Thursday, December 25, 2014

December 2014 Artisan Q&A

It's Christmaaas!  I hope you all have a wonderful day today with lots of presents and food.  I only have one question to answer for this month's Q&A, but it's a doozy!

Q. hiddencait asks: Is there a series that you really want to try doing fanmasks for, but haven't attempted yet?

A. Oh boy, this is a fun question!  As usual, I have my creative life cycle planned out until my golden years.  I'm going to answer this question with visuals!

The first big fandom I'd love to create masks for would be the Kushiel's Legacy series of books by Jacqueline Carey.  For those who don't know it, it features such inspiring themes as angels, masquerades, and tattooed courtesans, each who belong to a specialized house symbolized by a flower.  I can best describe it as Game of Thrones from the courtesan-spy's perspective.

I've already done illustrations for this series, like this take on
the first book's cover. See my Kushiel's Legacy fan project blog for more!
The prototype of Cereus House's set.
Photography by Winterwolf Studios
I've already done a couple of prototype headpieces with matching necklaces for the Camellia and Cereus Houses, but I'd love to take this imagery even further and make a set of masks with matching necklaces for each of the twelve houses of the Court of Night-Blooming flowers!

Imagine if I ever learned how to make tooled corsets and other accessories, I could add that to the ensembles for a complete head to toe costume transformation!

To give you an idea, the thirteen houses are as follows:

A closer look at the Cereus set.
Featuring silver chain and garnet Swarovski accents!

Ohhhh and not to mention that there are masquerade scenes in the books where each House dons a unique costume representing a seasonal theme.  That could be a whole other series!

I'm going to stop writing now before my muse explodes.  I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the possibilities of my fandom love!  Have a merry Christmas, all!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Upcoming December Artisan Q&A

Hey, everyone! I usually do a 30 minute live broadcast for my Q&A sessions, but since the holidays are busy and I'm not sure I'll be able to broadcast from wherever we might end up, I'm doing a blog-hosted event instead!

A Couple of Changes

- The Patreon giveaway portion of the monthly sessions is now going to be held quarterly (during January, April, July, and October's monthly broadcasts).

I'm making decidedly less work now that I'm transitioning from a full time crafter to a full time illustrator and part-time crafter instead.  I don't want to run out of fun things to give you in the meantime!

- The Q&A sessions will still be held once a month as long as I have Patrons, even if I won't be giving away something each session.  That gives us more time for mini demos and questions!

How This Month's Session Will Work

- Leave me questions in comments here.  Ask me anything about crafting, life, and beyond!

- I'll answer them in a blog post at this journal here on the 25th!

 Have a great holiday season, everyone!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

REVIEW - Etsy Card Reader

Etsy recently announced their own gadget for taking credit cards, but with a new twist from other card readers.  It's meant to sync with your Etsy shop and provide a branded smooth experience for your in-person sales.  I got mine in the mail yesterday (it's free if you request one) and put it through a quick test run.


First off, their packaging was excellent, as I would expect from the premiere handmade marketplace.  I got a few ideas just from their clever and simple presentation.

Here's the envelope it came in.  I love the idea of a branded envelope sticker.

The reader itself came in a sturdy reusable custom cut box made of what looks like composite wood.  Again, I love the brand consistency of the reader and insert cards with the orange and white.

Extra bonus!  The box itself has a slot on the underside where you can place the card to make a stand up sign.  One side of the card shows that you take credit cards while the other side is a "I'll be right back." sign with a spot for you to write in shop's address.

The Nuts and Bolts

I ran two test transactions, one of an item which was already up in my online shop and another which was a new 'quick sale' item not already present in my online shop.

You will need to let the app access your location and your microphone.  Your location is recorded and inserted into the receipt e-mailed to the customer later on, should they elect to receive one.  The hub of the app looks like this on an iphone.

You can control your inventory from within the app, which connects to your online Etsy shop (ie. renewing listings, creating new listings, putting your shop on vacation, checking orders, etc.).  The app is available for both Android and iOS markets, but not for the iPad, oddly enough

Be aware that a minimum $1 transaction is required for a customer to use a credit card.  You can also set your sales tax rate in the Settings so that this is automatically calculated when making your sales.  The funds from your credit card are added to your Shop Payments account (the same place as your Direct Checkout funds), so you will need to wait the usual time for the money to be deposited after your sales.  This usually isn't more than a couple of days, in my experience.

When selling an item in-person that is also in your shop:

  •  You choose the item in your online shop to sell in-person via a list.
  •  The shipping fee is automatically waived when an item is sold in-person.
  • The item is also removed from your online shop when it is sold, which will help save headaches on syncing inventory automatically instead of manually (ie. if you've ever had an item sell while you're out at an event and had to deal with the headache of explaining that it sold when you get back home).
  • There is no Etsy transaction fee like there are for online sales, only the credit card processing fee, which is comparable to other readers (2.75%).

When selling an item in-person via a quick sale where you type in a brief description and cost:

  • It is still counted towards your sold items stats, but only you as a seller can see those transactions in the Orders section of your shop.
  • There is no transaction fee or listing fee, only the credit card processing fee.

Promotional Automation

Now here's the really powerful feature of this reader.  After you make your sale and get to the point at which you can offer your customer an e-mail receipt, there is a checkbox which is automatically selected (you have to manually deselect it). The checkbox says this:

After you make the sale and the customer elects to be e-mailed their receipt and is opted in to Etsy's updates about your shop, the customer will get an e-mail like this:

Location map blurred for privacy.

I've asked my test customer to let me know what kinds of e-mail he receives in the future so I can see just how often these e-mails are sent out and what kind of info they include.  I will edit this post with an update once I know more about these communications.

Why is this powerful, you ask?  The items suggested at the bottom of the e-mail offer the customer a tantalizing glimpse at your other items, some of which they might be interested in that you might not have had on display where they were shopping in-person.  Because these images actually link to the items, they encourage further purchases without the seller having to lift a finger.

This e-mail communication is a powerful addition to simply handing out a business card, since business cards are easily lost and most shoppers require repetition of information before they truly retain that information.  So far, this is the only e-mail my test customer has received, which gives me hope that these won't turn into spammy communications.

Also, Etsy's current online market doesn't have a function that lets you automatically add your past customers to a mailing list, which is a feature I've always wanted.  I currently have to first ask for the customer's permission to add them to my mailing list, then add them in mailchimp manually, which takes up valuable time I could be working instead.  My newsletter only goes out once every 3 months, so I am curious to see how often this Etsy-managed newsletter will be sent out and how they might mesh with the information I already send out in my newsletter.

Bottom Line

The Etsy card reader doesn't do anything vastly different from other card readers, but it does allow powerful synchronization options between your online Etsy shop and your physical inventory that could save you time if your Etsy shop is your main outlet for sales.

It also allows for promotional automation that doesn't require you to lift a finger, saving you time, especially if you do not yet send out your own newsletter yet.

More updates to follow when I have them!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Commission Seasons

Recently, I've started the practice of hosting 'commission seasons'.  As an artisan with a day job in freelance illustration, I really need to put a cap on the amount of orders I receive so that crafting doesn't add too much stress to my life.  This equals a happy, healthier me!

What is a 'commission season'?  It is a time of the year that I will open up a limited number of commission slots.  These slots can be taken up by custom work AND made-to-order items, which I will only have on offer during the time that these slots are open.  The minimum number of commission slots that I will have on offer is 10 at once (perhaps more, depending on how busy I am).

Outside of commission seasons my shop will only be stocking items that are ready to ship out immediately.

My planned commission seasons right now coincide with my busiest times of the year, Halloween (season opens in September) and Mardi Gras (season opens in January).  I may open commission seasons once every quarter (every 3 months), but this will depend on how busy I am with other endeavors.

To be instantly notified of my availability for custom work, be sure to sign up for my mailing list!

As always, I'm a sucker for really interesting ideas, so if you have one to share, I might take it on outside of a commission season if I really, really like it.  When in doubt, just drop me an email!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Photographing a Mask Tutorial

I'm still moving my artisan craft blog entries from my art blog to here.  This post is from 2010 so when I say 'latest mask', it was my latest mask from 2010 at that point in time (which is old by my standards now).

It's time for yet another impromptu tutorial! Upon completion of my latest mask, I took some shots of my photography setup for the morbidly curious.

I am not a professional photographer! This is just the way I do things that gets results for me. I'm sure there are better ways to go about what I'm doing that I haven't discovered yet.


A Decent Camera (I use a DSLR, Nikon D50 with a 28-80mm lens) - DSLR are great since you can customize the lenses you use based on your space and lighting limitations.  Point and click cameras, especially Canons, are pretty good these days too. I suggest getting a tripod to keep your camera still, unless you can hold it still, which is impossible for this particular caffeine addict.

Indirect sunlight with
soft shadows is what
we need!
Naturally Lit Space - I use our sun room, which has tall open windows that let in plenty of natural sunlight.  I tend to take photographs in the late afternoons so the sunlight filters in instead of shining directly into the room, creating harsh shadows.

TIP: A white muslin sheet hung over the window can help filter light as well!

Crushed Velvet Backdrop - I use a piece of silver crushed velvet fabric I purchased by the yard at Joanns Fabrics.  It provides an interesting backdrop that isn't just a flat area of color since it's lightly textured, but also not strongly textured or patterned enough to be distracting.

TIP: If you don't have fabric or sheets for backdrop, try a piece of mat board.

Car Windshield Shade - A plain metallic shade meant to reflect the sun from your car windshield. It can be used to reflect light onto your photography subjects as well!

Burts Bees is the
best, for lips
AND propping!
Chapstick - For propping your mask if it doesn't want to stand up by itself. Or for those with constantly chapped lips, like myself.

Photoshop - I use Photoshop CS2.  Other alternatives include the free program GIMP and any of the photo editing software that generally comes with your camera or printer.

Step 1 - Set Up Your Area.
Start by arranging your mask on the tabletop which has been covered by your backdrop cloth. I like to arrange my masks facing towards the window so that the highlights are on the right side or front, illuminating the most detail usually in the nose area.

Next, put the reflector next to the opposite side of your mask which is in shadow.  I've wrapped the reflector around a chair to keep it upright. Prop the mask with the chapstick.

I've also made use of a low night stand, which works well since it is lower than my tripod and lets me view my mask from above, allowing me to photograph the most surface area of it. The tension of the backdrop fabric draping over the table's edges also keeps the backdrop flat, where it would wrinkle and be hard to manage if it were laid out on the floor.

TIP: The closer the shade is to your object, the more strongly it will illuminate your shadow side.

Step 2 - Photograph Your Mask.
Using your preferred camera settings, take shots of your masks.  I set my camera to the Nature/Macro setting (a little tulip icon) since I don't have a lot of space to back up and zoom in to get the best shots and angles with an actual macro lens.  This setting allows me to capture closer shots at a shorter focal range.

I like to take three angles on most of my masks, a front angle and two side angles.  This allows me to show the varying detail on both sides.  If the focus of the mask is on the side, as it is in this fox mask with the fox's face being on the right side, I like to make my main display image a 3/4th's angle to show off more of the mask's focal point.

Interlude - The Importance of Reflected Light

To illustrate the importance of reflected light, check out how much darker this image was before I used the windshield shade. The details in the fox tail are almost completely drowned out!

Step 3 - Post Processing
Before you can show your masks to the world, make sure the details are visible and sharp.  I use Photoshop to alter my photos, but you can also use a free photo editor that most likely came with your printer/camera or GIMP, a free image editor which works much like Photoshop.

The tweaks I use the most are under Image>Adjustments>Exposure where I usually up the Exposure and Gamma until I'm satisfied my image isn't too dark.  This tends to work more effectively than using Contrast/Brightness, which can drown out your detail in unsubtle ways.  (I use this method of tweaking a lot for my watercolors to preserve their color and sharpness too).  Sometimes, I like to use Smart Sharpen (under Filter>Sharpen) to help define the detail on the mask even more.

TIP: Don't up the Exposure too much or you'll start losing the details in your image! Notice how the Fox's stomach fur starts to lose detail when I've raised the Exposure too much. Pay attention to your highlights when tweaking a photo. You want to bring out as much detail in them as you can before they start to get lost.

And that's it! Here's the finished montage:

Friday, April 4, 2014

Custom Orders Disabled + Upcoming New Designs!

I wanted to let you guys know that I've temporarily disabled Custom Orders at my Etsy shop.

However, don't lose heart!  I am doing this because I'd very much like the time off from fulfilling orders to work on some brand new designs.  I hope to come back later with some amazing new items to really knock your socks off!

This also means that what you see is what you get at my shop right now!  This will be your only chance to grab my current inventory till my new line of items is up.  So get them while they're hot!

Have a sneaky peek at some of my new design tinkering just to wet your palettes:

That's right!  Crowns and circlets are coming soon!  I wanted to figure out an option for eyeglass wearers (including myself!) so that we can still look pretty even if we can't wear traditional masks.  Can't let the mask wearers have all the attention!

I'll keep you guys posted with new design sketches in the meanwhile.  Don't forget to grab what you can in my shop before it's gone, if you have your eye on something specific!  I will not be re-stocking for a little while until new designs are ready.

Wish me luck!  I'm excited to get started on these new inspirations!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

New Patreon Intro Videos

This week I was finally able to complete swanky intro videos made for both of my Patreon pages! You guys should check them out and tell me what you think. You'll get to learn much of the following:

- The specific artist who made me want to be an illustrator.
Why I wanted to be a mask maker.
- What kind of art I was drawing involving masks back when I was a teen.
- What my masks looked like before I discovered leather. It ain't pretty!

Plus other odds and ends. Enjoy the trip down memory lane! 

Now, I can get back to actually *making* art, for as fun as all this video editing has been. So many

The intro for my Art and Illustration page:

The intro for my Artisan Crafts page:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Design Diary: January's Mask

I thought I'd post some design notes for the curious who want to know what I do when I'm not drawing, reading, or writing. I'm hoping to start a new series featuring a revamp of my old Angel of the Month series that got started, but never finished. What better way to get in the mood than to do a mask inspired by similar themes?

Like most of my paintings and writings, mask-making begins with a little research. Nothing gets my muse tingling more than lore of the land!

On January Lore
January may seem like a boring uneventful time, but the lore of the month is fraught with interesting imagery. Named for Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, endings and gateways, January is a time of hope, purification and the promise of a new beginning.

The birthstone for January is the Garnet, which can be found in clusters and is often equated to pomegranate seeds which are in turn associated with the damnation of Persephone to the Underworld. The grasp of Hades is coming to an end as January begins and Persephone awaits her time in the sun, ushering in the Spring.

January's flowers are the Carnation and Snowdrop in western cultures. Carnations, while seen as a generic flower of affection and reunion in florist shops, have a darker meaning in Mexican Indian culture, where they are 'flowers of the dead' piled around the bodies of the recently deceased before they are buried.

In Korean lore, three carnations were used to divine which phase of an individual's life would contain suffering and hardship by watching to see which flower would wither first upon being placed on the forehead. The Snowdrop's habit of popping up through the snow in graveyards became a portent of death and ill fortune to the Victorians.

Mask Layouts
Informed by the themes of January's lore, I worked out a few thumbnails to get a basic idea of the shape and flow I wanted in the mask.

The 1st one was the most ambitious featuring piles of flowers at the edges. Too busy, however (and a little evil-looking)! The 2nd had a nice contrast between details and texture, but it didn't feature the Snowdrop element as much as I wanted. The third seemed the best balance of the Snowdrops at the side of the eyes, the Carnations in the middle and a graceful compositional flow from the center outward and into the eyes and brow.

Tracing, Carving, Tooling!
Next came drawing the pattern onto printer paper, transferring to leather, a cup of coffee, tooling and carving with chisels and burnishers, and finally shaping and baking the leather! If you want to learn more about the specifics of the process, I learned from the best, Andrea MasseBrenda Lyons, and my own experimentation.

Final Design
After some careful painting with acrylics and a few layers of satin varnish, the final product emerges! It came out rather Christmas-like, but that feels somehow fitting for this type of moody January.

For more crafts from me, check out my artisan account on DeviantART.
(It's where all my hobby endeavors wind up these days!)

Setting a Cabochon in a Leather Mask

With all of the crafts I've been working on for my display at DragonCon, I'm really pushing my limits as a mask-maker and trying techniques I haven't before, including setting gemstones. I took photos during this experiment and thought I'd turn it into a tutorial for you all!

(Many thanks to Brenda and Andrea for their useful tips on this.)

The finished process should look similar to this.

You Will Need:

  • A Cabochon - You can buy these at many places online or at hobby art stores. I bought the Labradorite cab I used in this project from AliveGems on Etsy.

  • Epoxy or All-Purpose Glue - For attaching stone and other non-leather things to leather.  I use Goop.

  • Thin Leather Scraps - These should be at least a little bigger than your cabochon to be used as backing.  I used thin pieces I had split off from thicker leather using a Skiver. You can purchase bags of thin scraps at Hobby Lobby as well.  They will not be visible in the final design, so can be any color.

  • Tanner's Bond Leathercraft Cement - For glueing leather to leather. Goop will work just as well, but in my experience this has been the best thing for leather-to-leather attachment and is not as unwieldy and...well...goopy as Goop. The fumes are not as severe either.  It has a consistency more like Elmer's Glue.  It's easy to apply and easy to clean up.

  • Scissors - Good, sharp scissors for cutting heavy paper (or in this case felt).

  • Gum Tragacanth (optional) - Used to slick edges and smooth rough surfaces in leather.  It is vegetable based.

  • Bone Folder or Modeling Spoon - Or even a pen cap with a rounded edge. Used for burnishing and smoothing edges of leather.

  • Sponge - For dampening leather before you tool or carve it.

  • Sticky-Back Felt - I bought mine at Hobby Lobby.  They sell an eco-friendly sticky-back felt made from recycled bottles. You peel off the back to reveal the adhesive.

  • Metallic Paint Pen - This should be the color you want your 'bezel' to be. I used DecoColor Liquid Silver for this project.

  • Pencil - A plain graphite pencil for making marks on the leather. Don't worry, the marks won't be seen in the end.

  • Utility Knife or Heavy Duty Xacto Blade - For cutting out the opening. Needs to be able to cut through thick leather.

Step 1 - Place Your Cab

Figure out where you'd like to place your cab in the mask.  Higher up on the forehead where the surface lays flatter is an easier area to do this.  Once you place the cab, trace around the outside with a pencil.

I placed mine a little too low on the forehead where the mask curves in towards the bridge of the nose, which led to my cabochon bezel looking a little askew in the finished product due to the leather warping around the cabochon opening.

Do yourself a favor and place your cabochon higher on the head than I did.

Step 2 - Sizing the Cabochon Opening

Next, trace about 1/16th of an inch in from the outside of your cab's outline.  You can do this with a compass or a stencil, but I did it very carefully by hand.  It doesn't need to be ultra precise, but it does need to stay true to the shape of your cabochon, which might not be perfectly round anyways. 

The opening should be slightly smaller than your cabochon so that the edges of the cab will be hidden once it is put in place beneath the leather surface so that the upper portion protrudes through the opening.

Step 3 - Cut the Cabochon Opening

Very carefully and slowly, cut out the opening of your cabochon along the inner line you drew.  Don't worry about the outer line being visible as that's going to be beveled off in a later step.  Notice I miscut while I was cutting out my opening? I was able to save this mask by beveling out that mistake.

Step 4 - Bevel the Edges

Using an Edge Beveler (I used a Sz 2), bevel off the edges on the flesh side and the rough side of the opening.  This creates a rounded, more professional edge.  The area of this bevel edge on the flesh side will also act as the fake bezel for the stone in the finished product.

Step 5 - Slick the Edges (Optional)

Using Gum Tragacanth is entirely optional, as you can simply smooth an edge with a burnishing tool of some sort.  I find that if you use Gum, however, that it more efficiently and permanently smooths frays and rough areas.

Take a damp sponge and dab Gum Tragacanth onto the freshly beveled edges then rub a Bone Folder or Modeling Spoon across the edge until the leather becomes slick, dark, and shiny.  This helps to smooth all the frays in the leather.

If you're using leather dye instead of acrylics for your color, be warned that applying gum might cause the leather to be lighter in the area where dye has been applied.  Acrylics, however, seem to have no problem coating right over the top of leather slicked with gum.

Step 6 - Finish the Mask

Before you set the cab, you'll need to finish the rest of your mask.  Get all of your dying, painting, and varnishing completed.  Now the cab is ready to pop in the hole!

Step 7 - Attach the Cabochon

Using a dab of Goop, glue the cabochon to the scrap of thin leather and wait a few minutes for it to set.

Step 8 - Set the Cabochon

Attach the scrap leather with the cabochon to the mask with the leather cement. Apply the glue to both surfaces then firmly press them together and hold them in place for at least a minute.  You also want to press firmly on the cabochon so that it protrudes through the opening and fits snugly in it.  Be careful not to force it all the way though!


Step 9 - Draw the Bezel

Using the silver paint pen, carefully draw the bezel around the edge of your cabochon.  Be sure not to get any paint on your stone!  The bezel looks most convincing when it fills in the small beveled edge that surrounds your stone.

PROTIP:If you should get paint on your stone, quickly wipe it away or lightly scratch it out with the edge of your fingernail or credit card. Rubbing alcohol is a good last resort as well.

Step 10 - Making it Comfortable

Success! The cabochon is attached!  You don't want the edges of the scrap leather chaffing the wearer's forehead so I cover the area up with sticky-back felt. Just cut the size you want, peel off the sheet from the back, and stick it on the mask. 

My piece was old and had lost some of its stickiness, so I used Goop in key places to make sure it would stay.

The Final Product!

My mask is a bird! Your argument is invalid!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ezio Venetian Assassin Mask Walkthrough Part 3

In the last part, I wet-formed and dyed the mask.  Now for the finishing touches!

To get that nice aged metal look on a leather mask, I use my finger to dab paint onto the surface.  Because my finger is soft and has some give, it makes soft transitions and also when dabbing lightly it only affects the raised surfaces of the masks, which is what you want if you're going for a patina feel.

(I did a full tutorial on this effect. "How to Create a Buffed Metal Look in Leather" )

After dabbing with your finger, accentuate the random
highlights with a small brush.

PROTIP: Don't use your nice brushes for craft acrylic painting. They sell multi packs of cheap brushes of every size plus foam square brushes at most craft stores.  Acrylic dries to a permanient flexy goo in your brushes, so remember to wash up afterwards with soap or brush cleaner! I tend to use my retired watercolor brushes after their bristles fray.

Well now, looking spiffy there, Mr. Sexy Assassin Man!

But we're not through yet! Notice how dull the black areas are?  It's time to varnish.  I use Liquitex Satin Varnish because it dries flexible, but also brings a nice subtle sheen to the mask. I don't like using Glossy because it seems too shiny and overpowering for my tastes.  The other great thing about Satin is that the difference between your metallic and dull areas still show through so they're not all an equal level of shiny.  That subtle contrast between iridescent and dull areas is what makes a mask like this so stunning.

PROTIP: Do not use Matte sheen if you want to preserve the metallic look of your paint!  It will make it instantly dull looking.

Now that the mask is all varnished up and ready to go.  Time to punch holes for the ribbons.  I use a rotary hole punch set to the 2nd largest hole setting.

You can tell where to punch the hole by lining it up with the
angle of the corner of the eyehole.

Next,  I like to use silver dancer's ribbon to tie this mask to the wearer's face because it adds a nice decorative Venetian touch.  For a tighter more reliable fit, black thin elastic bands work well too.

(Just don't tell any assassin wearing this mask that
he's wearing a pretty dancer's shoe lace!)

And that's it!  You're ready to wear this mask to the ball...and shank a foo!

Ezio Venetian Assassin Mask Walkthrough Part 2

In the last part, I talked about developing the design and gathering the tools to help mold your mask.  Next up, wet-forming the mask!  First, you soak it in room temperature water with the rough side facing upwards.  Once the bubbles have stopped fizzing out of the back, the mask is ready to put in the oven!

I set my oven to its lowest heat setting (about 200F) on Bake mode. This is to keep the mask from scorching or getting too brittle, too fast, which is the danger of cooking with too high of a temperature.  I keep the mask from touching the oven rack by lining the rack with baking parchment paper that you can buy in rolls.  You can also bunch this parchment paper up and use it to prop up the mask once it has some shape to it.  I let the mask bake, checking it every 5 minutes and shaping it on Pat the Styro Head.

PROTIP: Don't forget to pinch the bridge of the nose where it meets the forehead or you'll end up with a very uncomfy mask that mashes your nose when you wear it!

Eventually, you end up with this - a wet-formed mask!
Angry pancake iz appeased.
Once the mask has dried completely, you're ready to dye it! I usually let the mask dry overnight propped on Pat the Styro Head so it retains its shape before I dye it. Some people like to bake the mask until it's dry, but I find that doing so increases the risk you'll make your mask brittle and hard. Taking the mask out of the oven before it's completely dries allows it to keep some of its flexibility, which generally makes for more comfortable masks.

PROTIPA mask needs to be supported while it dries or gravity will flatten it out.

If you're in a pinch, you can use a hair dryer set to low-med to quicken the process. Don't let it get too hot, though, or you'll singe the leather!  If the mask is still cold to the touch or is darker in color, that's a hint that it's still damp.

I dyed this mask with Midnight Black Eco-Flo dye by dabbing
with a natural sea sponge.

Ezio Venetian Assassin Mask Walkthrough Part 1

I've had many requests to learn more about my Ezio Venetian Assassin Mask, so when I last made it I took some photos of my process.  There's already a video of my basic mask process on YouTube if you'd like to watch instead of read.

The first order of business was to find references of Ezio's mask, which was not an easy thing when I first made it a year or so ago. Hardly any screenshots existed that weren't small and grainy.  Eventually, I came upon something like this:

Ezio is the main character of Assassin's Creed 2, from my
favorite game series! I just had to make the mask when I
first laid eyes on it.

This mask presents a problem, however, because most of the forehead is obscured, as are the fine details because of the pixelated nature of the game's graphics.  That's when I whipped out some good ol' fashioned imagination and made up the rest.  My version of this mask comes up to the hairline with swirly accents along the middle of the forehead and brows.  I had to make sure that a hood or a hat would fit comfortably atop the mask, thus the reason it ends at the hairline.

My head's name is Pat.
He seems oddly pleased
about something...
Next, I take measurements from the ear to the outer corner of the eye, the inner corner of the left eye to the inner corner of the right eye, and from the hairline to the tip of the nose. With the way this mask comes in so close to the eyes and stops at the hairline and nose, measurements are needed to make sure it lays right on the face.

Normally, I use a generic male styrofoam fashion head I bought at Hobby Lobby as a base to form the mask on, as the breadth of the face is wider than my own, which would be too small for most males.  If you don't have a Hobby Lobby closeby, most fashion stores (like Sally's) will have styrofoam wig heads.

Finally, I print out my design in blue ink so that when I'm tracing over lines with a ballpoint pen, it shows my progress by blacking out the lines as I go.  Before transferring, dampen the leather with a wet sponge so that the lines will be impressed into the surface.  They sell special transfer paper at Tandy, but using plain printer paper with the pattern printed in inkjet ink has always worked fine for me.  If you mess up your lines while transferring, you can always rub or sand the mistakes out later.

Eventually, you end up with something like this:
The Angry Pancake!

You can see in the photo that I've already started pressing in the lines with my beveler stamp and modeling spoon on the right side of the mask (left side of the photo).  The main lines have been cut into the surface using a swivel knife.  The process of adding dimension to your leather by creating depressions with stamps and tools is called tooling.  Tooling is a subtractive process, meaning you do not add things to the surface, but rather cut away or emboss the lines, so you have to think in the negative.  If you want an affordable swivel knife plus some basic stamps, I recommend grabbing this starter kit from Hobby Lobby using their weekly coupons.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How I Got into Leather Mask-making

If you're new here, you may not know that I have an all encompassing hobby called leather mask-making.  An obsession, if you will!  All artists need something to get them away from the drawing board, which is why I turned to mask-making years ago as my 'insanity relief'.  Read on to learn more about how this obsession first grabbed me!

Eirewolf on Twitter asks: How did you get into leather maskmaking, and what advice would you have for someone who is learning the craft?

First thing's first, I always harbored an obsession with masks. Something about them was intriguing, mysterious, both revealing and concealing of our true personalities all at once!  If I created a character for my stories, to be sure I would find an excuse to put them in a mask! All philosophy aside, they just look cool.

I had made masks out of clay before (you don't want to see those. They're lumpy hot messes), but lightening struck when my good friend Windfalcon linked me to Merimask's awesome tutorial on mask-making!  Leather was a material with so many possibilities and the fact acrylics were involved made it easy to cross-pollenate with my interests as a fantasy artist. Merimask put the tools in my hands and helped me find the path to my own inspiration and I'm forever grateful for that!
I bought my first shoulder of leather with Windfalcon (who was my roomie at the time) and we split it, the both of us embarking on our own mask-making journeys (her stuff is wonderful and you should go check it out too)! Ironically, it wasn't till a year later that I actually touched my half of our hide.

I've been a mask-maker for a total of 4 years, which still makes me somewhat new to the craft! My first mask creation was this rendition of Ichigo's Hollow mask from the anime Bleach. I have since branched out into all kinds of original and cosplay design ideas!  I am definitely still learning, with stitching and riveting next on my mask-making skill list!

My advice to future mask-makers:
- For a cheap starter set, the Tandy stamp and swivel knife set from Hobby Lobby is great! Don't forget your weekly 40% off coupon from Hobby Lobby's website when you get it.  They have small sheets of leather you can practice on too!

- If you decide to sell your creations. Price it on how it looks, not your skill level! Customers only know that you're not a master mask-maker if you price your work at the level of a cheap amateur. A good mask is a good mask whether you've been doing this 1 year or 100 years. Pricing cheap is also a hard hole to crawl out of later when you do want to up your prices later.

- Have fun and be creative!  If you're on DeviantART, come join us at the LeatherMaskArt Group where we welcome all leather mask-makers to the community.