Intro: Democracy Monster Mask
This mask is not a political statement.
No, seriously, I'm not even joking. It would be easy to assume otherwise, and you could definitely assign all sorts of symbolism to it, probably. You're welcome to make a case for whatever meaning you like! How you choose to utilize a symbol is entirely between you and the symbol.
What I'm suggesting is that the genesis of this mask came from a more innocent place. At least, I think it did. The exact origins are a little murky, as inspiration so often can be, but the idea didn't really come from a political place.
For whatever reason, I was thinking about the face of the Statue of Liberty. I'm not completely sure why I was thinking about it; her face was just there, like when you find yourself with a song stuck in your head but no memory of where you heard it.
Liberty's face is distinctive, it's interesting, and pretty unlike the faces I usually make. And now the other thoughts came tumbling very quickly:
I should make a Statue of Liberty Mask
I should make it a monster mask
It should be like Two Face
Uncle Sam has a face too! Smash them together!
This all happened basically at once, I was just pondering the Statue of Liberty's face and then suddenly I was planning to make a mask called The Democracy Monster that would be half Liberty and half Uncle Sam with real hair, and somehow half of the front of a top hat would need to be joined to half of the Liberty crown.
It really was just meant to be a type of monster mask. The original plan was even to add staples or stitches down the middle seam to make it more monstrous (honestly, up until this morning, I still hadn't absolutely decided against that.)
But I'm also not a complete idiot, I know it's impossible to use two such iconic figures in a monster mask and not have a political angle. And the symbolism of America, the ideals that we represent, have certainly been on my mind a lot lately. Consciously, I did not conceive this mask in response to those feelings, but subconsciously?
When you spend a week making a mask like this, it's hard not to consider that the idea of hiding your true face behind a veneer of patriotism has a certain timely relevance. I am not blind to that, I own it and appreciate it. Nevertheless, that aspect of this mask - the "editorial cartoon" aspect - is not my primary interest. What excited me about the project was the design challenge. How would I join their head-dresses? What does 25% of a top hat look like? Could I make the Statue of Liberty's face actually look like the Statue of Liberty? Could I make both faces distinct from each other, and also not make them look like me? Would adding hair to the Uncle Sam side of the mask be the worst decision I had ever made? Would it look like a monster even if I didn't distort the face of the statue?
As you can see, there were a lot of interesting questions for me. You might find very few, if any, of those questions interesting, and that's okay. America is big enough for the both of us. But if you are the type of person who likes those questions, and also for some reason read all the way to the end of the World's Longest Preamble, please buckle in enjoy the rest of the journey.
Step 1: Uncle Liberty
Starting with a plaster gauze cast of my face, I drew a line down the middle with a Sharpie. All of the facial detail was sculpted with Paper Mache Clay, which I still had left over from when I made the Moon Dog Mask a couple of weeks earlier. And I had only made a half batch in the first place; that stuff goes a long way!
In one sense, the Liberty side was the easiest because the goal was so clear: try to make it look as much like the Statue as you can, given the limitations of your materials and talents. For the Uncle Sam side, I used the iconic "I Want You!" poster as my main guide. He's pretty stern looking in that picture, but I wanted to take it a little farther since Sam would be carrying most of the weight, expression-wise.
I laid in the large masses and let those dry pretty well before I attempted any detail work. Noses, chins, and cheeks all required a solid foundation upon which to build. Once I had it, the work wasn't all that different from a typical mask. I had twice as many face shapes to worry about, which was cool, and I was trying to match a face that exists in the real world, which is unusual for me. I also had to maintain the deep groove down the middle, with flat(tish) walls on either side, which sometimes involved troweling in little bits of clay with a flat probe. Also new to me was the experience of seeking balance without symmetry.
Step 2: Face Polish
Once I was satisfied with the basic form, I let it dry for a day, sanded it, then fussed a little more detail on it. I did not let it dry overnight again before I started in on the fancy hats though.
Step 3: "Lib Spi"
That's Liberty Spikes, but only half of them.
You've probably heard the old saying, Measure twice, cut once. Well, my method is sort of the opposite of that. It's more like Measure never, cut a jillion times. Although sometimes I get lucky and things just work out.
I made her crown out of cardboard, snipping and snipping to get the shape and form correct, without being too bogged down in realism. The spikes needed to be the right number and more or less the right angle, and ditto the angle of the crown relative to the face.
The front panel with the windows added strength and helped the crown retain its shape, but I had to add a couple of strips of cardboard to the front before I was able to get the points propped at the correct angle! Once I finally had it, I quickly covered it with a layer of paper mache to hold it all together.
Uncle Sam's side was a lot plainer: a curved upright portion of hat, and a brim in front that curled up on one edge. It took a little finagling to get it all into the right shape (I needed an extra shunt of cardboard in the front to make it look right, and the brim curled up a lot as it cured) but overall it came together pretty easily.
Step 4: Hair and Makeup
There really was no great solution to the hat dilemma. The way the faces come together, the way hats actually exist in three dimensions, reality demands that there be a space behind the hat above the brim, right in the middle where it meets the Statue of Liberty. Instead there is a wall there. I guess that's the only way you can tell it's a mask, and not a real Democracy Monster.
Once that little wall was built, and covered in paper mache, I could finally add the finishing touches to the Statue of Liberty: her hair. The hair needed to go right up against that wall, so I had to wait until this point to do it!
Placing those sculpted clumps of hair in front of the crown (and down the side, and then just one of her little curls below that!) really completed the look. Except it didn't, because I hadn't added her eyebrow yet.
I rolled out a piece of clay and cut the eyebrow shape with scissors. I glued it into place with a bit of flour paste and sealed it with my fingertips, and that completed the look.
Step 5: Two Paint Jobs in One!
I didn't even prime the Statue of Liberty side, I just painted her with bronze. Which is kind of a cheat, since the Statue of Liberty is made of copper, but I don't have copper paint and you probably wouldn't even have known if I hadn't told you.
I primed the Uncle Sam and then gave him a flat base coat of a flesh color I mixed up. Like with anything, it was a gradual process, figuring out how dark I wanted his wrinkles and grooves, finding the right highlights. I also started in on his hat, giving it an aged and yellow look on the white parts and using darker tones for the blue and red. I'm actually pretty happy with how that part turned out.
It took a couple of days to pull Sam together. I started in the evening and painted by the wholly insufficient light of the overhead in my bedroom; when I saw it in daylight the next morning, he looked less like a commanding icon and more like a corpse with mortuary makeup. Back to work! Things really do look different by the light of day.
Eventually I found an acceptable palette, and once I did, I went back to the Liberty side and began to coat her with verdigris. Which was actually just a mixture of phthalo green, white, and phthalo blue, with a touch of hooker's green.
Anyway, it would not be possible to truly match the quality of the verdigris on the Statue of Liberty, because she is made of smooth copper and the patterns of verdigris are formed by water and gravity. My Statue of Liberty is rough and jagged and horrible, like a pock-marked teenager made of angry concrete sponges. Point is, there is no way to really replicate the verdigris without, you know, just doing a much better job of making the mask in the first place, and it's far too late for that. But I did my best.
Step 6: Angel Hair
Do you know what Angel Hair is? It's like a spun-glass fiber, sorta pressed together in these tangled sheets, and it is used as a Christmas decoration (like a matting on which to set up little villages or nativity scenes or whatever.)
Well, it would have been great if I had found a white wig, even a Santa wig. Or something else that would have been convenient to work with. But I couldn't find anything like that. What I did find, at the Habitat for Humanity thrift shop, was a big old ziploc bag with a few sheets of Angel Hair in it for one dollar.
I would not recommend doing this. But I pulled out clumps of the hair and carefully separated the strands, trimming it with scissors. I did this over a large sheet of newsprint so that I could just fold it up and throw everything away later, because the little bits of hair that get lost are glass.
Little by little, I brushed white glue onto the mask and stuck the hair onto it. This was messy work, no two ways about it. I didn't do a great job. I didn't have the proper tools or training, probably wasn't using the right glue, and definitely wasn't doing a super realistic job on the hair application.
But damn if it doesn't look pretty great. I mean, it's kinda choppy, and nobody is going to mistake it for the real thing. But it's creepy! Plus the wispy white hair brings out a certain Angus Scrimm quality in Uncle Sam, which naturally adds an extra layer of menace.
Oh, I also painted a bead to match each side of the face so that I could hold it up with ribbons.
Step 7: Embody America.
This mask is a political statement.