Thursday, August 21, 2014

A new skill!

I've made costumes since the age of about six or seven. Hallowe'en is a really big deal in Canada and every year I started my Hallowe'en costume around August or September. As a teenager and young adult my family threw Mardi Gras parties and my annual costume making turned into a double-act as I worked to create one costume for Hallowe'en and one for Mardi Gras.

The list of costumes I've made is rather long and includes (off the top of my head) a wolf, Jack Skellington, Harriet the Spy, Hobbes, two different dragons, the night sky, a killer marshmallow, Gollum, a praying mantis, very gay Robin (as in Batman & Robin), a mardi gras cat, a zebra, a Brian Froud faery, a pixie king, a goblin and a fox.

The fox in my office, last Hallowe'en
When I made my fox costume I sculpted a plaster cast nose to go with it. Plaster cast is the material I've traditionally used for my mask making. It's a fun material to work with and hardens into a really solid mask. It does, of course, weigh quite a lot and isn't generally comfortable against the face, especially when you're wearing it for a long time.

The original nose didn't turn out how I wanted. It was too long and just looked beaky, so I hardly ever used it. No matter, my fox costume is rather cute regardless and I just go without.

So recently I wanted to finish my pixie king costume and I began looking up how to make wings. I found some great youtube videos for wings, which linked to other costume making videos, including leather mask making. I watched a few and found the entire process was shockingly simple so for the last six weeks I've been collecting supplies, researching techniques and testing things out.

Well, I've finished my first leather mask and it just happens to go with my fox costume.

I'm so chuffed with the end result and whilst it's not perfect by any means (I've learned a lot about the nature of leather dye and the initial pattern cutting) it's a damn good start. And leather mask making is probably one of the most fun creative endeavours I've had! Not only does it feed my love of costume making, it involves carving, sculpting AND painting, three things that really feed my soul.

In short, this is not one of those things I'm just dabbling in for a short while. I suspect that in a very short span of time I'm going to be building a stock of leather masks and taking orders because this was amazingly fun and something I want to do again and again.

The initial outline. To get this I drew a template
in pencil. Then I wet down the leather and traced over top the paper
template with a pen. This indents the leather and gives clear lines for cutting and tooling. 

After cutting out the mask from the larger piece of leather
I smooth the edges with my utility knife, just getting rid of any bumps or sharp parts. 

Cutting out the eye holes is probably the most challenging
thing in the entire process of making a leather mask.
I managed to knick the top of one of the holes but did an okay job fixing it so it's not really noticeable. 

I wet down the leather again and did the tooling,
which really just involves using various tools to crease and dent the leather
so the detail has ridges and texture. 

This is the coolest bit and what stunned me about how simple it is to make a leather mask.
The next bit involves immersing the leather into hot water mixed with a bit of white glue.
I did this for about a minute and then took the mask out and moulded it to the shape I wanted.
The heat of the water makes it very pliable and the glue helps with hardening it when it dries. 

I was working on my pixie mask at the same time. Here are both of them after they've dried.
The leather goes very pale, which is how you know they're dry - and it is really stiff. 

Next I rubbed both the masks down with dye. 

I learned rather quickly that the dye is incredibly potent and powerful stuff.
It absolutely destroyed the sponge I was using. The thing just start disintegrating.
I'll need to stock up on more solid sponges.

Once the dye had set I got out my acrylics to paint the final detail...

And voila! The finished product!

Such fun.  


  1. That look wonderful, well done - totally agree it is great to work with leather, you can get such interesting effects. There is a tool called the ballpoint stylus which helps transferring patterns onto the leather, especially useful if like me you press too hard and leave biro marks!

    1. I'll add that to my shopping list as I have been noticing the biro coming through the paper.

  2. This is amaaazing! Check you out with your leather skillz! V impressed >.<


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