HOW TO: Creepy Doll Mask Repaint

I scored a cheap plastic Doll Face Mask from the Halloween Store, one I knew could be easily improved with a bit of paint. I was in the market for a doll face because I find dolls every bit as creepy as clowns. This mask had sculpted “cracks” in the forehead that I found appealing and of course, the best part was that it cost under $3.

First step with anything plastic is a nice warm bath with a drop of detergent. This wash removes dust, grease and mold release oil and prepares the surface to bond well with the paint. Rinse well in warm water and let dry overnight.

Next, I hit the mask with a coat of Rustoleum glossy red. My initial thought was that the color might stay in the cracks and look like blood. As it turned out, the red provided a wonderfully ghastly undertone that I exploited with later layers of color. I let the base coat dry overnight.

I used an off-white latex house paint (cheap leftovers!) dry brushed on to lighten the raised areas. The lighter color, I reasoned would help the later colors pop out from the background. Another nice thing about dry brushing is that since the paint is applied in an extremely shallow “coat” it dries almost instantaneously which allows more working time.

I’m not a fan of using black to darken the tone on my work so I used a dark green, the color opposite of red for the shaded areas of the face. I slathered it in the eyes, the sides of the nose, the crease beside the mouth and around the edges of the mask. I followed my typically reckless mixology by combining dry tempera pigment with acrylic paint because that is what I had on hand. While the dark areas were still wet-ish, I mixed a lighter shade of green with a touch of yellow tempera and I dry brushed this yellow-green onto the higher areas like the lips, cheeks, forehead and tip of the nose. These coats of green are really rather thin as I think you can detect in the photos since the base color red still peeks through. At this point, I let the mask sit over night.


The mask was really over the top at this point. There was virtually no sense of it being a “doll” more a bloated and partially decayed face, like a weeks-dead corpse fished out of a swamp. Undeniably cool, but not exactly what I was going for. I loaded my brush with an extremely small amount of that off-white house paint I’d used earlier and then I started very lightly dry brushing the mask in order to tone down the excesses. I found the effect really pleasing, like a doll but one that held trauma and decay just underneath it’s thin porcelain skin. I ended up dry brushing the entire piece but I made sure to stop just before I thought it was perfect. The times I’ve ruined a piece usually happens when I have slightly over done a technique that worked well up to a point.

I knew the thin layers of paint would likely bond poorly to the red base coat so I hit the mask with a couple light coats of spray on lacquer. And a deliciously happy accident occurred. In some places, the red paint was close enough to the surface that it reacted with the solvents in the top coat. The result was a very, very light crackling. The wrinkles smoothed out for the most part when the top coat dried but there is still just the slightest suggestion of a lichen-like growth on parts of the forehead. Subsequent coats of the sealer didn’t produce more of the effect and in fact, they likely stabilized the wrinkles that had occurred.

The final step was to re-enforce the edge of the mask with bits of black tape. The plastic used in most masks is rather fragile and once a crack starts it’s often hard to keep it from tearing through the whole piece. I used black cloth tape, like that which is used for repairing books. It’s rather expensive but it worked very very well and it’s what I had on hand. Electrician’s tape would probably work as well. I cut small strips and affixed one to the outside of the mask, then I folded the tape onto itself to attach to the inside / back of the mask. My original impulse was to use one long piece of tape around the whole mask … until I realized how easy it would be for that to get messed up. The smaller strips were far easier to use and the dark contrast to the mask hides the fact that they’re several pieces. The tape I used was thick enough that it actually extends the edges of the mask. I’m thinking this would be handy for pinning a wig to since there is no way a pin would go throughout the mask itself.

Now I have an extra creepy doll mask, one that doesn’t look like anything off the shelf. I doubt I’ll wear it as a mask to be honest. I really like the way that the eyes look dark and hollow just displayed.

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