The motivation behind this mask was very simple: to create a beastie who was clutching a bone in its mouth, like a triumphant dog. The catch: the bone would be an entirely separate piece, and able to move independently inside the mouth.
That was the entire idea I started with. Everything else was made up along the way.
Step 1: Face Base
For the first time in years, I acquired a roll of plaster gauze. This stuff forms a base so fast that it feels like cheating. All it takes is plaster gauze, scissors, a bowl of water, and your face. Try not to suffocate yourself, unless you deserve it or you're into that kind of thing.
Step 2: Simultaneous Sculpture
Given the characteristics of paper mache, I knew that I would need to build the mouth and the bone at the same time. As it cures, the sculpture will tighten and shrink slightly, so I needed to be able to store the bone inside the mouth because otherwise the mouth might shrink too much to accommodate the prop.
The bone was a quick job, just a roll of that same manila folder (seriously, it goes a long way. All strips for this and the Face Made of Toadstools mask were taken from the same folder) for the shaft, and a rough sculpture of newspaper and tape on top of that. It took about ninety seconds.
Building the mouth for the beastie was a bit more work, not least because I had absolutely no plan. Well, that's not entirely true; I had a vague idea that I wanted the upper lip to be pointy. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I believe I was remembering the upper lip of one of the door knockers in the movie Labyrinth, but I didn't actually watch the movie or find a picture because I wasn't interested in copying it. I just wanted the lip to be pointy, the way I (perhaps incorrectly) recalled the knocker.
The mouth was going to require more elaboration than usual, as well, since it would be wide open and holding something. I would need to build gums, essentially a sort of shelf for the bone to rest on. I first made a jaw using twisted newspaper, strips of manila folder and tape. Then I did the same with a jutting upper lip, weaving the manila strips over the large area to provide a relatively strong foundation. With the mouth in place, I used the same technique to install upper gums. Less care was taken with the bottom of the mouth because the area is smaller and would be mostly obscured by the bone. Nevertheless, although I strive for my masks to be wearable and fun, I still want them to look beautiful when examined up close and personal - so I had to make sure there was an icky pink mouth if you peeked inside it.
Speaking of pink, even though we haven't finished building the face yet, I think we should take a moment to talk about the color, because it was at this point in the process that I was thinking about color. I still hadn't planned out the rest of this beastie, but by now I was starting to feel like it should be purple. Now that, on its own, should not present a problem, but furthermore I was feeling like I wanted the lips to be yellow - and not just the lips, but the eye area and nostrils, basically all the soft bits and mucous membranes.
Again, that's not so terribly far-fetched, although paint-wise a natural transition between purple and yellow might be difficult to achieve. The real problem is that I had always envisioned the interior of the mouth being pink, and logically, it seemed like if the lips and nostrils and all the soft bits and mucous membranes were yellow, then shouldn't the gums and tongue be yellow too?
I grappled with the problem (internally - externally I was still building the face) for quite some time, somehow immune to the fact that the chromatic logic of human biology need not necessarily apply to a paint job for a monster mask. At last this breathtaking revelation freed me from the conundrum, and I decided that I could have it both ways. I would have yellow lips and pink gums, and the only price was an even more difficult paint job in my future.
Anyway, while all this was in my head, I finished making the mouth (you can see from the pictures that securing the structure required passing massive amounts of tape through the openings in the plaster mask). I decided to begin coating it with paper mache while the face was only half-finished. The structure was already getting complicated and it seemed the safest way to preserve the work I had already completed! Additionally, since the mouth was built with realistic gaps between the lips and gums, doing the mache work was going to be complex, and I suspected that it would be much easier to accomplish without being encumbered by the rest of the sculpture.
The lower jaw, in particular, required carefully sliding strips of saturated paper down between the lip and gum, using the end of a paintbrush. It was challenging work!
When I had the front part pretty well covered, I flipped the mask over, took an Xacto knife and cut away that massive wall of masking tape that was running through all the openings. It was quick work to carve it out and replace it all with a nice, thin layer of paper mache.
While doing all this, I was haunted by the fact that without context, the gums looked like teeth! But, you know, bad teeth. Easy teeth. A cartoonish wall of undifferentiated teeth. Even though I knew, in the end, that it would be clear, I still wanted something to really signify that these were gums, so I added the frenum (the flap of skin that grows between the upper lip and the middle of the gumline). That made me happy.
Step 3: The T-Zone
There comes a time in every face's life when you have to finally build a nose and brow area, so that's what I did next. No shirk, I! With a song in my heart, a spring in my step, but still no plan in my head, I crafted a wide-nostriled nose and a couple of big fat brows. The nice thing about sculpting with paper and tape is that if you don't like what you make, you can just tear it off and try again! Once I liked an area, I would paper over it and move on to the next. So I guess you could say that I was "layin' the mache in" as I go!
I'm not sure why you would say that, but you could. I'm just pointing that out.
Anyhow, the nose is oddly shaped and I wanted some expressive wrinkles between the brows, so I spent some time using tiny strips of paper and painting on the flour paste with a fine-tipped brush. It takes a little longer but you can't argue with results.
As always, a hairdryer is a pretty essential accessory for drying paper mache between coats.
Step 4: Listen Up!
Here is where I first used my new tools. After the toadstool mask and the various challenges it presented, I ordered a set of six needle files in various shapes. Their first deployment was to make holes in the mask, which I lined with manila folder to create channels for the fabric ties I'd be using to hold the mask on. Once they were installed, I sculpted the beastie's ears around them and integrated the whole structure with a new coat of paper mache.
Step 5: Bite Me.
The idea was that the beastie would have a few long, needle-like teeth, which would be put in right at the very end. The final step would be to glue them in place, and that would forever trap the bone in the mouth. The teeth were formed by wrapping strips of paper tightly around lengths of wire. The first set were way too long so I cut them back and tried again. I made myself an assortment so that I could reach my final decisions later.
Here I am posing with the teeth temporarily inserted, just to make sure it worked and because I like to take pictures of myself with masks on.
At this point I needed to do the final sanding, and I gotta say, with all the nooks and crannies in this mask I was really glad to have purchased those needle files!
Step 6: That Difficult Paint Job I Was Telling You About Earlier
Yeah, so here's that part. I love this part, seriously. But it was pretty tough! As expected, the transitions between the gums and lips, and all the transitions between yellow and purple, were hard to do effectively.
The actual process took a couple of days, experimenting with layering the tones until a subtle balance was struck. I'm not sure how much of that detail comes through in the photographs! Even in person, on close examination you may not appreciate the appalling amount of fuss that went into it. You're probably an obsessive-compulsive crazy pants if you do!
The last step, as previously revealed in a veritable orgy of irresponsible foreshadowing, was to glue in the teeth. If you've never used Krazy Glue or similar substances, just know that they are violent, caustic chemicals that will likely cause some sort of discoloration to your delicate paint job. I knew that and didn't care, I just painted over it after it was done. The whole thing was then given a few coats of satin varnish.
One final thing:
A couple of weeks later, after having finished yet another mask, I went to a local bead shop and purchased a handful of small round wooden beads with large holes. The problem was that with all the work (by which I mean, again, "appalling amount of fuss") I put into the masks, it seemed a shame that the faces should find themselves besmirched by the unsightly knots of ribbons being used to hold them up.
So I got the wooden beads and I painted them to match the beastie's healthy purple skin tone, and I replaced the over-the-counter ribbons with purple fabric ties that I whipped up on the sewing machine in my mom's basement, when I was doing laundry over there while she was out of town.
What do you think? Overall I am pretty happy with this project! It's not as interesting to me, conceptually, as the Toadstool mask, but it presented some interesting opportunities for problem-solving. And, I succeeded in the "freebone" experiment that started off the whole process, so I would definitely call it a modest triumph, at least in terms of meeting my intended goals.
Final credit: My friend Andrea Shindeldecker provided me with the family-friendly designation "Bone Daddy". This mask never really had a name but whenever I tried to think of one, I couldn't get the name "Bonerific!" out of my head. So credit to Andrea for breaking the spell and giving me something I can use. Yes, I know it's from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Andrea isn't technically responsible for writing that movie, but in terms of this mask, it's all hers.