Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Isabelle and All Species Day

All Species Day is a local holiday in the Central Vermont area, put on by local artists and consisting largely of young kids putting on homemade animal masks and costumes and marching from Hubbard Park down the main street in Montpelier. I personally haven't worn my masks in this celebration, as I want the focus to be on the work of the younger artist in the family! Here she is with this year's creation, a bear mask which her father helped her put together and she decorated. Last year she and her father made a sea horse mask. If nothing else, All Species Day makes for some great photo opportunities!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mask Shape and Warpage

As I've been casting different masks using papier mache strips, I've been noticing that the masks' overall shape has a lot do do with the degree to which they try to warp during drying.

Above I have posted pics of the backs and insides of a "Rip" mask, a "Rival" horse mask, and a little eyeball mask.

The "Rip" mask really wants to warp during drying. I believe it's because the mask has an overall cylindrical/conical shape with a wedge cut out of the bottom. I think papier mache strips tend to want to pull along curved surfaces as they dry. There is nothing to stop that pull along the bottom of this mask, so it warps. You can see that I wound up putting a triangular "plug" in the jaw to prevent this.

The horse mask "Rival" warps only a tiny bit during drying. I believe this is because the cylindrical/conical part of this mask is closed, and the open part on the bottom is circular. As the papier mache strips dry and try to pull, there isn't anywhere that they can move to. All the available space is filled.

The little eyeball mask does not warp at all during drying. It doesn't have much of a curved shape to it, and besides, it has 1/4" lip at a roughly 90 degree angle to the mask all around the edges. I believe the pull of the papier mache strips on this little lip cancel out the pull of those on main mask as they dry. This lip, while a tremendous pain in the butt to cast, also adds a lot of strength to the edges of the mask, which also helps to reduce the number of layers of paper I need to use.

In general, the more details a mask has (folds, wrinkles, bone structures, etc) the less likely it is to warp, as the details interrupt the pull of the strips as they dry. Conversely a smooth mask is more likely to warp, as little interrupts that pull.

Technicalities... but let me tell you, a warped mask is no fun!!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

First Horse Mask Cast!


Now to work on a way of attaching it to someone's head! I'm imagining Velcro-ing it to a snug fitting hood of sorts. Time to cozy up to my friends who can sew!!!

Large Multipart Papier Mache Mask Casts

I've spent the last month or so trying the papier mache strip method I'd practiced in my smaller 'eyeball' masks in larger, multipart molds. I've continued to use an initial detail coat layer of a Polyfilla/Weldbond mix, a second layer of cheesecloth with the Polyfilla/Weldbond mix, and subsequent layers of kraft paper and outdoor wood glue.

Some differences I've found in making small masks and large multipart masks this way:

1) I need to use much more care in the cheesecloth layer in a large mask than in a small one. There is more opportunity for overlapping layers of cheesecloth to build up thickness in a large mask, which does not contribute anything to strength, and can prevent the Polyfilla/Weldbond mix from penetrating all the way through to the mold. This can leave many pits and holes in the surface of the mask that will later need to be filled. I use extra care around deep and very detailed areas, and I try to overlap the cheesecloth just to be sure there is no gaps in coverage, but no more.

2) I need to use more layers of paper in large masks than in small ones. How many? It depends entirely on the shape and level of detail in the mask, with very detailed areas (wrinkles, lips, gumlines, etc) naturally being stronger and very smooth ones (cheeks, etc) being comparatively weaker. I still use only two layers of paper in areas with lots of detail, and up to ten in very smooth ones. I also use eight to ten layers of paper around the edges of the mask. A mask with enough layers will have only a slight amount of flex to it. I have found one sure way to know that I need more layers- if I put sealer on the mask, and it becomes limp and rubbery and then warps all to hell, I haven't used enough. Waaaahhhh!!!!!

3) Obviously, I need to join the pieces somehow or another. I'm not sure I'm done experiementing with this, but here's what I do now. I cast each piece of the mask seperately. I overhang the cheesecloth just a little over the edges of the mold and glue it down tightly, using a weaker glue such as Elmer's (no point in using a stronger glue which I'll just have to trim off later!) I do the same thing with one layer of paper in areas which I won't be able to reach into when the mold is closed (ears, tips of noses and lips, etc.) (You can see this cheesecloth edge in the pic of the unassembled mold above, and see the resulting "fringe" in the pic of the raw cast.) I have found, much to my great suprise, that this little edge of paper and or cheesecloth will not interfere with the mold assembly, as long as it is smoothly and tightly pressed down, and it is fairly easy to trim off afterwards with a craft knife. I then apply a bead of straight Weldbond to paper edges, a Polyfilla/Weldbond mix to the cheesecloth edges, clamp all the pieces of the mold together, and apply two more layers of kraft paper over the seams I can reach. Then I anxiously wait for the whole thing to feel dry, and unmold it!

In general, this method yields nice results. The masks are very light and strong, and the detail and finish are exceptional. The downside is that this method is extremely time consuming- it takes me fourteen hours to cast a "Rip" mask (the one shown above) this way, compared to eight for my infamous Paperclay slip/Sculpt and Coat method. I think the resulting quality is worth it, and I'm going to see if I can cut back on time spent elsewhere in production. I'm going to look into airbrushing, to see if I can spend less time painting!