Let me say at the outset this is a mainly practical seminar though I will say a few words on masks in our culture, the potential use of masks in druidry and a laypersons stab at the psychology of wearing a mask. The practical part is my evolved method of doing things and as with all things creative, feel free to change, experiment and above all improve upon these methods. It is also presented in quite a detailed way to encourage those who feel anxious at the thought of making anything, to read and prepare thoroughly before beginning and so hopefully lessen the risk off personal artistic disappointment later.
I don' t quote sources as it is mostly my own thoughts, though I may have checked dates and characters starring in films etc on the internet, if you want to read further just google the film's name.
When Bracken asked me to write a seminar I admit I was daunted, not knowing what I could write about and it was she herself that suggested I write about making masks after seeing my two initial efforts on the parcel shelf in the back of our car, so here's to Bracken who can grasp an opportunity for a seminar from the strangest of places.
The subject of the seminar is dryly entitled, " Making Masks with Plaster Bandages", ..........yes the ones they used to wrap you in when you had a broken arm - now reinvented as a craftspersons material of choice.
Before we begin working on making an actual mask here are a few words on masks in the arts, you probably know most of this already but it is good to focus on the mask aspect as it may give you inspiration later.
The first masked man I came in contact with as a child was through watching repeats of the popular American TV import, ' The Lone Ranger' played by Claton Moore with his Native American sidekick Tonto, (though we innocently called them Indjuns in those black and white days ) with his memorable cry of "High Ho Silver Away" and the classically trumpeted theme music from the William Tell Overture . Tonto's horse was called Scout I remember. The Lone Ranger, an ex Texas Ranger wore a simple black mask with eyeholes cut out of it made from his dead brothers vest, he rode his white stallion Silver and shot silver bullets at the bad guys. Being made of silver and expensive to make, he only shot when he really needed to... the series was entertaining, stirring and highly moral. A new film is being made of this American classic to be released in 2013. This simple type of cloth mask was also popular with Don Deigo de la Vega, a wealthy ranchero with a social conscience, more widely known as his alter-ego Zorro. Zorro was initially played by Tyrone Power and much more recently by Anthony Hopkins with his mask and mantle falling to his protegee Antonio Banderas as the original Zorro aged and needed a replacement to carry on the cause. Banderas starred opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones who played the lost daughter of the aged Zorro.
The theme of the everyday self being hidden behind a mask in order to fight evil and right wrongs has been explored thoroughly by Marvel Comics and the like and films spawned from their characters, such as Batman - real identity millionaire Bruce Wayne and Spiderman - alter ego meek college boy Peter Parker. Often the wrong doers were also masked such as The Penguin, The Riddler, Catwoman and others and interesting sub story lines developed revealing what drove the characters to wear their masks and the need for the villans to unmask and so defeat them. The mask they wore represented a vital key to their powers and wearing the mask would give the hero the edge either through putting on superhuman powers along with the mask or turning sharply from one side their personality to another.
That the mask might become a tool with an intelligence of its own to drive these changes was cleverly explored through the Loki mask in the film starring Jim Carey simply called 'The Mask'. This mask transformed the wearer by getting rid of their social inhibitions and giving them limitless physical powers and capabilities, expressed by the change from reality to computer graphic imagery. Based on a comic book series, the violence of those turned into dangerous anti heros by the mask was toned down to match the character of the person wearing the mask, often to great comic effect as when the dog puts on the mask. Chillingly the last scene shows the mask floating away, seemingly self aware and ready to enrapture it's next owner.
The use of a mask as a tool of forced identity concealment and later as punishment was written about by Alexandre Dumas in his book, 'The Man in the Iron Mask', a story about the King of France's twin brother. It is still not known if this is pure fiction or based on fact and was initially made into a black and white film which as a child gave me nightmares for when the mask is at last removed, the prince's hair and beard had nearly strangled and chocked him. Somehow to me the tension of this scene this was more graphic in the black and white version than the later 1998 colour film. Of course the thought of being imprisoned inside a heavy metal mask with no one to speak to and no one knowing who you truly are is still unsettling and causes you to think about anyone paralyzed inside their own bodies or imprisoned for whatever reason and unable to communicate and escape. The punishment in the film was that the bad king was defeated by his unmasked brother with help from the four musketeers and he was then in turn forced to wear the mask whilst the good prince took his place as king and ushered in a golden age in France.
A mask was used to hide the facial disfigurement and disturbed genius of Erik the original architect of the Paris Opera House in the gothic tale of mystery and romance entitled 'The Phantom of The Opera'. Eric abducts the beautiful Christine and after giving her secret voice coaching lessons falls in love with her. Later she snatches the mask of his face revealing the physical horror beneath and psychologically the unmasking shatters the shaky mental stability of Eric. He becomes increasingly jealous and aggressive towards Christine's lifelong friend Rauol who he sees as a rival for Christine's love causing Eric to take revenge upon him through torture. Eric's instability accelerates and he sets in motion a series of events against the whole management of the Opera House. Christine is torn between pity for Eric and horror and as the story reaches a climax Erik raises his mask to kiss Christine and she kisses him back before being released to marry Raoul. Erik soon dies of a broken heart.
The iconic, shiny, black face mask and respirator of Darth Vader has become a well known icon of evil to those following the Star Wars saga. In the films we see the Jedi knight Anakin Skywalker who held such promise as a force for good, deteriorate mentally, being manipulated by those who follow the 'dark side'. He finally chokes his wife before receiving horrific wounds and burns during battle with his former teacher and master Obi-Wan Kenobi. Here at the side of a volcano he was left for dead, but rescued by Sith Emperor Palpatine and restored to life through cybernetic implants and the use of the mask respirator. Anakin completely turns to the dark side becoming Palpatines henchman Darth Vader. Seeking to overthrow the Emperor and replace him Vader tries to turn his son Luke Skywalker to the dark side so they can rule together. Luke horrified, fights his father but refuses the Emperors command to kill Vader, whereupon Palpatine tries to destroy Luke with lightning bolts. Luke begs for help from his father who rediscovering his own honour, saves Luke but is mortally wounded. He asks Luke to remove his mask revealing his true self then seeing his son with his own eyes commands him to flee before dying.
Finally the film of the comic 'V for Vendetta' is set in a post apocalyptic Britain, where the results of nuclear war have seen the emergence of a fascist dictatorship. Emerging as the sole survivor of a camp whose inmates were forced to take chemical injections , 'V' finds he has superhuman powers and begins a campaign to destroy all those involved and dons a Guy Fawkes Mask, wig and costume. By means of acts of terrorism against the state, including blowing up the Houses of Parliament 'V' seeks to force an uprising of the people to convince them to rule themselves. Following his death at the hands of Finch the head of the "Nose' (New Scotland Yard), Every, a young woman helped and mentored by 'V' takes over his role. She comes to the conclusion that the identity of the person in the mask is unimportant compared to the role they play, so making the mask identity itself the embodiment of the idea that is trying to be put across.
There is a whole genre of horror movie masks for films, such as 'Friday 13th' with Jason Voorhees and his Hockey Mask, Freddy Krueger's burnt face mask from the slasher film 'Nightmare On Elm Street', and Leatherface from the film 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre' where the gruesome characters have equally gruesome facemasks. Other masks you may wish to contemplate include Hanibal Lecter's muzzle mask in 'Silence of the Lambs' and Michael Myers masks in the Halloween series. Fantasy masks can help create aliens and monsters and recreate characters from books. Where would film making and theatre be without characters being able to wear an effective mask? The use of moulded latex masks in particular have been used in theatre and film to transform characters into for instance a whole host of aliens from other galaxies with subtly different head and face masks eg Klingons and The Borg from the Star Trek and Voyager series and Orcs and Goblins in the film 'The Lord of the Rings'.
Historically, death masks of famous people including royalty, artists and politicians have been made to record accurately a persons appearance for posterity. Shortly after death the body was held upright at a slopping angle and melted wax poured over the face to make a reversed image mould. Later liquid plaster was poured into this mould to form a solid and accurate facial image which could then be used by sculptors to make a bust of the head. Many death masks were made especially before the advent of photography and are on view in various museums across the world. These include Alfred Hitchcock, Napoleon Bonaparte, Lenin, Isaac Newton, Beethoven, Alfred Nobel, John Keats, Dante, Oliver Cromwell, Lincoln, George Washington (who had two life masks made before he died), William Shakespeare, and the gangster John Dillinger. When the science of Criminology was in it's infancy, death mask casts were made to record and collect data to try and link for instance facial features to criminality and also to record racial characteristics. Recently hung criminals were popular candidates for this treatment. in fact I have a friend who discovered her ancestor was the last person hung at Worcester Gaol and she later discovered a death mask photograph of him which was quite shocking for her. Before these more modern death masks, the Ancient Egyptians for centuries had been making death masks of their pharaohs, the most notable being the solid gold burial mask of Tutankhamon which is inlaid with coloured glass and semi precious stones.
We as druids may think to make a mask to use as a tool to augment our rituals and ceremonies, there they can be effectively used as a representative of an archetype, spirit, deity or totem. If we choose to use a mask in this way, we have to be aware of what we are doing, for in wearing a mask we drastically change our outward appearance to the world and then in this changed form react with it. Mask wearing ceremonies and rituals can be extremely powerful, showing us how to tap into unexplored potential parts of ourselves to gain deeper understanding of who we are. We are also able to experience what the effect of wearing wearing a mask and acting in character to the mask is doing both to us and the people around us and I suggest we have to be sensitive and take responsibility for this whilst wearing a mask. Whether or not we believe we have invoked a spirit or deity or any other force or form, whether we think the mask itself may be a symbol of liminality or a gateway to the otherworld, grounding yourself and those that you are with at the end of the ceremony or ritual is important. You must bring yourself fully back to everyday reality. A statement of intent at the beginning and a closing phrase to signify the end of this activity is a good psychological precaution as well as plenty of preparation time spent thinking out clearly beforehand what you intend to do.
Knowing we are trying to be something other than our ordinary selves gives us the freedom to act away from our own character to explore something fundamentally different. Our face is covered, our personal expressions hidden. What we now present to the world are the fixed features of the mask, this can be both terrifying and freeing at the same time. We choose when we put the mask on to become this mask character, we allow our everyday self to fade into the background . The expression of a mask is hard, there is no room for nuances of personal expression. It is impossible to show what we are feeling when we wear the mask unless we also use our bodies to communicate our feelings and intentions with sound, gesture, movement and dance. Mask wearing forces you to learn new ways to express yourself. Wearing a mask is a statement to others that you are not yourself, therefore the normal rules of social inter-reaction do not apply or are very much loosened. For instance in a relaxed setting a person crouching on all fours wearing a dog mask will immediately illicit some of the responses that a person would make to an actual dog, people for the most part are happy to play along and suspend their own beliefs. Wearing a mask gets you noticed, you are different, people will react and you have to be prepared for their reactions. In ceremony you are not only you, but The Wolf, or The Green Man, or The Sun or The Hag, whatever it is you feel called to portray. Preparatory work with your mask and a large mirror helps you to see who you have become. Practice moving, speaking, making gestures, characterisations, in doing so you will begin to feel comfortable with this new persona. How much you wish your own personal identity to be subsumed as you take on another role is a matter for deep thought, and it can be playfully done or more seriously entered into, just take it as far as commonsense and the comfort factor tells you to go.
Warnings aside, putting on a mask is just a theatrical extension of what we naturally do throughout the day. We all present different masks to the world depending on what we do and who we are with, though these masks are internal rather than external. Sometimes it is instructive fun to watch yourself or others putting on and taking off these internal masks. For instance, your business phone voice immediately changed to the voice you use for shouting at the dog when the phone goes back on the receiver. These masks though internal can often become as hard as a plaster mask, we may feel ourselves becoming rigid as we deal with certain people or situations, for often we have conditioned ourselves to behave in a certain way towards others out of fear or tension or perhaps because we don't wish that person to have access to our inner self. This inner mask barrier that we put up says we are prepared to show this part of ourself and no more. It is a defensive tool that we all use for self protection, but it can become a limiting tool that cuts us off from people and new experiences. How often are vast chunks of our life or that of others we know confined to a plaster straightjacket of conforming to other peoples ideas about us, and how often have we manufactured that straightjacket piece by piece ourself. We all have to wear masks at times, the trick is knowing when you are wearing one and why and when is a good time to loosen those ties.
So make yourself a mask and a new disguise to explore the other aspects of being, particularly if you feel constricted in some way, this is where mask making and wearing can be liberating. Have you wished to shine like the sun? Be expansive, give warmth and life, sizzle and fry...make yourself a solar mask and explore these sides of your personality either through group ritual with trusted friends or on your own if you prefer. Think of an element, how would you show say air as a mask, what colours would you use, would you have a human face or could this mask be more abstract. Have you a favourite God or Goddess figure that you would like to understand more, do research, meditate ,doodle, see what comes and make a mask of the impressions, wear the mask and explore the feelings and understanding it brings to you. An animal mask is often the most straightforward to make as there is plenty of visual material everywhere. If you are strongly drawn to different animals, a mask helps you become that animal and see the world through their eyes and gives you deeper understanding of it's world and so your own.
Just before we begin looking at the construction and design of your mask it is important to ask yourself what we want from mask itself, what is it's primary function, what are the practicalities of it's form. Mentally or with paper and pen consider how much you need to.......see through it, move in it ,speak through it and above all breathe in it? Will the design be comfortable to wear or will you get too hot and restricted and what could you do to improve the comfort qualities? Do you want to make it robust enough to wear it more than once? If so you may need a storage box, or perhaps display it attractively on a wall or shelf. How will you attach it to your head and wear it, consider what you might wear with it to complement it's effects and most vitally will it be secure and not fall off so ruining the atmosphere you have created? Of course thinking about it too much may spoil the fun for you, you may just wish to plunge into plaster, but as with everything find a balanced approach that speaks to you and gets your creative juices running, it is a fun and funny thing to do, particularly if a group of you work together. Mask making is a great opportunity for adults to indulge in some serious playtime.
Spend some time doing research on how you want the thing to look.
If you are trying to show an emotion on a mask, pull faces of yourself in a mirror and draw or photograph them. Look at cartoon characters and see how they are drawn to express different feelings.
If you want to make an animal mask get plenty of photographs from books or from the internet and remember as this will be a three dimensional model so get pictures from the side, 3/4 and front facing views.
Note what particular features the head of the animal has such as horns, ears, snout, tusks teeth, beak, think about how you could incorporate them. If they are large you will need to model these parts separately to later add to your mask base. A snout can be easily made and attached to a hole in the mask at the appropriate place. A long snout would give space for your jaw to move therefore you could make a full or 3/4 face mask. I've found that ears and horns can be added directly to the mask rather than through a hole in the base mask. Look carefully at your reference photographs for shapes.
Addition of symbols - likewise you may wish to incorporate say a stand up sun or moon shape as part of a headdress or crown. These can easily be modelled with plasticine modelling clay, overlain with plaster bandage then fitted to a half or 3/4 face mask using the technique given below. The best thing about using yourself as a model is that the mask will fit perfectly and will be an original.
Costs and Materials
The plaster bandages I initially used came in packs of 4 and cost around £5 and you could make a well developed character or animal mask from the pack with perhaps a little over, they can be ordered much more cheaply in larger quantities from the internet. Packs are available from your favourite craft or hobby shop. I have found that a couple of base coats of emulsion paint on both the inside and out, knits the bandage together filling little holes for a smoother application of paint, it can be any colour so just use up any spare emulsion paint you have. Acrylic paint is water based, comes in a wide range of colours and is easy to use, if you are using many different colours it is obviously more expensive, so this is another good reason for working in a group and sharing. The cheaper children's or artists brushes are fine for this type of work, stiffer ones are better than soft ones and you would probably need a fine one for details. With acrylic paint don't put out more than you need as it tends to dry out quickly and remember to wash your brush frequently as the paint hardens on it quite quickly. Left over paint can be used to coat the inside of the mask. At the end of a session be sure to give your brushes a final good clean with water and soft soap or detergent.
Mask making with plaster bandages is essentially a 2 person job, one to be the model and a second to lay the strips on the face.
Make your base mask in one session, this will take at least half an hour with an additional 5-10 minutes drying time on the face before you can take it off. After an overnight drying period more shape, texture and forms can be added to it. I found it is good to work on it a little every day, building up the textures and layers slowly, two or more masks may easily be worked on at once.
The model should wear old clothes and a plastic shower cap or wrap cling film around their hair to protect it. Then smear petroleum jelly over their facial skin and as a thicker layer over any hairy bits such as eyebrows or mustaches. Thankfully it doesnt pull your eyebrows out but if you are laying the bandage over a moustache or beard this would have a depth to it which affects the depth of the mask.
For comforts sake have an inflatable airbed or roll to lie on if you have one or an old cushion and mat if not, as you need to be lying on the floor for this procedure to happen. I suggest you cover all the area with an old sheet as everything gets messy.
Tuck kitchen roll into the neckline of anything the model wears as bits of plaster and drops of water will inevitably fall and splash so have kitchen roll to hand to mop up accidental spills particularly near the model's eyes.
Use an old tray or piece of cardboard to hold cut lengths of bandage.
You will need scissors and a small bowl bowl of water, an old towel or rag to wipe your fingers.
Prepare a whole cut bandage roll, (these are 5m x 3 inches) cut into strips an inch (2-3 centimetres) across and a variety of narrow ones in a different pile. It might be tempting to use long strips for speed but I think you get more strength overlaying shorter ones.
Have your suitably protected model lie down and after the fidgeting has stopped, tell them to close their eyes and take the opportunity to relax perhaps by listening to music.
Completely dip the strip in the water, then immediately pull the bandage between two fingers held close together to get rid of any excess moisture and to spread the plaster evenly over the mesh, then lay on the models face starting either on the forehead or around the eye.
Build up the bandage over the face in three layers one layer at a time, it is good to cross hatch the layers where you can to build up strength. Build up extra layers at the edges of the mask and across the bridge of the nose. Be careful at the eyes, leave plenty of space around them, the eyeholes can be made smaller by the addition of more bandage when the mask is off the face and if the nose area is to be filled over for a human type character, leave plenty of space around the nostrils for breathing.If you are making a snout or beak you will need to leave a hole at the nose area similar to what you would find on a human skull, but come a little way down the nose with the bandage to give an anchoring area for the snout which will be added later when the mask has partially dried out. Be ready to dab off water at these sensitive and tickly areas. Work high up into the hairline and perhaps a little way over leaving an area for the attachment of ears feathers hair etc later. Leave the mask on the face to harden slightly for between 4-5 mins from the last piece of the last layer being added, though you will find that parts of the mask start to naturally lift off the face before this time . If the model works the muscles of their face underneath the bandage you will find that the plaster bandage separates quite easily from most of the face. When the mask seems reasonably firm remove it completely and carefully after the model sits up. Lay the mask asside somewhere safe, in a box of scrunched up paper for instance or propped against a jug or jam jar and leave to harden overnight. The model should wash their face of any sticking bits of plaster and any tools cleaned and spills wiped up immediately.
Over the next day or so add extra decoration to extend the features, have your photographs or drawings handy to help you. Muzzles, beak, ears and horns that you wish to attach must first be formed around plasticine or modeling clay shapes. I use the drying base mask to help me with this, offering up the plasticine shape to the mask and fitting either to the contour for ears or if it were a muzzle or beak through the hole left at the masks nose space. If the new bits are to be fitted directly to the face, make a few pencil lines on the mask to help you when positioning. If you were making pigs ears for instance model with plasticine the inner shape of the ears then try it against the mask to get the contour of where the ear joins the face by pulling the plasticine or modeling clay to fit the curve of the mask. Then remove it away from the mask and work with damp plaster bandage as before on the outside edge of the plasticine to get the shape and depth of the ears, let it dry overnight. Once dryish you will find the plasticine will peel away quite easily and can be cleaned off, rolled into a ball and used again. Whilst the ear is still damp it can be attached with more damp bandage to the mask lining up with your pencil marks, It only takes a minute or two of holding it for it to harden into shape.
Last edited by skydove
on 30 Nov 2012, 21:34, edited 1 time in total.