The name "Top Secret Clown Mask" is, perhaps, misleading. Clickbait, even. There's no hidden surprise here. The only thing secret about it is that the mask is a birthday present for my boyfriend and his birthday is still two weeks away. He doesn't know I made it, and I finished it way early, so now this mask is just eating away at me with its secrecy.
What's particularly ridiculous is that I formed the base of the mask by wrapping the clown mask from my Concrete Clown Vs. Friendly Kitty project in plastic, and then laying plaster gauze over that. And if you've seen the project, you know that I could make a pretty good case for calling that one a "top secret clown mask," but I've gone and wasted the name on this one instead.
The important thing is that nobody tells my boyfriend. Seriously, don't do it! Bill doesn't use the Instructables web site so if he sees this, I'll know one of you told him. And I'll get even!
I'm watching you. And you'll never know it's me, because I will be wearing a mask!
Step 1: Michelangelo Ain't Got Nothin' on Me
Paper Mache Clay is your best friend.
I started by casting my old clown mask because I definitely didn't want to stick Bill with a mask based on my own face. It wouldn't fit! We have completely different big noses. Doing it this way would give me a looser-fitting mask with a clownlike nose area already formed, so it wouldn't take as much clay to build it up. That stuff gets pretty heavy and I would probably be using quite a bit either way.
The only real technical work involved here was reshaping the juncture of the eyes and nose. Wrapping the clown mask in plastic meant that many of the details were softened; I needed to break the plaster between the eyes, bend it back, and resculpt the area with clay. The other minor alterations to the underlying structure were the addition of nostrils (via Xacto knife) and holes in the temples for ribbon ties (via needle file)
There was no real design at play here. I was winging it the entire time!
The reason I chose to make him a clown mask as a birthday present is because he hasn't been dressing up for Halloween, but on a couple of occasions, he's talked about an idea for a clown costume. I'm not trying to suggest that he needs to wear this mask, but I thought it might give him some inspiration. However, if he wants to wear this mask, I'd like it to be bearable and at least somewhat versatile.
I wanted this mask to have character, but I wanted the final product to be generic enough that it wouldn't force him to dress as a certain kind of clown. It should be neither evil nor good, not particularly gendered, just a clown! And it should probably involve a rainbow motif somewhere, because that's sort of our birthday tradition.
What I decided on was a smirk, going up extra high on one side and giving the associated eye a bit of a crescent shape. Then a huge lower lip that protruded a bit smugly over the top lip. In the photos, you can see the progress of building up the shapes. The paper mache clay is great stuff, and I'm getting a lot of practice with it. With slow and methodical application, the results can be pretty amazing... but I was neither slow nor methodical here. I had a few days off and I preferred the "fast and furious" approach, so I could complete the project without anybody suspecting that I was making a project.
The clay can be applied directly to the base and worked in with the fingertips. Sometimes you want to wet your fingers, and sometimes you want to soak the clay in water for a few moments to slime it up. This is not something I would feel comfortable trying to teach someone who was not in the room with me, you just kind of have to do it. I decide on the shapes I want and I coax the clay into those shapes, and there is a lot of moist fussing involved, and later a lot of sanding. A lot of sanding.
Of note, this is the first mask I have made without using the flour paste/paper strip approach at all. Since I first started using the clay, all of my masks have been a combination of the two techniques, but this clown mask is just paper mache clay over the plaster gauze base.
Step 2: Clown White
Once I was moderately satisfied with my base design, I primed it. Then I stared at it for a long time and thought about all the things that I should have done better, and fretted over every flaw in the texture, and wished I had paid more attention to the insides of the eye holes, and then I got over it and just moved on with my life.
Step 3: A Little Planning, for Once
I still wasn't sure what the clown makeup would look like. I actually spent hours thinking about it the night before, while I was sanding and later fretting. On the one hand, I still wanted to restrict myself to fairly classic clown design tropes. On the other hand, I wanted it to be distinct from the other clown.
Finally I decided that my big departure would be the use of the white outline around the lower lip. It's a classic clown design and a departure from the previous mask, plus it would force another change by requiring that the base color not be a true white.
I mixed up a weird, off-white color, a sort of putty. It has burnt sienna, raw umber, red, ochre, a touch of black, and was a great starting point.
Step 4: Let's Get Silly
The lips and nose were pretty straighforward, but those eyes took a lot of work! They're far from perfect. I would probably never be satisfied with them, no matter what, but I think they get the point across.
Acrylics are my preferred medium, but they are not ideally suited for a blended rainbow effect in a small area, especially not one that needs to be highlighted for contours. I got there eventually, but it was a battle. The hard black outlines, and the inner white contours, help bind it all together and hide some of the worst sins. In the end I found that it was greatly assisted by a bit of fine detailing that nobody will ever notice. With a fine tipped brush, I carried the red down along the white line, past the level of the orange and into the yellow. Just a minuscule line along the inner wall of the eye area. Then I picked up the orange/yellow colors and followed along with that. It's a tiny change but it meant the world to me.
I had also added a couple of additional white lines, around the nose and below the eyes.
All of my putty-colored base paint had dried up by this point, but I mixed a bit of the main colors together in a darker form so I could add just a few very fine lines at the edge of the white paint around the mouth. Not enough to give it the feeling of being outlined, but enough to help the white stand out from the background.
Finally, I put a coat of matte finish acrylic varnish over the face.
Step 5: Smile.
The final step was to make it wearable. I painted a pair of wooden beads in a matching rainbow pattern and sewed on a couple of ribbons. Voila!
I hope you enjoy it. Mostly though, I hope Bill enjoys it, so if you don't, just remember: I didn't make it for you!
I'm actually kind of impressed with how it doesn't even seem all that creepy. Aside from the inherent creepiness of all clowns, I mean.
Step 6: Presentation
As I mentioned, this present was finished way too early. This presented me with the problem (totally unforeseeable, in spite of being exactly the same as the problem I had last year) with filling the time before Bill's birthday. The solution (also exactly the same as the solution last year) was to spend as much time on the packaging as I did on the present.
First I took some measurements of the mask and mapped out a box that would hold it. I built the box from scrap cardboard and duct tape, then coated it with paper mache. And I built a matching lid the same way.
This filled a couple or three evenings after work. Then I set about painting it, using a sort of galactic rainbow pattern, with a heart motif on the top, with sprays of pearlescent gel medium and interference green. I painted the command THIS END UP on the bottom, Bill's age on the inside of the lid, and YOUR AD HERE $99/mo. on the bottom of the interior.
That got me as far as the Tuesday before his birthday. So I painted him a birthday card with a watercolor TARDIS on it, and made an envelope to fit the card. The next morning I went out and found some ribbon and taught myself to do a four-strand braid to secure the box.
I filled the box with rainbows of tissue and some crinkly confetti, put the mask inside, and sealed it all up six days before his birthday. The suspense was murder.
Somehow - and I may never know how - I survived until Bill's birthday and finally got to give him his present! He was thrilled and he started planning how to wear it immediately. Mission accomplished, I say.
Step 7: Disturb the Locals
During October, Bill developed a character around the clown mask! He tried out a number of different outfits and accessories. Several ideas were entertained and discarded, but I expect some of them to come around again in new incarnations!
For Halloween, he settled on a pretty simple and comfortable outfit with just a few embellishments. In our travels (mostly in service of my costume) we found several yards of sheer red cloth with white polka dots. He used a scrap of this as a loose and billowing necktie, saving the rest for another day. Will it become ruffles? A tutu? An impossibly long scarf? Maybe, but not today.
He found a pair of soft dish-drying gloves which made excellent clown gloves.
The wig was already in his possession. Do you really want to know why? Do I really want to know?
The main accessory, and the only one that presented a real challenge, was the shoes. Lacking proper clown shoes, he picked up a pair of white shoes at a thrift shop, and I gave them a makeover. I masked them out with tape to create a design like saddle shoes. Yellow, orange, and red for the large areas, with green, blue, and purple forming a star shape on each toe and heel. It was all done with spraypaint, which ran in a few places and the masking wasn't perfect. All in all, though, it was a striking effect and they held up well throughout the evening, which is always a gamble with painted shoes! The photos of the shoes included above were taken after Halloween, and the flaking was pretty minimal.
He also bought a rainbow of yarn, and I made a series of puffy yarn balls for his costume. Rainbow colors adorned his gloves, shoes, and one in his wig like a flower in his hair. And he put a row of single-color balls down each side of the lapel on his coat.
On the night, he added a full rainbow of star-shaped mylar balloons! And to top it all off, he made a pillow into a hunchback on his right side.
We went out to a local venue, Bill in his hunchback clown outfit and me in a costume that I named Blueberry Leatherface. Together we took first place!