Five of my masks needed a paint treatment, and I have separated them out here as what matters now is more what primer and what kind of paint technique I used, rather than what the mask is made of. I am not the most proficient painter. I enjoy painting things, but to be perfectly honest the amount of rendering focused classes I had in my first year of grad school turned me off of painting completely. I do not enjoy drawing humans and clothes, and I dislike painting them even more. I have, however, found joy in abstract painting as well as creative painting of objects so I hoped I would also enjoy this paint process. I was advised to try airbrushing, which terrified me a bit as I had never touched one, but I knew we had one at school so I thought I may as well try.
The airbrush in the craft room of our costume shop was in about as good a condition as one might expect an airbrush in a university costume shop to be. I took it apart and tried to clean it, found I couldn’t and got very frustrated, ready to give up. I didn’t even know how to use the thing, how could I possibly fix it! Thankfully, my husband, who is not afraid of and rather talented with taking things apart and fixing them offered to take on the challenge. He was able to unstick the needle, which had been caked in with paint and he cleaned each component individually. He hooked up the hoses and it worked! I then started watching tutorials on airbrush, especially cosplay armor and model miniatures; it all looked relatively easy and I was excited to get started. I decided through watching these videos that I wanted to do every paint job differently. While doing the original paint treatment three times over (as the leather and TranspArt were different and the Worbla was destined to be bony) would definitely make me better at doing that particular mask, it seemed a shame to miss an opportunity to use the airbrush in different ways. I decided to do one mask in silver; painting something to look like metal is a unique skill and one I had never tried before but would love to have in my wheelhouse. I also think one of the most exciting things about an airbrush is the detail you can get with stencils, so I wanted to do one in black and white using lace and a stencil. I chose black and white because I personally love the aesthetic of it and I wanted to see how much could be achieved with only two colors.
Before any of the airbrushing could happen however, each mask needed to be primed. There are lots of ways to prime out there, I chose the methods I heard the most about doing both in my interviews and online.
For the Worbla one, I used a spray paint primer directly onto the mask, the color happened to be cinnamon because that’s what we had in stock, but it was pretty irrelevant (or so I thought) what color the primer would be as I had plans for many layers of paint. I used this method because I wanted to be able to pick up the texture I had laid into the Worbla, so I needed just a thin coat to start work.
I chose a heavy gesso for the Fosshape because I didn’t feel the Fosshape was sturdy enough and I knew the gesso would add some structure. The Fosshape also had an uneven dimpled texture that I thought would be most helped by this technique. I did four coats, it went on nice and thick, but not so thick as to completely change the texture of the surface. Once it was fully dry I sanded it down with a 220 grit sandpaper. The sanding smoothed some areas but still left divots and some bumps, which I thought would be a nice texture for the mask. It may have been a mistake to not sand the horns down more, I must admit I didn’t have enough patience here.
On the foam clay mask I used wood glue, a priming material I had never used and was sort of surprised to hear about it. I tested it out on the original foam clay mask first and really liked the smooth glossy finish to it, so I covered the actual mask in it. I did three coats and on the final coat I did something I picked up from a cosplayer’s blog; I sprayed the whole mask in water and then used my hands to smooth the whole surface. The result was great, the whole mask was super smooth and glossy.
During my interviews many people mentioned doing paper mache with fabric as a primer. This had never occurred to me, potentially because I loathe paper mache. As a kid, the word “crafting” sent fear into my heart as I associated it with the dreadful paper mache. I hated how it made my hands feel (this is clearly a recurring issue for me) and it was sloppy and wet and gross. But, it came highly recommended and I am very familiar with using glue and fabric to make fascinators, so I thought I’d give it a try. I chose to use it for the Wonderflex because I did not like the texture of the Wonderflex at all and I wanted to make it feel more organic and uneven. I made a wood glue and water mixture and cut some strips of a gauzy material. After saturating the strips it was clear that they were not picking up the glue so I tried a different fabric with a nubby texture to it. That fabric picked up the glue like a charm, but halfway in I realized I had cut all my strips on the straight instead of on the bias so they weren’t going nicely around turns. I don’t know how I forgot how fabric works (bias=stretchy/curvy) but I cut a third set of strips and finally was able to lay them down. I started with mostly vertical strips all along the mask and let it dry.
After it had dried a bit I did another layer, this time making horizontal strips. I finished it off with several larger strips going with the lines of the mask to be more natural for the shape. Also, I still hate it. It wasn’t until the very end that I got an itchiness in my palms that I hadn’t felt since I was a kid hating paper mache. I guess I probably should have worn gloves.
By the end the mask looked like a mummy. My fabric had a lot of lift to it and it created a bulky, swathed look that took the already less defined features and made them even more obscured. I liked the look, there was something very intriguing about this mummified mask, but it wasn’t really what I was going for. I think I was supposed to do less layers of a thinner fabric, but what was done was done. In the end I think the paint treatment I used utilized its unique texture well.
All four of these priming methods could be used on any of the options, but each gives a very different reaction. I chose which paint treatment I would use based on how the priming came out. I had hoped to be able to work on several masks at a time, but space wise this became really difficult. I set up the airbrush in a small room in our basement with a little window. It was a relatively safe way to do it, but it was cramped so I never really felt comfortable having open paint and masks I wasn’t working on around. This was probably wise as I dumped paint on myself a couple times.
The first one I decided to work on was the foam clay mask (I actually started on the TranspArt, but more on that later). I watched many videos about making metallic props and armor and the number one thing was that everything needed to be smooth and glossy beneath the paint so the wood glue primer was perfect. I had my original mask to sample on first, so I painted half of it white and half of it black.
Over the past few years I have become a bit obsessed with doing my nails and getting a perfect chrome look, and all of my experimentation was completely relevant. I knew the undercoat would greatly impact the glittery silver finish on top so I wanted to see what black and white would do. After it dried I decided I would use the white as a base coat and then shade the whole thing with black.
I did not see this technique in the videos I watched, but I figured it could only make the look more dramatic so why not. After the shading was dry I sprayed it with a glossy clear spray paint and let it sit.
When I returned I found there were little bubbles in the paint! I was very upset by this and from what I gathered it may have happened because it was in a cold room. At this point I didn't know how to go back, so I started doing a thin silver coat (if I had not panicked I would’ve read that I could gently sand the bubbles off and then reapply the glossy coat). I had already intended on adding some glitz to the mask, now I would be required to thanks to these bubbles. After I did two coats of silver I let it dry and added two coats of glossy spray paint. I think the silver came out nicely, it is not the super expensive silver paint that makes things look very reflective, but I think I did alright with the cheaper paint.
After the silver coat, I used some grey to draw in some of the design lines on the forehead ever so faintly. I didn't want to take away too much shine, but I wanted the lines to be more noticeable.
Next up was to add some foil and some glitz. I took a lot of inspiration from the original mask in terms of it looking like beat up metal as well as a sort of sickly decadence to it. I designed my rhinestones clusters to be in various beauty mark areas and to look a little unsettling, which I think worked out in the end.
Next I worked on the Wonderflex mummy mask. I decided that this overly fabric looking mask would be best for the lace stencils. I took a bunch of small pieces of lace (finally a use for all those scraps!) and laid them down on white pieces of paper and airbrushed them in black. It was lots of fun, I highly recommend it.
I found lace that had any stretch to it wasn’t very helpful as it had enough bounce that the airbrush would move it, even if I held it down. Everything else was very successful though. I ended up using a net scarf with sequin rows, a lace mask and a piece of very fine black lace with a fan pattern that I used again and again.
I did not like the look in black though, it seemed too severe. I tried a few different combinations, in the end I landed on light blue lace on a dark blue background because I thought it looked pretty and I’ve been super into blue lately.
I first painted the whole mask in light blue, adding whites for the highlights and a slightly darker blue for the shadows. This coat would become the lace, so I wanted to make sure to get some depth in it. Then I would mask off whatever area I was working in.
This was very time consuming but very important to getting it right. On the horns I had to do four passes on each horn as I worked the fabric around it. At one point I picked a bad stencil for the forehead, but all was not lost! I just airbrushed right over it and started again, which I must say felt very nice.
I actually started with the TranspArt, but it was a disaster. I am not adept or used to working with an airbrush so I don't know why I started with the see through one that would obviously show any problems. At least before going to the mask I made some samples.
After seeing the samples I decided I would paint much of the mask red and use the brown for shading. It was very hard to paint the inside of the mask evenly and I missed a few times with the brown, got frustrated and over-painted. I made it too dark, but luckily (actually, super un-luckily as I would find out) ink doesn’t really want to be on TranspArt so it was possible to scrape most of it off.
I didn’t come back to it until I felt a little better with the airbrush. I first coated the whole inside (I only painted the inside as I didn't want to interrupt the sheen on the outside) with a light coating of red. This clouded the TranspArt and made a nice smooth color across the mask, save for some problem point in the forehead. Then after letting it dry for a while I went in gently with a brown to hit the shadows.
This was really hard. I had a lot of trouble keeping consistency and after nearly every stroke I would need to hold it up to the light to see what was working. It still looks really cool and making it red made it look positively demonic, which I thought would be fun with the lights.
Little did I know my painting woes were far from over, as I applied superglue to attach the lights (which went fine at first) it eventually started eating up the paint! It still looks good from afar, especially with the lights on, but I was really disappointed by how much of my paint got stripped. This was clearly not the way to do it.
After the TranspArt I moved onto the Worbla, which I had been thinking about a lot since day one. I had this great texture and some ideas of how to achieve boniness, but I wasn’t going to know until I tried. Thankfully I had the original worbla mask with lots of texture on it already so I had a good place to start. I divided the mask up into sections and tried different undercoats, different techniques until I found what I liked.
spent nearly a day just sampling different effects. I layered many coats and then wiped off additional coats. I tried a variety of order of operations but eventually I came to one coat in yellow, one coat in slightly yellow white and then a coat in the light brown that I would wipe away with a paper towel directly after spraying.
After applying the brown I found it was too overpowering and bright. I tried to see if doing a coat of white on top would help. It did not, it somehow made it all pinkish and lose definition. So I airbrushed again, this time with a more orangey brown.
I liked the shading more but I still needed to get the whole thing lighter, so I dry brushed it. I had always planned to dry brush this mask but I got so excited about the airbrush that I tried to do it all on it, and that did not work out. I first dry brushed with a color that ended up being too yellow, but it still helped to lighten the whole mask and I thought would help add depth to the final white.
And finally, doing the original painting! Much like the design of the mask, I had to make decisions on what that original might be as the movie is grainy and it was hard to pinpoint the exact paint treatment. But some of the most important aspects are definitely the gold horns and the way a blood red is smeared all over it, not to mention blood trickling down the right eye onto the lip. I knew this would be challenging so I made a base with the airbrush, but then I moved to painting by hand.
After airbrushing was done I started to gild the gold parts with artificial gold foil flakes, again using Mod Podge, again lots of fun. I then hit the highlight spots with white and drew out the shape of the nose. It was interesting for me to end on this mask, it required me to really stare at the research in a way I hadn't done since early molding of the mask. I had continued to reference it throughout my work but not closely in some time. Now that I was so much more familiar with my mask and the research I could see where I was not exactly on it at all. I missed having a designer on this project to talk to and to steer me in any direction. Being my own designer was difficult, there were so many times when I just needed someone to say "I like it this way" and pick out of my options. There wasn't much I could do about the shape, so I moved ahead with the painting and drew the nose out as best I could to be more like the original.
I apologize for the lack of process photos on this paint job, my hands were covered in paint and I just didn't think to stop in between steps. I first highlighted the high points with pure white as well as added some more shadow. I then needed to make a blood red paint. This proved to be rather difficult, I made several batches of paint using different reds until I finally landed upon what I thought was a good color by mixing my airbrush red and blue. The first thing I did was get it on my hands, as I knew I needed to smear it all over the horns and the mask. This was an intimidating step, but also fun. After than I took I paintbrush and painted in the deeper areas, attempting to make it look like pools of blood. I did veer from the original paint job because my mask is not identical and I thought it was more important that the paint job match my mask I had and not the mask I wish I had.
Painting had scared me from the beginning but I now feel much more confident about painting in general. I am also extremely glad I took the airbrush home and committed to learning how to use it. I wouldn't say I'm an expert at it, but I do know it well enough to list it as a special skill on my resume. I will also now jump at any chance to use one and hone my skills. I am glad I chose so many different paint techniques so I had a chance to try new things as well as a much more interesting set of photos than if I had done them all the same. Painting is an important skill for a craft artisan, and the one I am the least experienced in. Doing these masks proved to me that I can paint and understand color and I hope to someday learn more about the unique art of costume painting.