Mask making appears in many different cultures and throughout the course of human history. As an art therapy technique, I have found mask making with clients to be an incredibly interesting and often illuminating process for both of us.
Creating and then wearing a mask allows us to expose parts of ourselves that we are not usually willing to embrace in everyday life. Or, in contrast a mask may cover up who we really are at the moment, and then acts as a protective shield from our true feelings. Lastly, we could simply be trying on a different persona and allowing our imaginations to run wild!
I enjoy working with plaster of paris strips when creating a mask with a client. When appropriate, the plaster of paris can be applied directly to the client’s face in layers (make sure to apply a layer of vaseline over areas with hair – such as eyebrows, mustaches, etc). However this way of working is not appropriate for every person. It is a very intimate process, and the person who is having their mask created must be able to stay still for some length of time. For some, this type of human contact and stillness can be too triggering. In these situations, there is another technique that involves laying plaster strips over a pre-created face mold. The molds are usually plastic and can come in animal shapes as well as human face shapes.
There are many questions that the client can ponder when looking at the mask…did they paint the inside and the outside of the mask, or only one side? If so, is there a reason for this? Pay attention to colors used and the amount of detail or lack of detail. The client can have a dialogue with the mask – asking the mask what it needs, who it is, and what is has been created to tell him or her. Do they feel that the mask exposes their true feelings/self, or does it serve to hide them from the outside world?
Creating a mask also opens the door to other modalities such as drama and dance. Once the piece is created, encourage the maker to wear it and move in a way that reflects the mask’s persona. If a group of people have all made masks, there is even more possibility in allowing the group members to interact with one another through their masks and movement.