I’ve always loved masks: from recurring obsessions with Phantom of the Opera and Labyrinth, to finding every project for my anthropology degree tended towards masquerade and transformation. I’ve also had a good few attempts at making them throughout my life, but it’s been a while since I attempted it with any real focus on refining technique. My early masks were thick, unweildy, lumpy papier-mache creations, better suited for hanging on the wall than wearing.
Earlier this year I went on a short holiday to Venice with friends. As a mask obsessive, it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit, and I was not disappointed! I’m afraid I dragged my friends into every second mask shop that we saw (and there’s certainly no lack of them), turning the masks over and trying to work out how they were made, as well as admiring the amazingly skilled decoration. Needless to say, I came back inspired and fired with determination to give mask making another shot. I researched, bought a couple of books, and experimented for a few months.
For my first attempt I used a method suggested by Jonni Good in her book ‘How to Make Masks’, which is well worth buying if you’re interested in starting to make masks. It uses easily obtainable materials, and results in a lightweight, smooth mask. Jonni also runs an excellent website over at Ultimate Paper Mache filled with great tips, videos and examples of her work which helped no end.
For my very first attempt I used an old clay model of my face (I’m sure everyone has one of these lying around) and created a sculpt from plasticine on top. I then built the papier mache directly onto the finished model:
Plasticine is horrible to work with, I’ll say that straight away. Smelly, stubborn, and leaves a nasty residue on your hands. I also discovered that it reacts badly with the plaster/glue papier mache mix and retards the drying process. After half a week it was still gloopy, so I abandoned this mask and started afresh.
I decided to go for a full face mask, again using plasticine on top of the clay model. This time I covered the model in clingfilm (using vaseline to get it to adhere to the model and follow all the recesses and details), and then added the mache. This worked an awful lot better, and the mask was almost dry in an hour.
Here’s the devil mask trimmed and after a bit of sanding. It fits my face so well it hardly needs a cord to stay on! There’s still a bit of smoothing to do before I paint him. The disadvantage of this method is that once the mache is dry, you’re pretty much guaranteed to destroy the original sculpt as you pull it out of the back of the mask. That makes this chap a one-off, so I’m a little nervous about painting him in case it goes wrong. I decided to make a few more masks to experiment on before painting this one, and to do that I wanted a method that would let me create multiples of a particular design…