Introduction: Honeycomb Mask (Paper Mache)

About: I Build Monsters.

I had this idea for a mask with a really simple shape, and I thought it would be kind of funny but it also seemed like cheating. So I guess I felt like I had to earn the right to make a mask with a really simple shape, by first making a mask with the most frustrating, tedious, impossible shape I could come up with.

A mask that looked like honeycomb.

So one night, I made two plaster gauze mask forms. One for later, and one for this.

Step 1: Teacup Full of Hexagons.

It's entirely possible that I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I had spent some time really planning how to approach this project. It's even conceivable that the mask would have ended up looking better. But the trade-off in that event would have been that, six days ago, I would be planning instead of doing. And frankly, I wanted to be making a mask, gosh-darn it, not planning to make a mask!

So I started making hexagons. I marked out strips of manila folder one and one half inches wide. I scored each strip into six segments, each a quarter of an inch wide. Then I sliced the strips into half-inch pieces, which were easily shaped into hexagons and held in place with a scrap of masking tape.

Then I began sticking them to the plaster gauze base with rubber cement. I started on a rather flat surface, but the looming reality was that human facial contours would drive the upper edges of the hexagons apart. Irregularity was guaranteed, and that was going to have to be part of the charm.

Step 2: Busy Bee

To apply the paper mache, the paper had to be cut into strips narrower than a quarter inch, painstakingly applied with a paintbrush dipped in flour paste. There was no shortcut for this! I used the strips to bridge the gaps between hexagons, and seal them to the mask at their bottoms.

For the more dramatic contours (like those around the nose), I took my scissors and angled the base of the hexagon, to keep their tops closer together. But I didn't do any measuring or anything like that, it was all just estimation and brute force.

As the flour paste is applied, the manila folder softens and the hexagons become less distinct. This was always expected, but I did my best to minimize the damage. I only did a little at a time, then dried the area with a hairdryer before moving on.

Of course I made up a batch of paper mache clay, because this pattern has 37 million corners in it and paper strips just weren't going to be up to the task of sealing all those edges! I used metal clay tools to blend bits of clay into the bottoms of the cells and along the upper edges.

Step 3: Carving Out the Shape

Once the honeycomb structure was solid, I set about removing the dead space. All of the plaster mask surface that lay outside of the honeycomb was carefully removed with an X-Acto knife. This left an irregular pattern along the outside and around the eyes.

I used paper mache clay to seal all of the newly exposed areas, finally giving me my first view of what this mask was really going to look like. I was pretty happy with it.

But before I could get on with it, there was still a lot more work to do with the clay, reinforcing dozens of tiny areas on the honeycomb surface and within the cells. It was, of course, tedious. Really tedious. But I knew that the more work I did now, the happier I would be later.

I used a needle file to put a small hole at the base of a cell on either side, through which I could thread a small tie to make the mask wearable.

Additionally, I prepared for the bees.

See, I thought that maybe I would like to have a bee or two, crawling on the surface of the honeycomb. Or maybe not. Options are good! So, I chose three cells and buried a small, powerful magnet in each one. I filled these cells in with paper mache clay. That way, should I choose to make one or more bees later on, I can embed magnets in them and have three different places where I can place a bee.

Step 4: None of Your Beeswax

This whole paint job was a real challenge!

Part of that was because of my supplies. My paint stock is rapidly dwindling after making a buttload (that's a technical term) of masks this year. All of my yellow and brown tones are extremely low pigment paints that are really translucent. That means it's a lot of work to build up a base, but I knew it would be.

So, after the white basecoat had dried, I painted the bottoms of all the cells with a deep brown color, and I had to coat those two or three times to get any kind of coverage. And, of course, there is no way to do that without getting brown paint on the cell walls and tops, here and there, so after it was done I had to paint over all that with white again.

Then came the yellow. Again, it's a matter of building up a base through multiple coats. With highlights, I tried to bring distinctiveness to the hexagonal shapes at the top, hoping to reinforce through suggestion the geometry that had been somewhat sublimated through moisture.

I used highlights and lowlights to emphasize the planes on the sides of the hexagons along the border, then lowered the volume on those tones with another coat of translucent yellow.

Then I employed varnish in a couple of different ways. I tinted a matte varnish with a bit of white and used it to coat all of the borders around the edges and the eyes, leaving a nice milky haze over the whole works. And I tinted a gloss varnish with a color that might be mistaken for honey, in the proper context. I let this honey gloss pool in the bottom of the cells, blurring the edges of the dark paint and giving a lovely honey effect that gleams as the light passes over it.

Then, I thought, the milky haze was a little too milky, so I took some satin varnish and tinted it yellow, and used it over some of the milky hazy parts.

Eventually, though, I had to stop. So I did.

Step 5: Let's Bee Friends!

What do you think? How should one accessorize this mask? Beehive hairdo? Beard of bees?