Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sunflower Masks 2 - Pasta

The life mask process is not a complicated one, but it does require some practice.  I first learned how to do it from my old friend Tim Mason (Tim, where are you?) while at MSU doing a sculpture project involving lost wax casting.  It can be a pretty fun process.  First, the victim - um, subject - pulls his or her hair back from the face and holds in it in place with a bandana/shower cap/etc.  Then, a good coat of vaseline is applied to all areas of the face, paying special attention to any facial hair - eyebrows, eyelashes, hairline, mustaches, beard.  I take a disposable plastic straw, cut it in half and apply some of that blue putty-like stuff used to adhere posters to the wall to one end of each half so it won't be so sharp; these are inserted into each nostril to facilitate breathing.  I cut a collar out of corrugated cardboard to fit snugly around the head so the plaster doesn't slip down during the process.  Then I lay the subject down on a pillow covered with some plastic garbage bags (easier cleanup) so the head is level, not tilted forward or back.  We agree on a thumbs up/thumbs down signal system, I mix the plaster and apply, focusing, while the plaster is most plastic, on the main features of the face and working outward.  Remember - eyes closed!

The key here is to pat the plaster into place, not rub it as rubbing can cause the plaster to crack.  Once the plaster has been applied, it takes 10-15 minutes to set, during which time it gets rather warm due to the chemical reaction between the water and chemicals in the plaster.  Once it has set sufficiently, I work with the subject to carefully remove the mold; then escort him/her to the kitchen sink, where I've arranged soap, washcloth(s) and hand towels to clean up as much as possible.  The mold should be allowed to cure for a week before using.

What I find really interesting about these pieces is that they can look so different, even though they are all made from the same molds; I have actually had people, when looking at two pieces pulled from the same mold, assert that they are not the same person.  I specifically chose Jose and Tia because their features are in perfect proportion to one another:  Jose's full lips are balanced by a unique aquiline nose (helped along by a brief stint as a bouncer), deeply-set eyes and a strong brow; Tia's delicate mouth and eyes are in perfect proportion to her nose and gentle brow (I often say that there are women who pay big bucks for the bone structure with which Tia was born).  Jose's masculinity enhances Tia's femininity, as her delicacy emphasizes his strength.

For these particular pieces, I applied the petals and then used my mini-extruder/Klay Gun to extrude small sections of clay which I then applied end-on to the desired area of the mask.  My intention was to evoke the stamens of the sunflower's central disk flowers.  As with all the other sunflower faces, I use a Burnt Umber wash for the face, then used, in this case, Mason Stain 6100 (Woodland) for the petals, suggesting some of the darker sunflower cultivars including 'Velvet Queen'.  

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