Several years ago, a friend of mine who owned a little shop on Pearl Street in La Jolla hired me to make some masks for her to sell during the holiday shopping season. Although they sold well, (well, they sold out!) she and her husband embarked on a new business venture shortly after, and closed their shop.
For years I've been wanting to get back to making these. They combine a lot of things I love: sculpture, painting, and recycling! Plus they are wearable art, and draw from a centuries-old commedia tradition in Italy.
The process is simple, but time-consuming. I start with a positive plaster mold of a face. I then build clay up on the face until I get the shape I want. I mix some plaster of paris, pour it over the clay, and, after it hardens, I have a negative that I paper-mache into.
Although there are a lot of new products available for paper-mache art, I stick to the classics: newspaper and wheat paste. I started adding in brown paper bags for a little strength.
After building up about a dozen mache layers, I let the masks dry, remove them from the molds, and start sanding and shaping them. After the first sanding, I paint them with a light coat of acrylic paint. Then I can see where more sanding is needed, and I cut out the eye holes.
At this point, I remembered to take a picture! Here's a pile o'masks midway through the sanding process:
The next step will be to coat them with a layer of gesso, do any final sanding, and then, at long last, I get to the fun part: the decorative painting and embellishing.
I can't wait!