Making a mask

In order to make a mask you need to start from a design, showing its shape and dimensions.

You begin to dispose the clay following the edges of your drawing on a board. Clay is a malleable material, easy to shape and cheap.
After having rough cast the model of the mask, defining feature’s volumes, you smooth down with some water. You have to prepare the cast, the negative sculpture that will receive the pressed paper, making a full model, without holes.

Eyes and nostrils will be cut after the paper-pulp mask is out the cast. You mix the quick setting scaled chalk with the same quantity of water. When you get the right density (like yoghurt) you pour the compound over the clay model, taking care of covering it completely and uniformly. The chalk will quickly become compact and will dry up in one hour, ready to be carefully taken off the clay model.

You now have to wait at least two days before the chalk cast is completely dry and you can begin your paper-pulp work.
You start by soaking the paper, already torn in rectangles. You wring it out and you begin to set it on the hollow of the cast, from the outside towards the inside. Let the edges stick out and carefully lay on avoiding wrinkles.
For the first layer we use a blue rag-recycled paper, more flexible but less resistant of the pure cellulose paper, that we will use for the following layers.
First layer completed, you spread uniformly some vinyl glue and strongly press the paper to highlight the details of the model; then you pass to the second layer and to another layer on the edges to strengthen your mask.

You let it dry and when it will be completely dry to the touch you can take the positive out from the cast.
You cut edges, eyes and nostrils with special scissors and blades, and you finish off edges with tissue paper and glue, to avoid gaps among paper layers.
You make a compound with equal parts of Bologna chalk and glue, and you lay it down on the mask as a base for decoration. You can smooth down the surface with some sandpaper to remove possible imperfections of the paper-pulp. The chalk used during this stage is completely different from the one used in the making of the cast, a very quick setting chalk called “scagliola”. This one, instead, is called “chalk from Bologna”, a typical product for fine arts that is preferred for its slow-drying peculiarity.

At this point you can start the decoration, laying a white base of washable acrylic tempera. Two coats will be necessary, the second one the thicker. You then use the colors, outlining the eyebrows first and then the lips, possible moles, pink shades on the cheeks and all those features that characterize the mask.
The last stage is the antiquing waxing, a practice derived from the restoration of antique furniture. You apply a compound obtained by mixing bee wax with shoe polish, brown or black depending on the desired effect. The compound has to be laid with a paintbrush and, when dry, polished. The result is an antique wood effect. After having polished your mask with brushes and dry cloths, you set the lace at eye level and possible labels inside.

Watch Guerrino Lovato in his museum showing how to make a mask. He created models for directors such as Franco Zeffirelli, Kenneth Branagh, Michel Radford and Stanley Kubrick. Guerrino's legendary workshop is today rebuild inside Corielli Palace in Malo as an Heritage Museum of Carnival and Theatre.
Shop for his masks here.