top of page

The Masks We Wear


Washington State University 



Course Level

3D Foundations, Sculpture, Fibers, Performance


Conversation points for instructors

Students enjoy designing this wearable form. The focus on unique surface qualities and its interactions in space has a dynamic impact on their level of engagement in this and future course work. Getting students to wrap their head around the mechanics of planar construction & surface texture possibilities is a challenge, but after sharing multiple references to masks and discussing material possibilities and color possibilities, they get revved up to sketch and research more. Maybe it is because I require more process sketches and material explorations before they begin to build and assemble the work, but  by getting them work towards a solid plan for this conceptual challenge, they seem to “own” that sketching in various formats is good for their design process. 


The use of less precious, recycled/free eases them into the process of working with planes in space. 

Later in the semester, when we move on to working in the woodshop, what’s initially perceived as higher stakes areas becomes less intimidating. They have less fear engaging with materials, are more confident designers, and have more respect for planning out singular cuts and overall craftsmanship.  


This project allows students to create something new, allowing them to discover and reveal something about their identity and connect with the vibrant culture of all in the classroom mix.


Stacy Isenbarger, Io Palmer, & JJ Harty. All have supported my creative vision and affirmed space for me to experiment with ideas that led to this project.  



Project Prompt / Challenge

Masks are typically defined as objects that cover the face, head, and neck. Found in almost every continent on this earth, humans have placed both social and cultural importance on masks, using them in storytelling, dances, and often in spiritual ceremonies. Many of these masks were used for rituals, celebrations, admiration and intimidation in war/battle, for protection and to reveal something unique about our humanity. Masks have been used to excite, worship, express, arouse, evoke, awaken, hide, protect, reveal, consume, expand, move, celebrate, scare, surprise, and even torture.


For this project, we will put our own spin on the form, material and construction methods used to create a large wearable mask of your own. No matter your formal design approach, you are challenged to create visually arresting final works. 



First, you will make a decision about a concept / style of mask that you wish to create based off of one of the prompts provided below: 

• Self-portrait with exaggerated emotion/expression or 

• Your future self in 40 + years 

• Mascot for a personality trait you have (could be good or bad)

• Historical figure (no one from the last 15 years will be allowed, go further back in time)

• Infamous characters from Folktales  

• Cultural collaboration or historical hybrid 

(ie. Aztec death mask hybrid with ancient Japanese samurai mask) 


Inspiration + Research: Look to masks throughout the history of different cultures, helmets, mascots, puppetry, artist Nick Cave, artist Wayne White, artist Aldo Lanzini, “outsider” art, craft movement, bobble heads, caricatures, circus’, secret societies, death masks, and special effects makeup artists. 


Next, collect photographic images of yourself and/or other printed references of masking that you find interesting + challenging. Be prepared to share these with the class! 


Main structure must be made from cardboard + other soft material

As you construct, pay close attention to the unique shapes of your planar forms and the way the edges come together. YOU HAVE TO CREATE VOLUME + SHAPE to express your ideas, not just applied color +textures to create an illusion of forms. AVOID FLAT SIDES.  


Use templates to cut cardboard.  Use the sketchbook to plan!!  

Create at least 15 ORTHOGRAPHIC DRAWINGS to help you plan your mask construction. 

Consider how you will wear this. On your head? On your head + shoulders? What other ways can this be worn. PLEASE CONSIDER THE DISPLAY EARLY!  


Size: MINIMUM 3FT IN ANY ONE DIRECTION (YOU CAN GO LARGER) AND MUST BE CONSIDERED FROM ALL SIDES. You must have more than 5 planes present to your overall work! 


The challenge for this project is to not just re-create a form/figure/face that you are already familiar with. You are challenged to create something unique and informed by your sketching and research.  None of the following clichéd/overused responses will be accepted for this project:

  • no characters from comic book/graphic novels

  • no serial killers

  • no video game characters/avatars/fortnite characters /2Ksports players, etc  

  • no anime characters

  • no Disney anything

  • no characters from any “young adult” novels (no faces from Twilight, Harry Potter, Divergent, etc)

  • no Jim Henson Co. properties (Sesame Street, Muppets, etc)


cardboard (provided by students), exacto knives, scissors, pens, pencils, paint, tape, glue, newsprint, sketchbooks, wire, cloth and other found soft materials, reference photos, other found materials, etc.


3 weeks


Student Examples:

Support Images:

Online / Video Resources:





Marie Rime

Wayne White

Nick Cave

Magnhild Kennedy

Aldo Lanzini

Additional Tips: 

To help inspire them, I gathered images of masks and other traditional and contemporary historical references to present to them (presentation in .pdf link above). We talk about what masks were/are, how they are used, and what they mean to us. Anything from the incredible Kanga masks of the Dogon people to Disney gas masks of the 40s to musicians like Daft Punk to superheroes/pop culture references to NHL hall of fame goalies and other significant cultural uses of masks (...and now, the impact of masks to protect from Covid). The challenge set forth was to imagine what would happen if you could somehow take an influence from any number of these things to create something new, to reveal something about your identity by obscuring your face/head with a wearable form.

bottom of page