Cockatoo Parrot Leather Mask Tutorial: From Concept to Completion




Introduction: Cockatoo Parrot Leather Mask Tutorial: From Concept to Completion

About: I am a seed saver, graphic designer, artist, parrot rescuer, and bulldog lover. Project collaborations welcome.

Hello, my name is Chelsea and this is my second published Instructable.

In this Instructable, I will be walking you through the steps of making a premium quality leather mask; from the concept of the design and initial purchase of the leather all the way to the painting, stringing the mask and the finishing of the project.

If you like this project please vote or share; and follow me for more great tutorials in the future. Comment if you have any questions and I will reply.

:) Thank you! Enjoy, learn, and get creative!

Note: some of the images are sideways, I will edit them tonight and tomorrow and add details! :)

Step 1: Step One (1): Gather Materials

In order to make this mask as I did, you will need the following items:

• 9x13 inch piece of 8 oz. Vegetable Tanned Tooling Leather
• A semi-soft Sponge(check the dollar store)
Water and a cup or bowl
Razor blade / box cutter / leather scissors
Paper and pencil (Sharpen your pencil to draw, but dull the lead when transferring your design or use the needle tool)
NeedleTool and a Ball Tool (optional)
• An Oven (set to 350° for setting the shape of the mask), or sun dry if you lack a oven and have time.
Acrylic Paints: black and white (mix for grey, light blue optional)
• Sealant (optional)- Matte (feathers) and Gloss (beak) to seal and finish your project
• Hole Punch or Nail & Hammer to make string holes
Leather string, Leather Lace, Elastic, Ribbon or Fabric (to fasten the mask)
• Pliers / tweezers to pull the fastening string through the mask

While some of the materials are very cheap (water and the sponge)- the leather, leather scissors, paint and tools can get expensive. It helps to look around a bit and shop around for the best price.

I suggest visiting your local thrift shops and asking if they have any leather working tools or if they have a tool section in general, this will save you a ton of money and will get you some really nice tools if you are lucky.

I live in the desert and there aren't any leather goods shops near by, but I had luck posting about the project on Facebook and having a friend whose father was into leather-working give a link to borrowing some tools and learning from a master; so ask around to borrow tools- it doesn't hurt,and it's another great way to save money if you are only doing this as a one-time project on a limited budget.

I have found eBay to be a very reliable and affordable source for planned out (shipping takes time) large project needs- (for example I bought 6 sq. ft. of 8 oz. Vegetable Tanned Tooling Leather [a shoulder], that I used maybe a an eighth of for this project, for about $68 total; and they had some scrap pieces for slightly less.

And of course Tandy Leather is a great one-stop source for leather working tools, their 8.5x11 inch sheets of tooling leather are the perfect size for small projects such as mask making without the price of the large shoulders of leather.

Step 2: Step Two (2): Developing the Design & Template

Use a thin piece of 8.5x11 inch paper and a pencil, sketch out your idea. I cut and glued an extra 4" of paper to allow making a taller mask template; make sure you have enough leather to cover your design.

  1. Conceptualize the design by drawing a small thumbnail of the design on a separate paper and work with the look until you are happy with it. I start with a small sketch of a face that I then draw over with all the components of the mask (such as eye holes) and worked outwards from there.

    For this mask, I decided to make a White Cockatoo (aka Umbrella Cockatoo, scientific name Cacatua Alba), I googled images of the bird and used a couple as inspiration for the design.
  2. When the concept is complete and you are happy with the general idea, it's time to sketch out the master template- the template you will be using to trace on top of the leather to transfer the design.

    I take an 8.5x11 inch sheet of paper and fold it once in the center vertically, and once horizontally where i assume the center of the face (between the eyes) will be. I make sure the eyes are on the same line and this is how i keep the mask level on the paper.

    Optional: You can also measure your face using a fabric ruler and develop the design from measurements if you desire it to be precise.
    Important measurements are:
    • Top of the eye to top of the forehead/head
    • Bottom of the eye to bottom of the chin
    • length between eyes
    • side of eve to side of face
    • length and height of eyes

      If you don't have a cloth measuring tape, you can do as I did and press the paper up against your face and mark the placement of the slits for the eyes, sides of the head, (and nose and mouth if it is in your custom design).

      Remember to press the paper to fit / match the ideal curvature of the leather when designing your mask to ensure the proper fit after moulding.
  3. Sketch 1/2 of the design on either the left or right side. When you're happy with the detail, fold your template like a card (as shown) and hold or tape it on a well lit window (or a computer with notepad maximized as i did since I work at night) and trace the opposite side to make a perfectly symmetrical mask. From there I slightly altered the design to have slight variants from side to side to keep a natural, but symmetrically appealing look.

    *** To save you four hours, I have included the basic sketch I made and used in the development of this mask. Compare the printed template to your face before marking your leather and cutting out your mask to ensure your mask will fit you and adjust as needed; dont forget the leather will bend and warp the space between your eyes, so dont over-adjust.

Printable Cockatoo Parrot Leather Mask Template
(Sketch, to scale- print on one 8.5x14 paper, or two 8.5x11 papers then cut and glue together; if your printer will not print bleeds, click 'fit to page'):
JPG Outlined Template (1 MB)
Raw Drawing Template (1 MB)

Step 3: Step Three (3): Design Transfer and Cutting the Leather

*Always Save Leather - Lay out your template by placing it using pins strategically on the leather prior to indenting and cutting the leather itself. Tooling Leather is made from the skin of an once-living animal; Don't waste it!

  1. After your design placement is decided, pin the template outside of the drawing to the tooling leather using pins [outside of the design], push the pins through the leather to make an indention, then remove your design from the leather and replace the pens in the holes and carefully push them through the leather so they show through on the other side.
  2. Fill your cup / bowl with a little water and dip your sponge.
  3. Flip your leather over and drag the wetted sponge across the rough side of the leather to wet the complete area of the template [use the pin holes as a guide where to wet]- wet the area slowly and evenly until moisture shows on the smooth side (it will look dark and wet), then lightly blot the smooth side with a towel to remove any excess water.
  4. After a ten [10] minute rest, your leather is softened and ready to accept your finalized design.
  5. Replace the template on the leather with the pins.
  6. Using a needle tool or softened pencil, outline the marks of your template. The indents will transfer to the leather. Make sure you mark all of the lines; don't worry about detail just yet.

    *** Make a photo copy of your template and use the copy for the leather design transfer instead of the original mockup. The pencil lines wont smear all over the place and you will be able to keep your hard work intact for future use!
  7. Once you think you have transfered all of the lines from the template, remove one pin at a time and lift and compare the leather to the template, add any missing lines.
  8. Completely remove the template paper; now you should be able to see your design clearly

Sources: 1

Step 4: Step Four (4): Cutting & Tooling the Leather

Decide where to cut your leather, a cutting mat is preferential, or a flattened cardboard box.

Using your box cutter, razor or leather scissors, slowly and carefully cut out the outside of the mask to separate it from the leather sheet. Be very careful if you are using a razor or box cutter, it will have resistance then slice like a hot knife through soft butter; never cut towards your body or towards your thumb or fingers.

I recommend using leather scissors, I was just using what I had on hand. Never let children use box cutters.

Once your leather is separated, clean up your edges. I used the box cutter, but there are special leather tools for this called edge bevelers, which are a lot easier and safer to use.

Cut the eyes out slowly using the box cutter with small, light pressured incisions.

Using your box cutter, make slices along the details of the mask, deeper cuts allow the leather to gap, and creates a deep wrinkle that separates as it dries. Deepen the slices around the beak and nose [but do not cut through the mask] and along the tops of the feathers that are layered [forehead and cheeks.]

*** Light details might be lost during painting, so make important details a little deeper.

With the mask set against a hard, non-scratch surface, take the box cutter and slice the leather feathers softly and in differing pressures to create detail, go along the outside of the feather and cut inwards and slightly downwards towards the center of the feather and lighten the slice towards the center. In the center of the feather cut two thin lines to mimic the quill of the feather. You can tool either side of the quill for added dimension. See photo for feather examples.

Constantly refer to your template as needed for details or free hand it and let your creativity flow.

Ball tool Tooling is optional, and takes some time, but will give leather some pop and dimension. If tooled on one side of a slice, it creates a layered look. To the feathers, it makes it look like one just ended that is on top of the other- this and the added slices that simulate create feather bars create a natural, authentic feather-look to leather.

Multi-day projects: Keep leather from curling or drying by covering with a plastic bag or plastic wrap.

Make fastened-band holes to attach elastic, fabric, or leather strings to keep the mask tied to your head.

Step 5: Step Five (5): Drying and Sculpting the Leather Mask

Now that you are done cutting and detailing your mask and you are happy with the look of it, you are ready to set the shape of your mask.

  • Set your oven to 350°.

With the still wet mask, press it up against your face and pinch and mould the leather, fold and pinch it above the eyes to start the bump of the forehead and twist the feathers on the crest and cheeks a bit.

This is the first mould setting, it will change drastically from this, just start working the leather in the right direction and to get a feel for what you need to shape.

Set the leather in the oven and check it every five to ten minutes to make sure it doesn't burn on the bottom or edges. (Ps. Mine burned; it just looks less pretty from the back, doesn't hurt it much.)

RE-WETEDGES to make sure the mask dries uniformly and to keep the edges from burning. Spray a light mist of water or wet your fingers and moisten the edges.

Rework your leather continually outwards to the center; push and shape with your hands until you get the proper fit and look you desire.

Put the mask on your face and make sure the eyes holes are properly adjusted so the mask wearer can see.

After a couple of moulding sessions in and out the oven, the mask is lightening in color which means the water is drying out from the mask. It is now time to finalize the shape; make sure the mask is in the desired shape and that the eye holes are correct.

Start force moulding the leather, I pull downwards on the beak with my hands and push upwards with my thumbs to give it the classic horn-bill curve.

I also discovered the semi-sharp corner of a steamer [or anything really] is perfect for rounding out the forehead of the bird and finishing the bow of its beak. Holding the mask, I rubbed the corner on the inside of the head until the leather stretched a bit and created a nice bulbed look [see photos.]

Dry until the leather feels hard- a little moisture is ok, do not over cook and let the mask become brittle.

Step 6: Step Six (6): Painting the Mask (The Fun Part!)

Once you are happy with the look of your leather mask and are finished with all the little details; it's time to paint!

Although I am a stain and oil paint proponent through and through, oil tends to darken leather; the cockatoo is a white bird and we need the mask to be snow white, so we are going to use the more common option for leather mask painting- Acrylic Paint. Acrylic paint is very common and can be found at most hobby, craft and big box stores. It is chosen often for mask detailing due to its flexibility, steadfast to cracking, low cost and availability.

For this mask I used two Acrylic Paint colors: White and Black, and used a small amount of black mixed in the leftover white to create Grey.

The process of painting is very simple; You will need two brushes- a Large Brush for covering larger areas easily at once, and a second, Small Brush for the details. I prefer the soft bristle brushes so they don't leave any textures, but looking back, a hard texture might have added to the subtle textured-line look of the feathers and been lovely.

  1. Ready your cup with a small amount of water.
  2. Find a piece of plastic, cardboard, paint mixing plate or palate and squeeze a your tube of white acrylic paint to extrude paint until you have enough to use (about the size of your thumb to start with.) I dip my brush in the water a few times and dilute the paint to a wet- but not transparent consistency.
  3. Cover the face of the mask in a layer of paint, including the sides with white and work into the cracks and details of the mask. When you are done using your brush, wash out the brush with warm water before the paint dries. Try not to leave your brushes bristles-down soaking in water, it messes their shape up.
  4. Squeeze / smear a very tiny amount of black acrylic paint out near the white paint; using the small brush, pick up a small dab of black and mix it with the white to make a nice, light grey.
  5. Paint the rim of the beak and nostrils grey.
  6. Expel more black acrylic paint, about as much as the size of your thumb nail. Using the cleaned large brush, dip the brush in the water then wet and mix the black acrylic paint. Paint the beak black and carefully paint along the edges so you dont have to fix any mistakes. You can also use the small brush along the edges for precise lines.
  7. Lightly run the large brush through some pre-mixed grey acrylic paint and run in down the center of the beak- work the paint with your fingers to give it a faint highlight.

• Wipe any mistakes then cover with the correct paint after you wash your brush as needed.
Add more paint to the tops of feathers to make the paint bolder and whiter than the feather behind it, this adds dimension.
• Make sure the paint is slightly watered down so you do not loose detail!

Optional: Seal the mask with matte sealant over the white areas and gloss over the black beak. I did not seal my mask.

Step 7: Step Seven (7) : Stringing the Mask

Find some ribbon, braided elastic or leather string and thread it through the holes in the mask.

Please watch and refer to this video for the best method for stringing a leather mask. This video was the original video I watched to learn how to sculpt the mask, she does some great work and is very inspiring.

I make holes in the mask using a nail and hammer in the wet phase. You can just as easily use a hole punch during the dry stage if you forget the step.

I use a simple knot to keep the mask on and it fits snugly since it was moulded over my face. Coushioning pads may be glued inside the nose if you plan to wear it over long periods of time.

Step 8: Wear It!

And that's all there is to it; Time to wear it out!
The masks also make a great adornments and add interest to walls.

About the White Cockatoo:
White cockatoo parrots are an endangered species, please contribute to wildlife projects and non-adopting sanctuaries to protect this wonderful species.

To virtually adopt a cockatoo parrot, please visit

Thank you everyone! Please vote, share and get creative!

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    7 years ago

    Well done. You have some great artistry. The feather work is well done.