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Sand Masks (Beach Crafts) | Nature Crafts

Sand Masks

Total Time Needed: Afternoon Or Evening

Make your beach-going experience a memorable one by creating decorative, plaster-cast masks using beachcombed objects. Each mask, formed face down in the sand, hides its identity until unmolded and washed in the sea. No matter what style you end up with -- be it surreal or straightforward -- your mask will be a personal memento of your seashore visit, one that shows off the personalities of both beach and beachgoer. It'll also last much longer than a tan.

Materials

  • Plaster of Paris from any hardware store (see Tips below)
  • Container large enough to mix water and plaster (see Tips below)
  • Water buckets for mixing and cleaning up
  • Stirring tool for the squeamish (a bare hand works best!)
  • String or wire, about 4 inches per mask, to form wall hangers
  • Beach stuff, such as shells, wood, and sea glass

Instructions

  1. Start collecting. Found objects are the soul of this project: feathers, small stones, bits of plastic and rubber, bottle caps, seaweed, driftwood, colorful sand and gravel, rope, twigs, leaves, dried bugs, sea glass, pinecones. Just avoid things that might eventually stink or shrink.
  2. Dig your mold (see Tips below). This should be five to eight inches tall and about two inches deep (the sides of deeper molds may crumble while you are putting in your objects). We find that smaller faces tend to be the most charming, and by the time you add projecting objects they can get pretty big anyway.
  3. Place your objects. You have to think in reverse since you are seeing the mask from the inside out. This is a learning experience for younger children.
  4. Mix the plaster. (You can use sea water.) Usually, a thick cream consistency works well. Too runny, and your plaster can seep beneath objects, so that they are hidden when you uncover the masks. Too thick, and the plaster dislodges objects and messes up the mask's shape. It is not difficult to get the consistency right, but once you've got it, fill up as many of the impressions as you can.
  5. Pour the plaster slowly over your hand, held just an inch or two above the impression, to break its fall. Go easy--too much will spread out over the sand and change the mask's shape. Try to keep the plaster layer about an inch thick.
  6. Tie a knot, to act as an anchor, about a half inch from each end of a piece of your string or wire. After a couple of minutes, when the plaster begins to thicken, push the ends of the string or wire into the back of the mask to harden in place as a hanger when the plaster dries.
  7. Unmold your mask. The plaster will set up, depending on its thickness, in about ten minutes. It is a good idea to dig the mold away from the mask rather than yank the mask out, because any unset objects are more likely to stay put. It is also a good idea to take out the mask before it is completely hardened. (The plaster gets hot while setting; remove it when it is cool enough to handle.)
  8. Wash your mask off. Carry it to the ocean and gently, gently wash away any flaws before they set completely. You will have a few moments to manipulate the plaster's surface (cleaning off, digging in, rubbing away excess sand) to get the result you want.
  9. Place all the masks face up to admire and let them sit awhile to completely harden. You may sell them to unsuspecting tourists if you wish.
  10. Hints: Open eyes and mouths, teeth, and hair look great but require engineering, and firm sand, if you want them to hold their place. If you bury feathers, seaweed, or rope in the bottom of the mold so that enough projects up for the plaster to grip, they will dangle or stick out from the mask without being completely embedded. Plaster is cheap and the props are limitless, so feel free to experiment.

Tips:

1. A standard box or plastic bucketful, about $5, will make three to six masks, depending on the amount used for each.

2. The plaster remains workable for only a short time, so the container should not be too big lest it set up before you can pour it. A half-gallon milk carton with the top sliced off works fine.

3. Find a good site to cast your molds. The ideal spot to work seems to be the moist, hard-packed strip just above the wet tidal sand. Be careful not to work so close to the water that incoming waves can destroy your molds or wash over your setting plaster. The setting takes only about ten minutes, but if the tide is approaching, life can get tense.

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