Within many different cultures and throughout the course of human history, we have seen a variety of masks created for aesthetics, symbolism and ritual. As an art therapist, I have found mask making with clients to be an incredibly powerful and often an enlightening process for both the client and myself.
Designing a mask and then wearing it allows us to expose certain parts of ourselves that we are not usually willing to recognize in everyday life. However, on the flip side, a mask may cover up who we really are at that moment, and then acts as a protective shield from our true feelings. More often, we may simply be trying on a different “persona” and allowing our creative imaginations to have some fun!
There are a variety of materials that can be used and depending on the age and functioning level of the individual, I try to adjust accordingly. One favorite technique that I have used often is the application of “rigid wrap” onto a plastic mold of a face. This material is similar to casting material as it has a dried coating of plaster on a piece of gauze like material. When dipped in water, it activates the plaster and can be manipulated onto any shape. Then, when dried it forms a hardened shape of the mold. This process takes 2 sessions usually because the mask has to dry and then can be decorated the following week. Some art therapists use this material right onto the human face in order to get the true essence of the person. However, I feel it can be too invasive and rather uncomfortable, so I have always used the mold.
Other materials can be much more simple and fun to use, especially with kids. I have used paper plates and oak tag with an assortment of decorating supplies and the results were just as amazing. Sometimes these simple materials can create more imaginative ideas! The process can go in so many ways and I tend to let the clients direct this to their own comfort level.
There are many questions that can be asked either outwardly or kept unsaid. Did they focus on the outside or inside of the mask? What dominant colors were used? Does the mask exposes their true feelings/self, or does it serve to hide them from the outside world? With children, I sometimes have them wear it and pretend, perhaps have them tell a story about their mask. Ina group setting, it is sometimes fun to have others guess who’s is whose or find characteristics that remind them of each other.
Here is a useful link for parents and children who want to have fun with mask making http://www.parents-choice.org/article.cfm?art_id=212&the_page=editorials