This project began with a simple question:
"What if I made a mask that was, itself, wearing a mask?"
There was nothing more to it. I did not ask myself about clown masks or cat masks or any particular type of mask at all. I just started pondering the concept of a mask that wore a mask.
I imagined that if I built a mask of a particular shape, I might be able to make a second mask that sort of clipped onto it, and wouldn't move too much. Or perhaps a sufficiently snug exterior mask could maintain its position based on nothing more than friction. Both of these notions, while potentially successful, would be rather restrictive in terms of design, but they might be worth pursuing.
And they still might! But I didn't use them. Instead I went with the much simpler and more effective idea that rather embarrassingly did not occur to me right away: magnets!
The idea was this: I would make a mask, and at key points (the points of greatest protrusion, and significant perimeter points) I would embed magnets. Once the mask was finished, I would wrap it in plastic and build a second mask base on top of it, and embed another series of magnets in that one.
Of course, before I could really get down to business, I would need to decide where to begin. What kind of mask would be worthy of this experiment?
Now, a word about the clown. I don't like clowns. In fact, I kind of hate them. But they are fun to draw and they're creepy, and somewhere in the back of my mind I had sorta been wanting to make a clown mask. Here's the thing, though: clown masks are boring. A clown is passe, cliche, obvious. Even if the process is interesting, at the end of the day, what am I going to be left with? Nothing but a clown mask. So I probably wasn't going to make one.
Until this idea came along. This was a way that I could step up the game and make a clown mask more interesting. In fact, the first notion I had was to make two clown masks. Imagine that! You see somebody with a clown mask and you say "No, gross, take it off!" And he takes off the clown mask and underneath there is an even worse clown mask! That would be pretty awful, right?
But I thought better of that. One clown mask at a time. If only one of them would be a clown mask, though, it seemed much weirder to me for the clown mask to be on the bottom, so I decided to start there.
Step 1: Let's Clown Around!
I started, as I often do, by making a mold of my face in plaster gauze. Then I prepared a batch of Paper Mache Clay, but I made a slight alteration. I wanted the surface of the clown's face to be craggy and stone-like, so I made the clay with the full amount of paper but only half the liquid ingredients. As I had hoped, the result was a clay that could still be sculpted, but had a rough surface that would crack without additional moisture.
Using the clay, I built a creepy clown face and embedded a set of ribbon ties next to the eye openings.
At the hobby shop, I purchased a set of powerful, small, disc-shaped magnets. Once I had made the face, I placed a magnet on each eyebrow, one in the center of the forehead, one at the tip of the nose, one on each side of the jaw, and one on the chin. I buried these beneath the thin layer of clay and let it dry until it was good and hard.
Step 2: Wrapped in Plastic
For the second cast, I put the completed clown sculpture onto one of my display heads and then wrapped it in plastic kitchen wrap. I sprayed it with coconut oil to facilitate later removal, and then I began to construct another mask base, being careful not to create any shapes that would prevent my from pulling off the outer layer once it dried. This process worked just as I had hoped, and the second mask came off easily.
The Big Mistake:
What I did, at this point, was place the second mask onto the first mask. I took new magnets and allowed them to find their own favorite distribution, then glued them in place and covered them with paper mache clay. The problem with this is that the second mask I made was too perfect a fit. It was snug.
What I should have done was to retain that second cast as an intermediate form, a base upon which I could build any number of masks for the clown to wear. A mask built on that base would be a step removed from the clown mask, still shaped closely enough for the magnets to work, but not as tight.
Oh well, live and learn.
When it came to the second mask, I had more trouble deciding on the subject. First there had been the two-clowns idea, which I had already rejected in principle but it still held a certain appeal. After that, I kicked around several other ideas. The cat had originally occurred to me as an extension of the cliche nature of a clown mask: the clown mask was not something that I would be likely to make on its own, but I had decided to do it because of the heightened reality of the dual mask project. Perhaps the second mask should also be something that I would never make on its own, like a cat mask. Too mundane to make solo, but worth doing under the right circumstances.
Still, it was too hard to nail down, until I realized something that should have been obvious from the outset: I don't have to make only one mask for the clown to wear, I just have to make one first. After that, I can take another cast and use more magnets to make any number of additional masks. Once I understood that this mask didn't need to be the only one, it was easier to accept the notion of making a cat just to test the mechanics of my dual-mask system.
The main consideration was the elongated nose of the clown mask. The outer mask would need to be built over that nose, lending itself naturally to an animal with a muzzle (or a beak! Maybe the next one will have a beak.) I thought about making a grinning sort of Cheshire cat, something naturally menacing, but as usual I began to overthink everything. If you're an evil clown, and you choose to wear a mask, then your purpose is probably to seem less evil so that people will approach you, and it will be easier to perpetrate your evil clown stuff on them. So the mask ought to be... not exactly friendly, but it should be something that an evil clown believes you will think is friendly. Evil clowns don't think quite the same way that you and I do, though, so their notion of friendly might be a little different.
So I started to make a cat. A cat that I planned all along to be pink. I did not plan for it to look quite so creepy. Maybe I really am an evil clown.
I made the cat using old-fashioned newspaper and flour-paste techniques. I built the muzzle shape out of poster-board strips and once it dried, I cut out the excess plaster gauze from the back. Twisted newspaper and masking tape framed out the temples and built the upper eye shapes, and made the ears. I used clay to make the lower eyelids and smooth out a couple of rough spots. I used wire at the tops of the ears and wrapped them in newspaper.
Step 3: Clown Makeup
The first pass was a black base coat, which was applied thickly and thoroughly, getting down into every nook and cranny. That way, when I went with the white coat over the top, the effect look stony, like concrete.
When it came to designing the makeup, I wanted to keep things as simple and classical as possible. I wanted it to look cool and creepy up close, but it needed to be easily read as 'clown' at a distance too. Enhanced smile, big red nose, blue arched eyebrows.
Achieving that simplicity was a lot of work. There are hundreds of little highlights and lowlights, using the natural contours of the surface. I used two cheap reds (labeled Fire Red and Bright Red), white and black, and two shades of blue as well. I finished the clown mask with a matte varnish that really emphasized the concrete effect.
Step 4: One Way to Skin a Cat
For the cat mask, I put a black base coat around the edges and in all the deep grooves, and then a white base over the rest of it. Then I started in on the pink.
I mixed a light cadmium red with a day-glo pink color, then brightened it up with some white. It was a back-and-forth process of blending the pink into the black, then adding layers of highlights to make the large sculpted areas really pop.
I painted black inside the eye openings, then used a color called "interference green" to create cat-eye shapes. The green is iridescent, changing intensity depending on the angle of the light.
I painted spirals up the "antler" areas at the tops of the ears, which I liked, but I was a little disturbed by how the whole thing had ended up looking so much like one of those hairless cats. I wanted to break up the pink surface, so I added a series of spiral designs over the skin. I painted them in using the original pink mixture darkened with mars black, then highlighted the edges to make them look a bit like they had been carved into the surface.
The cat mask was finished with a gloss varnish. I wanted a high contrast between the two sculptures, and the gloss makes it seem more artificial. More like a mask.
Overall, I am pretty happy with this project. My motivation was to test the mechanics of the magnetic mask-on-mask construction, and that was successful. I think the masks are kinda cool, but I wasn't driven to make them. Not these masks, specifically. I guess I would say that they are less inspired than my other mask work, but they hold their own. And I am definitely not done mining this idea!