the beak, with folds and tabs taped or glued togther.

    If you use flexible cardboard for the face you will want to make the paper mache much stronger--I would use brown paper bags instead of tissue paper and do at least two layers.

    Good luck with your school project!

  6. That's really cool Monica. Hope all is good with you and the fellas. Hugs, Alyssa R.

  7. I... Wow... I am completely amazed! I kept looking for the picture of the recycled mask and then realized it was that one! Holy cow, but you have some talent! Way to go :)

  8. wow how beautiful

  9. thats was amazing./

    can i try it?

    at home?

  10. This is awesome! I happened to have a vinegar bottle around and I had a mardi gras party in 3 hours....two hours later and ta-da!!!
    Thanks for the inspiration! You are awesome!

  11. I'm a big fan of your fox based masks and was curious if this was the same method you used for those. I tried making a paper base but the design is so delicate I can't help but be memorised and wish to have a personalised one. :)

  12. Thank you so much ! I am doing an Earth Day project for Science, and I knew I wanted to make a mask (I just got back from Italy for Spring Break ... TONS there ) but I had yet to find a way to use RECYCLED objects !! Awh, amazing .

  13. Thank you everyone, for the lovely comments!

    The plastic bottle and paper mache maskmaking method is a simplified version of the technique I use for some of my deluxe paper-mache finish masks, but using materials that most people can find.

    The masks I normally make to sell are not made from plastic bottles. They are either made by thermoforming ABS plastic sheets over mask designs I have sculpted or formed from plaster or clay, or by casting neoprene synthetic latex (from Critical Coatings) into a plaster mold.

    The materials and equipment used for those techniques can be expensive, but I want masks to be something anyone can afford! So I am so delighted to hear from people who have been making some wonderful wearable art pieces with my plastic bottle idea. I hope you will all keep sharing your work with me!

  14. Great technique! I like your creativity.

    But I want to ask, do you know how to make a beak using cardboard only?

  15. Hi Anonmymous,

    I think you meant to ask if you could make a mask like this with cardboard and no plastic bottle? Absolutely. But it may be necessary to add additional reinforcement to the face, or add additional folds for strength.

    I also recommend visiting to see some wonderful masks made from just cardboard and paper mache.

  16. Wow, that is a fabulous mask. I never would have believed it was made from a plastic bottle if I had not seen this. Great recycling project. well done!

  17. Hi superb work. That's pretty cool. Hey check this pic

    For Halloween as well as wearing it to comicons. I want to try to make this mask in a similar method you did with your own masks. Any advice you can give me to get started? Recommended materials? Or a step by step guide would be super helpful.