One of the first things I did when the christmas break ended was go straight into the mould-making studio to test some materials. I knew that I wanted to find a way of making a three dimensional, accurate mould of my face so that I could use it in combination with wet leather forming techniques. The first material I used was plaster bandage. I first did a small test on my arm to make sure I would have no reaction to the plaster bandage. From this I learned that vaseline is key! As you can see in Fig. 1, it ripped some hair out. This made me remember to coat my eyebrows and hairline WELL with vaseline in the next stage.
I then moved onto making the mould of my face with the help of Mason, a class assistant who works in mould making. This is one of those tasks that you need a friend to help out with since you have to cover your eyes. When the plaster bandage was set we carefully peeled it off. When it was fully dry I had to then fill it with Hydrocal, a type of plaster mixture. Hydrocal is a U.S Gypsum product that consists of plaster of Paris mixed with a small amount of portland cement. It is therefore stronger than plaster on its own. I used Hydrocal due to its ability to absorb moisture without becoming damaged once it is set. When you work with Hydrocal you have to have a mould to pour it into, in my case I have the plaster bandage form of my face. I layered the inside with vaseline and then measured and mixed my Hydrocal with warm water. The chemical reaction is faster with warmer water which should be considered when working with this material. I mixed and poured the Hydrocal mixture into the plaster form with the help of some clay to keep it straight. When the Hydrocal was finally dry ( I waited 24 hours just to be safe) I popped it out of the original plaster mould. I then washed it off and fixed up some holes. The final Hydrocal form is shown in Fig. 2.
Now that I had my solid form to work on I began experimenting with wet leather. This part was an incredibly simple but tedious task. It simply involves taking a piece of veggie tanned leather and soaking it completely with water. I then spent about a half hour pressing and stretching the wet skin over the form of my face. I actually found the process surprisingly creepy. My hands could tell that the form was my own face and the leather felt especially skin like when it was wet. It was therefore an incredibly weird tactile experience. Definitely not for the squeamish. An example of how strangely alive it looks when wet can be seen in in Fig. 3.
I then let it dry and took it off of the form and tried it on. It was interesting how perfectly it fit my face. It was strangely comfortable. See Fig. 4.
I repeated the process of wet leather forming with a larger piece of leather and cut it down to fit my face and hairline. I then used a series of ecologically friendly dyes and finishes to dye and seal the leather. I will get into the details of which dyes I used and why in a future post. Fig. 5 shows the final colour of the mask as well as its basic shape.
Now that I had a basic form to work off of I was ready to start modifying it using electronics and metal. I began with some lights that I have been wanting to use in a wearable piece since I found them at Active Surplus (http://www.activesurplus.com/en/). The lights themselves have small filaments and take 18 volts at full power. This poses a problem when working on the body as the power requirements indicate that more batteries are needed. I did some testing and found that I like the way they look when they are at half voltage. My next step is to make a proper circuit diagram and find the rest of my components. I set the lights themselves into the leather by creating a small hole with a punch and setting a grommet. I then wrapped the bottom of the lights in enough copper tape to make it fit tightly into the grommet (see Fig. 6). This way they are removable if one happens to die and needs replacing. Overall I am pretty happy with the aesthetic.
At this point I became a bit stuck. I had been working non stop for a week and needed to work on something different to maintain my motivation. I decided that I would hop on the lathes at work and learn a new skill that I had been wanting to try for a while. I turned a brass cylinder in hopes of forming some interesting pieces to add to my work. My result sparked the idea of making eye pieces that resembled telescopes but used my actual lenses from an older pair of glasses. This way the mask becomes something highly personal in multiple ways. It fits my face and prescription. The prototypes for the eyes will look something like Fig. 7. I had never tapped a hole so small in my life but somehow I got through six of them without breaking the tiny tap.
What is tapping? Tapping a hole in metal means that you are using a tool called a tap to create a thread. This allows you to attach things to it using screws.
My Own Two Hands