Witch3

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

Internals

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.

Hair

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.

Witch2

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

Paint

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.

Fire

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…

Witch1

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…