Making Masks



Merging ancient and contemporary art, this lesson examines the significance of mask-making in the past and present. A great starting point to larger projects, or a fast exploration for the less patient.


Students will create paper masks linking ancient myths with their modern life.

Students will learn the function and purpose of masks in the past, and their importance in ancient and modern cultures.


Colored construction paper (11 x 17inches)
Rubber bands
Glue, glue stick


Students will be asked to sit in a circle. Lights will be turned off, and ancient Indian music, African music (rain dance) will be played. Students will be asked to shut their eyes and imagine how would it be like to be in a rain dance, and to brainstorm about all the components of the myth. After being engaged in the music experience, Keith Haring masks will be shown and discussed, setting standards for their own modern mask versions.

Start by making a pencil sketch of the mask. Does it have to be symmetric? A-symmetric?

Make clear incisions for the eyes and mouth, and with scissors the outline of the mask can also be transformed. Try to change the rectangular format of the piece of paper.

Try cutting and pasting different shapes of paper on to the mask. Show how paper can be cut and folded to make eyelashes, tongues, etcÂ…and then applied on to the mask. Try to illustrate certain aspects of what you want to communicate through the mask.

Use color markers to make patterns and details on the mask. Use colors that go in relation with the mask's intention and function.

Fold the edges of the mask and tape them together, to make a 2D surface 3D.

After masks are finished, students will be asked to share them with the class.


What do all masks have in common? What makes them different?

What do you think each mask was meant for?

How do the (materials, colors, expressions) help the purpose and meaning of the mask?

Why do you think people used masks? (To scare, to hide, and to talk with the gods, to deceive?)

Do you think people nowadays use masks? Why? Why not?


Try painting the masks for a more comprehensive version of this project.

Have the students research a culture, write a report, and use this lesson to help them create a mask that relates to the aesthetic and spiritual qualities of that society. Display the reports with the masks.

The author of this lesson, Gonzalo Fuenmayor, a student of the School of Visual Arts in NYC, is the 1999-2000 scholarship recipient of the Keith Haring Scholarship award. This project was a collaboration with The School of Visual Arts & Junior High 45 in New York City

To find out more about The Keith Haring Foundation Scholarship offered through the School of Visual Arts, please contact:
Director, School of Visual Arts/Visual Arts Foundation, 15 Gramercy Park South, NYC 10003.

SVA's web site