Creating sculptures is exciting and fun for students of all ages. Maybe it’s the fact that three-dimensional works of art are frequently outnumbered by two-dimensional works of art in art curriculums, making them extra special. Or, maybe it’s because of the unique and interesting materials used in sculptures such as cardboard, wire, masking tape, plaster, plastic, and more. One thing is for sure, students love creating 3D works of art.
Today I’d like to talk to you about plaster, and specifically plaster masks.
I’ll talk a bit about my past experience with masks and then get into some really specific “how-to’s” so that you can successfully complete plaster masks in your own room.
My first encounter with a plaster mask happened back in 1992, when I was in fourth grade. My art teacher at the time, Mrs. Sill (who happens to be my Mom) taught a lesson on plaster masks. She had a whole class of fourth graders plaster each other’s faces.
Here I am, proudly showing off the finished product.
Okay, so I might not have been proud at the moment, but I sure am now! I even added extra yarn to my mask when I was in high school.
The plaster mask lesson was a staple in my Mom’s curriculum. It was her students’ favorite lesson. The wide variety of themes her students came up with amazed me. I never saw two masks look alike. You could tell the students put so much effort into planning, designing and creating the masks.
Naturally, when I became an art teacher, I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps and teach a plaster mask lesson to my students.
This lesson is currently in my Eighth Grade curriculum but I’ve taught it to students as young as Fifth Grade. Plastering students’ faces can be nerve wracking for you and the students, but I promise you, in the end, it will be worth it, and they will love this project.
Here is the mask of one of my students. This student was very interested in graffiti so he created himself wearing a respirator like a graffiti artist.
Below I will detail exactly how I teach this lesson in my room including room set up and what the students and you, the teacher, should be doing at each step along the way.
Table Set Up
- I plaster 8 students per class period (2 students per large table in my room)
- Cover the tables with newspaper.
- Place 4 water buckets filled halfway with warm water on each table (2 per person)
- Place 2 buckets of plaster strips cut into 1.5-2 inches wide strips on each table (1 per person)
Student Set Up
Students That Are Getting Their Faces Plastered Should…
- Put on a paint shirt
- Put their hair inside a trash bag or a shopping bag.
- Tape the edges of their faces and under their chins with masking tape.
- Put Vaseline all over their faces, including their lips, and the edges of the bag. (They shouldn’t cover their eye lids.)
- Get mirrors and facial tissues. (Mirrors so they can see themselves and facial tissues in case something drips in their eyes.)
- Lay on the table with their heads in the middle.
- Concentrate on being still throughout the process.
- You should place the first plaster strip on the students’ faces. This gives you the opportunity to talk with each student to make sure they’re relaxed and prepared. In addition, it allows you to demonstrate how to correctly place the plaster strips on the students’ faces.
- After you put the first strip on the students, their peers start to plaster the students’ faces. When they get to the bridge of the nose area, you need to put 2 pieces of plaster on their noses in the shape of an X.
- Next, you should place a strip over the students’ nostrils. Be sure they’re relaxed and breathing out of their mouths.
- The peers continue to plaster the students’ faces until there are 2 layers of plaster covering the face and nose of each student, leaving the eyes and mouths un-covered.
- The students need to lie still for 5-10 minutes while the plaster hardens.
- You need to go around to each student and take the mask off when it’s hard.
- Once the masks are taken off, trim the edges for the students while the masks are wet.
- Then, each student needs to fold a 1 inch pipe cleaner into a loop, using two pieces of plaster to attach it to the back of his or her mask. The loops allow the masks to be hung.
- The rest of the class starts to clean up the tables.
- To minimize behavior problems, keep students busy. Have them dump the water buckets, recycle the newspapers, organize the plaster strips, cut more strips if needed, etc.
Finishing the Masks
- Students will design their masks beginning with a theme and a sketch. This is a good time to check in with each student about his or her design.
- Next, students will add additional plaster to their masks. Students can cover eyes and mouths with plaster at this point.
- Cardboard pieces or rolled magazine pages or newspapers work well for adding details such as animal features, ears, hats, etc… Students attach the newspaper or cardboard with tape then cover with plaster.
- When the masks are dry, students can use pencils to sketch their designs.
- Students can then add details using paint and miscellaneous supplies.
The best part of this project is how engaged and successful students are throughout this process. They are really working in teams with their classmates. It’s bound to be a hit in your classroom!
Hint: remember to take photos of your students holding their masks up to their faces!
Tell us, how have you used plaster in your classroom?
What do you think about plastering your student’s faces?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.