How to Make an African Mask From Paper Mache

Imagine surprising a friend with a piece of artwork, reminiscent of a traditional African mask, that you have created yourself. A traditional African mask reflects the culture and personality of the person receiving it. By creating the mask yourself using paper mâché, you can present a gift for wearing or display, that represents any personality or cultural elements you wish. The liquid starch method of paper mâché provides you with a clean, simple alternative to traditional flour and water paper mâché methods.

Plan and sketch a design for the mask on paper. Sketch a large, basic shape for the mask, such as a rectangle, heart, oval or circle. Create details for the mask while keeping in mind that traditional African masks often have exaggerated human or animal features, symmetry and patterned striped or dotted designs.

Blow up a large, round or oval, latex balloon then tightly tie it. Sit the balloon in the small bowl so that it holds the balloon upright while you work.

Pour liquid starch in the rectangular container. Dip newspaper strips into the starch then gently squeeze the excess off as you bring it out of the starch by running the strip between two fingers. Layer the newspaper in a single layer on the balloon, smoothing any bumps as you go.

Allow the layer to dry completely over several hours. Once dry, add an additional, single layer of starch-soaked newspaper strips. Repeat this process until five layers of newspaper strips cover the balloon.

Slice the dry, newspaper covered balloon in half from top to bottom with a craft knife to create two mask forms. Remove balloon pieces. Draw eye and mouth shapes on the mask then cut them out with a craft knife.

Shape mask features such as horns, lips, a nose, brow and exaggerated chin from crumpled newspaper, thin cardboard or paper towel rolls. Firmly attach the features to the mask using generous amounts of masking tape.

Cover the mask, with features attached, in another two layers of newspaper strips soaked in liquid starch. Allow the newspaper strips to dry between the two layers.

Paint the entire, dry mask with a base coat of acrylic paint in a neutral colour. Let it dry, then paint facial details and patterns of stripes or dots in bright colours. Finish the dry mask with a clear coat of découpage or paint sealer to protect and preserve it.


Tie balloons tightly so they don't deflate while paper mâché dries. To wear the mask, make a small hole on either edge of the mask and attach a piece of string or elastic. Hang the mask on the wall to use it as a decor piece.

Things You'll Need

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Balloon
  • Small bowl
  • 1-by-5-inch newspaper strips
  • Liquid starch
  • Small, flat, rectangular container
  • Crumpled newspaper
  • Cardboard paper towel rolls
  • Masking tape
  • Acrylic paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Découpage or other paint sealer
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About the Author

Elizabeth Stover, an 18 year veteran teacher and author, has a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Maryland with a minor in sociology/writing. Stover earned a masters degree in education curriculum and instruction from the University of Texas, Arlington and continues to work on a masters in Educational Leadership from University of North Texas. Stover was published by Creative Teaching Press with the books "Science Tub Topics" and "Math Tub Topics."