Introduction: Aztec Mask

 I decided to write this because I had a real hard time working out exactly how I was going to create an aztec mask from scratch, and thought it might be useful to somebody who is thinking of starting a similar project.
 I started this project having looked at the original aztec masks and been totally inspired. I wanted to create a mask that reflected the originals in every aspect, but I didnt want to do a straight replica, so I had a play around with some designs, but we will come to that later.

 ANYWAY... I'll try and do a brief overview of what this project will include

- Designing the mask
- Creating the tiles
- Sticking the tiles on
- Creating the eyes and teeth

And the materials you will need...

- Clay
- Basic plastic mask
- Acrylic paint
- Varnish
- PVA Glue

 Ok, well lets get started, I hope this inspires you to create your own, I would love to see what you produce if you do!

Step 1: Designing the Mask

 I began the project thinking I was going to go for a simple face just like the one I showed in the intro, but half way through I decided to make it a bit more dramatic and personalised.
 I'm not going to try and convince you that I spent hours and hours designing something. The first idea that came to my head ended up being the final thing. But having said that I did spend a lot of time trawling through google images looking at aztec masks for inspiration.
 But regardless of how I did this, it is worth putting some serious thought into the design before plunging in head first and making it, considering that you will have to cover it in tiny little tiles.

Step 2: Building the Structure

 I started the structure of the mask by getting a fairly study plastic mask and cutting away the lips with a hacksaw leaving me with a fairly creepy looking white thing.

 The first thing to do after removing the lips is to give the whole mask a sanding down to provide grip for the clay. Once that is done, fill in the gaps by spreading clay from either side of the mask.

 Once the gaping holes were filled in I began sculpting the mask to look a bit more masculine and bulky. The nose in particular needed to be dramatically upscaled in order to maintain the shape when sticking on the tiles.

 As you can see from the pictures I had already started painting and sticking on tiles when I decided to sculpt on a jaguar. I would not reccomend doing it this way round since it meant I had to repaint the mask.

 Also be aware that a large clay sculpture adds a lot of weight to the sculpture. If you were intending to wear your mask (I wasn't) then you may want to consider what materials you use.

Step 3: The Tiles

 The tiles were the most tedious part of the whole project. I wanted to use real tiles, but ended up making my own out of clay.

 Basically all you need to do is roll out a thin sheet of clay, and using a knife or similar (I used an old credit card since the knife pulled the clay with it - you'll see what I mean if you try it!) create the definition of tiles on the sheet, both big and small.

 Once the clay has dried create the colour you want the tiles to be. I wanted them to look like jade, so mixed up greens, whites and blues fairly loosely. I painted the 'jade' tiles using quite a watery mix so the tiles had some definition to them, but for the black tiles I used quite a thick mix of paint.

 Once the paint is dry, and I mean DRY, (i learnt the hard way) apply a coat of clear varnish. If the paint isn't dry the varnish goes all sticky and doesnt dry properly.

 Now for the painstaking bit. Break the tiles up - the thicker your clay, the easier they break apart into individual tiles, but you also have larger 'white' sections (unpainted clay). Some tiles take a little more attention than others to get ready for 'sticking.' You may choose to prepare them all before sticking them down or as you go along. Either way its a pain in the neck, but it has to be done.

Step 4: Painting the Mask

I wanted the mask to look like it was made from wood through the tiles, so I started by giving it a coat of a nice earthy colour called 'Raw Sienna'. Once that was dry I gave the whole thing a wash of watered down black acrylic.

Step 5: Sticking Down the Tiles

 Its hard to tell whether the sticking down of the tiles or the cutting out of the tiles required more patience, because I did both simultaneously. I'm not sure that was the best way to go, but I guess it depends on whetehr you have the patience to sit down and cut out all the tiles before you start.

 The sticking down of the tiles is fairly self explanatory, it just requires patience and time. You need to make sure they all line up and don't leave any gaps. Its actually easier than it sounds/ looks.


 The eyes and teeth are effectively 'custom tiles.' I made the eyes by cutting out an eye shaped piece of paper and then rolling out clay and cutting round the paper. The holes were made with the end of a paintbrush.
 The teeth were slightly more difficult. I actually pressed the clay onto the mask and then sculpted them before painting around them with the brown/ black technique we used earlier.
 I tried various ways of painting them, but settled for a pure white under varnish, leaving the eye sockets black.

Step 6: Conclusion

Finishing off...

Jaguar teeth - These were sculpted over the tiles and then taken off once dry, painted and then glued down.

Back of the mask - I painted the back the same as the front with Raw Sienna under a black wash.

  The final thing I did before finishing the mask was getting rid off the unsightly clay edges of the tiles by giving the mask a heavily wwatered down acrylic wash of the according colour, using a tissue to sponge it off the front of the tiles.

 Well I think thats everythig covered. I hope you found this useful! If you want to see more of my artwork please check out my page here -