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Masked in metal

Metal-clay masks reflect a bevy of moods

These little masks offer you the opportunity to show a different face to the world whenever you want. Let the ones you see here influence the direction you take with yours, or make a mask that expresses—or perhaps disguises!—your own thoughts and temperament.



  • Olive oil or natural hand balm
  • 25 g metal clay
  • 1½ x 1½-in. (3.8 x 3.8 cm) piece solid brass screen
  • Metal clay slip
  • 1 inch (2.5 cm) 16-gauge fine-silve wire
  • Live of sulfur or other patina agent
  • Cord, ribbon, or chain necklace


  • 2 6 x 6-inch (15.2 x 15.2 cm) pieces of heavy plastic or Teflon®
  • Deck of playing cards
  • Acrylic rod or roller
  • Texture sheet
  • Craft knife
  • Needle tool
  • Small paintbrush
  • Ceramic-fiber kiln shelf
  • Kiln
  • Vermiculite
  • Heavy-duty scissors
  • Toaster oven, hot plate or food dehydrator (optional)
  • Roundnose pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Stainless steel or soft brass brush
  • Tumbler with stainless-steel shot and burnishing compound (optional)
  • 2 plastic or glass bowls
  • Plastic tongs

Prepare a work area. Cut a 6x6-inch (15.2x15.2cm) piece of heavy plastic, such as a sheet protector, or a Teflon® baking sheet to cover your work area. The sheet not only aids you in moving the clay, but prevents it from drying out prematurely. Always keep the clay covered with another piece of plastic when you aren’t working with it. Apply a little olive oil or hand balm to the work surface, your hands, and all your tools to keep the clay from sticking. Reapply the oil as needed.


Make the hairpiece. If you would like to have your mask to have a hairpiece, make it first. Check out the instructions outlined in “Silver Tresses” on the free PDF for instructions on using brass screen to create this decoration that can be attached later. 

Photo 1
Click on images to enlarge.
Photo 2

1. Roll out and texture the clay. Place 20g of clay between two stacks of playing cards that have ten cards in each stack. Put heavy plastic or a Teflon sheet over the clay and the cards to retain moisture. Use an acrylic rod and roll over the clay with the plastic in place. Take off the plastic, remove three cards from each stack, turn the clay 90 degrees, replace the plastic, and roll it again. Then place the clay on an oiled texture sheet and place a stack of four cards on each side of it. Replace the plastic and roll again to texture the surface (PHOTO 1).


2. Cut out the mask. Place the clay, textured side up, on the work surface. Use a craft knife to cut out a shape that is approximately 1½–2 inches (3.8–5.1cm) long and 1–1¼ inches (2.5–3.2cm) wide (PHOTO 2).

Photo 3
Photo 4

3. Make the facial features. Here is where you can have some fun. Decide on an expression for your mask. Will it appear happy, sad, angry, or somber? Will the eyes be wide open, closed, or just tiny slits? Will there be a nose? If so, will it be wide or narrow, long or short? Determine the location of the eyes and use a craft knife to cut slits, circles, or ovals in the clay (PHOTO 3).


4. Make a nose by starting with a clay snake that is 716 inch (1.1cm) long. Pinch it at the top and make it rounder and fatter at the bottom. Use a needle tool to incise nostrils (PHOTO 4). To attach the nose, use a brush to apply slip on the mask where the nose will sit. Then apply slip to the backside of the nose piece. Press it into position on the clay. If slip oozes out of the joint, use a moist brush to remove the excess.



Photo 5
Photo 6

5. Make the mouth from a clay snake that is shorter than the one you made for the nose. Slightly taper both ends of the snake. Use a craft knife to incise a line through the center (PHOTO 5). Attach the mouth the same way you attached the nose.

6. Apply the hairpiece. Brush slip on the underside of the hairpiece and on the mask where the hairpiece will sit. Gently press the slip-covered hairpiece into the slip on the mask. Be sure the two pieces are flush against each other. Brush away any excess slip that oozes out of the seam (PHOTO 6).


Photo 7
Photo 8

7. Make a bail. Use 1 inch (2.5cm) of 16-gauge fine-silver wire to make a bail for the pendant. Grasp the middle of the wire with a roundnose pliers at a point where the jaw is 732 inch (5.6mm) in diameter. Use your fingers or chainnose pliers to press each end of wire around the jaw to form an inverted-U shape (PHOTO 7).

8. Use wire cutters to trim each leg down to a ½ inch (7.9mm). Press the legs toward each other (PHOTO 8).

Photo 9

9. Make a  inch (9.5mm) ball of clay. Flatten the clay between your thumb and forefinger until it is 516 inch (3.1mm) thick. Press the legs of the bail ¼ inch (6.4mm) into the clay (PHOTO 9). Apply slip to one of the bail’s flat sides and the back of the mask near the top-center edge. Press the bail onto the back of the mask so the wire extends above its top edge. Brush away any excess slip.

Fire the pendant. Once you finish embellishing the mask, let the clay dry completely. You can hasten the process by putting it in a toaster oven or on a hot plate that is set to low. Place the mask, face up, on a kiln shelf on a bed of vermiculite. Fire the clay according to the manufacturer’s directions for the type of clay you used.

Finish the pendant. Once the mask is cool, you can give it a satin or shiny finish, or you can add a patina. For a satin finish, use a steel or brass brush to burnish the mask until you have scrubbed off the white residue that occurs with firing. For a shiny finish, place it in a tumbler with stainless-steel shot and burnishing compound for at least 30 minutes. After tumbling, rinse it in clean water.

For a patina, use a brass brush to burnish the piece, but do not tumble it. Use a commercially available metal patina solution (available from hobby and craft stores), or dissolve a tiny pea-size piece of liver of sulfur in a cup of very hot tap water. Using plastic tongs, quickly dip the mask in the solution and immediately place it in a bowl filled with cool water. If you want a more intense color, repeat the process. Each time you immerse the piece in the liver of sulfur solution, the color will darken.
Slide a cord, ribbon, or chain through the bail and the mask is ready to wear.

FIND MORE: necklaces , metal clay , wire , patinas

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