Thursday, January 19, 2017

Commedia Leather Mask Making

It is about time I pulled together this post.

Over the summer during Pennsic, I made a plan with a friend of mine to learn his craft of leather mask making. I made a deal that during the course of Pennsic I would make a mask. Drake hauled all of his supplies and gave me the great gift of tools and, most importantly, knowledge. I don't think I can ever repay him for all that he did for me that year at Pennsic!

I would like to take some time now to discuss the process, with pictures. He is an incredible teacher and I am hoping I have learned enough that I can pass along all I have learned and share this incredible wealth of knowledge.

The mask making procedure began with needing to create a negative of my face.

Here I am all prepped and ready. To make a negative, it is best to fully protect your hair, so we used both a shower cap and a t-shirt. The shower cap was nice because it would allow for a very obvious line when the negative and following positive was complete as to where a comfortable end point for the mask is.

Once ready, I laid down on a table to be at a comfortable height and put vaseline on my eyelashes and eyebrows so that nothing would stick to them. That would have been rather painful. Straws were then placed in my nose, which I had to hold, and a piece of cloth went into my mouth so we could have a definition between where my upper lip and the bottom of the mask would comfortably be. Once I was prepared, an alginate mixture that held good definition was placed on my face followed by plater bandages to a thick layer that would easily make a good positive. The following picture was not me but my partner in crime that wanted to do the same challenge at Pennsic, Brooke.

After letting everything dry, the negative was carefully removed and dried before a release agent was sprayed inside so that a positive plaster could be poured inside. The result was uncanny... and a little ghostly.

Once the positive was released, it was time to start crafting. An oil based clay was used and built up on the face to create a mask of sorts. You will notice that there is a blank area around the bridge of the nose. That is because it creates a point of reference for how and where the mask will sit on your face. With everything else built up, to make certain the mask still fits comfortably to your specific face, a point of reference is necessary and highly recommended.

Here is a picture of Zagna, my first mask, as well as a picture where, after casting, I cut her in half so it is easier to visualize how much the clay is built up in the mask.

After the clay is built up and the design is somthing satisfactory, it is important to smooth the clay as much as possible. There are two reasons for this. One reason is so you have less problems with removing the negative from the positive. The second is that you will need to do a lot less clean up work with the cement positive you will eventually be making in the end.

After finishing the clay mask, a dam is built with the remaining clay around only the form of the mask by about 3/4" all the way around. This is so when you pour in the plaster you will be using for a negative, it stays in a specific area. As with each pour that is done, it is important to remember a releasing agent. It is also important to pour into the detailed areas first and use your fingers to gently keep air bubbles from remaining and get the plaster everywhere it needs to be.

After the plaster negative of the clay form is made, more daming is done to build up an even wall all around the edge of the negative. A wooden plaque which will be used to nail the leather on to is guaged along what will be the back of the mask form and screws are placed into it at angles to help strength the mould all the more.

Not much of the negative will remain. No matter how much you try and cut down, the problem is you suddenly have something that easily can have undercuts that will keep the plaster from removing nicely from the cement. Here is a photo of the few chunks that remain after removing the positive cement from the plaster mould.

The plaster can be removed with a gentle rawhide hammer, always knocking gently away from the actual mask form. Once the cement is free, make sure to seal it with something that will keep the cement and wood from ruining in water.

The next step is wetting down the leather. It takes soaking and massaging and squeezing the leather to release all the tannins and make the leather soft and plyable to work with. When it is, you can start to work it down along and onto the form of the mask. Start at the highest point, which is usually the nose, and stretch and pull the leather until, when you turn over the mask, you know there wont be any shifting.

Carefully begin tacking the wet leather down along the wood backing, cutting and overlapping small areas where needed. If there is a large portion that will not tack flat, that will most likely need seaming when you are finished.

Here is Zagna after tacking down the wet leather. And although the nose doesn't need seaming, it is obvious the upper lip will.

Once all of the leather is tacked in place, it is time to begin working with your tools. You don't want to work on the weather when it is too wet, so give in a little bit if you can. The pecking and burnishing will work a lot better when the leather is only a little damp. If it dries out too much, you can always re-moisten it with a spray bottle of water.

These are the tools that are needed: a horn hammer for pecking and a smooth wooden instrument for burnishing (or any other smooth and hard piece of material. Horns/antlers that were smoothed down were also used).

Pecking is the act of making very small dimples on the leather using the thin end of the hammed. You always want to work from the highest points downwards, stretching the leather in those directions. After pecking, the burnisher helps to smooth and seal the leather, working with the fibers to help it keep the form you are pressing it into. Here is an example of a piece of leather that has been wet (on the left), pecked (on the right), and burnished (in the middle).

The differences are subtle between the unfinished and the burnished on such a small piece, but when you look at the finished working mask, it is very obvious the shine that the burnishing creates. Here is Zagna, finished with her pecking and burnishing.

As you can see, seam work still needs to be done as well as cutting out the eyes. The next step, really, is to cut the mask free of the cement block so the eyes and skiving for the seam work can be done.

The seam work is simply making three flaps that are then skived down tremendously thin so that they will not make a huge differentiation from the rest of the mask. The eyes follow the shape and lines of the mould form and should be easy enough to follow and cut out before burnishing to finish them.

Turning the mask over, the entire inside edging needs to be skived feather thin so it can then be notched and glued into place, often with a wire edging as an extra safe precaution to help the mask keep its shape. Here are photos of the skiving and turning before the notching, and after the notching once everything is glued into place.

After a layer of polish on her front and a layer of laquer to keep sweat from ruining her on the back, all she needs is a strap to hold her in place.

And here she is, Zagna, all finished.

Here are some extra photos of things I learned along the way and some of the other masks I am working on. If you would like to know more, please come and find me with my whole display at King and Queens Arts and Science this coming February.

We all make mistakes. Mine was not realizing that my container I was carrying Zagna around in wasn't fully closed and she fell out on the Pennsic streets. Of course, I didn't think anything about it at the time and kept working. But when I cut the leather free and the pressure was no longer there, her face fell in half. Since I would like to use her again, I found some gorilla glue...

...and tied her tight together. She is still in working order and now appears very much like she is an extant find because of my mistake.

This was my beginning thoughts for a Fosca mask. I am very glad I revamped the entire idea and tried again.

This is a negative of the revamped Fosca who is a much creepier mask choice.

This is her both in her cement form and with the burnishing process underway with the leather. She is a creepy mask and I love it.

Here is the beginning of Pantalone, a wrinkled, worried sort of man.

A side by side comparison of two different Pantalones, ready for their leather stretching phase.

This is the latest mask, Brighella. He is just about ready for his cement pour.

Apollo's Arrow for Katherine Murray

Based on the design work of Elizabethan fans, this scroll was fully paper cut before glued together with another piece of darker paper and a white letter work done. The glue was fish glue, a period recipe.

The words were based on a Charter to Sir Walter Raleigh, 1584.

"Brion, King, and Anna, Queene, defenders of the East, to all people whome hear these presents, greetings.

Knowe yee that of Our welbeloued seruant Katherine Murray through her bowe shows especial grace, certaine science, and meere motion. She giues and graunts with arrow to take, and leade in the necessary safetie of al men.

Provided alwayes, and Our will and pleasure is, and Wee do hereby declare that saide Katherine Murray be giuen and graunted licence to holde, occupie, and enioye the right of Our Order of Apollo’s Arrow.

Witnesse Our Selues, at Kingdom 12th Night, in Barony of Ruantallan, the 14. day of January, in the one and fiftieth yeere of Our Society."

Words, calligraphy, and paper cut illumination done by me.

Examples of the paper cut fans:


AoA for Evelyn of Easton

I'm a little back logged in getting some of my work up.

This is an award of arms that was created for Evelyn of Easton. It was done to appear like unto the manuscript of Playford's Gathering Peascods, as Evelyn is a dancer. The words were written by Lord Tristan le Chanticleer.

Gathering Lady Evelyn

To Gathering Peascods, Playford 1651, Arr. PCB

Section A – 1st Repeat
Now Avelina Queen
            and Kenric rightly King,
Are moved to dance and sing

Section A – 2nd Repeat
For cooks who keep the Weasel iced
            And feast to table bring
In joy as rafters ring.

Section B – 1st Repeat
‘Tis Evelyn of Easton’s hold
            Whose service makes Us bold
For virtues should be told

Section B – 2nd Repeat

            For she is light of foot
                        and quick with needled thread,
            We hold it enough said.

Section C – 1st repeat
In A.S. Fifty One,
            On September 3 is done,
As Smoking Rocks today takes pearls,
            New Baroncy unfurled,

Section C – 2nd repeat
For this and other charms,
            Bestow Award of Arms,
And cut the heralds short to greet,

            this Lady of the Court.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Baronial Emerald for Pan Mikulaj von Meissen

I was honored to be asked to make the Emerald for a friend of mine, Mikulaj. The Emerald is an Order in the Barony of Concordia of the Snows that is given for a well done creation of persona. Mikulaj and I have talked over the years and he does an incredible Polish persona and is wonderfully knowledgeable in the subject. So when I was asked to make his scroll, I started by searching for Polish documents to inspire me.

I wanted the words to be the more important part of the scroll, and found a few that were documents from royalty giving out land or titles. This worked well for me. So I scoured the words and eventually rearranged and translated and worked out something to read as follows:

"For the eternal memory of things, because human actions are so worthy of memory, this letter will be handled as memory.

Pan Mikulaj von Meissen, who was to us and our predecessors, valuable through due merit, faith and duty, saw the more he tried he did stand out.

That is why we Jean Paul, Baron of Concordia of the Snows, and Lylie, Baroness, hereby declare that for whom this letter is intended, we offer respect for the obedience and famous merit.

Considering that his duties both publicly and privately met weights, his wants to make himself more inclined and willing to Our Barony and Our Kingdom for knowledge and desire of Polish custom was pleasing.

By needs and measures established, as well as duties and burdens of Poland, under which the customs are obliged after all the good this man has maintained, We do this.

Thanks to Our existing Emeralds, unto this Order which is appropriate to the circumstances, with all the same goods and income, all for ever joining, assign and take on the Emerald.

A testimony to our signature is affixed to the document. Make things happen in the Barony of Concordia of the Snows at the meeting of Ceilidh on Saturday, the eve of the 12th in the year of Our Society LI (51), in the presence of many dignitaries, officials, courtiers, and subjects who are dear to us."

I was quite happy with the results and decided, in the end, that the document that inspired the words should also inspire the finished product. So here is a link to the document I had chosen, a Polish document from 1548:

And here is my finished product. I kept the pencil lines in this time since they were also very apparent on the original scroll. I was trying to keep it as true to form as I was able with the skills and supplies I have for use.

Sumi ink and gauche paint on parchment.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Compleat Anachronist Cover

I was approached, some time ago, to work on a cover for The Compleat Anachronist by good friend and Capicomico Sophia the Orange.

Of course, if you know Sophie, the focus of her article for CA was Commedia. But not just commedia, but how to work commedia for the modern audience. So not only did I get a sneak peak at what she wrote, but I was asked to make an inspired piece for the cover.

The first thing I did was take into consideration all the magnificent classes that both she and her husband have taught about how to bring commedia to the people. Everything from writing scenari to how to create a stage and lighting when you have nothing.

I then searched for a period illumination that I could work from. In this case, I chose a Flemish painting depicted the Commedia dell'arte troupe Gelosi and Isabella Andreini.

With this in mind, I then decided that I would make the picture a little taller so that I could add Magus's idea of stage lights at the bottom, and to show the make of the curtain at the top being held on a rope. The next part was to place people in the roles of the characters, and at Sophie's request, the capicomico of various troupes took the roles.

As for the manner of drawing style, since the CA is done in black and white, I figured if I drew it to look as if it were a block print, it would look much sharper than if I did painting or shading. So I studied a few block prints of the time period and went to work.

The characters, from left to right, are as follows: Avalina from Vagando Stolti, Abigail from i Scandali, Virginio from i Genisii, Rhonwhen from i Sebastiani, Sophia the Orange from i Firenzi, Katrusha from Le Mezze Lune, Anton from iSebastiani, and Niccolo from i Verdi Confusi.

If you want to know what all the fuss is about, stay tuned for the upcoming issue of the Compleat Anachronist! There is some exciting stuff that awaits within!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Lady Elewys's Ram's Horn, Baronial award for Concordia of the Snows

The words were based off of Sun Tzu's The Art of War:

"In the valor of our warriors, we hear the echo of the wisdom of Sun Tzu.

Defense is a matter of vital importance to the Barony of Concordia of the Snows, for it is the forum of our life or death - the road to our survival or ruin. The resources of those skilled in extraordinary defense are as infinite as the heavens and earth, as inexhaustible as the flow of the great rivers, for their mighty battle motions are cyclical, recommencing as they end, as the movements of the sun and moon.

The musical notes are only five in number but their melodies are so numerous that one cannot hear them all. The primary colors are only five in number but their admixtures are so infinite that one cannot see them all. In defense there are only the normal and the extraordinary forces, but their combinations are limitless, that none can comprehend them all. Lady Elewys of Anglespur sees that these two forces are mutually reinforcing. She knows that their interaction is as endless as the binding of interlocked rings.

When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of its momentum. When the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing. Thus the momentum of Lady Elewys, as one skilled in the art of defense, is overwhelming, and her attack is precisely regulated. Wise commanders pursue victory through thoughtful selection of their warriors. Thus do We, Jean Paul and Lylie, Baron and Baroness, call this warrior to Our Order of the Ram's Horn, so that one so valiant shall not strive alone, but march in brave company."

I was super stoked about this scroll because, hurray! I could finally use my craft of paper cutting! China had been doing paper cutting since 5 BC at the very least and this woman has a Ming Dynasty persona! So I did my research of paper cutting during the Ming Dynasty. They used everything from brands to pottery designs. So I made a design using paintings and pottery designs and am quite pleased with how it came out. For the calligraphy, I studied a bunch of Chinese symbols and eventually created a flowed hand with brush that were similar to Chinese stylings, but were all our typical ABC alphabet.

Lady Anne's Ram's Horn, Baronial scroll for Concordia of the Snows

The words are based on George Silver's Paradoxes of Defence, from 1598.

"To the noble, victorious, valiant, and most brave Barony of Concordia do We, Jean Paul and Lylie, Baron and Baroness, send greetings.

The noble science of fencing defends the body from wounds and slaughter.
And moreover,the exercising of weapons puts away aches, griefs, and diseases, it increases strength, and sharpens the wits.
It gives a perfect judgement, it expels melancholy, choleric and evil conceits, it keeps a woman in breath, perfect health, and long life.
It puts her out of fear, & in the wars and places of most danger, it makes her bold, hardy and valiant.

Anne De Basillion embodies this knowledge.
Her passions for the art of defence knows no bounds.

We saw her put to trial in proof:
Three bouts apiece with three of the best fencers & three bouts apiece with three unskillful valiant men, and three bouts apiece with three resolute men half drunk.
She did defend herself against these men, and hurt, and won the iron ring of the East.
She is to be honored, cherished, and awarded Our Ram's Horn.

Done this day by Our hand in May of ASLI at Our Wars of the Roses."

The illumination is based on the Ovid, translated by Octavien de St-Gelais in France in the last part of the 15th Century.