Monday, May 23, 2011

The Year of the Rabbit (Or “How to Make A Chinese Dragon Mask to please the finickiest of kids”)

We like to celebrate a lot of holidays at my house. Usually they are actually the ones that pertain to our backgrounds (which for my melting-pot kids is anything from Russia, Spain, England, Ireland, and Poland) but sometimes we turn to outside cultures for our festivities. We’ve hung lights for Diwali and made Dia de los Muertos cookies.  

And we always decorate for Chinese New Years. Except for this year. This year we forgot.

Months later my seven year old remembered Chinese New Year and he began to do what any poor neglected seven year old would do.  He began to hound me to make something with him. He was quite specific. He wanted to make a Chinese dragon costume. A FULL costume. The kind that usually is worn by several people. No can do, I said. But I was willing to work with him to make the mask.
It was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to make some again with my class! Here’s what we did.

  • Scissors
  • 1 Milk Jug, washed well and dried.
  • Newspaper, torn into strips. Around 1- 1.5 inches wide, the width of one page. But any size can work.
  • Water
  • Flour
  • Acrylic Paint           
  • 1 Sheet Heavy white construction paper or craft foam
  • A few additional sheets of brightly colored construction paper
Upside-down jug with paper mache strips painted white and ready for color!
Time to paint!

  1. Spend some time on the Internet looking at Chinese Dragon masks. Find some favorites and print them out for inspiration.
  2. Cut the jug in half from the top to the bottom.  We used the side with the handle as a “nose” (although we later decided to cut the nose off!)
  3. Measure the child’s eyes and cut eyeholes and a mouth. Take a good look at a Chinese dragon mask picture to get the right shapes.
  4. Make Paste of 1 parts flour to 2 parts water. There are other recipes involving glue or boiling that you can find online but this is the simplest.
  5. Dip strips of paper into the paste, squeeze off some excess by dragging paper through your fingers but don’t make it dry. Apply it to the jug horizontally. Continue to add more strips, allowing for overlap. Do it until the mask is covered. Use shorter strips where needed such as between the eyes. Let it dry. It will take about a full day to completely dry.
  6. Do the next layer vertically. Alternate layers. We made 3: one horizontal, one vertical and the top one was horizontal again.
  7. Cover your paste and put in the frig between dryings. You can put it in the microwave for a few seconds each time you take it out.
  8. You can start making shapes with your paper. We added horns, big lips and bulgy eyes.
  9. You can do the last stage with white paper to make it more paint-ready but I just painted the last dry stage white before applying colors.
  10. If it needs a little more drying use a hairdryer but at a distance.
  11. Paint!
  12. Once paint is dry you can glue in teeth, add strips of colored paper as a dragon mane, add feathers or whatever you like.

Here’s how my son’s mask turned out! 

Happy Year of the Rabbit!


  1. Forgot to mention this but when you have an eager child and still some-what damp mask there's nothing quite like a hair dryer to save the day! Just use it from a distance so it doesn't overheat.

  2. Did you see/hear about the Ai Wei Wei Zodiac Masks? It reminds me of your project.

  3. Thanks for the link, Jess. They are really amazing masks!