I began this mask with only one notion: big square eye shapes with large round openings. That was it! No plan for the face at all, no clue what those big square eye shapes would really look like. Just square. And round. Apparently that's enough to get me started, because here's what happened...
Step 1: Figure Out What You're Making
Some people will probably tell you that you should figure out what you're making before you actually make it, and I'm sure that's good advice if you're making something like a house or a souffle. But if you're making a mask, and especially if you are me, there's no reason to get all bogged down in planning. In fact, planning can saddle you with a lot of limitations and set you up for disappointment, because if you have a plan then you might fall short of it.
What I did, instead of planning, was start to make a mask, and as usual I discovered a face along the way.
I wanted big square eye shapes with large round openings, and that's all I wanted, so I made them. I had recently received a new double boiler, and the packaging included a convenient square cardboard insert, which I decided was the perfect size because it already existed.
Quickly, I took two square shapes and cut two round shapes and put them together with cardboard and tape. I had now accomplished my entire plan, but the mask just didn't seem ready yet.
I held the pieces up to my face and figured out what sort of angle I liked them to be in, then worked a strip of cardboard into a rough triangle and taped it in between the eye pieces to hold them in that arrangement. Of course a strip of cardboard and some tape was hardly enough to complete the job; what I really needed in between the eyes, to hold it all together, was a nose. A nice solid nose would keep it steady, and is really a quite natural thing to find between a pair of eyes, so it seemed like a pragmatic decision.
So I made a nose, which was absurdly large when I put it to the test, so I cut a lot of it off and tried again. Yes, it's true, the nose on this mask was actually bigger the first time around. Luckily, I sculpt with wads of newspaper and rolls of masking tape, so it's pretty easy to make adjustments.
Once I had settled on the nose, I knew that I didn't want any more skin showing on the mask, so decided to represent the rest of the face with a mustache and beard. The 'stache was a flat cardboard shape that I decorated with twists of newspaper, and the beard was a length of wire that I wrapped with paper and masking tape.
Reasonably satisfied with my sculpture, I covered the whole thing with a layer of papier-mache. I used a basic paste of only flour and water. Then, in a manic fit of sensibility, I cut an opening in the back to accommodate my inconvenient human nose.
Step 2: Final Prep
With the shape complete, I sanded it down, and used an awl to make holes for the ribbon ties. After reinforcing the openings and checking around for other weak spots, I primed the mask with a coat of white paint.
By this point I had made an unexpected decision, which is that the eye shapes were going to be bronze. I guess this means they are some sort of goggles. So, I was making bronze goggles. And things made of bronze might be held together by rivets, so I was also going to make rivets.
I took a lump of Sculpey, or Fimo, or whatever it was I had in the bottom that old tacklebox full of art supplies, and I made sixteen rivet heads and then baked them in the oven. I marked where I wanted the rivets to go and glued them on, then sealed them all with flour paste and sanded the areas down again.
Step 3: Ace of Base Coat
Black for the goggles, because that would work much better with the metallic topcoat. And what kind of person would wear riveted bronze goggles? There's only one logical answer, and that answer is "a ginger bastard, that's who!" So I gave a bright red-orange base to the facial hair.
Meanwhile, I painted the nose because that was the least interesting part. At least to me, artistically, it was the least interesting part. But to everybody who was looking at the progress pictures, it was the focus of conversation because the nose was deemed to be a bit, well... phallic.
Turns out that painting it with flesh-colored paint did not render those viewers silent on the subject.
Step 4: Beautiful Gold, So-So Silver, and Shameful Bronze
The first step is to use a metallic bronze paint, which looks great over a black base because anything that shows through just makes it look older. But the far more interesting step is to stipple together some white, phthalocyanine blue and pthalocyanine green to create the illusion of verdigris. This was done totally freehand, in about three passes to generate different depths and color balances. Bronze is great and all, but it's the verdigris that makes it look real.
Step 5: Manscaping
Then I decided to choose the most tedious and difficult method imaginable to finish the beard and mustache. Rather than merely painting the mask, I basically drew it like a comic book. I painted all the hairs on with black outlines, and then started to color them with various shades of red orange and yellow, which I think was a really interesting effect. It took ages because it's such an unusual shape, but it was worth the trouble!
Step 6: The Bangles
From the moment I made the beard, I had intended this character to wear a ring in it. Once I painted the goggles, it made sense that this ring should match. A quick ring of cardboard covered in paper and painted in the same manner, the beard ring only took about a half hour to make.
I whipped up a couple of new fabric ties, brown on one side and blue on the other, to pick up the tones of the goggles. I painted two wooden beads to match the goggles and used these to anchor the ties, making for a pretty discreet appearance on the front of the mask.
It was at least a day or two later that I could bear it no longer, and had to make one final change. Cyrano needed a nose ring, but I couldn't build it in since the mask was already made. So I bent an awl, enabling me to get up inside that rather extreme face shape, and pierced the septum.
With a bit of trial and error I was able to figure out a shape that would allow me to hang an open ring through the pierced septum in such a way that a viewer was virtually unable to detect that it was not an integrated piece. Then I carefully wrapped it in papier-mache and gave it the same paint job as the goggles and beard ring!
For the record, this is not meant to be any actual interpretation of the Cyrano character, it's just a name I started to call it in my head after I made the nose.
My friend Andrea Shindeldecker told me that her daughter saw his picture when she was scrolling through mom's Instagram feed and she referred to him as "Mr. Bacon Mustache", which is really a much better name.