How to Make a Plaster Death Mask

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Death masks are castings taken of the face just after a person has died. The ancient Greeks made casts out of gold, while others, like the Egyptians and the early Europeans, opted for plaster or wax. Often death masks were made of royalty or other influential figures like artists, poets and philosophers. From these casts, sculptors could create busts or statues in the person's honor.

Things You'll Need

  • Model
  • Molding material
  • Thin straws
  • Shop around. Depending on the thickness and detail you expect to get from the casting, your supplies will vary. For thin, inexpensive and somewhat detailed casts, you can use plaster bandages. Plaster of Paris also works, but can be painful to the model. Alginate is effective but delicate. Silicone is painless and safe for the skin, gets great detail but is expensive.

  • Be aware of skin irritants such as mint-flavored dental Alginate or other products made with seaweeds. These may cause burning or rashes for some people.

  • Make sure your model can breathe before you begin. You'll need to provide him thin straws for breathing through either his mouth or nose.

  • Cover any facial hair with liberal amounts of petroleum jelly such as Vaseline. This will prevent the hair from getting stuck in either plaster of Paris or plaster bandages. You don't need this if you're using the silicone.

  • Apply bandages carefully in thin layers, smoothing as you go to ensure detail. With other forms, spread the material carefully over the face in a smooth, even layer.

  • Let the material set. For some materials, the total time should be no longer than 15 minutes. Other materials, such as rubber, can take up to 40 minutes. If your subject is younger, you should use something that's fast and painless.

Tips & Warnings

  • Be aware of anxiety. Your model may get anxious being encased in all that goo. If panic sets in, take it off of her immediately.

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