Leather Maskmaking

With Halloween on the way, I wanted to make a mask for a costume and thought it would be a good excuse to try leather maskmaking.  I’d used leather before in bookbinding and enjoyed working with the material, so it only seemed natural to have a go at using it for masks as well. 

The Leather Arrives

 

There was slightly more leather included in the delivery than I expected, but that just means I’ll have more to experiment with…

trimsoak

Leather mask making seems fairly simple.  Soak the leather.  Form the leather.  Dry the leather.  Paint the leather.  I’m sure it gets more complicated when you want to engrave or singe designs into the surface, but for the moment it’s easy enough to make a form.

Leather Stag Mask

My first leather mask was an antlered half face mask with a rather large nose.  I’d been watching the new Hannibal TV show, so Will Graham’s nightmare stag may well have crept into my subconcious only to be released in mask form, but it took a friend to point out the link!

Black Leather Stag Mask

The painted leather stag mask.

I had an odd-shaped piece of leather left over from where I’d cut out the stag, so I turned it into a smaller horned mask:

Leather Horned Mask

I actually like the form of this one more than the stag.  For a start it’s less likely to poke people’s eyes out when they stand near you.

You’d think I’d start making the mask for the costume after that, but no: further distration ensued.  I’d been wanting to make a Bioshock Splicer mask for a while, but thought the ears would be too delicate for a papier mache.  Would it work in leather instead?

Leather Splicer Mask  Leather Splicer Mask

Yes, yes it does.

I should point out the kitchen roll in the second photo is actually supporting the cheeks while they dry in position.  Glamorous, I know, but I ran out of ramekins.

Conclusion: leather maskmaking is FUN, and will be happening again shortly.

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Masks and Moldmaking

After making a few masks by applying the papier mache directly onto the sculpt (see previous post) I decided I wanted a way to produce multiple copies of the same design.  This’d make it less labour-intensive, quicker, and would save me worrying about ruining hours of work on a mask by getting the decoration wrong.  So, back to the research.  In Venice, they seemed to create a clay sculpt of their design, then cast it in plaster to create a mold for the papier mache.

Plaster of Paris seems to set in most circumstances (even underwater) so I skipped the clingfilm and poured it straight over a new plasticine sculpt.  My suspicions proved correct, and it set with no problems.  I can only assume it was the glue component of the papier mache that didn’t like the plasticine in my last post.

Plasticine mask moldmaking   Plasticine mask moldmaking

The plasticine then peeled out of the mold easily, leaving a smooth surface for the mache.

Plasticine moldmaking mask

And there we go!  A replicable design.  The loose bits of mache need sticking down, the edge trimming, and a smooth layer added on top, but it still takes a fraction of the time the other method did.  Still- I’ll use the method from the last post if I want to make a one-off mask, or a more complex design.  The more complex the surfaces, the harder it’ll be to get it out of the mold.

Plasticine mask moldmaking

Red and Gold Mask

Here I experimented with a method for raised gold detailing using replica gold leaf.  Think I need some practice.  I also tried adding a wash of dark paint and then removing most of it to give an aged appearance and visually deepen the recesses.  Again, not satisfactory and will need a good bit of experimentation before I try it on a mask I like!

Gold Detailing Mask   Gold Detailing Mask

Here I used the same technique to create the raised lines, but instead of using gold leaf, I picked them out with gold acrylic paint above by just covering the whole area in gold paint, and below by trying to stick to the raised areas, and distressing the rest with another wash of dark paint.  I think it makes it look like it’s just been dug up, rather than carefully stored and aged for half a century, but there we go.

V Mask

All of this was to try and make a mask for a friend, and here’s what I produced by the end of that period of experimenting.  My first finished mask: gold leaf raised detailing on blue and gold.

Let the Maskmaking Begin…

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 Mask Sculpt    Plasticine Mask Mache

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.

Plasticine Devil Sculpt Plasticine Devil Mache

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.

Plasticine Devil Mask

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…