Last week we were lucky enough to have a mask maker named Stephen to come in and teach us how to create traditional paper masks. The masks were all to be half face masks, this makes it easier for the wearer to talk and breathe etc. It also makes the whole process quicker, which for us was something we needed.
Our masks were based on characters from one of the two plays; Red Red Shoes and The Ash Girl. Once we had chosen our character, we then picked an adjective out of a box. This adjective would then give our masks emotion. My character was a Wretched Old Lady.
The week began in the workshop with a bit of rough sketching. We were asked to create a continuous line drawing that responded to a number of silly questions that Stephen gave us. A couple of examples of the questions were; What do they smell like? If they were an animal what animal would they be? What landscape would best describe them?
I then flipped the drawing around, moving it so that I was able to pick out key shapes that I could translate into a 3D mask.
The first stage of the mask making process was to sculpt a design out of clay. We used already cast plaster heads, and built clay onto these. A professional mask maker would ideally do a cast of the specific actor that the mask was being made for. Unfortunately for us we did not have enough time within the week to do this too.
The pictures above illustrate the first step of creating my mask. I used small ‘sausage’ shaped pieces of clay to outline the eyes and the edges of the mask. These were the boundaries in which I worked when adding the clay.
To characterise my mask I decided on a large crooked nose, almost witch like, and a hollow bone structure to show the age of the character. An important tip I learnt from this step of the process was to consider the features as lines and planes and not as edges. This important as when the theatre lights hit the mask, the planes pick up light, but the edges would not. I also added wrinkles to the face to help to show the emotion and the age.
The next step in the process was to wet the clay and then cover it in tin foil. The tin foil layer helped to keep the moisture of the clay away from the paper. I found it difficult to do this layer, as it was so easy to rip the foil when smoothing it into the deeper areas.
After the foil it was time for the first layer of paper. We used a mixture of PVA glue and wallpaper paste, better known in the business as cow juice. For the paper we simply used ripped up brown parcel paper. The process is basically that of papé mache.
Creating this mask requires 3 layers. 2 of which are layers of the brown paper (above), between these 2 layers we also added a layer of J cloth. To apply this we used a mixture of PVA glue and polyfiller. This layer makes the mask stronger and more rigid. The only difference with this layer was that we did not put it over the eye wholes or any further than the edges of the mask.
Once we had completed the 2 layers of paper and one of J cloth it was time to remove the mask from the mould. To do this we used the foil to slowly peel it away. Preferably the mask would have slipped completely off the clay, which it did for some of the group, but unfortunately for me my foil took the clay with it. This made the process lengthier for me as I had to scoop all of the clay out of the mask. Once I had completed this lengthy task I then had to embark on another, which was the job of peeling all of the silver foil away from the brown paper, which again took ages.
From this point it was time to trim the mask. This involved getting our scalpels and cutting out the eye holes and nostrils, also trim around the actual mask. Once we had created our cuts we then got the brown paper back out and papered all of our edges.
We now had our mask. The only jobs left were to attach elastic, paint and test them out.