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…