How to Construct Greek Theater Masks

In ancient Greece, plays were staged using just a few actors who held up different masks as they read their lines. The audience knew that each mask represented a different character. Whether you’re staging your own production of Oedipus Rex or making a Greek theatre mask to use as decor, you’ll need to construct a base layer of clay and then a top layer of papier-mache.

Sketch out a design for your mask. Traditional Greek masks exaggerated facial expressions so the audience could clearly see what the character was feeling. As you make your sketch, pick at least one feature to exaggerate. For example, lifted eyebrows indicate surprise, frown lines indicate concern, downturned lips and eyes indicate sadness, and curled lips with forward-slash eyebrows indicate anger.

Measure the dimensions of your face with a ruler--hairline to chin and ear to ear. Note the position of your eyes, nose and mouth.

Sketch those dimensions out on an 11x17 piece of paper, creating a “copy” of your face. This is what you’ll use as a model when shaping the clay portion of the mask.

Transfer the exaggerated attributes of your sketched mask to this life-size copy. Remember, you must leave your eye holes, nose hole and mouth hole where they are, but feel free to draw wild eyebrows, puffy cheeks or a pointy chin around these static points.

Use modelling clay to sculpt the design you created. Shape the clay into a facial oval. Poke holes for the eyes, nose and mouth at the points indicated by your drawing. Make sure those holes are big enough for you to see and breathe out of.

Create the exaggerated features in one of two ways--shaping the clay used for the face part of the mask, or by creating shapes with new pieces of clay and pressing them onto the basic face shape. Eyebrows, beards, moustaches and chubby cheeks are good things to create with new pieces of clay that you press onto the original mask shape.

Let the mask harden overnight.

Mix warm water and glue in a plastic bucket until you achieve an oatmeal-like consistency. Use a wooden spoon to stir and help mix the ingredients.

Tear strips of old newspaper and dunk them into the glue/water mixture. Pull them out of the bucket and lay them on your clay mask.

Cover the surface of your clay mask with newspaper strips. Make sure you don't block the eye, nose or mouth openings.

Brush the strips with a paintbrush to get them to lay flat, and to press them into any nooks and crannies.

Cover the clay mask with several layers of newspaper strips. Use between five and ten layers, depending on how thick you want your mask to be.

Let the mask dry overnight.

Peel the papier-mache from the clay mask. Be gentle—you don’t want to break the mask. Use a gentle lifting pressure and, if needed, insert a plastic knife between the papier-mache and the clay to help ease them apart.

Paint the papier-mache mask with craft paint and a paintbrush.

Let paint dry overnight.

Use a glue gun to hot-glue your mask’s accessories as desired (faux-fur moustache and eyebrows, yarn hair, etc.).


Make sure the papier-mache is completely dry before you peel it off the clay backing. If it's still tacky, let it sit for another day. If you remove the papier-mache layer before it has dried, your mask might crumble and lose its structure.

Things You'll Need

  • Sketch pad
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • 11”x17” paper
  • Modelling clay
  • Plastic bucket
  • Craft glue
  • Old newspapers
  • Wooden spoon
  • Paintbrush
  • Craft paint
  • Glue gun
  • Yarn, faux fur and other mask add-ons, as desired
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About the Author

Jenni Wiltz's fiction has been published in "The Portland Review," "Sacramento News & Review" and "The Copperfield Review." She has a bachelor's degree in English and history from the University of California, Davis and is working on a master's degree in English at Sacramento State. She has worked as a grant coordinator, senior editor and advertising copywriter and has been a professional writer since 2003.