20 August 2011

Maskmaker, Maskmaker... IV :: Molding the mask

I wanted to see how much thickness I took out of the leather, so I grabbed the calipers... er... rather, I asked the engineer to loan me her calipers.

The image below was taken before skiving.  The leather is .116 inches thick.

The second, bottom image is after.  The thickness if .0785. It's only a difference of 0.0375 inches, but what a difference that makes when it comes time to sew or fold the stuff.... or get it wet and work it over a mold. 

What I'm about to tell you to do doesn't lend itself to photography, but it's pretty easy to explain.

Fill a sink with water as hot as your tap is able to produce. Keep in mind that you're going to have your hands in this water soon, so don't burn yourself. You want a nice hot bath for your leather, but DO NOT BOIL IT. That's a different thing and it may make dandy Roman armor, but not so much for masks.

Toss the piece of leather you've cut and skived into the sink. If your sink is not deep enough or large enough for the leather to submerge completely, use a washtub or bucket.  I've been known to use a large mixing bowl.

Go and get a sandwich or trim your fingernails; you need to allow the leather to sit in the water for a good ten minutes before you start to play with it.
REMINDER: Once it is wet, everything that comes in contact with the leather might leave a mark. This includes your fingernails and your rings.  Trim your nails and remove your rings before you begin.
When you come back, it's time to get your hands wet.

Start working the leather with your hands in the water. Crumple it up and squeeze it. Keep doing this until the leather is fully saturated with water.

You will notice that the leather has become elastic and just a little spongy. That's the collagen warming up and leaching out into the water. Time to take the leather out of the bath and roll it up and squeeze as much of the water out as you can.

Because you followed the principle of mise en place your mold is sitting right next to you as well as some brass nails, a stapler, and a tack hammer. Right?  Good.  Remember not to put any nails or staples anywhere that you don't want to cut away later. These holes won't heal.
  1. Drape the leather over the mask and arrange it so that its oriented just as your pattern (piece of cloth) was.  Pull one edge or corner over and staple it to the back of the mold.
  2. Push the leather down into the eyesockets with your fingertip or a piece of wood and nail them in place.
  3. Working quickly, start stretching the leather over the mold, and nailing or stapling it to the back of the form.
  4. Do one widely-spaced circle and then come around again, always pulling the leather taut across the form.
  5. If you have an extra-long nose like mine, you will need to have a fold where the bridge of the nose meets the eye brows. This is okay, it lends to the maniacal look of the mask, which is desireable.
  6. You might need to use a strip of cotton or (as I did below) even a wire tie padded by another piece of scrap leather to get the desired drape and tightness, especially on a long nose like his one. Remember to pad it, because the ties can mar the leather.
  7. Italian trained maskmakers use a mallet whose head was made from the tip of a cow horn to lightly pummel the mask down into the creases and grooves of the mask. This also helps drive water out of the leather and compacts it, making for a stiffer mask.  On a larger mask than this one, I would do that.

When you get to a point where the mask is fully nailed in place, pummeled and/or lashed into place, put the mask out in the sun to dry.

Some maskmakers use a hair dryer at this stage.  You have to be careful doing that, because you can dry out and crack the leather with that much heat.  Best to let it sit in the sun for a few hours while you make the next mask or go do something else.

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