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Lesson Plans

Success with plaster cast masks-long

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Michelle H. Harrell (mmhar)
Sat, 15 May 1999 15:14:41 PDT

There's many so many wonderful responses that I couldn't possibly compile
them all to share with you. Thank you to all who sent and continue to send
great tips and stories. I've tried to snip and paste some of the main ideas
along with my own comments. We have one more day to cast but so far it's
gone smoothly. Here's a few of the responses I've received:

MP in NY wrote "The purpose of this lesson began with the design of an
African (or any cultural group) Mask, right? The imaginations should be
kindled for THAT aspect of the process...not muddied with any fears
(pimples, allergic reactions, physical fears in general).... Different
classroom situations are conducive to the 'trust buddy' and touch system
that Bunki uses in CA, but perhaps the masks should be on hand for those
surprising situations to avoid any undue embarrassment to a student."

Actually, the purpose of this lesson began with a brief study of
pre-columbian art. I've found that the plaster caster technique could be a
spring board for tons of great lesson ideas- from Duane Hanson life-size
figures to special effects in film and theatre. Since the art which we are
studying focuses on exaggeration and simplification of basic shapes in the
face, it has really been necessary to get a super-real looking cast. The
folds and wrinkles sometimes made using the wet paper towel idea hasn't been
a problem at all. I still like suran wrap for the hairline and a wet paper
towel (wrung out) for the face. Because suran wrap and vaseline get clammy
and warm as the plaster sets, I think students are more comfortable with the
paper towel.

Also, someone had a great idea of giving "each child a very large garbage
bag....they cut a 6" strip off of the OPEN top of the bag- this is tied
around their heads like a head band to protect their hair and get it away
from the face. Then a slit is made into the CLOSED bottom for their heads
to go through...they wear the bag as a big smock to protect clothes." This
solved helped protect their clothes and made clean up easier. When they're
finished write their name on tape on the bag so their partner can use it the
next day.

Another tip was shower caps or swimmer caps to protect their hairlines.
Kerin Allen mentioned baby oil instead of suran wrap or paper towels. Give
the model their own paper towel to soak up water that runs down their face.
I used Bunki's idea about talking about trust and vulnerability. It cut
down on the giggling and playing around. Definitely use warm water for
wetting the plaster strips. Not only was the setting time faster but it was
more comfortable for the kids. I also found that soothing music was nice to
relax everybody. We usually play music during studio-time but the first day
we forgot because we were so busy.

Kerin Allen wrote the steps so clearly I thought some of you would also like
to read them:
"Early Preparation:
Cut plaster roll:
Start with six inch increments (6 X 3)
Then divide (cut) the increments into thirds
(Cut one strip in half lengthwise for nose strips)
Each mask will take ~ 12 - 15 strips
Cut paper towels:
Cut a strip wide enough to cover the eyes
Cut a strip wide enough to cover the mouth
Create head mold:
Wad newspaper into a head shaped ball.
Wrap securely with tape (masking).
Measure the person's head and cut the string longer than head size (~
Gather other supplies

Set up:

Place bath towel on floor
Fill bowl ~ ˝ full of warm water, place next to the towel
Place gauze strips, paper towel strips, string AND scissors next to
the bowl
Place head mold close by
Station fan (off) or blow dryer near by

Preparation of person:
Put smock on the person if desired.
Put shower cap on person, covering ALL hair
With cotton wipe, apply a generous coat of baby oil to all exposed
skin including eyebrows and UNDER the chin.
Give person an extra paper towel to hold. They can sop up dribbles
that roll down their neck
Person reclines (face up) on the bath towel with their head next to
the bowl and gauze strips
Station yourself behind the head of the reclining person so you are
looking down at them. As you work, check on them. They can raise their
thumb to tell you they are OK.
Activity: (note: trim or alter strips while dry, they cut more easily)
Dip 1st paper towel strip in the warm water and place it over their
eyes. (Sides of towel can be trimmed later.)
Dip 2nd paper towel strip in the warm water and place it over their
lips. (Sides of towel can be trimmed later.)
Dip a gauze strip in the water. Hold upright and GENTLY squeegee the
strip with your fingers to remove excess water and saturate plaster clumps.
Apply initial strips (to form a box) in this order:
1) Across forehead
2) Down sides of cheeks attaching to forehead strip
3) Across chin attaching to side strips
4) Apply the slim strips across the bridge of the nose like a lazy
letter ‘X' attaching to forehead strips if possible
Apply rest of the gauze strips: (cut dry strips to fit the spaces)
1) Overlap a fresh strip over an existing strip
2) After EACH strip application, rub strip gently in circles to
smooth the plaster. Small holes in the strips should disappear when
blending. May need to wet fingers again to spread the plaster more
3) Apply strips progressively down to the eyes.
4) OPTIONAL: Fold string in half to find center. Drape center
across forehead just above the eyebrows. Top with a strip to hold in
4) Bend strips to fit around the eye area. Shape as desired. Leave
the central eye area open (if desired)
5) Carefully wrap strips over the nose. Leave the space below open
for breathing.
6) Apply strips progressively down the lower face and across cheeks.
Change direction of strips as needed
7) Fill in any open areas as needed except those noted above (eyes
and nose)
8) Rub the entire mask gently with wet fingers, filling in any
9) Let person rest and clean up the area. DO NOT LEAVE PERSON
The mask should set up within 10-15 minutes in a well ventilated
area. Increase ventilation with the fan or use a blow dryer (on
cool/low speed) to ‘speed-up' the process.
1) Check the mask by lifting the edges on either side of the chin.
The mask should appear solid and lift in one full section. If it is
floppy or just the chin section lifts, let it set for another minute.
Use a blow dryer or paper fan.
2) When the mask appears ready to remove, ask the person to wiggle
their face (ie: open their mouth wide, wrinkle their nose and lift their
eyebrows) to separate from the mask.
If mask is ‘stuck' somewhere, ask the person to do aggressive wiggling
while you GENTLY rock the mask.
3) The mask can be lifted right off and place on the head mold to
dry. Drying is accomplished overnight in most cases.
4) Person can clean up with soap and warm water.
Finishing the product:
1) Remove the extra paper toweling from the mask.
2) Trim the outside edge with scissors to desired shape
3) Trim open areas (eyes & nose) if desired
4) Decorate as desired. Acrylic paints work well. Items to be
attached will need a glue gun to apply. (White glue will not adhere).
A) Enclosing eyes, opening mouth, covering nose holes (only if using
alternative means of breathing) changing expressions
B) Spray the mask entirely with clear acrylic to preserve it from
moisture. This can be used as a mold for additional masks if you use a mold
release agent in lieu of baby oil.

So many of you had wonderful suggestions. Thanks, again!

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