Masquerade: Paper Faces on Parade

Ever since I was little, I wanted to go to a Masquerade party just like the one in Labyrinth (in hind-sight, maybe without the merciless mocking of the main character). So, when I was invited to a Black Tie Masquerade to ring in the New Year, I jumped at the chance to make my very own Jareth-inspired mask.

This is a cross/re-post from Deviant Art. I wrote waaaaaaay more than I realised in the “comments” section as I was posting the photos of my mask as it went through the various stages of being made. So, I’ve decided to collect the comments here, along with thumbnails of the images. Click on the images to go to the relevant DA page and see the full-size image.


This is step one: gathering the materials. There is a white paper mask that formed the base of the mask, a pair of rubber devil horns I picked up at a costume shop, some light-weight air-drying clay, a baggie of paper clips. Not pictured is the craft sticks that I used for the handle, as I didn’t have them at this stage.


I did not want a full-face mask, so I put the mask on and sketched a line along one cheek where I wanted to cut. I then carefully used the piece I cut away to try and shape the other side. It was hard work getting it to be as symmetrical as possible. Something that turned out to be an on-going battle for the rest of the work.


This is the armature that I would be sculpting onto. After cutting the rim off the bottom of the horns, I stuffed them with shredded paper (to make them a little less squishy) and hot glued them to the mask. Based on the position of the horns, I sketched circles for where I wanted the other four horns to be.

I didn’t know how well the clay would hold up under it’s own weight when wet, nor how well it would adhere to the mask when it was dry. For this reason, I hot glued bent and cut paper clips to the parts of the mask where I would be building up the clay. The paper clips for the small horns are threaded through the mask (drilled with a pin vice for neatness), and hot glued on the underside. I drilled holes for the two wires that would support the nose, but the way I wanted to position the wires didn’t work that way, so the ends are set against the holes and hot glued.

Again, not pictured are the craft sticks I used for the handle. Pictured here are straws rolled in craft paper, which would have been strong enough to support the mask, and considerable lighter — once the handle was sculpted and mask was dry. This arrangement couldn’t hold up the mask when the clay was wet, and I kinda panicked about the mask being strong enough to wear all night. So I replaced the straws with craft sticks.

The craft sticks weren’t long enough, so I broke one in half, and made an arrangement of three full and two halves, hot glued so that the handle was two sticks wide, and the joins were overlapped. There are two holes drilled into the cheek of the mask, with loops made from paper clips threaded through and hot glued on the inside of the mask. The stick was threaded through the loops, then hot glued like crazy to get the angle right. I couldn’t just have the stick come straight down from the mask, or else my boobs would be in the way, so I had to angle it outwards.

I decided to have the stick on the left – despite right being more conventional – because I figured I would prefer to have my right hand free for drinks and such.


I’m a little amused by how, in the previous photo, the yellow construction paper is all pristine and clean, and now it’s COVERED in stuff. There’s even a great big splash of red powerade from the last day of sculpting, when I managed to knock over an almost full bottle all over the floor where I was working. Go me!

This was done in several stages. The first thing I did was the horns. I wanted to create a raised ring around the base of each horn, tucked in against the base of the horn like the cuticle of a nail, but I was too impatient to get the look quite right. The smaller horns were just sculpted to be plain, with a slight curve, but I really wanted the smallest horns to be just little horn buds, barely started growing. I’m really happy with the nubby shape.

When I came back to it, I changed the rings around the horns to slope neatly into the structure of the face, rather than be pronounced raised rings, which wasn’t really what I was going for. Then I started on the nose, which gave me a bit of a panic attack as I plopped a triangular slab of clay onto the bent paper clips — I had no idea how to make a nose! I decided I wanted to narrow the bridge, and a roughly shaped the flares of the nostrils, and it all just fell into place. That’s my favourite part of the mask.

I did the eyebrows at the same time. I knew I had wanted them to be frowning, and I rolled out a cylinder of clay, bent it into a frowny wriggle, and squished it on. It looked good, so I tried to do the other side and… not symmetrical. I figured it was close enough, and let it be. I also realised, as I was positioning the eyebrows, that the horns weren’t symmetrical either, but it was too late to change that.

The final part of the sculpture was the handle, and that was the biggest part, starting with the hand. I rolled out some cylinders of clay, and put them where I wanted the fingers. I started shaping, and disaster struck! While the paper mask was thicker, and therefore stronger than a plastic mask, it was also weak to getting damp. Working the clay directly onto the mask surface was causing water to soak into the mask, and the cheek directly under the hand “collapsed” under the weight of the clay. The fingers were essentially finished, so I wrapped the end of the handle in plastic wrap to keep the clay workable, and set the mask up in a way that the paper mask was pushed into the correct shape while the clay dried.

Disaster followed the next day, when it was so humid that every surface was damp. The mirror had fogged up, and the tile floors were slimy. Yuck. And my mask wasn’t drying. I took the hair dryer to it for a little bit, but I didn’t want to warp anything, so I left it for another day (though I was fast running out of days but this point).

Continuing the disaster, the flexing of the mask had meant that some of the fingers weren’t in the positions I had intended, and the arched index finger had broken where the claw joined the mask. As the clay was still a little soft, I drilled a hole (in the mask) near the claw, and another into the clay hand, and forced an un-bent paperclip into the hand, threading it through the hole and bending it down to hold the finger. The index finger is a little wonky, and I had to sculpt it larger to cover the paperclip.

Finally, I could unwrap the handle and create a… well, handle, at the bottom. I wanted to define the part to be held onto, so I sculpted a (lop-sided) rim around the lower part of the handle, and a matching base at the end. I then imbedded the inner curved part of a paper clip into the clay.

I turned the mask over, and sculpted over the bits of hot glue on the inside, which were quite blobby and irregular. So I made them smooth, even if no one was going to be looking at the inside of the mask, it mattered to me! I broke out the hair dryer again, getting the drying process started, because I couldn’t afford to lose another day to drying.


This is the mask with an undercoat, ready for painting. I had to go shopping for paints, and I was looking at the range of acrylic paints, and one of the ranges offered three different types of black. I consider “blue-black” to be the “truest” looking black, but I wanted the mask to have a red-slant (to the point that I was intending to use very, very, very, very dark red on the mask, and only use actually black for the undercoat). So, I bought a tube of “red-black” to use as the undercoat. When painting with the red-black, it looked very brown, but it was noticeably darker when dry.

The details are kinda hard to make out, cause it’s all black, but hopefully it will all be clear in the final pictures! This was UNDENIABLY the easiest part of the entire process. Paint brush, tube of paint, palette, go.


And here it is — my finished mask!

The colour is a mix I made myself from metallic copper, beige, and red. It’s not as dark as I intended, though I did put in a little red-black, I had intended to use brown instead of beige, and the red was not as scabby as I’d hoped, it turned out to be pinker than the colour indicated on the tube.

The horns and claws were painted first with the pink-scabby-red colour mixed with a touch of red-black, with the idea that the horns/claws darken as the age. I kept adding red-black and painting towards the tip of the horns. The very tips were done in red-black, to make them nice and dark.

The inside of the mask is red-black, as I wanted it to be dark on the inside, so I didn’t continue the “skin” colour around to the inside of the mask. The thumb, that you can’t see because it’s “holding” the mask from the inside, is painted in the skin colour.

The handle was painted in red-black, and I gave the whole thing a few coats of a spray protective matte (which turned out awfully shiny despite the can’s promises of a matte finish). The handle was then wrapped tightly in black ribbon (revealing as I worked, the irregularities in the handle), hot glued in a few places to keep everything from unravelling. A red ribbon was then wrapped around the handle for contrast. This is where they loop of paperclip comes in: the ribbons went through the loop and were tied off, in addition to being hot glued in place.

The ribbons are there to protect the mask from being handled. I didn’t know how the clay/paint would react to being handled, even with the protective coat, so I wanted to wrap the ribbons around the handle to protect them. Plus, I like the look of the dangling ribbons.

For the photo, I drilled two holes through the mask into the large (hollow) rubber horns. I stuck some unbent paperclips into the holes as a temporary solution, I’ll come up with something better when I hang it permanently. I do wish I could have gotten a photo of the shadows it cast on the wall, as it was being lit from the upper left and upper right, but without the flash, the image was extremely dark, and the flash washed out the lights completely.

There was one final disaster at the painting stage. When I was sculpting the handle, I’d noticed what felt like an air bubble under the clay, and I’d worked the clay to remove it. It turns out that there wasn’t an air pocket at all, and that the handle underneath had separated. For some reason, this cause the clay to crack when it was drying, right along the “rim” of the handle. I had painted over the crack, thinking that I’d used too much water, and the clay had just shrunk a little, but when I was wrapping the handle with ribbon, I noticed it moving.

I pulled the handle off, and reattached it with copious amounts of hot glue, painting a rim of black over the join (it was supposed to be pink/brown/skin up to the edge of the “handle”, but I was in no mood to try and remix the colour at this late stage).

At the end of the day, I’m very happy with how this turned out. The nose looks exactly how I wanted it to turn out, down to the hollowed nostrils (you can’t see it in the photo, maybe I’ll have to take some more to show the inside as well).


~ by ghostwolfe on January 7, 2011.

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