File puptcrit/puptcrit.0803, message 484

To: <>
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2008 14:52:14 -0400
Subject: Re: [Puptcrit] Paper Mache Strenght Test

Online workshop? Does this mean you will be posting a video of your process?
Only recently have I started using paper mache for masks and have to
admit I was immediately surprised of the strength. I've been
experimenting with it some more and have rather violently attacked my
masks as well with no visible damage.
How long will PVA and kraft paper paper mache masks/puppets last? When
will they begin to deteriorate noticeably?

Hi Branden.
Yes, an online workshop would mean that I would provide step by step short 
videos of the whole process.
Along with high quality pictures and text descriptions, it's the next best 
thing as being there in person.
Actually, it might be better for some, as you follow the steps whenever your 
own schedule allows (still respecting the deadline of course). My fees are 
reasonnable, and even more economical when a group is formed.

As to the duration of paper mache, it should be surprisingly longlasting.
Even the ancestral flour and water paper mache strip projects have 
representatives in Museums, from two hundred years ago. I imagine the 
sturdier white glue substitution would increase the life expectacny quite a 
bit, since it prevents mold and won't attract critters as much.

 as long as you respect these criterias:

-seal all cut or trimmed edges again with the same paper and glue overlaping 
-seal it as well as possible (Never with acrylic gesso, no matter what 
people say in books)
-protect it from water and excessive moisture.
-if it gets scratched or torn, clean the edges with alcohol and wipe, let 
dry, and repair with more paper mache.
 an open wound lets moisture get inside.

-For mask making, sweat is a very potent attacker. I met some actors who 
were suffering from hyperhydrosis (excessive sweating), and both of them, in 
the same show, had very acidic sweat. NONE of the varnishes and sealers I 
tried (non-toxic and then totally chemical) were able to withstand the 
corrosion. I solved the problem simply by applying strips of fun foam 
(l-200) inside the mask, to lift it ever so slightly away from the face. It 
provided just enough air circulation, and there was no more direct contact 
of the sweaty skin with the mask.
A quick swipe of sweat after each show took care ot the problem, the mask 
finishes inside were no longer affected.
for temporary damage to occur, contact and sweat had to be both occuring.

My own masks have not been around for long enough for me to pronounce a 
specific number, but I'm confident at least five years of constant use is 
safe as a starting point.
With proper respect from the users, my masks should last many more years.
I'm constantly looking for ways to improve the odds and make my paper mache 
masks idiot proof.

W.T. Benda, in the 1930s and 40s, made amazing paper mache theatre masks 
that last to this day, and are highly sought after by Art collectors. In his 
1944 book, he does not mention much about the two main ingredients he uses. 
He describes his paper as "hard unbleached paper". It might have been 
something similar to Kraft paper. His adhesive is not specified.  Maybe it 
could have been animal hide glue, or fish glue, or even simply rice flour or 
wheat paste. The important part is that he made the masks extremely thick, 
the edges were re-enforced by brass wire, and he sealed everything well with 
multiples applications of shellac and varnishes. He even applied real gold 
leaf inside the masks, (as a protective finish, not for decoration). 
Needless to say, it took him months to make each mask. He used no mold of 
any kind, he started building up from scratch.

For puppetmaking, I'd say there is no reason a well-done paper mache shell 
(strips or pieces) would not last at least 20 years of touring. Or more. Of 
course, an occasional patch-up or repaint would be necessary, but that goes 
with any medium. To limit the future work necessities, I always apply a few 
extra layers over areas that I foresee will be submitted to more abuse, such 
as friction and impact. So, in general, noses, and ears and all other 
extremities get built like tanks.


Note to mask builders who care
about their work, even after they are out of their hands:

You'd be surprised how many actors don't respect their masks as precious 
tools of work.
I once had to ask for a Director's authorisation to lecture her actors on 
how to respect and how to care for their mask.   I didn't understamd how 
trivial they could treat them, each actor had paid for theirs out of their 
own pockets!
I actually had to get a bit loud for the points to come accross. Before 
that, I would see them leave the masks anywhere at the theare, more often 
than not right on the floor, next to a bunch of random stuff. One time, I 
found the masks piled up in the same suitcase, crushed by some of the 
Thankfully, I made them semi flexible, so a quick heating with a hair dryer, 
and placing them for a day or two on their respective actor's plaster face 
(which they kept for holding the masks but didn't much use!!) solved the 

They also used too much white makeup around the actor's eyes to presumably 
"emphasize the look", but in their cases, it just didn't work visually. The 
masks did not need it. So the makeup would accumulate on the ourside of the 
mask, from rubbing off. I eventually had to use solvents to clean 
Columbina's makup residues and redo her whole paint job!

And the smell, you wouldn't believe the bad breath and sweat smell! A gentle 
wipe inside the mask, with a moist rag, and then a swipe with a clean dry 
one, after each mask session, should be a given, for any mask!

They improved a lot after the speech, although I don't know if they reverted 
to old habits by now.

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