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Mask Making

( Originally Published 1932 )

Searching for the source of the mask leads us back over a long trail into the dim ages of the past. We find them covering the faces of mummies in the musty tombs of ancient Egypt. We trace them to religious and ceremonial rites of early Buddhism.

We catch a glimpse of them in China and follow them to Japan during the 7th or 8th century. Later, in the 14th century, we find their greatest use in the No, a form of drama originating at that time and em-bracing some two hundred and fifty plays.

We discover traces of them in Greece and Rome. On we travel until finally we see them as fundamental objects in the religious life of our aboriginal tribes in America.

Today, our best-known masks are designed and executed by the well-known illustrator and painter, Wladyslaw Theodore Benda. Benda masks are found on the great stages of America and Europe, and while they present instructive studies, we are not particularly concerned with their historical or dramatic significance. Our interest lies in their construction and the use to which we may put them.

Every one loves to masquerade. To disguise—even for a short time—our everyday appearance and live in another role. This explains the popularity of Hallowe'en, Beaux Arts, and masquerade parties.

Masks may also be used for purely decorative purposes. They produce splendid effects as wall pieces, and their unique fascination adds a modern touch to any room. They are also found of great use in amateur theatrical presentations. In the center of the illustration will be seen a jester's scepter, which was used in "As You Like It," and made by one of the young players. Its construction will be discussed later in this chapter.

The ability to paint and model helps considerably in mask making, but the main requisite is imagination. Portraying the grotesque may be accomplished by a novice knowing nothing of paints or clays, but without imagination, she is lost.

Did you ever "make faces" in front of your mirror'? Some of them odd, others strange, a few ugly, and many funny ? That is an example of imagination. When you make such contortions of your features, you are really making a mask of your face. Now, let us see how you may make one for your face.

There are a number of methods employed by experts, but the writer has chosen that which appeared to him as the easiest and cheapest way. The first step in the process is to model the mask in clay. To do this, we need a flat board about twelve inches square. In its center, draw an oval seven inches long and five inches wide. This serves as a guide for the mask model.

Obtain a few nails and drive them at random into the oval. Allow the nails to extend out half an inch, as they are used for binding the clay to the board. This makes a splendid modeling base.

Clay is now obtained from your nearest stream. If this is not handy, manufactured modeling clay or plasteline may be purchased from any art or potter's supply store. If the common clay is used, it should be mixed with water until about the consistency of cream. With the fingers, work all lumps and other foreign matter from it and drain off any excess water. Allow to dry until it becomes a thick paste. This prepares the clay for use.

It is now placed on the oval and pressed firmly down on the nails. Here is the first opportunity to test your creative abilities. Model a face from clay, and while it need not look like yours or any you may know, it should nevertheless have the general lines of one. If you are working alone, repeated study of your own face in the mirror will be of considerable help.

You can now let your imagination have full sway, for the next step is giving your model face as comical and grotesque an appearance as possible. While only continued practice will bring results of worth, here are a few hints one may follow. Let us begin with the forehead. Suppose we make it slant the wrong way, or give it a bulging shape. A large bump or a few dents on it might prove effective.

Make the eyebrows appear bushy by building the clay over them. The eyes can be mere slits or deep holes. They might be modeled to give that terrifying "popping" effect. The cheeks may be puffed out or drawn in as desired. High cheek bones might prove startling with certain color effects. Of all the facial features, the nose and mouth present the greatest possibilities for the creative work of the mask maker. Both may be shaped any number of ways, and each expression given them changes the entire appearance of the face.

A long nose and a drooping mouth give that sour look of discontent, while the exact opposite depicts mirth. Broad, flat noses and thick lips are used in black pantomime. The bold, hooked nose and thin, mean lips portray the villain, while a straight, "Grecian" nose is often found on the handsome hero. Those of extreme length or absurd shortness have their place in mask making, while the disfigured and ugly ones give unique additions to the grotesque.

Mouths also prove of real joy to the modeler. What expressive qualities they possess! Curve a mouth up and it smiles at you. Droop it and the world looks sad. It may be long or short; open or closed; pursed out or drawn in, or any of a hundred other ways. They all belong to the modeler to do with as she wishes ! She has the power to give a face a hundred different expressions by merely changing its lips.

The chin too has contours all its own. It can be made one of those protruding, positive types, or a receding one so often found on the timid soul. These are a few of the many changes one can accomplish when modeling a mask. As your work progresses, you will discover pet forms all your own. Therein lies the fascination for the mask maker.

When the final touches have been applied, the model is set aside to dry naturally. Do not use heat for this purpose, as sudden changes of temperature are apt to crack the clay.

The next step of the work is largely a question of choice. Many mask makers prefer to make a plaster cast of their clay model and complete the work on the cast. Others prefer to build their masks on the model itself. The writer recommends the latter method as a more simple and direct process.

If, however, you wish to make a casting of your model, one can easily do so. A box of plaster-of-Paris should be purchased from your drug store. This is mixed with water until a thick paste results. Pour this into a pan wide and deep enough to hold your model, and press the model into it face down. The natural oils of the clay usually keep it from sticking to the plaster, but a thin coating of lard or vaseline may be given it as further insurance against this trouble. Leave the model in position until the plaster has hardened. It is then carefully removed and the cast is ready for use.

Our masks are made from old newspapers or ordinary paper toweling. The former produces splendid masks, although the toweling is slightly heavier and gives a cleaner appearance before painting. If the mask is not painted with color inside, the toweling leaves a cleaner surface for the face to rest against, but if color is used, there remains little choice between the two materials.

Tear the paper into small strips about an inch wide and three or four inches long. Do not cut these, as the rough texture of the torn edges serves to bind the strips in place. Flour and water are now mixed in a bowl to make a heavy paste.

If the original model is used, the strips may be dipped into the paste and transferred to the clay in a saturated condition. Working with one strip at a time, place each on the model and carefully press it into position. Make sure that all crevices, holes, and other contour lines of the model have the paper pressed well into them. Start with the top of the fore-head and overlap the pieces, covering the entire face and sides before proceeding with the next layer.

As each layer is added, see that all edges are pressed down. The number of thicknesses used depends on how stiff and thick you wish your mask. Five or six layers usually give splendid results. When these are in place, the mask is left on the model and allowed to dry naturally. Here again, artificial heat should be shunned, as it might crack the clay and ruin the mask.

When a plaster cast is used in place of the original model, use as little paste as possible when the paper is placed inside the cast and pressed into position. This is necessary as the drying process is apt to warp and shrink the paper if wet. The cast presents nothing to keep the mask from losing shape while being dried, while the model, being inside the mask, holds it to form. Aside from this point, the two processes are alike.

When the paper has become quite dry, remove the mask carefully and examine your handiwork. All loose ends, frayed edges, and thin spots should be patched with paper. These are applied in the same manner, and allowed to dry before ,the mask is handled again. Thin spots on the mask can be easily detected by holding it against a strong light. Tear the paper strips slightly larger than the spots and apply them soaked in the paste.

The edges of the mask are now trimmed. All protrusions, uneven lines, and frayed edges should be cut away. This is done with a safety razor blade. A durable and neat edging is obtained by binding it with passe partout.

Both the inside and outside of the mask are given several coats of clear varnish at this time. This is done for several reasons. It serves to stiffen the pa-per, bind the layers together, and present a smooth, clean surface for further examination.

This examination is made as a final search for possible improvements of the modeling. It may be found that the lips are too full; the eyes need enlarging; the cheeks are too puffed, or other contours need filling, smoothing, depressing, or removing. All such corrections should be made at this time on the varnished surface of the mask.

They can be easily accomplished by scraping off the varnish from the spot to be corrected, and filling it with bits of paper saturated in paste. Cutting away high portions should be done with a sharp knife. All such repairs should be given a coat of varnish when completed.

As the wearer must breathe, see, and possibly speak, holes for the nose, eyes, and mouth are now cut. A razor blade is best for this work, and when the cuts are completed, the edges around the holes should be varnished carefully to prevent the layers of paper from raveling.

When these have been finished, the mask is ready to be painted. This is done with oil colors. Painting can consist of a few bold strokes of bright colors or it can be made a work of art. The mask maker should decide the course she wishes to pursue by carefully studying the work of others.

Finished masks make splendid guides for the amateur to follow. They need not be the work of experts. If they appeal, attempt to learn the reason by studying their lines and colors. If you do not care for them, locate their faults, and in your own work eliminate these mistakes.

If made of newspaper, the mask must be given a solid coat of color. This is done to hide completely all traces of printed matter on the paper. The inside of such a mask should be finished in white, which will present a clean surface next to the face of the wearer when in place.

Study the masks in the illustration. At the top center will be seen an unfinished one as it looks when taken from the model. It is made of toweling. The two masks on either side of this are of newspaper construction, and therefore have solid color bases. Those below them are of toweling, and therefore need no solid coloring, although the one on the reader's left is painted yellow. This, however, is for effect rather than to cover the cream color of the paper.

These give interesting examples of mask making and its possibilities, both from a standpoint of mod-, cling as well as painting. A close study of them will` well repay the beginner. All are the work of young girls.

The jester's scepter consists of a small mask in the usual "cap and bells." The cap is stuffed with cotton and sewed to the mask, after a few strands of wool have been added for "hair." The entire head is mounted on a stick. The mask is made in the same manner as its larger brothers. When you go to your next masquerade, carry one of these attractive "seepters," and you will be one step ahead of your friends.

Masks made for wall decorations make attractive wall borders, and will add a touch to any room. They need not be as deep as the face mask, although the main features, such as the nose, chin, and forehead, should extend well in front of the ears. They are constructed in exactly the manner described in this chapter for face masks.

These simple instructions for the making of masks are offered as proof that any girl able to collect a little clay, some old newspapers, a handful of flour, and a little paint can build and own any number of interesting and clever masks.

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