Making Halloween Masks That Don’t Suck
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you were built for bespoke.
By Bart D. Frescura
Right now I’m living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area where Halloween, without a doubt, is a multimillion-dollar holiday deal. COVID or no COVID. But since one of the main precautionary measures in warding off COVID seems to be a mask, I’m imagining this year will not see the slightest slake of thirst for masks.
I’m looking at masks a little differently than you do, maybe. For the past 15 years I’ve been working in the Halloween mask industry and bronze foundry business as a mask maker, photographer, painter and patina artist.
I use my masks in my photos and in collaborations with local artists, musicians, filmmakers and dancers, but right now I’m working with a local special effects company creating and painting skin for the giant Indominus rex dinosaur for Universal Studios Hollywood “Jurassic World” ride.
And I’m going to tell you how to make a Halloween mask that doesn’t suck.
1. Concept and design/create a character
The first step in creating a latex mask begins with the design idea. Sketch out the character you want to sculpt, and yeah, you’ll have to get your head around the fundamentals of sculpting. Just start out playing with clay. Or more cheaply and easily: Play-Doh. As you sculpt, think of the sculpture as a fully three-dimensional character that will be viewed from many directions. Now let’s make a half mask (as opposed to a three-quarter or full head mask).
I use WED clay, a water-based clay, as opposed to an oil-based clay because it dries slower (more time to sculpt) and is less expensive while having the same texture as an oil-based clay. I add clay to a mask-making head form usually made from a life cast. I then rough out the basic forms and build out the major features. I use wood and metal tools to smooth and contour the piece. I finish the piece with water and a sponge to clean tool marks and add texture.
3. Seal the sculpture
I spray the sculpture with Krylon Crystal Clear spray. I add two to three light coats of crystal clear and let dry overnight.
The sculpture is sealed and ready to be molded. I use Ultracal 30, which is a gypsum cement to make a negative mold. I mix the Ultracal in three batches. The first batch is a thin coat to get detail; I apply this with a brush. The second coat I make thicker and continue to drizzle and apply the cement, adding strips of burlap to the mold for strength. The third batch is to smooth and finish the mold. I then let the cement dry for an hour. I separate the mold from the head form and carefully remove the clay to not scratch the surface. I then rinse out the mold with water and let dry.
5. Pouring the liquid latex
Now that the mold is clean and dry, I pour into the mold a small amount of mask-making liquid latex — also known as RD 470. I tip and turn the mold, manipulating the latex to cover the entire inside of the mold. I pour out the excess latex into a five-gallon bucket. I use an airbrush to blow out the air bubbles and push the latex into difficult and hard-to-reach spots. Now there’s a thin layer of latex covering the entire inside of the mold. I then fill the mold with latex to the very top and let it sit or “dwell.” As the mold draws the moisture out of the latex, this begins to form a layer of gelled latex inside the mold; the longer the latex dwells, the thicker the layer becomes. I let it dwell for one to three hours. I then pour the latex back into the bucket and let the mold drain for 10 to 15 minutes. I let the latex dry in the mold for at least 24 hours, sometimes using a fan or space heater to speed up the process.
6. Pulling the cured latex from the mold
I dust the inside of the mold with talcum powder to ensure that the latex does not fall over and stick to itself creating a permanent defect on the casting. I then hang or place the mask on a head form to dry and cure for 24 hours.
7. Clean, cut and paint
Once the mask has properly cured, I clean the mask with soap and water. I trim off the excess latex and cut out the eyes, nose, mouth and elastic strap holes.
I then apply a base coat of paint using a makeup sponge — latex has been added to the paint to allow flexibility and avoid cracking — over the entire mask. Once the base coat is dry I will apply shadows, fades and highlights with an airbrush. I then paint the eyes and teeth. Once the mask is completely painted, I spray the mask with a clear flexible coat to finish and seal it. I’ll then add epoxy to the eyes and teeth to give it a nice gloss. I attach the elastic to the mask and now it is ready to wear!
You can see some of the other ones I’ve done right here. Good luck!
- Bart D. Frescura, OZY Author Contact Bart D. Frescura