Introduction: Mask Making (Voodoo Baby)

This was a commission completed for a Montreal artist. It was a simple type of mask and I want to use it as a step by step example to give everyone a basic understanding of how they are made. 

What you will need:

Foam: Insulation foam (I am using a pink type in this example), Ethafoam or any other type of carving foam. 

Fabric of choice.

Sheet Styrene and a small piece of plywood to mold the eyes.

Carving knife: I prefer large and small Olfas, but whatever you are comfortable shaping foam with.

A Surform shaver tool. 

Glues: 3m Spray glue, Hot glue and a cement bond (optional).

Vision screen: Chicken wire, screen material, thin foam sheet (ie. type used as a wet filter for a shop vac).

Airbrush and paints as well as additional acrylic paints for brushed on details. 

T-pins, thread (strong upholstery type is recommended), curved sewing needle.


The above photos were taken by Monsiieur.
Concept by Manuel Mathieu
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Step 1: Research Pictures.

The client sent me some of these pictures and I gathered others from Google Images for reference. 
Also recommended to acquire a 3D reference like a toy doll head.

Step 2: Paper Patterns

A projector is useful at this step but not necessary. 
Also, because I create these masks on a regular basis, I have a silhouette of my head cut out to measure inside of the paper pattern for purposes of proportion. 

You will want to either draw your image on a small scale and then project it on a large piece of paper, or if you are confident just draw it free hand. 
As you can see in this picture my silhouetted head fits nicely into the pattern. 

Normally with making mascots, you will have the vision be from the mouth, meaning the head would be larger than this. The artist and I discussed before hand that he would like the mouth to resemble that of an actual baby doll, so it would be small. Since this will have a Voodoo like twist to it, we agreed that one eye was going to remain missing which gave us an easy answer as to where the wearer would be looking out from. 

Also I find creating a pattern of the profile of the face to be easier. Or maybe that's what I am used to. I have heard of others doing this with a pattern of the head front on. 
The advantage of using the profile however, is that after you cut several slabs and glue them together (in this example I will have 8), you will have visual markers to help you maintain symmetry on both the left and right side of the face. That being the 7 seams sandwiched between.  

Step 3: Trace Your Pattern Out Multiple Times on a Big Sheet of Foam

Down the street at my local hardware store I can buy large pieces of this insulation foam at a pretty good price. One large sheet at a 2" thickness sufficed for this mask. 

The mask will end up being around 14" wide upon completion, but it's best to overcompensate at the beginning to be safe. So I will cut 8 slabs out for a total of 16".

Another trick to save time and some foam is to cut your slabs a bit smaller for the outer parts of the face, knowing that they will taper as you are carving them. 

For this example I have cut 4 slabs of the original pattern, then two more at around 2" smaller all around, and two more at an additional 2" smaller. See next step for details. 

Step 4: Cut Out Slabs and Stack Together With a Minimal Amount of Hot Glue

Cutting the slabs out is easiest with a band saw, but you could also use a hand saw or a large X-acto blade. 

The middle 4 slabs should line themselves up pretty easily, but for the outer two on each side it is best to keep a pattern reference of how they relate to the initial pattern. See image 3 in this slideshow. You can trace that shape out on the larger pattern and glue the smaller slabs in place with ease. 

It is really important to note that you will just be temporarily gluing these slabs together. This is just for the purpose of carving them. You will be taking them apart later to hollow them out, and then reassembling them. 
For this reason I recommend using a minimal amount of hot glue ie. 3-5 large dabs (on a low setting too, since too hot of a setting will melt the foam). Assemble two slabs at a time putting ample pressure on them in order to make the bond hold for the carving process. 

At the end of this step you should have something that looks like the last picture in this slideshow.

Step 5: Carve Your Head!

So this is the step where skill may be a prerequisite, but I know you can do it! 

It may take some time and patience. 

A few pointers:
- have lots of reference images, and even some 3D objects such as an actual doll head 
- draw on your form with a pen or permanent marker, highlight where you don't want to carve, mark areas that need to come down
- work on just one side first, and when you are satisfied work on the other, you will have a reference then
- Use the seams in between the slabs as reference points to gain symmetry
- be careful with your blade, always keep your hand out of the way of it

From this point, if you feel confident enough you can carve your head until you think it is complete, but there are even more tricks to gain a maximum amount of symmetry as you will see in the next step. 

Step 6: Obtaining Symmetry

A pointer in the last step was to work on one side of your face in order to have a reference for the other side. 

If you feel confident in eyeing the mask to obtain total symmetry, then you can skip this step, otherwise here is a small trick you can use. 

Create register marks with black marker or pen on all the seams as you will need them later to reassemble the head. 
Pry the sections apart except for the middle seam. I do this with a thin metal ruler, but anything rigid and thin should work. 
You will be matching each slab with its partner on the other side of the face, temporarily gluing them together as shown in the photos. This will allow you to match each section more accurately as you carve.  

When you feel they are symmetrical enough you can take them apart and reassemble the whole head with a few dabs of hot glue again. They should fit together pretty well at this point, and you may have remnants of the register marks to aid you. You can then sculpt a bit further as there may be areas of unevenness. 

Step 7: Hollowing Out the Head

You are going to recreate those register marks from the previous step again and take the slabs apart. 
Using a black marker or pen, you will trace the shape of the form on the interior of both sides of each slab, roughly 2-4 inches from the edge. 

Afterwards you will need to hollow each slab. Using and Olfa blade, cut out the shape from the smaller side: as each slab will slightly taper as it progresses to the head's cheek, one side of the form will be smaller than the other. Afterwards you will need to carve the interior to form a diagonal line from the smaller trace to the larger. See the last picture for a reference. 

Step 8: Gluing the Slabs Together More Permanently.

At this point you will be assembling the head in a more permanent manner. For this commission I used 3M spray glue for the permanent bond, but you can also use a cement glue. I tend to prefer Lepage's Pres-tite Green cement glue as there are no fumes and it is safe to use indoors without a mask or proper ventilation. It does take a little longer to dry however. 

Follow the directions on the can of glue you are using for the best bond. With the spray glue I usually do two light coats for each surface, and let them set for 30 seconds or so. For safety I did this part outside on my porch and wore latex gloves to avoid getting spray glue on my hands. 

Putting the head back together should be easy if you made enough register marks in the previous step, 

Step 9: Eye and Head Holes.

After the head is assemble you can move on to more of the details of the face. Feel free to carve indents or textures you would want to see on your form after the fabric is applied in the next step. You can also use a surform to even out surfaces, especially around the seams. 

For the eye holes, make a pattern out of paper and trace it where you would like it on one side of the face. To match it on the other side, use calipers if you have them, or just eye where your first one lands on the seams and make enough marks on the opposite side until you can feel confident on where the pattern should go.

For the head opening at the bottom, you can make a pattern as well and use the seams to ensure that it is even. I would start with something smaller than you think is necessary and then gradually widen it until your head fits comfortably in the hollowed head.  

Step 10: Covering the Head in Fabric.

Most major cities have fashion districts with a variety of fabric stores. I live in Montreal and have access to multiple stores on St. Hubert north of Jean Talon as well as a large Fabricville downtown. 

My preference for most masks is to use a polar fleece. This is do to its elasticity which allows you to stretch it over your form as you glue it on, and its small burrs that help to hide the seams after hand sewing. 

The client for this project wanted something with a more flat feel, to emulate the look of plastic or a harder material, so I chose a type of fleece with a side that had no burrs. 

I am still learning a lot about applying fabric to forms, so I am unable to give a lot of advice here. I mostly know you will have to create darts on your form, and you will want to make these as even looking as possible. This is a constant struggle for me in most of my work but I was a little more loose with the quality of them in this commission since the imagery was supposed to invoke that of a voodoo doll. Being creepy and slightly disfigured and all.

T-pins and 3M spray glue are your main friends for this process. You can plan out how your fabric will fit on your form before gluing it by using lots of T-pins to hold the fabric to it. Once all is planned then you can lift sections of the fabic and apply spray glue to both it and the foam (foam often needs two coats) and wait for the glue to become tacky before pressing the fabric to the form. Don't spray too much glue on the fabric bits as it may bleed through. 

This is a technique you may want to practice on simple scrap forms before you create a larger project. 

Safety is important. Do this in a spray both or outdoors. Wear a vapour mask and latex gloves. I also suggest work clothes too, since the spray glue can blow back at you. Long sleeves are recommended as you don't want it getting on your arm hairs. Make sure the nozzle on the spray can is clean too, as build-up can occur and unexpectedly change the direction of your spray. 

After all the fabric is glued on you will need a hot glue gun to glue tabs of fabric into the inside of the mask. By this I mean you'll need to pierce the fabric covering the eye and create V-shaped knotches  

Step 11: Ears.

I didn't take too many in-progress shots of the ear, but the basics are to make a pattern out of paper, trace and cut it twice out of foam, carve some indents as details and spray glue some fabric on it. You will then need to sew up the seam.  

Use T-pins when placing them on the head to determine their symmetry. Calipers could aid you here as well. When you are satisfied with their placement use some masking tape to outline where you'll stick them on. 

At this point you could choose to hot glue or sew them onto the head. I tend to do a bit of both: using a couple dabs of hot glue to stick the ear in place and then sewing around that for extra security.

Step 12: Airbrushing.

Again, I can only give partial advice here. Airbrushing is a skill that I have yet to master. My particular airbrush is a very cheap one too, that clogs with ease and frustrates me to no end. But when I finally get it working and paint is applied to the crevices of the form, the piece really comes to life. A little shadow in the crevices and lighter tones on the surface can go a long way. It is totally up to you on how creative you want to be with this tool. 

A word of advice that I can give, and is the same I hear from most painting instructors in general is to avoid using black paint. It muddies up your mix and can make you waste a batch of a colour you have been trying to achieve. Airbrush paint can be really expensive too, and usually comes in small quantities. A pantone reference could also aid you in getting your desired colour. It's always good to test out your mixed paint on a scrap piece of the fabric you are using as well.

Step 13: Eyemaking.

So you still have that pattern you cut out of paper for the eyes right? It's a good rule to keep all your patterns for the duration of the project, and even afterwards too if you feel the need to create it again, or have a reference point for something similar. Take your paper eye pattern and then trace it out on a piece of plywood that is about an inch or two bigger than your pattern, and rectangular shaped. After tracing it, expand it by a about a 1/4" all around just by free handing it on the wood. You will need to cut this new shape out by using a skil or scroll saw.

Take that same paper pattern and trace it out on a scrap piece of foam. Cut that out and carve one side of it to the desired shape you wish the eyes to be. If your eye pattern is symmetrical then you only have to make one of these. If you have a more complex shape then you may have to make two, for both the left and the right eye. After the shape is carved you will need to upholster it with a scrap piece of fabric and some T-pins. What you should end up with is something that looks like the shape sitting to the left of the first picture in this step. 

The eye will be made out of a type of plastic that can be formed with heat. ABS sheet styrene or Acrylite are two that I've used in the past that have worked successfully. The former being the best solution, though I don't know where you can purchase it with ease. In more desperate times I have just bought white plastic containers from the dollar store. I wouldn't recommend this since you will be heating it, and I am not sure what properties these plastics have.

Cut a piece of your chosen plastic to the same dimensions of the plywood. You will need to attach it to one side of the plywood with either a staple gun or strong duct tape to keep it stable. 

At this point you can use a heat gun or a conventional oven to heat the plastic. You will want to get the plastic to a temperature that allows it to be molded but doesn't allow it to bubble. I have found that the general rule for ovens is preheating it to 310 degrees F and putting the plastic/plywood combo in there for 6-8 mins. ABS sheet styrene tends to "sweat" a bit when it is ready. I would recommend keeping an eye on it a the 5 minute mark, and each additional minute until  you notice this. 

This whole part is well worth doing tests for. 

If you happen to have access to a vacuum former, that may be an easier route. 

Once the plastic is well heated and ready to be formed. You will take your plastic/plywood combo and push it over your upholstered formed so the plastic is forming upwards through the hole in the plywood. Use gloves to do this!

You can cut this form out using an Olfa, sand it with a high grit piece of sand paper and either airbrush or hand paint your details onto it. I also like to finish it off with a couple coats of gloss to get it really shiny and reflective. 

You can then pin it in place inside the head and hot glue it in. 

For the other eye hole on this piece I used a screen fabric found at a hardware store to help block people from seeing me, but allows me to see out at others. 

Step 14: Details.

For this piece the details I added were some hand painted patches of bronze acrylic and hot glued patches of fun fur. This just adds to the morbid effect of a battered head. This part tends to be the most open and fun but not always clear as to when enough is enough. You'll have to be the judge. 

The last step is usually adding some sort of cushioning to the interior or the head. This could be made from a softer foam left bare or covered in a soft fabric. Usually having 5 blocks of foam does the trick. One for your forehead, two for the sides, one for the back and one for the top. Options may also include some for your chin and/or nose. You can spray or hot glue these in, or if you want to get fancy, add some velcro to them and the inside of the head so you can replace or change them easily down the road.

Best of luck in your pursuits!

Please feel free to ask any questions. This is my first attempt at a full written instructable and I am positive that I've overlooked some details, or have taken them for granted. There will be many edits on this along to way. 

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