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Molded Leather Mask
By Christine Cox

 

 Dimensions:
 9-1/2" W X 8-1/2" H

Masks can be mysterious, fun, artsy or even erotic. For a beginner, the leather will make the decision for you. The leather is very stiff and can require a lot of patience to mold it. Every piece of leather is different. They have different grains and are thinner or thicker in some places. It's almost impossible for any but the most experienced artist to predict how a particular piece of leather will react to molding. The best masks are not forced. Let the leather guide you.

Materials

  • Approximately 12" X 12" Piece of 4-5 oz. Vegetable Tanned, Grade 1 Leather (Live Oak works best but is not necessary)

  • Dish of Water

  • Acrylic Paint

  • Artist or Drafting Tape (optional)

  • Spray Polyurethane (optional)

  • Various Adornments if Desired (i.e., buttons, feathers, charms, fibers)

  • Krylon Gold Leafing Pen (optional)

Tools
  • Medium and Large Binder Clips

  • Sponge

  • Various Household Tools and Objects to Shape Leather

  • Cutter or Other Knife

Using the sponge, wet the front and back of one section of the leather. I usually start with either the eyebrow ridge or the nose as these can both be strongly creased sections. Start folding and molding the leather so that it begins to show the features you are looking for.

Continue to wet an area and then form it. You will need to hold each area as it dries somewhat (1 or 2 minutes, usually) and holds its shape. This is not a project for people with weak hands.

Use tools to help, if you'd like. I like to use the rounded handle of a leather working tool that I have to help push out rounded areas. I also use a lot of binder clips. It's important to do most of the work from the back as the leather is very easy to crease. Be sure to watch that you don't crease the leather with your fingernails too. If you absolutely must pinch an area from the front and you need to use a clip, fold a scrap piece of leather into the clip so that you only have leather touching your mask, no metal. It is also important to only form leather that is wet. If you try to fold dry leather there is a good chance that it will crack.

It may take several hours to form the face. Work slowly and on only one area at a time. The nose, eyebrow ridge and lips seem to be the easiest parts to form.

As the face starts to take shape you will probably find yourself going in a very different direction than you originally planned. Don't fight it.

When you are finished forming the face, draw an eye shape on a piece of scratch paper. Place this where you want one eye and trace it. Turn the eye shape over and place it on the opposite side of the face and trace it again. Use the cutter (now would be an excellent time to put in a new blade) to carefully cut out the eye holes.

Once the face is to your liking and is dry, use the acrylic paint to adorn your mask. Almost any dye ink will work too, so experiment! Stamping on the leather works great but you will need to do it before you start forming the face. Since it's almost impossible to get the features exactly where you want them, you'll want your stamping to be random. You won't be able to place it exactly where you want. If you do decide to stamp you can use dye ink or you can use fabric or Crafter's Ink and heat set it. If you want to use a button or hanging fibers, you can cut a hole with a cutter (X-Acto type) or a Dremel.

If you want to seal the mask (not really necessary) you can spray or brush polyurethane on. Be sure to read the instructions as this is a high odor product!

The mask will have a much more finished appearance if you use the leafing pen to outline the entire thing, including the eyes. Leafing pens are another product that can be dangerous. Be sure to do this in a well ventilated area.

On the mask in this article I made a tear drop by cutting a tear shape out of Friskit (a low tack film available at most art stores). I then placed the mortise mask (the reverse of the tear drop) onto the mask and colored it in using the leafing pen. I then removed the Friskit and cleaned up any areas that weren't perfect.


Christine Cox 2002
Click image for larger view


Christine Cox 2002
In the collection of Becci Thomas