Dang, this was a heck of a journey! Easily the longest of my recent mask projects (it took me sixteen days to finish, which is pretty extreme), and probably the most difficult to explain to the few people in my life who haven't stopped listening to me.
I've got no idea what inspired this mask. It appeared almost fully formed in my head, accompanied - as these things sometimes are - by a phrase. The phrase was simply, "Your face is a library."
Yes, I thought. Yes, my face is a library.
Or it will be soon.
Step 1: Building a Bookshelf
I didn't have a plan, as such. What I had was an idea of how this thing would work. An intuition. I couldn't have described it, but I understood how to make it. So I took one of my mannequin heads, started to cut a corrugated shipping box into pieces, and set out to build the thing that I saw in my head.
With cardboard and masking tape, I constructed the shelf directly on the head. I'll spare you the exhausting details, as the photographs do a fair job of demonstrating the step-by-step process.
The key was to make a shelving unit that projected out far enough for me to hide the shape of my face within it. But it still needed to look reasonably-proportioned, and I had to be able to fill it with little books to further hide the internal contours.
I started building in the morning, before work. It's pretty obvious when I left, because the photos go abruptly from day to night. Everything in this step was accomplished on the first day.
Step 2: Bottom Shelf
On the one hand, the three shelves I'd already built would leave my face free from the lips down, making it easier to breathe and possible to speak. On the other hand, the structure I had already built was obviously one shelf short, and I felt that I had no aesthetic choice but to add one to the bottom.
So I did.
Indeed, once the shelf was in place, the shape actually looked complete. I cut it free from the mannequin head, then I made some little feet for the bottom so the bookshelf could stand on its own.
I wanted to add pediments, but I didn't like the one I had already put on the top. I tore that one off and replaced it with a simpler design that would be easier to repeat, then I mirrored the decoration on the bottom and both sides.
Finally, I was able to hold it up to my face and confirm that this whole crazy idea might work.
Step 3: Two Things at Once
It was time to start applying paper strips to the shelf, and also I wanted to experiment with how the books would be made. The top shelf had the most difficult space to work with, since most of it would be occupied by my forehead. I thought I might try building an angled, hollow block that would fill the shelf space and extend over the forehead indentation. The block could then be detailed and painted to resemble multiple books.
Meanwhile, I finished coating the shelf with paper mache, and did some detailing with paper mache clay.
I built two of the hollow blocks for the top shelves, and also started making a number of individual books. What I learned was this: making the hollow blocks was not worth it. They were harder to make, looked less convincing, took longer, and left me with fewer options for final placement. The individual books could be formed really quickly, and could be rearranged in lots of different ways.
The books only required two parts: one long rectangle, which formed the covers and spine; and one long strip, which formed the pages.
I abandoned the blocks. I wasn't sure I would even use the ones I had already made, but I figured I'd carry them all the way through the painting process before making a final decision.
Step 4: Many Many Books (and a Few More Architectural Flourishes)
Covering the books was extremely tedious (I feel like every Instructable I write contains at least one sentence almost exactly like that). I would hold a gooey paper strip against the "cover" of a book, draw it up and then fold it over the edge. Using the end of a metal tool, I would fold the strip into the crease, and press it across the width of the "pages", up and over the other cover and down the back. Repeat. And repeat. Over and over again. It's just like covering any surface with paper mache, except that it's tiny and sticks to your fingers while you try to work.
Anyway, I did that a million times and after they dried, I had to use paper mache clay to finish them off. To tip the corners of the covers, and press into the spot where the pages meet the binding. They couldn't be sanded until after the clay had dried.
While all this was going on, I decided I needed to make the shelf a little fancier, so I made some ornamentation for it. I used paper mache clay, which I just rolled out with a rolling pin. I drew my designs directly on the clay with a marker, and then cut it with a pair of scissors. I really love paper mache clay.
I stuck these clay pieces to the shelving unit with the same flour paste I used on the paper strips. With a small paintbrush, I applied paste to both the shelf and the clay pieces, like contact cement, and pressed them together.
Step 5: More Books, and of Course Magnets
I was making these books in batches. Some where soggy paper mache messes, others were primed to paint. The ones in the middle were ready to be sanded.
So one morning I was standing in my room sanding tiny little books, talking to my roommate in the doorway. As I finished sanding them I stacked the little books on top of the tiny bookshelf. When we finished chatting and she left, I looked at the stacks of books on top of the shelf and realized that they looked great.
Damn it. That meant I was going to have to make even more books so I could put stacks of them on the top.
I glued a series of four magnets to the underside of the top, and covered them over with paper mache clay.
And so it continued. I painted the hollow blocks and figured they looked good enough that I could use them. I made more books. I put holes in the back wall of the second shelf down, so I could add ribbon ties, and reinforced the wall with clay.
Also, I made two books with magnets glued inside them.
In the end, I built fifty books of various shapes and sizes. The fat ones were made with corrugated cardboard and the slim ones were made of poster board. I papered, clayed, sanded, primed, painted and varnished every darn one of them.
Step 6: Set Dressing
I painted the shelf a predictable brown, with a lighter, slightly more golden tone added to the clay ornaments on the front. I left the back walls black, and added a matte varnish to them while the shelves were still empty.
Once all the books were finished, I experimented with several arrangements. The two books with the magnets each became the base of a stack.
Eventually I found a configuration that satisfied me, and started to carefully glue them into place. That was a pretty nerve-wracking job!
The last step was a slender black line decoration on the sides and front, and a coat of gloss varnish over everything else.
Step 7: Be the Library
Okay, so, I guess this is pretty much exactly what I envisioned. It's pretty awesome! Could one develop a costume around this? I don't really know, but the mask itself is a weird, complex work of art. It's not too heavy, provides decent visibility, and looks like a shelf full of books! And it is perfectly capable of standing on its own four legs.
Also, while I was working on this, I had an idea for a mask of a curio cabinet. It would have a pair of "glass" doors and be full of tiny handmade objects. The shelves would be laced with metal and all of the objects would have magnets inside. While you wore the mask, a person could open the cabinet, rearrange its contents and then close the doors again.
The idea is exhausting. I really hope I get the chance to make it!