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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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

Cats, Devils and Cthulhu

Back to papier mache masks.  I’d started to get a little fed up with plasticine as a sculpting material.  It was difficult to work with and took forever to create the details that I wanted so I ordered some clay and a couple of airtight containers, and a couple of weekends ago finally found the time to try it out.

What a difference!  I can’t imagine how I put up with the plasticine now.  Using clay has reminded me how much I used to love working with it at school many many moons ago.  It’s so much more agreeable and much easier to smooth.  I began by making a cat and devil sculpt:

Cat Mask Clay Sculpt Devil Mask Clay Sculpt

As you can see, the cat mask was sculpted over the same clay face I used previously.  For the devil mask, I pushed the clay into a modroc cast I’d made of that same face:

Pushing clay into the face cast

This essentially replicated the underlying clay face, but in damp, workable clay.  I added details and chopped off the lower part of the face, and all this resulted in a much closer fit than the cat mask.

Devil Mask Cat Mask

The cat and devil mask popped out of the molds.  They need trimming around the eyes and edges, but otherwise it seemed to work brilliantly!  The cat mask is based on the traditional cat masks found in Venice.  I liked the simple form of them, so didn’t change too much when I made my own.

Sketching Cthulhu

And finally, I wanted to try something a little more complex, and Cthulhu seemed like the perfect subject (when is he not?).  I pondered over how to do the tentacles for some time.  The sketch on the far right would no doubt be easiest: a stylised straight tentacle look.  But who wants to go for the easiest option?  I studied some photos of classical statues with curly beards, then went for it:

Cthulhu Clay Sculpt Cthulhu Mask

The clay Cthulhu sculpt, and the resulting mask as it was this morning; a layer of glue drying so slowly that I had to hold it for the photo otherwise it’d stick itself to my favourite Generic Background paper, and we can’t have that.

In case you can’t tell, I also discovered Instagram.  I’m using it to document my mask making trials and errors as I always have my phone nearby while I work and it’s easy enough to snap a work in progress.  My camera lives upstairs in a drawer, and sometimes you have to be quick before something dries/runs/sets in the wrong place.  See what I’m up to on Instagram.

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…

 

Venice

I visited Italy for the first time this April on a long weekend with friends in Venice.  Some subconscious part of my brain had expected the stunning architecture and beautiful views to extend only as far as could be seen from the Grand Canal; the rest of Venice dilapidated or modern-built, hidden behind a preserved façade for the benefit of tourists.  However, I was hard pushed to find even a single alleyway or building that looked out of place, even on the less commercial side of the island.  Tiny canals criss-crossed with walkways and bridges; sun-dappled courtyards hidden in a labyrinth of passageways, all barely wide enough for two people to walk abreast; trees growing from rooftops; and alleyway walls adorned with unexpected statues and paintings.

Venice
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Canals of Venice

Even the graffiti was fascinating…

Plague Doctor Pigeon Graffiti in Venice
Plague Doctor Pigeon Graffiti in Venice

And of course, there were the masks.  Most shops were happy for us to take photographs, so we took full advantage to snap away.  I ended up buying a colourful horned mask to take home (how could I not?) which caused confusion at the airport x-ray machine where I was taken aside and asked to unpack the bag to reveal what was inside the many layers of packaging.  I’d like to think they were startled to see a devil grinning his way through the machine, but it’s more likely to have been the metallic outer bag of the coffee I was taking home!

Masks of Ca' Macana
One of the many beautiful masks of Ca’ Macana

I’ve experimented a little with pseudo-venetian masks in the past, but this trip has re-fired my determination to master the techniques.  Many of the masks shops also run workshops, and I’d absolutely love to return there someday for an in-depth training session.  In the meantime I’ll carry on pottering around with moulds and plasters and see where I get to on my own.