Day of the Dead Papier-mâché

Halloween is a favorite holiday at our house. I’d like to say it’s the pumpkins and costumes and kids trick-or-treating, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s more about the candy (or the fact that we tend to sneak/eat some of it prior to October 31st), and sometimes it’s more about the decorations or crafts.

Colorful masks in the Dia de los Muertos tradition

This year, The Complete Package decided to tackle a papier-mâché mask for Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It’s a holiday celebrated in Mexico and other cultures around the world in honor of those who have passed. In Mexico, it’s a national holiday celebrated on November 1st. For us, it’s yet another way to celebrate Halloween with a cultural twist. Why? Because skeletons play a key role, and we can’t help but be drawn to these colorful and charismatic crafts.

In our case, TCP did the crafting of the mask and I did the embellishing. This was so simple, it’s almost unbelievable. The best part is that it only requires a few simple items you probably already have around the house.

What You’ll Need:
aluminum foil – to create a form
thin paper or newspaper – cut into strips
flour & water – to create simple paste
acrylic craft paints (small bottles) or colorful makers
black Sharpies or permanent markers (fine point)

It starts with the papier-mâché. Using 2-3 layers of aluminum foil, press it onto your face to create a form to work on. This is TCP in foil form. It reminds me of several things, one of which was Han Solo frozen into a block of carbonite.

Or this one: ‘Come with me if you want to live’ – name that movie!

Next up, the pasting and papering:

Papier-mâché – much easier to make than it is to spell.

See? I told you it was simple. Once the entire mask is covered in 2-3 layers of paper, dip your fingers into the paste and use it to smooth all the loose or rough edges. Place your mask in an out-of-the-way place to air dry; it may take a few days to dry, depending on the humidity where you live. In Houston, humidity is always a factor. That’s why we call it “air you can wear”.

Once dry, you can cut out holes for the eyes, nose & mouth (if you plan to wear your mask) or leave it intact and start to paint (if you plan to display your mask). I started by printing off a few examples from the internet for inspiration. Using a Sharpie (or a pencil), sketch your pattern onto the mask.

Stage 1 decorating – drawing your patterns

Once I was happy with my basic design, I started filling in the areas with colorful acrylic paints from the craft store. Bright primary colors are key.

The contrast between black & white and the colors make it pop

Once dry, use a black permanent marker to outline your design; it makes it really stand out. Then fill in the blank areas with decorative flourishes.

Outlining sharpens the detail of your design

If you want to use this for years to come, I recommend spraying the finished mask with a spray varnish or sealer. It will protect the paint and keep bugs from going after the paste when it’s stored. Just check with your local craft store on which varnish works best on paper crafts. We decided to leave ours as is.

Our finished Dia de los Muertos mask

It’s kinda creepy. It’s kinda cool. I kinda like it. A lot. And if you decide to give this a try, I hope you’ll share photos here. Next up: Sugar Skulls so stay tuned!



Filed under Craft Projects

23 responses to “Day of the Dead Papier-mâché

  1. You rock!! These are so cool! I’m doubly impressed that your husband had a role in these. Can I send my son over? He is obsessed with the show Art Attack (don’t know if you’ve seen it with your grandkids maybe on Disney Jr) and they are always doing papier mache but I just can’t seem to make it happen. Poor, deprived child…

  2. Teresa Silverthorn

    Hmmm…do you leave the foil? Or, pull it off the back?

  3. Patcounts

    You two are so creative. Thanks for sharing. Pat

  4. This is so hauntingly gorgeous. Love it

  5. Gorgeous! Great tutorial too. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. Jeanne, I love this! Dia de los Muertos is celebrated here too, and your mask truly captures the spirit. All the reasons Halloween is a favorite in your house resonated with me―especially this year as the kids are going creepy versus cutsie. That, and it gives adults an excuse to nosh on miniature candies!

    • Hi, Brooks! So… your kids are officially at that age where they transition from cute to creepy. I remember that as a melancholy year. I always liked the cute phase better, but for me Halloween is more about the fun, the creative, and the miniature Almond Joys. Oh, and the peanut butter cups. :)

  7. Amazing detail! Those masks usually creep me out, but I am drawn to yours because it is just so…pretty!

    • I agree – I’ve seen the creepier versions, but I much prefer the ones that are fun and colorful. If I were really creative, I’d papier-mache an entire skeleton mariachi band. Oooo…or a frog mariachi band! I love those!

  8. These masks are very creative; but… no matter how many flowers you paint on them, they still freak me out(she says with a chuckle) !

  9. tforterrific

    Alright, it looks like Jonah and I are going to have to make some of these soon. Those turned out aweSOME and you KNOW how much JonahBear loves skulls!

    • He’d have a blast with these. The hardest part is letting them dry overnight before you paint them. He’ll need several – one of which should be Jack Skellington. You have to post photos if you make them (please) OR you could just come here for a weekend…

  10. Pingback: OKMH: The Secret Santa Project | Inside NanaBread's Head

  11. Quay

    This is GREAT! I’m currently making one for my Spanish 2 class & I’ve followed all your steps. But how do you get it to go from the newspaper to the white after it dries so you can paint?

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