Face casting (Blink masks)

I am taking my first vacation in a year this weekend. Just three days out of town but, by golly, at least I won’t be sitting in my basement worrying about the status of my thesis or the alumni stories that I’m working on. Nope. Instead, I will be sitting around on a sunny beach worrying about said thesis and alumni stories.

Actually, I don’t think I’ll have much of a problem kicking back and relaxing. I’m in great need of a vacation from the routine up here. As I mentioned in the last post I’m not really working a whole lot in the office, but that doesn’t mean I’m not doing a wheelbarrow of work during the rest of the week. The little break this weekend means I get three days without worrying about transcribing folklore tapes or researching the lesser known MAIS concentrations that I’m supposed to be writing about.

Of course, my vacation also means I probably won’t be working on any costumes for a few days. I’m actually kind of sad about that. “Sewing time” is actually when I get the chance to sit down and tune out the everyday worries that hound me during the rest of the day. Most of the time I feel like I’m in a state of perfect zen. Unless I’m sewing buttonholes. But that’s a whole different ball of string.

So, since I most likely won’t be working on sewing over the weekend and won’t even have access to a computer or internet during my time away, I figured I’d best put up another post. Hence: updates on the Blink costume.

I’ve finished the major part of the mask. Maggie and I have been referencing the blog of the woman who made a Blink Angel for DragonCon last year, but have made a couple of changes. The major change was in how we constructed the masks. The other woman (jeez, I make it sound like someone having an affair!) used a purchased, pre-manufactured mask as the starting point for her attacking Angel face, sculpting the scary details in paperclay. The end result looked fantastic but didn’t fit the woman’s face as well as she would have liked. To get around this Maggie and I went ahead and did face casts a few weeks ago.

This was the fourth time I’ve made a face cast in general and the third time I’ve made one for myself: I did the first one when I took a puppetry class during my undergrad, made one of Maggie for an art project of hers a few years later, did a half-face casting about two years ago (that mask ended up kind of looking like one of the masks from the movie “The Three Ninjas”) and, of course, this casting. We’ve yet to get around to doing the whole head. That will probably come next year. As it stands now, I’ve still got the positive plaster cast from the puppetry casting I did.

In case you’re curious as to how we make our casts, it’s actually pretty cheap. You can pick up a roll of plaster gauze at your local craft store. The brand we use (which I forget the name of at the moment) comes in two widths. One is 4-5″ wide, the other around 8″. One roll of the 4-5″ wide plaster gauze should cover your whole face. What you’ll need to do is unroll it and cut the gauze into strips (and a couple of triangles). The stuff is basically regular gauze coated in plaster powder. You activate it by dipping the strips in water and then can apply the strips to whatever you are planning on making a cast of.

Before you start applying plaster to your face, though, you should do a little test on a place like your arm, just to make sure you aren’t going to have a bad reaction to the stuff. Also, regardless of how smooth and hair-free you think your face is, make sure you coat the whole thing with petroleum jelly. And not just a little bit. Slather it all over your face. Yes, you’ll feel a bit greasy and look extremely shiny (and can probably slide down a runway made of trashbags on just your face) but it should keep most of the little hairs that are naturally on your face from sticking to the plaster after it dries and it comes time to pull the cast off. This includes your eyelashes and eyebrows. Also, if it looks like the plaster will get ANYWHERE near your hairline, put some vaseline/petroleum jelly on that as well. I recommend covering said hairline with a bandanna, too, for extra protection. Believe me, even a little bit of hair from your head getting stuck to the plaster is going to hurt like a bitch when you pull the dried mask off.

Another must-have when doing the casting: make sure you have a buddy who will help you make the mask. You might think you’re talented enough to do the whole thing yourself, but even if you’re not planning to cover your eyes, chances are the wet plaster strips will drip and leave plaster tracks around your eyes. If this happens and your eyes are open, you’ll be in for an uncomfortable night. Having a friend means you can just relax and “enjoy” the process. Plus, there will be someone there in case you start to have a moment of panic, mid-casting. A lot of people think they’ll be absolutely fine during the entire casting process. They might even figure “Hey, I’ve had a facial at a spa before and I was fine. This will be just like it!”

Nope. For one, even if you start out using warm water to activate the plaster gauze, the water will cool pretty quickly. As will the bandages after they get on your face. No matter how careful and attentive your helper is, there will be drips of plastery water running down your face, neck, sometimes into your shirt…occasionally into your mouth or ears. Chances are you’ll get uncomfortable at some point. Even if you don’t think of yourself as claustrophobic, you might soon find that – when your eyes are plastered over, and your mouth is encased in drying gauze so you can no longer communicate (unless, like us, you know a smattering of sign language or can interpret each other’s random, unspoken noises. I won’t even try to describe what those sound like – just know that, even when she can’t move her mouth, I can usually understand Maggie) you might start to freak out. Having a friend there can help you feel less helpless.

As the plaster dries (it usually takes about 20 minutes from the start of the plastering until the cast is dry enough to start removing) it’s actually possible to tell where more gauze needs to be administered in order to make the strongest cast possible. Just drum your fingers over top the plaster. You should only be able to feel the tapping ever so slightly, if at all. As the plaster dries, you’ll notice that, by twitching certain muscles in your face, you’ll be able to start peeling away from the cast. Continue doing this until you’re freed. Caution: go slowly – even with the use of petroleum jelly, parts of you will tend to stick to the plaster. I’ve yet to make a cast of my face that hasn’t pulled of at least two hairs from my eyebrows. Hopefully you were wise enough to put enough on so that two hairs are all that will come off.

Have you ever used one of those Biore pore strips for your nose or forehead? That’s kind of what peeling off your face cast feels like.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what that green thing in Maggie’s mouth is…it’s a pacifier. We wanted to get our casts as close to the position they’d need to be in order to make the scary Blink angel faces, so we needed something that would stretch our mouth into an unnatural position. We solved this problem by inserting huge pacifiers from CVS in our mouths. It actually worked pretty well.

I let my mask dry for at least 48 hours before I got to work on the rest of it. The inside of it still smells like the CVS brand of petroleum jelly I had smeared on my face – it’s got a pleasant lavender and chamomile scent. That’ll probably go away when I put a sealer on the inside of the mask, though.

I had originally purchased a big box of stuff called Celluclay to sculpt the details over top my face mask. It’s basically a bag of paper mache powder that you mix with water. It makes a chunky clay. I think i actually needed to add more water, because my mix ended up being chunkier than it was probably supposed to be, but I was able to build up the major parts of the mask. Unfortunately, it was hard to put a whole lot of detail into the mask and the finish ended up being rougher than I wanted. I needed something to smooth out the mask. Maggie had found a package of Paperclay at A.C. Moore and it seemed to work like a charm. I decided I’d smooth it over the pre-existing sculpted details. It actually took two “coats” of the Paperclay to get the mask anything close to smooth. I ended up sanding it a little bit after the second application of Paperclay dried. After it was all dried, I sealed it with a coat of Elmer’s white glue.

Yes, that’s right. Elmer’s glue is good for more than just gluing macaroni to construction paper or making fake dead skin that you can peel off your hands (there’s a little special effects make-up tip for you there).

The painting is all done. I am incredibly pleased with the way it turned out. I was a little worried at first. I had purchased three colors of gray to get the right mottled stone look. I went to paint the bottom layer – what the bottle claimed to be a dark gray – and was shocked and dismayed to see that it came out more like a dark brown. And not a chocolate brown, either. I think that would have been more acceptable. It looked like a dark ash brown. Kind of like my natural hair color (apart from the strands of silver and the random blond and copper highlights I get in the summer, of course). Luckily, I had a huge bottle of black left over from when I did the custom paint job on my steampunk gun. I ended up giving the whole thing a nice base coat of black – which originally looked more like a dark gray than the bottle of dark gray I had originally purchased. It dried much closer to a full black, though, which gave me a nice place to start for the final painting. (The one to the right here is actually Maggie’s finished mask)

I used one of those wedged sponge brushes you can get at the craft store for about 15 cents to paint different layers. I didn’t bother using a different, clean brush as I slowly worked through the different color grades. I think that helped blend the colors really well. I went back and did a couple of extra touch-ups, just to add a little more shadow in certain areas of the mask and make it look a little scarier. As I painted the thing, I realized that the bits that I had added to the nose to change the shape of mine slightly made it end up looking kind of hooked and Snape-like. I liked that it doesn’t entirely resemble my nose now (if you look at a picture with my siblings and I standing next to each other, you’ll soon realize that we have the same nose – same size and shape, everything. It’s kind of dominates the face, but I don’t have a problem with it). The mask is now awaiting the final coat of sealer.

Maggie and I compared pictures of our masks and were pleased to see that, while the shape of both masks are different – clearly sculpted by two different people – the paint job on both is remarkably similar. Her teeth are smoother and larger than those on mine, but her mouth is actually able to stretch to a greater degree with the pacifier than mine was. Unbelievable to anyone who’s ever heard me talk, but I’ve actually got a pretty small mouth. Just an unusually loud voice.

I’ve finished sewing the gloves for the costume. Now I’ve just got to paint them and add the fingernails. Pictures of those should come soon. I was also lucky enough to find some wonderful sandles for the costume at WalMart. I had originally spotted some hanging at the end of the shoe aisle. I was pleased with the shape and feel of them, but I was dreading having to paint them gray – they came in white, brown, neon green and neon pink. I picked them up and started heading back to the fabric corner of the store when I spotted two more types of sandles that I could choose from. Both were silver. One had long cords that laced all the way up the leg. The other was a simpler style and had a more weathered look. At $15 they were more expensive than the ones I had initially picked up, but they had the added benefit that I wouldn’t have to paint them, or worry about that paint flaking off. Now I’ve just got to find gray toe socks and the feet for my costume will be finished.

I’ve started constructing the dress already. Like the gloves, pictures of the dress will come soon!

So far I’ve been pleased with the way this costume is turning out.

I’m dreading the wig, though.


2 thoughts on “Face casting (Blink masks)

  1. did you mean wig, or do you mean the wings, the wig shouldn't be too hard, I really think we should use mop heads…
    The wings are already driving me nuts, cut out the 2 fronts and 2 backs next is the feathers and then the harness. 😦

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