Monday, July 21, 2008

Bottom's mask for Midsummer Night's Dream

The Water in the Desert Festival is doing a Butoh adaption of Midsummer Night's Dream. It sounds fascinating, so even though I am not officially taking commissions right now, I was very excited to make them a donkey mask for Bottom's transformation...

The face of the mask is vaccuformed from ABS plastic. Those of you who saw the Wicker Man film may recognize this as the horse mask design Rick and I did for them. While we're actually steering away from using plastic now (more discussion on that later), we had a couple of horse heads lying around waiting to be put to good use. To make a donkey though, I did need to make larger ears. I did not take photos of that process, which is too bad as it was a new technique and turned out rather well. But it involved making ear-like shapes out of cardboard cereal boxes, masking tape and staples, padding  them out with twisted paper and more masking tape, a layer of paper mache, and then dipping them in a product called Liquiche--kind of a liquid paper mache/polymer hybrid. The single layer of regular paper mache simply gave the Liquiche something to bond to.

Because the budget and time for this project were tight, I opted to paint the mask with a "suede" textured brown spray paint. To ensure good adhesion of the paint to the plastic, I first primed the mask with a spray primer formulated especially for plastic. The texture is slightly reminiscent of the short hair of horses and donkeys.

Once the spray paint was fully cured, I added detail with brushes and acrylic paint, and sealed it all with a clear matte spray paint.

Here's another view, with the mask looking especially donkey-like!

Lastly, I took raffia fibers (from a hula skirt!) that I had previously dyed shades of brown, and sewed them to the mask.  Donkeys actually have much shorter hair than horses, so I'm making use of creative license to give the mask a long "mane" to hide the actor's head. I did emphasize the verticality of the tuft of hair between the ears though, as donkeys have more of a mohawk than a fringe.

And another view of the finished mask!

And just for fun, this is what the original horse mask looked like. This one has a finish of handmade paper.

I also did a unicorn version (shown at the Goblin Art booth at Mardi Gras Mask Market in New Orleans) in 2006.

Water in the Desert Festival
Art, Ritual, Performance, Ecology

July 26, 2008, 1-10PM, Peninsula Park, 700 N. Rosa Parks Way, Portland, OR
The Midsummer Night's Dream performance starts at 7pm, amongst the roses.


  1. Hi Monica,
    That looks great! Thank you for sharing.
    You are steering away from plastic? Me too. Why are you? I'm not getting the kind of detail I would like on my machine.
    Have you continued with leather?
    I hope you are well.
    Hugs to you and your family.
    All my best,
    Alyssa Ravenwood

  2. Hi Alyssa, thanks! I was hoping to transition away from using plastic as a base for many of my masks, mainly because I like the idea of using more natural and traditional maskmaking materials. But after further experimentation with paper mache techniques, I have found the plastic-base masks look better, last longer and are easier to make. So for now the plastic stays. And right now we have someone who can recycle our ABS plastic scrap, which saves me from feeling guilty about using a non-natural material from an environmental standpoint. I haven't continued with leather masks, as there are so many great leather maskmakers already out there! Great to hear from you Alyssa, and Happy New Year!