Do You Dare? Plastering Students’ Faces For Amazing Mask Results

Plaster Student Faces


Creating sculptures is exciting and fun for students of all ages. Maybe it’s the fact that three-dimensional works of art are frequently outnumbered by two-dimensional works of art in art curriculums, making them extra special. Or, maybe it’s because of the unique and interesting materials used in sculptures such as cardboard, wire, masking tape, plaster, plastic, and more. One thing is for sure, students love creating 3D works of art. Today I’d like to talk to you about plaster, and specifically plaster masks. I’ll talk a bit about my past experience with masks and then get into some really specific “how-to’s” so that you can successfully complete plaster masks in your own room.

My first encounter with a plaster mask happened back in 1992, when I was in fourth grade. My art teacher at the time, Mrs. Sill (who happens to be my Mom) taught a lesson on plaster masks. She had a whole class of fourth graders plaster each other’s faces.

Here I am, proudly showing off the finished product.

Cassidy Plaster Mask 1993 (cropped)

Okay, so I might not have been proud at the moment, but I sure am now!  I even added extra yarn to my mask when I was in high school.

Cassidy Mask Upclose

The plaster mask lesson was a staple in my Mom’s curriculum. It was her students’ favorite lesson. The wide variety of themes her students came up with amazed me.  I never saw two masks look alike. You could tell the students put so much effort into planning, designing and creating the masks.

Naturally, when I became an art teacher, I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps and teach a plaster mask lesson to my students. This lesson is currently in my Eighth Grade curriculum but I’ve taught it to students as young as Fifth Grade.  Plastering students’ faces can be nerve wracking for you and the students, but I promise you, in the end, it will be worth it, and they will love this project.

Here is the mask of one of my students. This student was very interested in graffiti so he created himself wearing a respirator like a graffiti artist.

Graffitti Mask

Below I will detail exactly how I teach this lesson in my room including room set up and what the students and you, the teacher, should be doing at each step along the way. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow to download the one-page PDF of this lesson. 

Table Set Up

  • I plaster 8 students per class period (2 students per large table in my room)
  • Cover the tables with newspaper.
  • Place 4 water buckets filled halfway with warm water on each table (2 per person)
  • Place 2 buckets of plaster strips cut into 1.5-2 inches wide strips on each table (1 per person)

Student Set Up

Students That Are Getting Their Faces Plastered Should…

  • Put on a paint shirt
  • Put their hair inside a trash bag or a shopping bag.
  • Tape the edges of their faces and under their chins with masking tape.
  • Put Vaseline all over their faces, including their lips, and the edges of the bag. (They shouldn’t cover their eye lids.)
  • Get mirrors and facial tissues. (Mirrors so they can see themselves and facial tissues in case something drips in their eyes.)
  • Lay on the table with their heads in the middle.
  • Concentrate on being still throughout the process.

Students Laying on Table

Following Steps

  • You should place the first plaster strip on the students’ faces. This gives you the opportunity to talk with each student to make sure they’re relaxed and prepared. In addition, it allows you to demonstrate how to correctly place the plaster strips on the students’ faces.
  • After you put the first strip on the students, their peers start to plaster the students’ faces. When they get to the bridge of the nose area, you need to put 2 pieces of plaster on their noses in the shape of an X.
  • Next, you should place a strip over the students’ nostrils. Be sure they’re relaxed and breathing out of their mouths.
  • The peers continue to plaster the students’ faces until there are 2 layers of plaster covering the face and nose of each student, leaving the eyes and mouths un-covered.
  • The students need to lie still for 5-10 minutes while the plaster hardens.
  • You need to go around to each student and take the mask off when it’s hard.
  • Once the masks are taken off, trim the edges for the students while the masks are wet.
  • Then, each student needs to fold a 1 inch pipe cleaner into a loop, using two pieces of plaster to attach it to the back of his or her mask. The loops allow the masks to be hung.

Clean Up

  • The rest of the class starts to clean up the tables.
  • To minimize behavior problems, keep students busy. Have them dump the water buckets, recycle the newspapers, organize the  plaster strips, cut more strips if needed, etc.

Finishing the Masks

  • Students will design their masks beginning with a theme and a sketch. This is a good time to check in with each student about his or her design.
  • Next, students will add additional plaster to their masks. Students can cover eyes and mouths with plaster at this point.
  • Cardboard pieces or rolled magazine pages or newspapers work well for adding details such as animal features, ears, hats, etc… Students attach the newspaper or cardboard with tape then cover with plaster.
  • When the masks are dry, students can use pencils to sketch their designs.
  • Students can then add details using paint and miscellaneous supplies.


The best part of this project is how engaged and successful students are throughout this process. They are really working in teams with their classmates. It’s bound to be a hit in your classroom!

Hint: remember to take photos of your students holding their masks up to their faces!

Graffiti Mask Student

Tell us, how have you used plaster in your classroom?

What do you think about plastering your student’s faces?

Cassidy Reinken

This article was written by former AOE writer and life-long learner, Cassidy Reinken.


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  • Pamela

    I have done the plaster cast of the face. My students loved it. the 8th graders and I did a social piece about how they saw the world. This has been so far my all time favorite project. Each mask was different yet they could still see themselves in it. Much better than the generic pre-made masks.

    • I like the theme your students used! I agree- the masks are so unique!

  • Chelsea

    Can’t plaster sometimes be dangerous? I remember reading an article about a girl who badly burned her hand while trying to do a plaster cast. What causes that and how do I avoid injuries?

    • We definitely want to avoid injuries in the art room. This is what I do to avoid them but of course there is always a risk. It’s important you don’t leave the mask on too long. As soon as it is hard enough to pull off without losing its form, take it off. The plaster definitely heats up but it doesn’t seem to get hot, only warm. Be sure students aren’t using hot water in the bowls, only warm. You could also use cold water however it will take longer to set up. Also be sure there is ample amount of vaseline on the face. This creates a barrier. If you’re concerned the plastic facial molds work great a well. In addition, having adult volunteers helps the success of the project.

    • Samantha

      There are some forms of plaster that heat up a tremendous amount. However I assume that any plaster especially in the form of strips you get from a school materials location should be fine.

  • Rina_k6art

    How long is your class period? I do an annual plaster mask project with 5th grade, but we only have 40 minutes once a week. We use mask forms covered o
    In foil. Do you use acrylic or tempera?

    • My class periods are 50 minutes and will be 40 next year. In order for my mom to teach this lesson to her elementary students she would arrange the schedule so the students had a double class. Of course you would need the support of the teachers in your building and your administration to switch the schedule, but it worked out great for her. I have used both acrylic and tempera but due to my small budget I normally use tempera.

  • Jorena

    I would never have the guts to plaster the students’ faces. We do a mask unit in 4th grade where we paper mache balloons. The students love it, but issues still occasionally crop up. Last year we had a fire drill and the students had to line up and march outside with paper mache paste all over their fingers. They were all holding their hands up in front of them like doctors while we waited outside. The rest of our school wing was highly amused. I can’t imagine if this happened when students had plaster on their faces.

  • Marcia

    My sixth grade students made masks each year for 29 years. It was a favorite. We got half the class done at a time in a forty- five minute class period….just the base mask….they could add on later. I loved it because it required trust….you needed to trust the person making the mask to do a good job. It really takes team work! If I had a reluctant student, I made groups of three, so he/she could help on two and then have two people “operate” on the more fearful one. I always offered another way for anyone with any health concerns. I sent a letter home to parents in advance to inform parents and then reqired a note if they needed an alternate approac. It almost never happened. Vaseline and plastic bags! You can also cover the skin with damp paper towels for students who have very sensitive skin.

  • Phyl

    I did these masks with kids for many years. We used dollar store shower caps on their hair, and the kids were required to bring in a washcloth on their ‘mask day’ since the school paper towels were terrible ony. Our skin for cleaning afterward! In many years, only 2 or 3 kids ever opted out. And we did the front of a whole 6th grader one year, to make a mummy case. It came out awesome!

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