Greek Philosopher Mask 3

Two weeks ago, I discussed the inspirations for a Greek Philospher mask. Last week, I showed how this mask was built up. This week, my Greek Philosopher mask will be completed with the addition of paint and lacquer.

An Aside About Rocks

The ‘stone’ surface of the Greek Philosopher mask was painted to look similar to marble. To do this, I first set about finding what sort of marble I wished to imitate. In keeping with the faux-historicity of the mask, I decided to base the colors in the marble off of that which was available in the Hellenistic period. Additionally, I wanted to give the stone an aged appearance which fits with the thematic elements discussed in the inspirations post. My Greek Philosopher mask was to be made of material which imitates discolored Parian marble. Marble from the island of Paros is recognizable as a uniform, crystalline white marble (Washington 1898). The picture below depicts a magnified image of Parian marble.

From Washington 1898.  I wonder if that arrow is part of the original?

While no marble ages the same, generally Parian marble ages in such a manner to produce a distinctly orange-hued discoloration. This is possibly due to sub-surface oxalate migration or formation (Pinna 2015). Below are some pictures of discolored Parian marble. The first is a bust of Alexander. The second is Nike of Samothrace.

Bust of Alexander

Nike of Samothrace

The hues present in Parian marble statues is distinct from other sources from the area such as Carrara marble. This is the material used in several recognizable sculptures, such as Michelangelo’s Pietà (pictured below) and the Elgin Marbles. These figures often take on a more gray-hued discoloration with age. This is possibly due to fungal and/or bacterial growth on the surface (Marvasi 2008, Konkol 2009).

Michelangelo's Pietà

Stone in Paint

To produce the marble effect I wanted, I used a variant of a technique called Scagliola. To employ this traditional method for my modern Greek Philosopher mask, I mixed white latex paint with plaster of paris and acrylic paints which acted as pigments. While the surface was wet with the paint, I drew in paints of another pigment to form lines. Then, the light tone of the first few coats was given a dabbed on patina with warm-toned grays and browns to mimic approach the aged Parian marble look I wanted. Finally, carbon soot was rubbed on the dried paint.

After the painting was complete, I added highlighting by marring the surface. A nail was used to scratch the painted surface down to the bottom layers of the scagliola (beneath the dabbed gray, brown, and carbon). These scratches were added in the recessed corners of the surface such as the beard and hair. Additional scratches were added in a haphazard fashion to the smoother surfaces. By using the scratches on the surface, a more aged look is achieved. Applying the scratches to recesses of the surface of the mask mimics the patterns of marble which has been discolored due oils from the skin rubbing on the surface.

Greek Philosopher mask with painted and scratched surface

Sealed and Shined

As the Greek Philosopher mask was intended to be functional, the completed surface needed a sealant to prevent the paint from being removed or damaged during wear. Several coats of a water-tight lacquer was applied to the mask. This would prevent spills or rain from damaging the surface, and it would prevent sweat from damaging the interior. The lacquer I used gave the mask the appearance of a polished sheen. If I was to attempt this again, I am not certain I would use a glossy lacquer, as a matte coat might have been more appropriate for a stony surface.

A shiny lacquer coating

The Greek Philosopher Mask used to play Hades

The complete mask was officially shown to the public at Halloween party. Accommodating the wish of my date for a couple’s costume, I dressed as Hades and she as Persephone. The entire costume was a hit, the mask especially. I admit, I still wear the mask from time to time. Since this is one of my favorite works, I find it hard to resist popping it on for a good session of pondering.

Hades and Persephone pose at a party.  Remember to never drive drunk, always have Charon give you a ride back across the river.

Works Cited

Washington, Henry S. “The Identification of the Marbles Used in Greek Sculpture.” American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 2, no. 1/2, 1898, pp. 1–18. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Pinna, D., Galeotti, M. & Rizzo, A. herit sci (2015) 3: 7.

M. Marvasi, F. Donnarumma, A. Frandi, G. Mastromei, K. Sterflinger, P. Tiano, B. Perito, Black microcolonial fungi as deteriogens of two famous marble statues in Florence, Italy, In International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation, Volume 68, 2012, Pages 36-44, ISSN 0964-8305,

Nick Konkol, Chris McNamara, Joe Sembrat, Mark Rabinowitz, Ralph Mitchell, Enzymatic decolorization of bacterial pigments from culturally significant marble, In Journal of Cultural Heritage, Volume 10, Issue 3, 2009, Pages 362-366, ISSN 1296-2074,

Greek Philosopher Mask 2

Last week, I discussed the inspiration and first few layers of my Greek Philosopher mask. This week, I will be showing a bit more of the build process.

Building Up

The process I used to make my Greek Philosopher mask is very similar to what was used in the Witch mask design. The bulk of the body of the mask was constructed from my special paper mache material composed of shredded and chopped paper, plaster of paris, PVA glue, and water. The material is layered on in a rather slow process, considering the lengthy drying times for the thick material. Between each layer, I coat the mask in Mod Podge PVA glue to provide extra strength.

Greek Philosopher mask? More like fuzzy sheep face mask.

The Greek Philosopher mask is thickened with each layer, and elongated at the same time as the beard is constructed. The original holes cut for the eyes are over-expanded to give ample viewing room for the wearer and give room for a upper cheekbones. The nose is broadened from the cranial ridge from the first few layers. The cranial ridge is a design consideration to give additional strength to the build. A mouth is cut, and material is added to the edge to form the lips and mustache. The lips are flared outwards to mimic the shapes used in traditional Greek masks. This flared end is intended to increase the intensity of a sonorous voice for theater that predates many auditory enhancements we see today.

These lips are made for loudness.

The top of the head is built up with more material to give the illusion of voluminous hair in the finished piece. The Greek Philosopher mask is given an intense demeanor with the shape of material added to the forehead and eye sockets. The mask’s character is given heavy eyebrows and deep-set cheekbones to that effect. The shape of the eyes is triangular to give a more threatening or admonishing tone to the character.

Sanding Down

Finally, the mask is built up in the manner which I want. The surface is rough and oddly colored, but expression and characteristics for my Greek Philosopher mask are set. The next step is to sand out many off the imperfections to prepare for more detailed work. Since the material is composed of plaster, I would prefer not to inhale the dust. Sanding was performed outside on a day with an adequate breeze.

Taking shape and growing hair

After the mask was sanded, more material was added to coat the smoothed surface. This time, I used pure plaster of paris to form the more detailed and smooth bits. A watery mix of plaster was added to the face and beard, giving a smooth, finished look.

The hair was constructed from a dryer plaster mix. Strands of hair were shaped with a nail from this more solid mixture. The Greek Philosopher mask was given wavy hair. Many of the original Greek masks have curled hair to fit with the traits of the people in the region, but I opted to not use that. The logic is that the character is a hoary old thinker with less concern for his appearance. The weight of years of extra hair growth while consumed by meditation and thought would have naturally straightened the hair of the individual.

Finally, everything was sanded down again with a finer grained sandpaper to prepare the surface for paint.


Next week, I will be showing the painting inspirations and methods to produce an appropriate look for the Greek Philosopher mask and finishing the build.

Greek Philosopher Mask 1

One of my favorite creations of late has been my Greek Philosopher mask. For the next three posts, I’m going to go over the construction process I used for it.

The Madness

The inspiration for the design of the Greek Philosopher mask came from three sources. The first source, and perhaps the most subtly influential one, is The Frogs by Aristophanes. From the wikipedia article, the plot centers around “the god Dionysus, who, despairing of the state of Athens’ tragedians, travels to Hades (the underworld) to bring the playwright Euripides back from the dead. (Euripides had died the year before, in 406 BC.) He brings along his slave Xanthias, who is smarter and braver than Dionysus.” The play is a comedy of language, as many of the period were, and pulls weighty issues to light with a certain levity. I had the opportunity to play a portion of this back in the day with my dramatic other half. As such, I have fond memories of playing Dionysus against my matched foil. This inspiration is something which, I suspect, hid beneath my conscious thought as I came across my other sources.

cover of Stone's Reach by Be'lakor

Near the time of its remastered release, I became enraptured by the album Stone’s Reach by Be’lakor. I was still delving into the melodic death metal scene at that time, and this album had a profound effect on my current musical preferences. The lyrical content of the songs varies, and no cohesive theme runs through the complete work. However, the mind is a beast of patterns. Where there are stripes, reason first seeks a tiger. Lyrics I heard (and occasionally misheard) led me to find commonalities among other songs on the album, and a personal narrative was formed. This was influenced by the album cover, pictured above, which is a purposefully framed shot of the classic sculputre “Perseus with the Head of Medusa“. With my head in a darkened world of chthonic crypts and my eyes pointed toward the perfectly-hewn form gracing the front, I heard the essential lyric:

“The carvings have outlived the hand
Which bled to first begin them”

The final bit of inspiration for the Greek Philosopher mask was taken from an reproduction Greek “philosopher” mask. I originally went on a Google spree looking for the right work to inspire mine. There are some lovely collections out there of originals, such as the British Museum. You can view the pieces online, such as the ones pulled out by the linked advanced search. I ended up being attracted to a modern reproduction from a (now defunct) website. It can still be accessed via The Wayback Machine. The mask in question was entitled “Philosopher”, whence mine inherited the name.

Greek Philosopher mask reproduction which was one of the important inspirations for this project.

The Make

The first layer of the Greek Philosopher mask was produced in a bowl. The interior was contoured in such a way that it would roughly match my facial features. This method differs from the mask creation detailed in the Witch project. In the Witch mask, the back side was built upon from a flat surface, with less regard to a good fit against the face. For the Greek Philosopher mask, I wanted something which would fit well for long periods with heavy movement, similar to the expectations of a good theater mask.

After a bit more material was added to the face, a head covering was added. Simple eye slits were cut which would later be broadened with further building.

The beginning of the build

Next week, I will cover the construction a bit more, and the mask will begin to resemble it’s final form.


Continued from the last two weeks, here is the final installment of The Witch Mask.


With the witch mask exterior painted and sealed, the internals were applied.  The interior was painted black with acrylic paint and sealed with Mod Podge.  I wanted to avoid using a strap around the back, as I have found that is unreliable for keeping things on without slipping.  Instead, I opted to use a hat.  Cutting the bill off of a baseball cap, the fabric was glued in place with hot glue.  Sheer black fabric was placed over the mouth and eye holes, as pictured below.  When pulled taut, this allows the wearer to see through the fabric while not allowing others to see the eyes.  The fabric was glued in place with PVA.  To keep the fabric taut, masking tape was used while the glue was drying, and it was removed upon completion.

Mask internals showing hat, blackout fabric, and paint

A hood was sewn to fit around the mask.  Made from black cotton quilting fabric, the forward opening of the hood fit directly to the mask edge.  This was secured with hot glue.  Remaining black cotton fabric was sewn into an impromptu robe.


A nest of hair was made for the witch mask.  The material I chose to use was raffia.  This fiber is produced from the frond of the raffia palm.  While you might have seen this material used in twine or hats, it is also used in traditional African tribal masks.  The raffia fibers were combed parallel to each other and folded in half.  Along the fold, a double stitched seam was sewn to hold the fibers together.  The stitch distance was short enough to penetrate most of the individual fibers so they would be retained during use.  The hairpiece was secured with staples to the paper mache portion of the mask and sewn onto the black hood with some quick stitches.

Witch mask hair made from raffia fibers

The Completed Witch Mask with Costume

Pictures of the completed mask can be seen below.  The lighting isn’t great, and the photos don’t capture dark, unnerving quality this has.  I blame my old phone for the poor picture quality.

The witch mask, completed

I wish the gloves matched the robe.

Tales of Terror

As you can tell from the previous photo, I made the mask into a complete Halloween costume.  Since I’m an adult, I naturally decided that I would wear the costume around town.  On my walk to work, I received plenty of stares.  The best part was when I took the elevator to my office.  I got on the elevator, let the doors close, and squatted in the corner near the buttons.  I did not speak.  The next few times someone would come on the elevator, I would slowly arise from my squatting position to my full standing height.  Eventually, someone went to my floor, and I got off to get some work done, but not before I scared one of my colleagues so badly, he refused to take the elevator.

On my way home from work, took the same path back.  Possibly my favorite reaction occurred when I passed by the library and two guys started shouting at me about how scary/awesome I was.  I ignored them for a beat, stopped, and turned my mask toward them while keeping my body rigid.  They screamed like little girls and ran off, the perfect reaction.

I noticed two people running towards me at one point.  One held a camera, the other a microphone.  They were interviewing people on campus for a Halloween special.  I was very excited to be interviewed.  Yet, my commitment to staying in character is very strong.  I remained silent.  All the microphone would pick up from the witch mask’d man was a deep rasping of breath.  The only motion I made to the camera was a slight tilt of my head, staring directly forward.  The interviewers loved this, but I could tell they wanted more.  After about 5 minutes of footage, I just walked away.

Since Halloween fell on a Friday that year, there were loads of parties around town.  I decided that the witch mask needed to go make some friends.  I stopped at my usual bar at one point, and I just stared at the bouncer.  Later, talking to him, I found out that this actually freaked him out pretty bad.  At the time, he remained stalwart, laughing off the fear and asking for my ID.  Since I forgot my wallet at home, I decided I didn’t need a drink that night.  No, the fear sweat would sustain me.

My last stop was a fraternity/sorority party at a house near my apartment.  I stood outside on their lawn while I could see them staring at me through the blinds.  As the watching individual turned to tell her other scantily clad friends about the creepy thing in the yard, I would dash forward and freeze, mimicking schoolyard red-light-green-light games.  Eventually, I made it up to their door, and they were truly terrified.  I stood there, and I was about to leave when some guys came out and confronted me.  One pulled my mask off, which I found rude, but I suppose I can’t complain since I was being creepy.  Leaving with a “I’ve been kicked out of better parties than this”, I decided to end my night.

To this day, the Witch Mask hangs on my wall.  A solemn visage to give visitors pause when they enter my home – a real conversation starter.


Continuing from last week’s post, here is part 2 of The Witch Mask.

Designing the Face

After several more layers of my special paper mache/plaster mix, the mask has been built up to a the final texture.  For this mask, I believe I have 5 more layers since the first two I showed last week.  The top layer is sanded slightly to remove most of the major surface defects.  I wanted to keep the surface slightly unfinished for this project, as I was hoping to evoke a sense that this witch mask was produced in a rough, imperfect manner.

The face design is similar to the inspiration.  The eyes and mouth are cut with a Dremel tool.  The cuts are very shallow on the mask.  Cutting into this material is not as simple as it seems.  Deep cuts can cause the cut wheel to snag due to the flexibility of the material.  Yet the high strength requires mechanical cutting to pierce the repeated PVA and gypsum layers.  The cuts end up turning brown due to burning from the friction.

Witch Mask, first cuts.

After using a dremel for the shallow cuts, the final cuts are made with a thin chisel.  A razor blade is used to cut out any remaining ridges inside.  Finally, the interior of the open areas are sanded down with the Dremel, giving an even texture for working.

The shallow cuts are finished with other tools


The first layer for this project was a tan acrylic paint.  Darker browns and black are used to texture the first layer of paint.  Certain areas receive more attention than others for the shadowing colors.  Contours of the mask are shaded and highlighted to give depth to the relatively round surface.  Although the witch mask is not meant to look like a real human skull would, shading is applied to certain areas such as the cheekbone.  The lips are painted red, and the teeth are white.  This was done in a sloppy manner to fit with the theme of the piece.  Edges of the eyes and mouth are painted black where the cuts took place.  I wanted the final product to be a very obvious facade.

Paint is applied.  Looks like a rough makeup day.

After the mask was painted, the paint surface was roughened with mid-grain sandpaper.  This roughening helps remove the obvious brush strokes from the mask and age it.


Additional shading was added using carbon soot.  A candle was lit, and the mask was held close above the flame.  The point was not to burn the mask, but make it look burnt.  Soot from the candle would collect on the mask when done properly.  By angling the mask over the flame, the soot collected on the surface in different sorts of strokes.  A little practice is recommended first before trying this at home so you don’t burn your artwork and so you can get a feel for how to “brush” the soot.

For this mask, I sooted the eyes near the bridge of the nose, the underside of the eyes increasing near the edge, the actual edge of the mask, under the nose, and between the teeth.  The carbon was blended in certain places with my finger.

To seal in the paint and soot, several layers of Mod Podge were applied.  Since soot may run in water based environments, I elected not to brush on the Mod Podge.  Instead, I dabbed it on for the first layer.  This produced an uneven surface at first, but this effect was minimized by adding more layers.

Soot is added for shading

To be continued…


In early 2014, I was inspired to make some mask art.  The final piece has no proper name, but I refer to it when speaking to others as “The Witch Mask”.  Work on the mask was undertaken over several months, finally completed in October 2014.  This post and the related follow up posts will detail the creation of this mask from concept to reality.

Inspiration 1 – Israeli Stone Mask

The original inspiration for the creation of the witch mask came from two sources.  First, was an article on the world’s oldest masks going on display in Jerusalem.  An article in National Geographic goes over the exhibit.  One of the masks in particular caught my eye as something creepy and unnatural.   Among the finds recovered from Nahal Hamar is this Neolithic stone mask:

Israeli Neolithic stone mask ca. 7,000 BCE

It is reported to be ~9,000 years old.

This unnamed piece was discovered in the vicinity of Horvat Duma by a farmer.  The journey from field to find is slightly unpleasant as well.  According to the story, the mask was purchased from the farmer who discovered it by Israeli general Moshe Dayan.  However, Gen. Dayan was not the nicest guy.  While he fancied himself an archaeologist, he acquired much of his collection through shady means.  An article by Raz Kletter (see § 4.3) pulls quotes from the various memoirs of Gen. Dayan relating how he did not actually purchase the mask, he just paid the driver to take him there.

The emptiness of the mask’s expression and the sordid tale to accompany it makes for some interesting inspiration.  But it took a second source to produce my idea.

Inspiration 2 – Witch

The image below is a digital painting I found while browsing around Reddit.  The work as I saw it had no source to accompany it at the time, but it struck a chord with me.  The empty expression, the facial features, and the darkness produced a connection to the Israeli mask.  Even if they weren’t related by, there was a certain kinship to them.  At that point I was inspired to create.

"Witch" by Maaria Laurinen

With post facto research, I have discovered that the illustration is entitled “Witch”, appropriately enough.  It was published to DeviantArt around 2008 or 2009 by Maaria Laurinen.  You can view more of her work here and here.

The First Layers

The witch mask was started with an oval ring cut from matboard.  The oval hole in the center had an opening with an approximate size to fit my face.  Using matboard gave me a flat surface to start building up the contour.

The face was produced in a layered process using a paper mache variant I enjoy using.  I create this using shreds of old printouts from the lab.  The first step is to grind the paper with water in a blender to produce a slurry.  Then I press out the water using cheesecloth.  The still wet paper mash is mixed with white glue (polyvinyl acetate) and plaster of paris (anhydrous calcium sulfate).  The glue gives helps bind the paper shreds together, and the plaster provides weight and strength.  The final texture of the material is like an old fashioned plaster cast.  It makes for a nice stone-like feel.

First Layers of the witch mask

A side view of the first two layers.

For the start of the witch mask, I did domed shape with a nose on the first layer.  Each layer, after drying for several days, is coated with matte surface Mod Podge or sealant to keep the things together.  In this case, drying the first layer was accelerated by placing it in an oven.  Use of the oven degrades the PVA white glue, causing the slight browning of the first layer shown above.  The matte surface is important, as it lends greater surface area for future layers or paints to bond to.  Pictures above depict the front and side view of the mask after the inital domed/nose layer, Mod Podge, and the start of the second layer.

After everything was dried and coated, I tested the fit of the mask for the first time.

A blank slate.

To be continued…