Schools are now in session (or nearly), and once again Social Studies teachers are wondering how to get their students to remember the many different peoples that are too often lumped together as 'Asian' or 'African' or 'First Nations/Native American'. English teachers are hunting for a new way to engage students in discussions of The Odyssey or The Iliad or any Greek plays or legends. Theatre teachers are adapting a folk tale... and everyone's budget has been cut. Masks are a wonderful way to discover differences in cultural perspectives, character nuances, and the ideas of subtext and implication. But what if you are prohibited from ordering art supplies? Well Ta DAA! Enter manila folder masks. Made almost entirely out of office supplies!!!
Manila folder mask: What is it?
Believe it or not, manila folders have different properties than any other paper product, including card stock and oak tag, which they resemble. They are more pliable, more resilient, and more durable, and can take and hold more shapes than any other paper product. I STRONGLY recommend to group leaders or anyone wanting to lead students on this venture to experiment with this marvelous stuff first, and really listen to what it is telling you. Make curls, make cupped leaves, make springs and foldy sproings or bridges. Cut slits on an angle and bend them open...
What are the pros and cons of using it?
* It's very cheap!
* You can make them REALLY BIG (I made a 3.5 foot-long dragon's head complete with hinged jaw with folders, staples, and brass paper fasteners)!
* You can do it without any liquids, and the 'waste' materials are all recyclable!
* Materials do not need to be new -- used works fine.
* It's stronger and longer lasting than papier mache.
* Anyone can do it. Children as young as 4 and as young as 84 have had delightful experiences making manila folder masks.
* Manila folders are an intriguing material. No matter what you do, it will be really cool. However, to be able to create what you want in any intricate or huge way, you really have to play with the material, listen to it, watch it behave, learn it. I personally think this is a "pro" not a "con".
* Repeated sweat will 'eat through' the head band -- so you put packing tape on the inside. Which, of course, means that it becomes cleanable. How cool is that?!?!?
Stage one: 'Sculpting' the form
There are several basic models from which to 'grow' a manila-folder mask. I will outline the form that is simplest and lends itself to the most complex. In this case, the 'form' is a supported shape of your head. First, create a band that snugly fits your head. You will need strips from the length and width of your manila folder to make one long enough to go around your head -- make it about an inch or 1.5 inches wide. NOTE! When you staple the two pieces together, make sure the 'head' of the staple is on the inside and the 'feet' are on the outside, so the staples do not get caught in your hair or scratch your face. This is a general rule for this project.
After you have made the snug band, you need to create at least 2 cross braces over the top. I recommend making them run diagonally rather than perpendicularly; strength comes from mixing diagonals with right angles, and you'll want the right angles for your ears/hair/crown, nose, horns etc. NOTE! It's best NOT to trim the braces. Make them toooo long on purpose so you have an uncut strip to which you may attach other facial structures. Joints are the weakest spots, so we want to keep them to a minimum.
Stage two: Building the mask
At this stage, it is important to know what you are aiming for. Are you 6 years old and making a bird with a 4-inch beak? Are you an adult artist making a 2-foot long monster mask? It is important to know because you will now build the support frame and then portions of the outer part of the face. Wait -- what? PORTIONS of the face?!?! YEP! Part of makes manila folder masks so groovy is that you don't need the whole outer part to be solid. The masks look awesome with spaces and they also look awesome with a 'skin' of light fabric, gauze, tissue paper, even toilet paper (tissue and toilet paper should be brushed with modge podge).
To build a support for your bird beak or giant monster face, use long slender strips with cross braces, tabs, folds, or curls as supports. Remember to connect strips at diagonals and right angles for maximum strength, to have the attachments be at different locations on the strips to prevent 'joint weakness', and to make strips as slender as a half-inch to make the structure light. I have included photos here to help show what I mean. In case you are interested, I have created a how-to booklet in a graphic novel format to show some manila folder mask-making techniques, and if you comment on this blog post, I will send it to you for free.
For cheeks, chins, ears, brows and so on, cut out trapezoids, teardrop/leaf shapes, fat rainbows, et cetera, and experiment with bending them to make a box or 'canoe' with 'tabs', pressing them into your palm to make a 'cup' with extra on the bottom for stapling, and so on. Folders LOVE to hold these shapes! Make them slightly larger than you need or with a tab or tail for attaching.
Go ahead and try something! Remember that all masks want to be super 3D. Add horns, hair, squiggles, nostrils... go crazy! One classroom of 4th graders with which I worked struggled with their first 'test drive' mask. They then absolutely fell in love with the stuff, and made masks for their play based on First Nations tales, then made masks just for themselves! They loved it so much they gave up computer time!!!
Stage three: Finishing up
Inside: I would put a light layer of modge podge (which functions differently than either glue or wallpaper paste) for strength and rigidity. You may need to put some packing tape on the inside to protect the mask from your sweat or to cover up the staple feet that you did on the inside by accident.
Outside: For a crisper hold, use modge podge. One neat trick is to draw on the manila folder pieces with magic marker (MUCH better than soggy paint!) then put modge podge on (immediately for a more paint-like look, after a moment for a harder line look). Lay colored tissue paper over the markered area. Voila! It looks AWESOME through the tissue paper. To make the colored tissue paper even more translucent, put a light coat of modge podge on the outside of the tissue paper as well, once the underneath coating has dried. I strongly recommend experimenting on scraps first!
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