Intro: Perfectly Ordinary Bunny (Paper Mache Mask)
This is the fifth mask I have made in two months. I guess you could say I am on a roll, and with each project I try to challenge myself in new ways. As I have discussed in previous instructables, most of these masks have been started with only the vaguest idea in my head of what they would become, and that's generally how I prefer to work. I like to give myself a starting point - not unlike a writing exercise - and then discover the rest of the mask as I traverse the path.
That's not how the bunny mask went down. I actually had an idea. I specifically wanted to make a mask that had the face of a human, but the silhouette of a cartoon rabbit, because that idea literally made me laugh out loud every time I thought about it (if you find yourself wondering what the heck is so funny about it, that's totally fine. Comedy is subjective.)
The problem with having an idea, of course, is that eventually you will finish the project, and it will either be more or less satisfying than you had originally envisioned. If I start a mask with no plan, there is no guarantee that I will like the mask that I end up making, but if I am disappointed it will not be because I failed to realize my vision. It will just be because I suck and am a terrible artist and what am I wasting my life for anyhow?
Just kidding. Seriously, though, I am always a little more nervous about trying to make something specific. And to top it off, I would be trying to make something specific, using a technique that I have never employed before.
What I really wanted to do with this mask is to experiment with paper mache clay. I have read about it lots of times and it seemed like something I ought to be trying out, but I'd never had an actual need for it, or the patience to plan ahead. But with this mask I had an idea, and I was pretty sure that I wouldn't be able to make the human face I wanted to make, using my traditional method of newspaper strips and flour paste. So now I had a need for it.
I used this recipe for Paper Mache Clay, which comes highly recommended and seemed simple enough to make. I did not add either glycerin or linseed oil. All it takes is toilet paper, water, glue, joint compound, and flour.
Let's get started!
Step 1: My Face! My Beautiful Face!
Okay, full disclosure. I had intended to use a metal craft mesh to form the face, because it sounded so easy and would save me so much work and mess. But that wasn't something I could acquire anywhere in town. It would either have to be mail ordered, or I'd have to get somebody to drive me to a better town.
While I was at the hardware store buying joint compound for the paper mache clay recipe, I looked at the various types of metal screen they had available (you know, for windows and stuff), thinking that there was at least a slight chance that I might be able to use one of those. Well, that was foolishly optimistic because I bought a small roll and it was absolutely not going to work. Don't worry, though, we'll use some of it later, for something else.
Disappointed, but unwilling to wait for mail order or a road trip, I reverted to the old ways. I formed the base with plaster gauze. Now remember, this mask is meant to have a relatively realistic human face, so I wanted the plaster cast to be as thin and detailed as possible. I brought it in as close to my eyes as I could, and was very careful to capture all the contours of my lips.
Then, to get a preview of the finished effect, I googled a picture of Bugs Bunny and, with a sharpie, quickly scrawled an outline of his head onto a piece of poster board so I could lay the face on it and use my mighty imagination.
Step 2: Clay Down Your Burdens
Now comes the big experiment.
This clay is interesting, and workable, behaving in some ways like traditional clay and in some ways quite different. I might have tried it out on something else, just to get the hang of it first, but if you've ever read any of my instructables you know I don't work that way.
I dived in and started building the face. The first night concentrated only on the central features, building in the shapes and smoothing it into the plaster gauze at the edges. Once I was finished for the evening I hung it to dry overnight.
In the morning, it had changed. Working in the clay had slightly softened the plaster shell, and even though I hung it, the gentle pressure of the edges against the wall had allowed the mask to flatten and spread while I slept.
The clay was stiff, but not completely hard, so I coaxed it back into place and bound it with a length of yarn to force it to maintain a curve, and then I left for work.
Upon my return, I discovered that the mask had continued to fight against the yarn, which stretched a bit, but it had mostly retained its curved shape. Just know, should you pursue a project like this, that the clay takes quite a long time to cure so if you are working it over a surface of paper or plaster gauze, rather than a metal frame, you will need to be a bit vigilant.
I was able to sand down the original application and then work on some of the finer details. Pinching a bit of the soft clay in my fingers, I would dip it into a bowl of water and work it between my fingers to become slimy and more like slip. This could be used to fill in little gaps, make smoother shapes and generally cause the face to become much more lifelike! In this fashion, I covered the rest of the surface and brought the face to its final form.
Step 3: Call the Mounties!
The next step was to mount the face itself to a flat surface.
I didn't want to stick it directly to the background, mainly because I didn't know if it would work and I didn't want to wreck a series of backgrounds trying to figure out the best way to do it. I wasn't even sure how well the paper strips would bond to the clay. Everything was an unknown quantity.
So I cut a flat board and got to work. Turned out to be pretty easy!
Step 4: Face the Bunny
Here's where the screen came in. I kept thinking of wearing this mask in the real world, with its broad, tall, flat shapes, and imagining the wind catching it and snapping the ears off. That would make me sad.
I decided that placing a layer of metal screen between the posterboard and the paper mache layer would provide some kind of reinforcement. I have no evidence that this is true, but I still traced the bunny silhouette directly onto the screen and cut it out, taping it down with duct tape here and there to keep it still while I worked.
The first step was to use more of the paper clay to blend the flat-face insert into the background, and then I went over the whole surface, front and back, with a layer of paper strips.
Once the entire structure was solid, I used more clay to greatly reinforce the base of the ears, knowing that the clay dried more solidly than the paper strips.
The great thing about this clay is that it allows me to be a lot more fussy than I might otherwise have been. Any place that I didn't like the edge, or the shape of a curve, I was able to reshape using the clay and blend it directly into the main body of the mask. Most of the adjustments are subtle, but I made a lot of them.
Now, a note about curling ("Curling!?" you shout. "Mounties!? What is this insidious Canadian subtext?")
The ears are wide and flat, and applying paper mache makes them wet. And wet paper tends to curl. The whole piece wanted to curl, but the ears in particular, so anytime that I was not actively engaged in work on the mask I had to ensure that the ears and cheeks were weighted down to keep them flat. After a few days they had attained their final solid form, but if you do not wait in between steps (like I don't!) then you must be aware of this potential.
Step 5: The Ties That Bind
I wasn't sure how I was going to do this. I could drill holes in the mask and use anchored ribbons the way I did with Bone Daddy and Cyrano, but I was so taken with the plain flatness of the bunny that I was reluctant to mar it with holes. I figured that, as a last resort, I could always do that anyway, but now was the time to at least attempt a different solution.
So I grabbed two lengths of ribbon and gave it a shot. First I folded one end of ribbon into a square shape and glued it to itself. Once that was dry, I slipped a washer down from the other end and glued that to the square of ribbon. Then I glued the ribbon itself to the back of the mask, and secured that with paper clay.
After doing this procedure to both ribbons, I covered the whole thing with paper strips, and then added a bit more clay to the opening where the ribbons emerged from the back. I let all of this dry for a couple of days to give it the best chance of holding up to pressure, and so far I haven't had any trouble with it.
Step 6: Beautiful Easter Colors
After coating the entire mask with black paint, I started to carefully pick out the three dimensional highlights of the human face using a mixture of black, phthalo blue and white.
My intention was always to finish this mask with a matte varnish, rather than the satin that I usually use. Unfortunately, that was nearly as scarce in this town as metal craft mesh, although I did manage to track down a small can of aerosol matte finish. That was enough to show me the effect I was looking for, but in reality the mask isn't entirely complete yet. A liquid varnish not only provides a superior finish but also gives a complete seal of the mask, and I'm not there yet. I had to bite the bullet and order some online, which I am assured will arrive tomorrow. So what you see in these pictures is actually the penultimate form of the mask; once I am able to complete the varnish I will post some updated photos.
What do you think? My hope was that if you saw a person wearing this mask, you would do a double-take and not be entirely sure exactly what you were looking at!
Edit: varnished the mask today and added a couple of new photos. I will try to get an outdoor shot tomorrow in the sunlight!
Step 7: Be Awesome
Here are some pictures I took this afternoon (May 10, 2017) of the perfectly ordinary bunny mask.