For Halloween this year, I began to design a costume around my Hot Rod Dog Mask, and it was going pretty well. I'd done a rough sketch that stuck with me and kept my wheels turning, and in the back of my mind I had started to develop a backstory for the character. As August rolled around, I was acquiring necessary pieces for the costume and started to make alterations on the main costume props.
Everything was going great.
Everything was going so great, in fact, that by September the mask didn't work anymore.
I really liked the Hot Rod Dog Mask, and this isn't about insulting the mask or pointing out its flaws. But it was my first attempt at a dog mask and while its paint job is pretty sporty, the mask itself is not very...ambitious. In the time since I had made that one, I built the Moon Dog Mask, which gave me a new set of experiences regarding the creation of dog features. And then I actually built a second Moon Dog mask, but there will be more on that later. The point is, my ability to make a dog mask had improved, and in tandem, my willingness to overlook problems with the Hot Rod Dog mask had decreased.
As the costume came together, I started to realize that the mask was less than the costume. And a mask should really be the focal point, the cherry on top, not a liability. Was I over-reacting? Was it crazy to make a new mask from scratch when my costume wasn't even done yet and I already had a mask? The mask that had actually inspired the costume in the first place? But I had gotten a very early start on Halloween this year, I was well-organized, and I'd been fortunate thus far. So I had time, and I decided to listen to that little voice in the back of my head that told me to just go for it. Just make a new mask.
Step 1: The Shape of Puppies
Despite the obvious similarities in the finished products, this was a pretty dramatic redesign of the original concept.
The very first thing that ever bothered my about the first Hot Rod mask was its profile. It looks good straight on, but from the side, the dog illusion evaporates immediately when you see the shape of the jaw. The way it covers up my own features results in a distinctly un-doglike arrangement of the dog's upper lip and mandible. My first goal was to change that.
I decided to build a larger, more complete dog face that would wrap around the whole front of my head and end in three-dimensional flame shapes that would be incorporated into the paint job. That would also encourage the use of bigger flames in the final design, which I thought would be an improvement. The flames I was painting all over the rest of my costume were pretty big, and the old mask looked rather delicate by comparison.
The nose needed some work too. The first mask had a perfectly flat nose with all the contours painted on, which was fine, but since then I'd done some much better dog noses out of paper mache clay. The Hot Rod mask deserved one too. And while we're at it, the nose ought to jut forward and slope back in toward the jaw, not outward.
Overall, I wanted to keep the cartoonish whimsy, but wind up with a mask that looked a lot more like a real dog.
Step 2: Un Chien Papel
I covered the armature with paper strips and then made a batch of clay to start on the details. The nose, of course, was the primary purpose for the clay, but I also used it to shape the flames on the back of the head, smooth out some rough areas, and create much more expressive eye openings. As the work dried, it began to look a bit lopsided when the right side tightened more than the left, so I used the clay to make another tongue of fire on that side to balance it out.
Step 3: Zen and the Art of Muscle-Car Detailing
I knew what this baby had to look like, but it still takes a while to figure out how to get there. First you have to map out where the white and red areas are. Once that's locked in, you have to gently massage the edges until everything feels right. It has to feel like natural dog patterning, and also like licking tongues of flame!
Just like the original, I used yellow to highlight the red flames above the nose and below the lip, and just a little black to darken the red for the lower lips and nostrils. The technical approach was identical to the first time around, so there isn't much to add here. My process involves a lot of staring.
I stare at the mask and consider arrangements of flames or other details. I imagine how it feels, if a cluster of flames here makes it feel out of balance, if it demands another cluster of flames there, if that makes it too red or too yellow. I stare and consider things a lot and then I just do it. And then I live with it for a while, and maybe I decided that it needs something more.
I went into this knowing, more or less, what I was doing. But that isn't to say that I could have predicted all of it, or properly designed the paint job before the mask existed in front of me. All those details have to be born from my visual interaction with the mask. And I can't really know, for sure, what the mask is going to be until it already is.
Every time I make a mask, I wonder: what mask would I be making if I had started yesterday, or tomorrow? I am making this mask because it's the mask I'm making now. If I made it at any other moment, the choices I made would be different, and even though I would still have made a Hot Rod dog mask, it wouldn't be this one, and because of every tiny difference in shape, the final paint job would be different too. It would have a different balance. The curves of the flames, both real and painted, would be different. Each decision would compound those differences and what would my Hot Rod be?
Also, it might be worth noting that when I started to make the costume, I mixed up a large jar of the yellow paint I'd be using. So the yellow paint on this mask matches all the flames I painted on the costume proper.
Step 4: He Who Is Worthy to Don the Mask...
I'm happy! This mask has flaws all its own, but I think it has corrected the issues I had with the first Hot Rod mask and it's going to work great with the costume this Halloween.
This whole series of masks has been a really interesting process. I've made four dog masks now, and with this one I came full circle back to where I started. Building on an old idea, incorporating some more concrete plans for a costume. It could have been tedious, but it wasn't. If nothing else, I'm much better at making fake dog noses than I used to be!