Friday, October 2, 2009

Making a Wild Thing Part 1: Sculpting the Face

The first thing I like to do on a large costume project is to make the mask or in this case, the face. Sculpting and covering the face is the most time consuming part of the process (so I start on it early to make sure I have enough time to fully devote to it) and I'm able to begin to develop the character of the entire costume as I work. I'm going to refer back to the mask making tutorial that I wrote last year since much of that information applies here. But this time I have pictures! Today we're following the process of creating Bernard

Materials Needed:
1 Box of Wheat Paste
1 Bottle of Wood Glue
Warm water
An armature/face-form
Lots of brown paper bags (thinner preferably – like liquor store bags)
Clay (each Wild Thing Mask took one 25lb bag)*
Tin Foil
Cooking Spray
Masking Tape

The armature that I use (pictured above) is a 3/4" piece of pipe, screwed into a floor flange, that is attached to a Lazy Susan. I like working on the Lazy Susan because it allows me to rotate my piece while I work to really make sure that I'm sculpting in three dimensions. But anything will work as long as it provides a good sturdy base for the armature.

Once you have an armature, you can take your newspaper and start building up an inner core for your mask (as shown right). This will enable you to make a large-scale mask without using tremendous amounts of clay (plus, if you use too much clay it will become too heavy and may fall off the armature). Crumple the newspaper, and with the masking tape, tape it tightly around the armature until you build up a ball just a little bit smaller than the size of your intended mask. You want to make sure to reinforce the newspaper the most at the top of the pipe because once you start adding clay, this is the point where your mask is most likely to break through. Because of this I like to add extra layers of newspaper or Styrofoam around the top of the pipe. If your mask is going to have appendages like a long nose or big ears (or this mask has a snout), you’ll want to reinforces these areas with Styrofoam or wooden dowels so that the weight of the clay does not cause them to break off once you start your mask. Wrap every layer tightly with masking tape! The end result will look like a mummy version of your mask. When you’ve finished creating the newspaper core, you’ll want to spray it lightly with a little water and stab it a number of times with a sharp clay tool so that they clay sticks better to the surface.

Next you get to start playing with clay! Treat this like any other sculpting project. Cover the general area of the mask in a layer of clay and then begin to build up the forms. Use whatever sculpting tools you have available to refine the shapes and add details. Here I used the Where The Wild Things Are book and my preliminary sketch as references. Just keep refining the form until you have the look that you want. Keep in mind that if you are creating something with lots of cracks and creases, you may want to make them more exaggerated since you will lose some definition when you add the papier mache.

Here's my finished clay base for Bernard. I started a video of this process as I was making Moishe, and as soon as that is finished I'll post it here as well. Up next: Covering the Mask!

*Note: If you live in the Bay Area and are looking for a place to buy clay, I recommend
Claypeople in Richmond. They were very helpful and I was able to get 75 lbs of sale clay for $15! Hooray!


Butterfly Love Photography said...

I stumbled onto your blog and the masks are amazing!!! I wanted to make an ET mask for my son, and was about to give up because I had no clue on how to make one, do you think the clay will be too heavy for a 4 year old? Do these masks go over your head completely? You're amazing!! Good work! Jana

Sarah Clark said...

Hi Jana,
Thank you! This is actually only the first part of the tutorial - I'm going to post the second tomorrow. Basically, once you sculpt the base shape, you cover it in papier mache, and once that is dry you remove the clay. The final papier mache mask is very light weight and very durable - perfect for a 4 year old. :)