Introduction: Industrial Frog Prince Mask and Costume
Okay, this was a weird one. I love the mask, and I can talk about making it, but there's a lot about this mask that I don't completely grok.
For context, this mask started gestating right after I had finished the Grease Monkey and the Sheriff of Chickensaw County, two masks whose dominant themes were industrial textures and animal shapes. I was still interested to work in that area, but I didn't want the next mask to look like the third entry in a series.
When I was planning the chicken, I had intended to make barbed wire out of clay and use it as a decorative motif around the eyes, but it didn't work out that way. I was still looking for an opportunity to try making barbed wire.
And calendar-wise, it was the time of year where I needed to start thinking about making a mask for Bill's Halloween costume. We talked about it, but Bill didn't have any preconceived ideas yet, so I asked him if he would be interested in an animal that might (or might not) have barbed wire around the eyes. Bill told me that he liked the idea of a frog.
For a while I just lived with the frog notion, and thought about how I might solve the problem of the frog's facial anatomy mapped onto a human face. I was not at all sure how that was going to work.
The one thing I was sure of was that the frog needed to have a shiny green glitter finish! It was a split-second decision based on a Harley Davidson motorcycle I saw, and I knew I had to make it my own. The shiny green glitter, I mean, not the motorcycle.
Over the next couple of weeks, I started to put together some basic ideas about the mask. I had a general notion of how I might proceed structurally, but I was going to have to build it onto a mannequin head and some of the details would need to be figured out on the fly. I knew the top half of the mask, the part above the frog mouth, would have the shiny finish, while the lower half (the throat sac) would be different.
Honestly, what I was struggling with most was the barbed wire! I still wasn't sure how the eyes were going to work, but this whole thing had started with a conversation about making a mask with barbed wire around the eyes. And now, with my heart set on the shiny green Harley Davidson finish, I couldn't reconcile the barbed wire.
This is the struggle that somehow culminated in a personal revelation. Here's how it went. I was trying to figure out how to incorporate the barbed wire in a way that felt appropriate to me; barbed wire next to the shiny green finish did not feel appropriate to me, even though I couldn't express the reasons. But when I imagined creating the eye openings out of tire rubber, with that texture forming a buffer between the green finish and the barbed wire, that worked for me.
I was trying to express all of this to Bill and I arrived at the following statement: “Art is a series of decisions that I can't explain, based on criteria that I don't understand.”
Maybe that's not a mantra that one can find useful in day to day existence, but to me it was a slightly soothing observation.
Step 1: Let There Be Frog!
So it began. I started to build the form, and I also ordered a tire-tread mold intended for fondant. I've never been entirely comfortable with the decision to use a mold because it's totally cheating, but it was a lot easier than trying to create realistic tire tread myself, and consequently I just try not to think about it. The fact is that the paper clay worked beautifully in the mold, once I got to that stage, and you can't argue with results.
(You can argue with results, actually, you can argue with anything you like. That's just one of those pearls of wisdom people like to throw around, like The customer is always right, which is also a lie. Still, the results were good, and I didn't argue with them too forcefully.)
Anyway, I built the main shape of the frog face, based on the weird plans I had concocted in my head, then covered it with a layer of paper mache strips before using clay to smooth out the contours. The clay allowed me to make the top part fairly smooth, build in just the suggestion of a nose, and put a lower lip on the mouth.
Step 2: Cheating
The next step was the tire tread, which had to be formed in two pieces for each eye because the mold itself was not long enough to do it one. I thought about attempting to join the two pieces seamlessly, but ultimately chose a brazenly layered look. The strips of tire mold were laid over the eye frames and allowed to set before I used another round of clay to seal them at the front.
Additional clay was employed to build a short ridge at the base of each eye, because I intended to cover the eye openings with a bulbous shape made from metal window screen. Therefore, I needed the entire eye area to have a raised physical border so the screen could be attached from the back.
Step 3: Sacs and Tubes
Perhaps the most inexplicable feature I had planned for the frog mask was a length of segmented metal conduit on the throat-sac. I'm not really sure what the implied function of such a feature might be, but I had a pretty clear vision of it.
At first I was just going to use an actual piece of metal conduit, but that went out the window as soon as I tried to cut it. The metal was too tough, the cut ends too jagged, and the conduit was prone to unraveling. That was pretty disappointing, until I started to build a fake conduit directly onto the mask out of clay, which turned out to be really easy and I was done in like 7 minutes. Why do I work so hard to use “real” materials when I can save myself so much trouble with fake ones?
Step 4: Wire Work
Next I got to work on the feature that posed the biggest challenge and, perhaps, the smallest reward. I wanted to create a decorative length of rusty old barbed wire to put on the frog's eye, out of paper mache clay. Not because it was the most sensible material, or because I was somehow unable to find actual barbed wire; I just wanted to see if I could do it!
And I did do it, but it was, indeed, a huge challenge. It required a lot of very careful work to roll out the wire while keeping it all roughly even. Then more careful work to manipulate it so gently to create the twisted wire, and form the barbs.
But even successfully creating the illusion of barbed wire wasn't the end of it, because the clay had to be held in its final position while it dried, and its final position was a dramatic curve that the clay couldn't hold without assistance.
In the end, was it worth it? No, in the sense that nothing is gained by doing it in this specific way. It's not better than real barbed wire, it's far less durable, and there are ways I could have made fake barbed wire that would have been more durable. But, in terms of a personal challenge, it was absolutely worth it. I wanted to see if I could make this, and I succeeded, and it looks great! I'm just a little scared that I might break it.
Step 5: It's So Freaking Easy Being Green
At this point, the mask is almost entirely built. All that remains are a few little nuts (which will look like they're holding the tire rubber to the mask) and a couple of large nuts for the ribbon ties. So while those were drying, I got to work on the paint job, beginning with a green basecoat on top and a white coat on the throat. The idea was smooth and shiny above, with battered metal below!
The green part was covered with several coats of a green glitter craft paint, which was pretty easy. The throat took more attention, because the white parts had to be dirtied and chipped with lots of steel showing through, but it's a process that is familiar to me now after making the Grease Monkey mask!
Step 6: Eye Hop
Last but not least, I had to finish the eyes. The idea was to place the window screen in such a way that the frog eyes would be protruding and bulbous, which sounded easy enough on paper but was kind of hard to pull off! The main problem is that the screen doesn't want to hold that shape, so it needed to be glued in with something that was strong enough to keep it that way until it dried.
I tried a few different things without success, but finally got what I wanted in the form of a two-part epoxy putty, which you knead between fingers until it's all uniform and really smelly. The putty is super tough and tacky, easily strong enough to hold the screen in place!
After that, it's a simple matter to paint the frog eye pattern on the screen. The result is not perfect, because it's impossible to paint the screen without some of the cells being filled. I like to use those little dental tools - like a plastic toothpick with fronds on the side - to poke excess paint from the spaces in the screen.
Step 7: Frog Skins
When we went to Boise this summer on a Halloween thrifting trip, Bill found his perfect coat at the Goodwill and declared that this was going to be his costume coat. So then we had to decide how that was going to work, and what we came up with was painting the back of the coat like the spots of a leopard frog!
I drew the shapes freehand with a colored pencil, then taped it all off and spraypainted the spots in black. This was done in two parts; first, the entire middle panel, and afterward, the flaps that wrap around to the front.
Once the black spots were completely dried, each spot was outlined in a bold yellow and then blended into green, hopefully fading somewhat naturally into the color of the coat at the end. The process was simple, but the result is pretty bold and cool!
Step 8: Crown of Barbs
The crown was just your basic cardboard structure covered with paper mache, but then I attached it to a hard plastic headband. I built it on with strips of glued leather, then papered over it again, and covered the ends of the headband with canvas. Of course the crown is too top-heavy for that headband to hold it securely, but when the band itself is further clamped into place with the straps of the mask, it turns out to be pretty stable.
Bill also wanted to decorate the crown with barbed wire, and once again we foolishly attempted to use the real thing first. That was a no-go, for one of a thousand reasons. So we went to the hardware store and bought a few yards of a thin copper wire with rubberized coating, and I made that into barbed wire which I painted myself. That process was so shockingly quick and easy that I have since suggested making yards and yards more of it, if Bill ever wants to wear this costume again. We can use it to decorate kneepads and boots and all sorts of things!
Step 9: Tread on Me!
Bill wanted to honor the tire treads on the mask by making a bandolier out of retread. So the first thing we did was go out on the highway and find one!
We took our roadside retread home, where I cut it down to size and we started figuring out how to actually use it. In the back room I found an old back brace, too small for its intended purpose but ideal for this unexpected purpose! Bill drilled some holes in the ends of the tire tread, and I busted out my riveter and we attached the tire tread to the back brace to make a surprisingly functional bandolier! Bill lined the back of the tire with fake fur, and glued some animal bones to the front.
Step 10: Stick It
Bill is a fancy guy, and fancy guys have walking sticks. So for his final accessory, I sculpted this simplified 'frog head' on the end of a dowel, then made it into a cane. I painted the main body with the same glitter paint as the mask, then slathered the whole thing with Mod Podge to make it slick and shiny.
Step 11: Victory Hop!
This costume was striking and lovely! A bit too striking and lovely to be able to get into it without assistance; thankfully my less complicated costume left me free to help Bill suit up and secure his crown (and mask, and wig...)
We cruised around downtown during the Trick or Treat festivities, getting a good eyeful of the local costumes and dishing out a good deal of silent menace. In the evening we went to Ten Depot Street, a restaurant that has hosted pretty much the only Halloween party in town, for longer than I have lived here. Bill and I won the top prize together, for the third year running!
Participated in the
Halloween Contest 2019