Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Bottom's Transformation

I've been falling into bad habits again. The habits in question this time being the brain gremlins telling me that I can't post unfinished work, I must post only completed projects, and my hasn't it been a while since I posted, better get something finished quick!, which of course leads to more stress and less progress.

So here's a piece of progress I'm quite pleased with. As I may have mentioned before, in all too soon a time *gulp*, I will be performing as Nick Bottom (the weaver) in a Raglan production of Midsummer Night's Dream. And performing as Bottom requires a donkey mask! So under the wonderfully supportive eye of my beautiful assistant Lynn, I got started.

I wanted to make my mask with at least a nod to period mask manufacture, but as it turns out though, there's very little information on period mask making out there. Apart from rare "Visard" masks, used as sun protection for ladies of fair skin or the more elaborate Commedia dell'Arte still made with the same leather working principles, so I had to make things up as I went, hoping I was nodding in the right direction.

I started out with some reed which I'd originally bought for an experiment with a pair of stays a few years back, and I bound this together with cotton thread - I would have used linen thread but of course it decided to go walkabout on me again.

The mannequin head was just used for pictures, I sized each piece of reed to my own head before I tied it off, which was just as well as my own head proved to be a wee bit bigger. The first band sits around my head, slightly above my ears and the centre front point rests on my forehead. I added a band going side to side to support the first band in place, then a second, over length band going back to front that would also form the muzzle. A couple of rings rounded out the muzzle, and the basic structure was done.

The basic frame complete, I started to reinforce the joins with twists of papier-mâché. I promise for my next project  of this ilk I'll use a more period glue, but on this occasion I was still using diluted PVA or white glue. Time constraints and such.

Ears attached I began to weave additional strips of reed through the basic frame to build up the shape of the muzzle and head, including some additional paper strips across the ears to give them a mostly covered up look.

It was at this point, unfortunately, that period went right out the window and I had to resort to the hot glue gun to complete the next stage.  I wanted to fill in the mask in a way that kept it lightweight and wouldn't inhibit my voice projection, so I decided to line the frame with some sinamay, a fabric similar to buckram used in millinery, that I had laying around. At this point, one of the ears took on a strange cant from somewhere, but I dunno, it kind of adds to the character of the mask.

 After leaving the mask to for a day and a half, I painted over the outer surfaces with a burnt sienna poster paint. To paint the sinamay, I wanted down the paint and blew across the surface after brushing to ensure the holes wouldn't clog up.

And here she is so far (yes, the character is male, but the mask insists on being referred to as she). The mask still needs a short mane, and the eyes need to be outlined so the other actors have a focal point to interact with; at the moment I can see out just fine. There's a mini rehearsal tomorrow where I'll get to put it through it's paces and make sure it's up to the task, then it has a couple of coats of shellac in its future to seal it up and help make it a little more robust.