Leather Masks

August 2, 2022

First and foremost – to answer the question posed within the Hawkwood Baronial Birthday mask competition’s description, period techniques included paper mache, porcelain or – my favorite medium – leather. These techniques extended throughout Europe, but were most heavily known through the making of the Venetian masks used in the Carnival celebrations and within the performances of Commedia del’Arte troupes. Other mediums that had been known within period (and throughout the world) did include wood, metal and glass as well (glass sometimes being cited as the original medium for the Carnival masks).

The theme of Hawkwood’s Birthday celebration (being fairy tales) also brought to mind visions of the grotesque – so I started searching through images of plates and sketches of such for inspiration in making a mask – then came across this particular one. It brought me visions in my head of a Beauty and the Beast type feel, where the woman in the image was being obscured by the grotesque itself.

The construction of the mask consisted of a flat piece of 6oz leather, and tracing out a rough design. A knife was then used in order to give some basic definition to the outlines and scribe in some of the texture to the areas that should read as hair. After the basic layout was in place, the leather was saturated in order to push and pull the leather into a more sculpted form both from the top and bottom of the leather. I left out some of the ridging intentionally that is depicted within the print here, since after beginning work on the mask I discovered that the leather itself was not quite as elastic as anticipated. The cut itself was a bit old, and had been exposed to fluctuation in temperature and humidity over a span of many years. This caused the leather to harden somewhat, and even after reconditioning made it a little stubborn. Instead of dwelling on getting a little bit more bold with the sculpting, I focussed on the paint process to pull out more detail.