Introduction: Face Made of Toadstools (Paper Mache Mask)
This is a papier-mache mask suitable for an evening out on the town, or a pleasant night at home with a good book.
Materials you'll need are newspaper, flour, water, masking tape, duct tape and a length of ribbon. Also some paint or something. And some scissors.
Step 1: The Paper Face
I built the base for this mask by applying papier-mache directly to my face. The process for this goes much as you would imagine: I tear a lot of strips of newspaper, smear my face with flour paste and begin applying them to my skin while sitting on the bed with a hand mirror in front of me. Adding some petroleum jelly or coconut oil to your face, particularly to eyebrows and any beards you might have, will aid in removing it later.
Building up a strong base takes a bit of time. Even though it achieves sufficient strength to hold its form by the time the paper is thick enough to use, I still help it along by blasting a hairdryer in my face.
Once you have carefully pried the mask from your face, a hairdryer will help solidify the mask base.
Do As I Say Not As I Do:
Papier-mache cures over time, and if you want your mask to actually fit you comfortably and not function mainly as a piece of sculpture, you will stop at this point. You will wait several days before you actually start your build, and spend a lot of time carefully sanding down the interior so you can wear it. The mask will shrink as it cures, and for maximum wearability you need to wait for it to take its final form before you build it.
But, if you're like me, you can't possibly wait several days and you have to get started right this second. I understand.
Step 2: Mushroom Husbandry
First, I decided to build a ribbon tie directly into the face. Knowing that I would have a large formation on the forehead, I made a channel from a strip of manila folder and duct taped it into place before I started to build anything. With the ribbon secured in its own little tunnel, I was then ready to begin the actual sculpture, which would fully obscure the tunnel.
What I had envisioned was a face, with its features formed by toadstools growing out from it, not in the traditional manner, but sort of emerging sideways. I started my sculpture by twisting newspapers, securing them with masking tape, and using the twists to mark out the edges of the mushroom caps. Using tiny strips of manila folder, I built out the curved shape of the mushroom tops and then coated the outside with masking tape. This formed the surface that I would build up with papier-mache.
Step 3: The Messy Part
First I covered everything with the papier-mache mixture, inside and out, being careful to smooth out the transitions and provide the mushroom caps with sufficient strength. As always, it takes several coats to get where you need to be. Once it felt solid, I let it dry pretty well and then sanded it down to relative smoothness before moving on to the details.
The most important, and also the most difficult, detail for the toadstool mask is the set of gills on the underside of each mushroom. These were painstakingly achieved by shaping long strips of paper and soaking them in flour paste, putting them in by hand and shaping them using the handles of my paintbrushes. I put in a few at a time and then dried them with a hairdryer. Once the first gills were stiff enough to use as braces, I would add a few more.
The ones on the mouth were a little trickier. I knew I wanted a real opening in the mouth area, so I had cut one out, but I also knew that I wanted the gills of the "lip" mushroom to extend down over it. I wasn't sure how that would look, but after trying a couple of things I decided on using a couple more strips from the manila folder to form stiff guides. Once they were blended in using papier-mache, I was pretty happy with the result.
With all the gills in place, it was time for the finishing cosmetic touch: the toadstool bumps. A thin strip of paper, dipped in flour paste and then wadded into a little ball between the fingers, makes a perfect bump when you smooth it onto the mask.
The final act of sanding was a laborious affair, and has caused me to consider seeking out a set of proper tools for the job. I do seem to make a lot of masks, and it would be neat to try it with a little more precision. The freeform approach works well for something like this, and I tend to choose subject matter with an awareness for what I am able to achieve. But if I had the tools, who knows?
Step 4: Whitewashing
This is always one of my favorite parts. Working with newspapers as a construction medium, no matter how smooth you sand it, the mask always has an irregular appearance because of the ink on the newspaper. When I get to the part where I paint it white, it totally changes the way I see the sculpture!.
Step 5: Bringing It to Life
I knew going into this that the gills were going to present a big challenge, not just structurally but in terms of the paint job too. Since these toadstools aren't growing normally, but rather poking sideways out of the side of a surface that is a toadstool cap itself, there was no intuitive way to transition between the pale flesh of the gills and the bright red of the toadstool cap.
It was a process of trial and error, finding my way into something that worked, but over time I think I got there.
The paint job has a base of bright red. I mixed in some black for a few lowlights and some white for a few highlights, but I kept it extremely simple.
The gills are almost entirely made with white and raw sienna, but I did add a bit of burnt sienna to a few of the deeper areas.
Step 6: Finishing Touches
After I was satisfied with the gills, I finally painted the bumps, first with a mixture of white and raw sienna, then a pop of pure white on the top.
I had actually started to varnish it when I finally found three additional bumps that I had somehow missed the first time around.
Installing the ribbon during the build stage was an interesting choice. I had wrapped it up with plastic and tape during the construction to protect it as much as possible, and when I went to cut off the covering I managed to put a big slice in the ribbon.
Fortunately, the construction enabled me to re-thread the ribbon. I took a new piece of ribbon and securely taped it to the old one, then pulled it right through. It worked!
Fully painted, with a satin varnish. Entirely wearable, but one must find the perfect outfit first.