19 October 2011

Maskmaker, Maskmaker V :: Making the Final Cut

Apologies for the delay. Ren faire was followed closely by the chronic-but-mostly-annoying illness that dogs my footsteps. When it rears its ugly head (and swells mine to an uncomfortable degree) there's not a lot I can do. 

And then there was a steampunk convention.

Anyway, a deluge of posts is in the pipeline covering all those things and more. But first... let us finish the mask that we left drying on the matrix back in August.

When I left you, we'd taken our wet leather and by pushing, pulling, poking, prodding, and pounding, we got it to conform to the dimensional planes of the matrix that we had carved.  In the areas that don't matter we have used staples and brass nails to affix it to the wood. In areas that we can't poke holes in, we have used bands of cloth to hold it in place as it dries.

Ironically, the larger you work, the less you need the cloth strips and the more you will use the horn mallet that I will show you how to make sometime next week.

It has been sitting in a sunny spot for a day at most (not for a month and a half, that would be crazy) or if you are in a hurry, you have carefully applied a cool hair dryer.  Carefully remove all of the nails, tacks, brads, and whatnot that you used to hold the leather on the matrix.

The dried leather will hold itself in place on the surface of the matrix. The consistency of the leather will remind you of thick, heavy cardboard.

It is time to set it free and for that, you will need a pencil and a sharp shop knife or razor blade.

Examine the mask and use the pencil to draw a line where you are going to cut. This is not the final cut, but you should be thinking already about how this mask will follow the contours of the wearer's head.

Photo by Chris Yetter, CJYPhoto.com
Used with permission.
Take a good look at this mask's edges where it meets my face. Note how far back along the temples it comes and how far down around the mouth. Note that traditional Italian masks come even farther down over the upper lip, but I don't really like the way that feels, so mine generally do not.

How it fits is up to you, and it starts at the point where you are removing it from the matrix.  Slice carefully. Go slowly. Use a sharp knife. Don't cut yourself with it.

To start the eyes, you might need to use a smaller blade like an Exacto knife or even a hole punch. Just take your time.  When you are done, it should look like this.

The nose is the hardest part of this operation.  Click on the first picture above and look at it large-sized. The flap of the nose overlaps the end. I used an Exacto to skive the leather even thinner than it already was and then used contact cement to adhere it into one solid piece.

Don't forget to punch holes at the temples if you want to have ribbons to tie it to someone's head.

Red leather dye and a coat of brown shoe polish for aging, and it looks like this.

That's maskmaking!


  1. Start small. Practice wetforming smaller pieces of leather before you commit larger and more expensive portions.
  2. Mold something else. You can start leather molding on anything from a soup bowl to your own face. (Fair warning: this feels kinda funky). This will help you get a feel for it before you commit to a more complex shape or project.
  3. Skive your leather to a workable thickness.
  4. Wood matrices are more forgiving, but require more work. Choose your molding method to fit your available time and talents.