I guess I'll need to pick up some plastic flowers, too
May 18, 2011 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me make this pagan bull god mask?

I'd like to make a mask similar to this one for Halloween this year - I've already got the horns and some leather, but am looking for tips from any MeFites with costume / mask-making experience on how to make the basic structure. It will need to be reasonably durable to survive our block party :)

Tips on DIY mask-making books that are worth picking up will also be appreciated.
posted by ryanshepard to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
He doesn't have a lot of masks, per se, but Rob Cockerham's costumes are fantastic, and I've learned a lot from his step-by-step descriptions (which are also super funny).

I'd think that a fairly thick papier-mache might be a good start, but you could stiffen it up with chicken wire or a frame made of wire-hanger-thickness metal. I was going to suggest tomato cages, but concrete remesh (as used here) would probably offer you some flexibility with structure, literally and figuratively, because it's slightly thinner gauge.
posted by Madamina at 8:27 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What I would do is sculpt the whole thing loosely out of tin-foil, and then use that as a base for plaster-gauze. You can get plaster-gauze at any surgical supply, and most craft stores. It's very easy to use, you can experiment a little in advance to get used to it.

It works like papier mache, but dries much harder and sturdier. Basically you layer wet plaster strips on top of the foil, and it dries to a hard shell. Once it's completely dry, you can remove the foil supports and paint the mask.

You can get great detail in molding the plaster, so you only need the foil to provide the basic shape. Don't pack it tightly at all.
posted by hermitosis at 8:40 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would carve most of the nose/snout out of a big block of styrofoam using an electric knife and glue the fur/leather to it. It's such a squared-off snout that it'd be easy to do, and super-lightweight.
posted by xingcat at 8:41 AM on May 18, 2011

I made this vulture mask using plaster gauze, FWIW.

An over-the-whole-head thing is a little different in scope, but if I was attempting your project, I'd probably still go for the gauze.
posted by hermitosis at 8:42 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I made a papier mache Spartan helmet for blue tadpole, starting from an old bike helmet. the helmet made it more comfortable to wear and provided a stable base to build the structure (from cardboard).
posted by bluefrog at 9:12 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Since the snout is pretty angular, I'd be tempted to make an armature out of wire (dry cleaner coat hangers would probably be good) and slip black tights over it (maybe two pair). That way, you could see through it. You could affix it to a sturdy base to fit on top of your head to support the horns.
posted by phunniemee at 9:22 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

It is really easy to get a thin piece of leather, wet it, mold it into the shape you want, and dry it with heat (like a hair dryer). Then you can paint it however you like. I made a plague doctor costume last fall that used that method for the mask and it turned out well. The bull mask could look really good if you used the wet-leather method and put it over a wire frame.

I'll get a picture of my plague doctor mask to post up later tonight, if you want to see how it looks.
posted by zoetrope at 9:24 AM on May 18, 2011

Few years back a I made full over-the head buffalo mask. I used the foam-in-can insulation spray you can get at hardware stores. I don't advocate you do quite what I did but maybe this would provide a few tips: I filled a cardboard box with the spray foam, and submerged a balloon in the middle to provide space for my head. Let the foam dry a day or 2, then pulled out the balloon rubber (the foam dissolved and popped it), cut off the cardboard, then used knives to carve the basic buffalo shape, cut big eye holes for me to see thru, and carved the space inside big enough to put the whole thing over my head. Made horns out of tinfoil forms covered with paper-mache, mache'd onto the styrofoam. Painted the horns black. I then used fake fur from a craft store, cut in appropriately-shaped pieces, and hot glued it to the foam head, working symmetrically by doing the top & sides of the snout first then down from the top of the head. Ears made of spare fur and glued on - before the other fur was glued on. Glued big plastic eyes & lashes on the top/sides for the buffalo's eyes. My own eyes looked out thru the holes I carved kind of in the buffalo's forehead, which I tried to obscure the best I could by surrounding with fur, and gluing a shear gauzy fabric over them that matched the fur's color; I could see thru the gauze. Cut a nice piece of leather & shape the nostrils for the nose. Padded the inside where it touched my forehead with a little soft foam. I had to also add soft foam inside here & there as "shims" so the whole thing would sit on my head the way I wanted.

My method ended up looking great, but being entirely carved from a single piece of foam it was huge, heavy & bulky; which on retrospect was not ideal for wearing by firelight on a 100-degree hot summer evening. I nearly passed out from the heat & couldn't see squat - had to have someone hold my hand. [Even though I could see well through the gauze eye holes in daylight, I didn't account for how a fire's glare would make them opaque.] Anyway.... However, for your bull you may want to consider foam to build the snout (not the whole thing) and use a catcher's mask or cheap football helmet with a grill as a base for the part that goes over your head. (You could build the snout out of a wire form & paper mache, but I think this would end up heavier - and more prone to tilting off your head - than the foam would.) Then when you have the snout carved, attach to the helmet's grill with wire or zip ties. Lightly paper mache over the helmet's grill & down the snout to make it look like all one piece and reinforce it. Add paper mache horns (don't use real bull horns... they're way too heavy for a mask -- I tried this.) Paint the head & snout black so gaps don't show later where you will piece the fur together. Then hotglue your fur on over the helmet and blend down to the snout, leaving open space where your eyes go. Keep in mind the bull's eyes won't be where your own eyes are. Use long shaggy fake fur on the top of the head (this will help hide your eyeholes) and felt or shorter fur on the snout. Glue black gauze or pantyhose-fabric on the inside over your eyeholes if you want to hide them further -- but you'll need to experiment with how they do for visibility. Add plastic eyes, nose leather, ears, & flowers/accesories as needed.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 9:33 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

You say you've already got the horns. Are they real horns or something else? If they're real horns (or if you want some, you can get some here) the way you could attach them is take a drill and drill holes around the base. Make sure you leave some room in between the holes so you don't crack the horn. Then you can use the holes to sew it onto your mask. You would want to use something thick to sew it on with as you don't want them falling off. Depending on how heavy your mask is, sinew might not work. You might need to go with a leather lace or something like that. If your horns don't want to stand up straight, you can also drill a hole at the top and tie a buckskin thong between them (like in this picture).
posted by Deflagro at 10:10 AM on May 18, 2011

You may want to look up resources from the furry fandom about constructing fursuit heads.


I assume it only needs to survive just the block party, else I'd recommend a good builder like Clockwork Creature or Primal Visions.
posted by TrinsicWS at 10:16 AM on May 18, 2011

Response by poster: I'd think that a fairly thick papier-mache might be a good start, but you could stiffen it up with chicken wire or a frame made of wire-hanger-thickness metal.

Chicken wire was my first thought, but I wasn't certain that it w/papier-mache would be strong enough to stand up on its own - plaster gauze, as hermitosis recommends, is something that didn't occur to me.

I also like phunniemee's foam block suggestion - this might minimize the parts of the mask that can get crushed when I inevitable bump into someone.

zoetrope, I'd definitely like to see photos of the plague doctor mask.

Thanks for the input, everyone!
posted by ryanshepard at 10:52 AM on May 18, 2011

The plaster will work over chickenwire too.
posted by hermitosis at 11:01 AM on May 18, 2011

Paper mache would be strong enough, though, especially if you use a tapioca mix, and not just flour. If you're using real horns, they'll be heavy, so make sure you center their weight or add some way to counter weight them.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:08 AM on May 18, 2011

Plaster gauze is sturdy, but it gets heavy quickly. The couple of times I've used it, I couldn't wear the resulting masks for long.
posted by lekvar at 12:22 PM on May 18, 2011

To follow up: here's my plague doctor costume. The leather mask doesn't have anything reinforcing it, which works with its shape, but I imagine you could put wire or something underneath for the bull mask if you need height/stability.
posted by zoetrope at 6:35 PM on May 18, 2011

paper mache made with thinned out white glue is very durable
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:18 AM on May 21, 2011

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