FolkEast

I spent last weekend at FolkEast, one of the biggest Folk festivals in the area.  It was my first visit to a festival (apart from an afternoon many years ago at Jimmy’s Sausage Festival…) and my first attempt at running a public mask-decorating workshop, so all in all I was a little nervous!

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I shouldn’t have worried: everyone I met there was lovely.  I met so many interesting people who stopped by the stall for a chat about everything from folklore and masks to woodcarving and leatherwork.  The workshops were great fun, and it was wonderful to see people’s own designs emerging as they worked on them.  Everyone who took part, children and adults, were all so creative.  It actually brought a tear to my eye at one point!

I’ve added photos from the workshops to my Facebook page but here are just a few of them.  In all the busy-ness I didn’t manage to snap photos of them all, so if you have any I’d love to see them!

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Snape Maltings Vintage & Markers Market

I had a lovely time today at Snape Maltings Vintage & Makers Market. It was my first attempt at a stall to sell my masks and books, and I couldn’t have asked for a lovelier day!  It was a very sunny morning, and my stall was right beside the river with picturesque views out across the marshes.

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I met some lovely people and chatted about masks and books to everyone, and even sold enough to make a profit. It’s been a great experience, so I’m definitely hoping to do another fair sometime soon.  I’d better get a move on and look up local Christmas markets.

In the meantime I’ve added a first batch of miniature books to my Etsy shop HERE. I managed to get five sets of photos done before the light faded this evening, so there’ll be more to come soon.

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Hello Again

If 2014 was a year of travelling and creativity, 2015 was a bit of a flump.  Various health-related things conspired to stop me making the things I wanted to make, but *touch wood* I’m starting to get back on track.  In fact, I’ve been managing to get quite a bit done since the start of the year, but wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a passing phase before committing in writing!

I have new masks in the making, new techniques I’m trying and new projects on the horizon. Fingers crossed for 2016.

I’ve been making a mess today (just for a change) by experimenting and comparing two methods of silicone mould-making. I made a simple mask shape and a lone horn to cast. I used proper RTV silicone on the face and homemade Oogoo (http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Make-Your-Own-Sugru-Substitute/) on the horn, and here are my thoughts so far:

RTV is much smoother and easier to handle, but requires sacrificial brushes, syringes and mixing cups, and very accurate catalyst measuring. This one needs 3% catalyst, which means measuring cubic centimetres using a very small syringe. The catalyst may also be reacting with the rubber seal as it makes the syringe rather hard to compress: I’ll try a pipette in future. Next time I’ll also get a batch of silicone with a really fast curing time… this lot had a pot life of 40 min which I thought would be great: I could take my time and not rush, especially as it’s my first attempt. However, turned out it took a whole afternoon of re-brushing the stuff up the cast every hour as it ran off and pooled around the edges. 7 hours later now and I think it’s just about starting to set!

It’s not very cheap: I got a small value-range pot for about £7 excluding the shipping, but I’ll probably have to buy a thickener as well if I want to use it in this way again.

 

Oogoo stinks to high heaven. Think salt and vinegar crisps, but you’re in the factory where they make them and you’ve just fallen into the vat of flavouring and discovered it’s actually all just very strong chemicals. I’ve had the windows open all day and as it’s winter I’ve been gradually putting on more and more clothes, praying I don’t have to answer the door looking like something from a nordic version of Breaking Bad in mask, goggles and 10 layers of cardigans, clutching a flask full of light-blue goo.

On the plus side, it requires no accurate measuring, it’s made from household ingredients (bathroom silicone and cornflour), cures pretty darned quickly, and peels straight off the mixing stick and pot when set so nothing gets thrown away (other than the gloves that it inevitably ends up on, no matter how careful you’re being). It’s so sticky though, like trying to handle sticky bread dough without any flour. I’ll have to wait and see if it’s made a decent mould or left a load of air gaps.

I’ve yet to compare the two cost-wise. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much in it, but then the RTV usually has a hefty shipping charge, and requires disposable paraphernalia as well. And it *is* only a thin coat that I’ve applied so far. If it works, it probably more than justifies the cost though, as it’s so much more well-suited to the task than the Oogoo. I’m also not yet sure whether the Oogoo would react badly with the clay that I use: I’ve heard the acetic acid it gives off can have that effect, and if it ruined the clay it would be rather an expensive mistake.

A New Mask at Last

After Christmas I carried on with the cold porcelain, and I really think it has potential. You can add fresh porcelain directly on to a piece that’s already dried for a start. Here’s the Krampus face from the last post with a few more details. Now I just have to figure out how to paint him:

Cold Porcelain Krampus

I also used it to make part of this wand for a Harry Potter event.  I found a straight (ish) twig in the garden, dried and trimmed it.  I added details with cold porcelain, a glue gun and a marble, then painted it all black.  I then re-painted it to look like wood again and added some gold paint details.  Quite fun, give it a go!

Harry Potter Wand

… and some other little bits and bobs still in progress. I’ll be combining it with mask making next. Watch this space.

I finally found time (and a clear work surface) to make another mask sculpt this spring- my second since returning from Florence.

clay mask sculpt Clay Mask Sculpt

 

I had a few different ideas about what I wanted it to look like. I’d like to make a mask with rabbit ears soon, but for this face I felt the horns were better suited.

Mask design ideas

And here it is so far: cast, papier mache’d, popped out of the mold and trimmed.  Next stage is painting and finishing, along with another two devil masks and a lil Cthulhu who are all at the same stage.

Horned Mask

Mask Making After Florence

I was buzzing to get started on mask making when I returned from Florence but it was going to take a while to gather the materials and equipment.  Luckily I still had a few old half-finished masks lying around from last year.  I’d left them in various states after booking my course in Florence, as I figured I’d probably learn more there than I would by completing them straight away.  I wasn’t too worried about ruining them as I’d learned a bit about how to design a mask to fit a face properly since making them!

I started on the old Cthulhu mask.  I managed to find a british equivalent of the paint from Florence that resulted in a much more controlled cracked effect than my attempts last year.  The paints used for the colour were a bit of a puzzle and I managed to make a bit of a mess with a cat mask before giving up with them.  It might just have been an error in translation, but I did some more experimenting and managed to layer up a selection of others for a fairly pleasing result eventually.

I also had a go at adding gold details to the last cat mask, and leaving the background white to see the result of the aging effect more clearly.  Although it looks better in real life than this photo makes out I still think I need to work on that a bit.  I also managed to cover this second Cthulhu in red fluff after trying to polish him too early.  Again, hooray for learning processes.

Then, finally, I had everything I needed to start a new mask, including a rare full day off work!  I made a new clay sculpture using my mask from Florence as a reference, cast it in plaster, and have left it to cure.  The real test will be in a week or so when I attempt to make a first mask from the mold.  Til then I’ll just have to amuse myself with other projects.

Mask Making in Florence

After my experiments last summer making masks I decided I wanted to learn a little more about how the papier mache mask is made in Italy. I scoured the internet and bookshop for related articles and texts, and quickly came across The Masks of Prof Agostino Dessi.

The book itself is beautifully produced, filled with full-page photographs and for anyone interested in masks it’s well worth obtaining.  By that point I’d seen a lot of masks and Agostino’s stood out to me as some of the best around: unique and far more like pieces of art than mass produced partywear… So, buoyed up by the mad artistic enthusiasm that grabs me from time to time, I got in touch and asked him if it would be possible for me to visit him and learn how he does it.

And he said yes.

So, I booked my hotel and flights and set off on my own for Florence at the end of March.  I’d only been to Italy once before, had a tourist-level grasp of Italian from listening to the Pimsleur Italian course for a few months (which I heartily recommend: no other language course has stuck in my mind so well.  Check it out of your library for free), and was travelling alone.  It was a bit daunting.  Especially when I made the mistake of looking up reviews for Expedia just after booking.  It’s a bit like looking up your symptoms to self-diagnose: you’ll always find links to the worst possible scenario and people don’t generally go online to post “actually it was all fine”.  So, to break the trend: it was all fine.  Expedia was great, communicative and easy to use.  London City Airport was fast, easy to drive to and navigate internally as it’s so compact.  Air France were friendly and the flight was pain-free which was nice: my hearing was impaired and my ears hurt for several weeks after the flight home from Venice last year.  So, credit where it’s due, even if it’s not as exciting as “and then the engine blew up on the runway and we all had to be evacuated”… an incident involving the same airline and airport about a week earlier that I’m glad my parents told me about after the trip.

Agostino Dessi's mask shop in Florence
Agostino Dessi’s mask shop on Via Faenza, Florence

And Florence was beautiful.  The people endlessly helpful, and I got chatting to so many more people than I would have if I hadn’t travelled alone.  I stayed for a week, touring the city in the mornings and studying with Agostino in his beautiful mask shop every afternoon.  I had the best time.  THE BEST time.  I learned so much, saw so much, and can’t wait to go back.  It’s a gorgeous city filled with incredibly talented people, so many of whom are based in the streets around Agostino’s shop that they seem to be forming an artistic quarter, which can only be a good thing.

I had my own little corner of the shop to work in
Agostino’s shop.  It took me a week of evenings to produce my mask from scratch, so I can only imagine the sheer quantity of man-hours contained in this one image.

One of the many problems I’d had with the masks I’d tried to make before was getting them to fit a real face.  I’d been making a clay replica of my own face and then building the mask on top, but then found that the finished item was too wide, narrow, too close to the eyes, or didn’t have enough space for a nose.  Just being able to recreate a face doesn’t mean it’s the ideal shape for a mask.

Sculpting the face in clay, then embellishing with details
Sculpting the face in clay, then embellishing with details

My first day at the shop was almost entirely spent getting the proportions correct according to a set of rules that should eliminate that problem.  Fingers crossed I can remember it all from my notes now I’m home!

After casting the sculpt in plaster I started to apply the papier mache over a couple of evenings.
After casting the sculpt in plaster I started to apply the papier mache over a couple of evenings.
Painting the mask
Painting the mask

Then I painted the undercoat for a cracked and antiqued surface, before adding the details and finish.

The finished mask
The finished mask

I’m really happy with the final result, and can’t wait to try recreating the whole process at home!  Watch this space.

Mask Painting

Having amassed a collection of blank masks, the time had come to start painting them.  I’ll be the first to admit that colour is not my strongest point, so I’m glad I’ve got a few to play with!

Red Devil Mask

A basic red devil mask with silly eyebrows.  I’m thinking about adding some gold detailing to make it more interesting, or maybe some occult symbols across the forehead.

Bark Testure Mask   Red Bark Mask

Here I tried a technique for an aged, cracked surface.  If I ever want to do a bark texture mask, I’ll know how.  The red one resulted in much larger cracks, perhaps because my red paint is much older and thicker.

Sun Mask

I tried using gold glass paint to create the raised gold details on this chap.  It worked, but I still prefer the thicker, less uniform lines with the gold leaf that I did a month or so ago.

Cat Mask

And a cat mask.  A more refined crackled surface, painted with watercolours.  I’d like to age this a bit and add a layer of varnish, but I rather like it and don’t want to spoil it with a technique that fails so I’ll have to experiment a bit more before finishing him off.