30 July 2012

A mask display for your wall

Because I make masks and have been a masked player for so long, I get asked a lot about how to display a collection. Flatter masks such as Moretta and Bauta are easy; just hang them from a nail. But the long-nosed masks of the plague doctor and Pantalone, or most any of the decent zanni masks are especially vexing because the long noses make them tilt forward until it's always looking up at you. I prefer to see them displayed as they would sit on the face of a wearer.

There are commercial mask displays out there and some very fun glass and wooden heads you can tie them to just as you would your own head. But unless you have more space than I do, that won't display more than a couple of masks at a time. So we look to the walls.

To be honest, most of my masks live in boxes where they won't get dusty. But when I display them, this is how I do it. This is also the type of hanger I make for clients for a nominal add-on fee if they request a display for the mask I'm making for them.

They're easy enough to make for yourself, however, and I'm not really out anything if you decide to do so.

The design is a simple T shape: a block cut the width of the mask out of wood and a nose-shaped piece doweled in the center. I like to spraypaint them black or white because they don't compete with the mask.

On the back I secure a loop hanger at the top and a large sawtooth hanger near the bottom.  The loop is to hang from the nail and the sawtooth is to secure the mask to the display as shown below.
The mask is placed on the display and the ribbons fed through the sawtooth hanger as shown.  The teeth on the hanger keep most ribbons from sliding back out. If I use a silk ribbon or something more delicate I use just a piece of metal arranged the same way to keep from snagging the fabric.
My local hardware store carries a variety of nice hooks that push easily into Sheetrock or plaster and do not detract from the mask.

This display supports even nose-heavy pieces and keeps them aligned however you wish.  Tie a nice bow in the dangling ribbons and you have a nice mask, well displayed.

Tip: For the lightweight plaster Carnivale masks that have been so popular recently, you can do essentially the same thing with foam-core or heavy cardboard. Paint it black and no one will ever notice what it's made out of.

26 July 2012

Leather Jerkin: Finishing up the detail work

Washington Midsummer's Renaissance Faire starts next weekend, and there I will debut the leather jerkin in its entirety. But here are a few teaser shots as I polish off the details.

I forgot to mention in my buttonhole tutorial that buttonhole stitches perform one other function that we're generally unaware of because so much modern clothes are lightweight fabrics: Buttonhole stitches make it easier for the button to pass through. Never is that more apparent than when working with leather. Trust me.

After trying a number of ideas and getting so far as to have to cut stitches on one of them, the epaulets I finally settled on are quite a bit different from those I envisioned.

22 July 2012

Leather mask making: Sculpting with reluctant media

Real woodcarvers wear pink. (ahem)

The trouble with being on the road so much recently is that you can't take things like masks and wood with you. On the road, it's handsewing; at home, it's all about the carpentry. So I've been clearing a backlog of masks that I promised to folk, which means a lot of carving and a boatload of forcing leather to do things it doesn't want to do.

This is why I often call myself a sculptor of reluctant media. Between the wood and the leather, my hands are full just discovering the way they want to go and then trying to get them to go there.

This is starting to look like a leatherworking blog rather than a broad-scale costuming blog and for that I apologise to anyone who doesn't want me to dwell on wood and leather and would like to see a bit more cloth. I'll get back to cloth soon. I promise. In the meantime, here's some more leather mask making.

If you are new or looking for instructions on how to make commedia dell arte masks, or just leather masks in general, you will find a tutorial here that gives you the basics of the craft. Yes, the craft. The art of the thing is up to you to bring to the table.

Try as I might, there's only so much of this that can be taught in a blog format.

I mentioned the horn mallet in passing in my demo on the tiny mask. They're kind of a pain
to make, but no one sells them, so make them you must if you want one. "Drill hole, epoxy
handle into place" is a deceptively simple set of instructions. A lot of fussing and cussing is
involved. Most of the other tools used to do this thing can be purchased anywhere that clay
tools are sold. Assuming you don't want to make those too.

The horn mallet not only helps shape it by forcing it down into the grooves and valleys of the matrix, it also compresses the leather, stiffening the mask. The dimples can be smoothed out or left as a texture. I like leaving the dimples around the periphery of the mask and sometimes in the valleys. Texture helps those areas recede visually. (Domino-style minimum coverage zanni mask, commissioned.)

These masks are notoriously difficult to photograph. Note how the dimpled texture helps define the high points from the low. Combined with the shading provided by an careful application of the dye, the mask takes on additional dimension and character. The nose seam on this one was a bit of pain. (Domino-style minimum coverage zanni mask, commissioned.)

I just love this color. The challenge here was making a mask that was non-threatening and cheerful. Most zanni masks tend to look a bit maniacal under the best of conditions by design. Raised brows and wide-open eyes are part of the recipe. I also borrowed the Arlechinno spiral cheeks (which I'm told was historically meant to indicate a handlebar mustache -- automatically awesome).

The trick to pulling off a large full-coverage nose like this one is the inevitable seam where your leather wraps around the nose. I've heard it described in a dozen places, but really this is one of those things that you have to figure out for yourself. This is where craftsmanship is king.

Mask matrices can be re-crafted a couple of times. For a one-off commissioned piece, I'll use the matrix in its original form only that one time. This one has had the nose shortened and re-positioned and cherubic cheeks added using wood putty. Recycling is good.

When I retire mask matrices as I have these two, I usually put a hanger on the back and hang them up on the wall, which is the fate that these two are currently awaiting.