Introduction: House of Rainbows Mask
Last August, shortly after Bill and I had celebrated our fourth anniversary, we made the decision to move in together. Bill's got a house, which he has occupied alone for a very very long time, and we both highly value our personal space, so it was kind of a big decision. It would also take a while, because I had to get out of a lease, and the house was going to need some work to prepare for an extra human and a dog.
We made a plan, and figured out a timeline that would get me out of the apartment by the first of December. There was a lot to do. Some serious preparation at Bill's house, and five years worth of apartment living to pack up. But the most important project, of course, was making a mask to mark the significance of the occasion.
Bill had his roof re-shingled over the summer, and when he was deciding on which shingles to choose, I had tried to find some rainbow shingles online. Not to re-shingle the roof, but just to show him as a gag, because Bill is really into rainbows. I remembered being surprised that rainbow shingles didn't seem to be a thing.
The very second that I decided to make a mask to represent our home together, I knew that I would build a literal house, and that it would have rainbow shingles.
It might be a small challenge to execute, but the idea was pretty straightforward. A house worn tight to the face, like a domino mask. Actual windows for eyeholes, and a stone chimney built out to accommodate my nose (we don't actually have a chimney, but I do actually have a big nose). I intended to keep the structure quite simple, but I knew right away that I was going to carry the rainbow motif all the way through the whole paint job.
Step 1: Breaking Ground
I started with a very basic set of walls and a sloped roof cut from corrugated cardboard. I placed windows to the front and matching ones to the sides. To make it wearable, I attached a plaster face cast to the inside, aligned so that the edge of the mask could form a vertical mullion in each side window.
I built the chimney onto the front, and then I coated the entire thing with the first layer of paper mache.
Step 2: Housing Crisis
After a light sanding, I tidied up the edges with paper clay and then added the siding. I'd decided on the simplified six-color rainbow, so I divided the tall sides of the house into six segments. Covering the chimney with stones really transformed the look of it (and also made it a bit heavier, but at least it was centered!)
Meanwhile, I was making shingles. I wanted a more irregular, rustic appearance for the shingles, which maybe wasn't the most sensible look given the rest of the house, but the heart wants what it wants! I rolled them out of clay and cut them by hand, keeping them long enough to glue down and overlap, but allowing some variation in width. As they air dried, I kept them relatively flat, but allowed them to curve a bit. For character.
Once I had a lot of dry shingles, I put them on the roof just to be sure that I had made enough to cover the whole thing, with a few extra just in case of tragedy.
Step 3: A Touch of Color
I divided the shingles into six equal piles and painted them, but it would still be a minute before I was ready to glue them down.
My plan for the chimney was a little more complex. Three colors in the mortar, and the other three colors on the stones. So the rainbow would appear in order: the stones were red at the top of the chimney, grading through orange and yellow at the base. Then the mortar graded from green at the bottom (behind the yellow), through blue and into purple back up at the top. The stones could wait a while, but I painted the mortar at this stage.
Step 4: The Eyes Are the Windows to The...House
I'll spare you the details of my various failures in trying to find something to use for window panes, and just tell you what I eventually used. I found two 5x7 clipboards made of translucent plastic, one blue and one purple. They weren't the exact shades I would have chosen under ideal circumstances, but we use what we can get sometimes.
They were large enough to get the two necessary panes of each color. I cut them with a Dremel blade tool, which was pretty stinky business. It actually melted as much as it cut, the blade was sharp but the friction also liquefied the plastic as it went through. Once it was cut, I had to file off the bloopy edges that had re-solidified.
Building in the windows and painting the sides of the house were tandem projects. The colors on the shingles and chimney were very saturated, so I would contrast the siding with a much paler finish. Although part of me liked the idea of doing the whole house in extremely rich, bright colors, that approach also felt presentational, or showy, in a way that I wasn't intending. It's a cool idea, but didn't really represent our house and that's actually what this whole thing was about.
Securing the windows was a little tricky, because I had to make them structurally sound without actually damaging the panes (which are super cheap and would scuff quite easily). To make the edges sharp against the panes, I sliced the clay with a smooth-edged cutting tool, to avoid scratching the surface. Then I carefully cleaned away any excess while it was still soft, using a moist cotton swab.
I left the side windows open for a longer time, because I used those openings to access the area behind the front windows when I was sealing them in! Its kind of a tight squeeze in there.
The siding was basically painted in outline, then I used the colors to just lightly tint the larger areas. I think it helps the other features stand out, while emphasizing the more subtle physical structure on the side of the house.
Since the low edge of the roof is on the front face of the house, the visible siding only shows yellow through purple. So, for the window boxes and the corner beams, I alternated between red and orange, to bring those colors more prominently onto the face.
With the siding underway, it was time to start finishing off the stones for the chimney. There were some tight spaces where the chimney, window boxes, and siding all had to play off each other, so I wanted to bring them all home at the same time.
Step 5: A Little Off the Top
Gluing in the shingles was actually one of the toughest parts of the project. I chose Loctite adhesive, because I needed something that not only had a decent grip, but also had some bulk to it since everything is just a little bit uneven.
Loctite was great for that purpose, but unfortunately it goes on bright white and it stays that way forever! So I needed to be fairly careful that nothing spilled over into an area that would be visible to the viewer. I did need to go back in at the end, turn the mask over and look for any flashes of white glue. With a fine brush, I blacked out anything I didn't want to see!
Step 6: Ivy League
The last decoration I needed was a bit of ivy on the sides. I didn't want to overcrowd it, and I certainly didn't want to cover it with a lot of overly delicate bits. I rolled a modest vine for each side, and I had to allow each one to dry while it lay on the house. In the end I'd be gluing them down, so I needed them to dry in a form that properly hugged the siding.
For their final color, I graded them from red at the base up through yellow just at the tips.
But the really last last decoration I needed was something for the inside, especially since there would be glimpses visible when the mask was being worn! So I just painted the whole interior like a bright blue sky, with a stylized sun where the face goes.
Step 7: Home Is Where My Face Is
This mask lived up to my intentions, and gave me a better understanding of architecture as a category for maskmaking. I would definitely like to try my hand at a more complex structure, and a really brutally difficult paint job, but I am glad that I didn't do that for this one. This mask is our house, which is a pretty uncomplicated place to live!
Runner Up in the
Colors of the Rainbow Contest