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Exploring Identity, Shame and Resilience through Mask-Making: Part II

by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC

After choosing a theme, as we explored in the first blog post in this mask-making series, you now have the opportunity to create your mask. In an art therapy session, there are different options available to you in creating your mask in terms of size and material. Often in an art therapy room, there are materials such as plaster gauze, burlap and papier mache, which can all be used to create the form of your mask. In this blog post we will explore the mask making process using plaster gauze on a plastic face form, which you can purchase from an art supplier in store or online if you choose to create a mask at home.

Remember that in art therapy, there are healing properties in the process of the creating as well as in the reflecting on the final product. As we walk through the process of creating our masks, we will also explore the holistic benefits that we can experience as we focus on the level of creative functioning used at these different stages.

Materials needed for this project:

Plaster gauze sheets or strips, bowl of warm water, scissors for plaster strip cutting, vaseline, plastic face mold, plasticine clay, paper towels/hand wipes

***latex-free surgical gloves can be worn during the process if you have a tactile sensitivity to the material

Process of Creating a Plaster Gauze Mask

  1. Setting your intention for the mask

During this step, you have the opportunity to decide how you would like to approach the mask making process. Is this a mask that you have a specific vision for and/or design that you would like to plan out? Or is this a mask that you would like to develop as you go, and let the materials and process inspire you along the way? If you have a vision or idea for how you might want your mask to look, you can create a few sketches and consider the steps that might be needed to execute what you have in mind. This stage, the planning stage, utilizes executive brain processes and functions on the cognitive/symbolic level of creative expression. One is contemplating what meaning the mask will have on a literal and symbolic level as well as planning the necessary steps needed to achieve the final result.

  1. Preparing the environment

In the art therapy studio, we will typically have a plastic covering on the table to protect surfaces underneath. If creating this mask at home, it is recommended that you tape down a plastic covering over your surface. You might also purchase a plastic art mat to lay underneath your materials. By preparing your environment ahead of time, this will allow you to feel at ease during the art making process and prepared should you make a spill.

  1. Adding 3 dimensional elements with plasticine clay and vaseline

You can decide at this point if you would like to begin applying the plaster or if you would like to add 3-dimensional features to your mask. These features might include eyebrows, varied facial expressions, horns, warts, animal-type body parts, such as tentacles, or any other accessory. To do so, you can mold the plasticine clay, which is oil based, into the forms desired and apply it to the plastic mask (the color of the plasticine will not make a difference). Once you have added the features onto the mask, apply vaseline to the clay to ensure that it will come off one the mask has hardened. Be aware that the clay may remain inside smaller crevices. Again, at this level, we are utilizing cognitive and symbolic creative functioning.

  1. Cutting the plaster gauze

When you are ready, begin to cut the plaster gauze into squares and rectangles of small and medium sizes. Consider larger shapes for the cheeks and forehead and smaller pieces to be placed on the smaller features, such as the eyes, lips and nose. Cut a fair amount of pieces at varied sizes, enough to fit in a cereal bowl.

  1. Application of the plaster gauze onto the plastic face form

To apply the plaster gauze to your mask, take a strip of the plaster gauze and dip the entire piece into the warm water. With your free hand, smooth out the water from the plaster strip once it is out of the water to keep it from dripping. Then place the strip onto the mask form. Notice that if you do not smooth the gauze, the grid-like texture will remain after it dries. Repeat this process as you continue to cover the entire face mask with the plaster gauze strips. Make sure to press around detailed features to ensure that you get as much visibility of the features as you desire. At this stage of the process, we are focusing on the sensory and kinesthetic aspects of our creativity and really engaging with the materials directly through touch and movement. Notice how you respond to the material on your hands, if you are comfortable with the plaster or if it brings up a level of discomfort and disgust.

  1. Layering

The goal for creating the mask so that it maintains its shape over time is to apply at least 3 layers of plaster gauze. It may be helpful after your first layer to decide if you want to move from the base up to the nose or nose down to the base so that you can more easily keep track of where you already have put the gauze strips.

Allow your mask to dry- drying times may vary depending on heat and humidity as well as the amount of moisture retained in each layer of the mask. The next step would be to paint or assemble your mask now that you have the basic form. At this stage, it can be helpful to sit with your mask, encounter it by really seeing what has taken shape, and respond to it. You might ask the figure in front of you what it needs and what information it has to share with you about yourself, your goals, or your vision.

To learn more about counseling and psychotherapy offered at Holistic Health Counseling Center, please visit our website at:

To schedule your first Art Therapy session, please click on the Book an Appointment button. There you will see our availability for the next two months and you can select the day and time that works best for you.


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