New masks and new techniques

I’m always looking for new ways to finish my origami. Lately I’ve been playing around with some solvent-based paints which I’ve used to create effects that make the paper look more like glazed ceramic.

I’ve never worked with these type of enamel paints before and I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error (mostly error) to figure out how I can use them to their best effect. I’ve had at least three that I think worked pretty well, and they are available for sale on my Etsy site


They’re variations on some previous designs but what makes them each unique is the quality of the surface, which is unlike anything I’ve done before. The translucent enamels give them a depth which I find really appealing.

Origami House – Colonia, Uruguay


The Origami House is a new museum of origami in the works in historic Colonia del Sacramento in southern Uruguay, just across the mouth of the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires. Maybe not the first place you’d think of when you think of origami, but a more beautiful site you would be hard pressed to find. And besides, Japan already has an origami museum; Spain has the EMOZ , Escuela Museo Origami Zaragoza – but this may be the first museum in the Americas dedicated solely to paperfolding.

The fledgling endeavor has an Indiegogo account set up to accept donations to help it get off the ground. Money will go towards pedestals, displays, etc. as well as the modifications necessary to make the existing structure appropriately climate-controlled for the display of origami. Many of the participants of the recent Folding Paper travelling exhibition (myself included) have donated their pieces from the show to reside in the new museum. Some of the money donated will go toward shipping costs to get these artworks to the new site.

Not just a gallery, the Origami House will be a genuine museum with collections of books, artifacts and documents related to the history of origami in addition to displaying examples of paper-folding from around the world.

New masks and not so new masks


click on image to go to my Etsy shop

I’ve got some new masks available for sale in my Etsy shop. There are three that have just returned from the Masqalors show in Quebec (those would be the aforementioned “not so new masks” although they are only a little more worldly for their recent trip across the border). You may also find three new variations that I’ve been working in the last month or two. The new masks feature techniques of “origami corrugation” to create interesting decorative patterns.

new Helios mask

new Helios mask

I’ve used a band of corrugation as a decorative motif across the top of this mask as well as the Charlemagne mask above.

This is something new to me but a technique that has been well employed by other folders like Ray Schamp and Andrea Russo and many others. I’ve only incorporated small areas of corrugation as flourishes, but found the approach both rewarding and surprisingly tricky. Ben Parker has had more practice combining corrugation and traditional tessellation than I, and he makes it look easy.

Masq’alors! If you happen to be around Saint-Camille, Quebec, next week drop by the biennial Masq’alors! festival. It’s a festival of masks going on from May 28 through June 7.

Masques autochtones de la Côte-Ouest

Traditional masks, exotic masks,

À l'école du masque

fantastical masks, theatrical masks and even a few origami masks.

three masks

Yes, some of my own masks will be there too.

If you have an opportunity, don’t miss it!

The festival is an event started by the Productions des paysages éclatés, a group of creative people dedicated to promoting and celebrating artistic expression and culture in everyday life through events like Masq’alors! (the exclamation point is mandatory) as well as workshops for all ages.

Suncatcher tessellations

six tessellations

Click on image to see Etsy shop

I’ve been working on something new lately. These are small origami tessellations, 10-12 cm. wide, folded from hexagons of simple bond-weight colored paper. The difference is in the finishing. After they’re folded, I saturate the paper with a one to one mix of melted beeswax and damar resin. This is a traditional basis for encaustic painting, but without pigments it makes the  the paper translucent. The mix also makes the origami rigid and durable. The beeswax keeps the object from becoming too brittle and the damar resin raises the melting point of the wax so the suncatcher doesn’t go soft in the sun. I’ve created a new section in my Etsy shop, as well as an album in my Flickr photostream where you can see many more designs.

New masks on Etsy

I’ve spent most of the last month working out the kinks in a particular new mask design. Once I get an idea in my head I tend go over it again and again until I’m either satisfied I’ve found the best solution or I’ve at least exhausted all the possibilities I can think of. That usually means a slew of masks representing variations on the same theme, so that I can see which ideas work and which do not.

The latest idea has been rather fruitful, and so far I’ve made three variations that I think came out pretty well:


click on image to go to my Etsy store

click on image to go to my Etsy store


Click on image to go to my Etsy store

Click on image to go to my Etsy store

and Triton

Click on image to go to my Etsy store

Click on image to go to my Etsy store

They are all based on the same design, the most obvious difference is that Neptune and Triton have beards and Constantine does not. I wanted to design a mask that could go either way, so to speak. The eyes and nose of all three are essentially the same and the headdresses have only minor differences.

I’ve still got some more ideas to work out with this design you may see more in this line soon.

The fourth mask is a bit of a break:


Click on image to go to my Etsy store

Click on image to go to my Etsy store

This is a design from last year that I wished to develop a little further, and something with a slightly more pleasant expression. Those other three seem a bit cranky for some reason. I don’t know why so many of my masks come out like that, it’s not like I’m trying to make them all look angry.

Folding a flagstone tessellation

star and hex moleculeA tessellation is a pattern of repeating geometric forms that can interlock to fill a space infinitely. In origami tessellation, a discrete unit of folded shapes that can be repeated to make a tessellation is sometimes called a “molecule”.

This molecule is an example of a style of tessellations I started folding almost a decade ago that I took to calling “flagstones”. Combining shapes like rhombus twists and open backed hex twists on the front with triangle and closed hex twists in the back allows the shapes in front to sit right next to each other with only a sort of “grout line” separating them. It reminds me of tiles or paving stones, hence the name.

I’ve made a video of folding a star and hex molecule, consisting of a cluster of rhombus twists in a star formation surrounded by hexagonal twists. This unit can be reiterated to fill as much space as the piece of paper will allow.

star and hex tessellation

New mask on Etsy

Iron Aelfred

Click on image to go to my Etsy shop

Click on image to go to my Etsy shop


Finishing a mask (pt. 2)

Last week I made a post documenting folding a mask. A few days ago I posted about part of the finishing process. Today I wrap it up with the final steps of finishing.

By the end of last post, the mask looked like this:

mask finishing   Shiny bronze. I could have stopped here and called it good, but I really wanted a nice, crunchy verdigris patina on this thing to give it some character. I have a technique I’ve been experimenting with to create an effect of age, oxidation, rust or corrosion.

I apply a layer of crackling (or “craquelure” if you want to sound fancy) with a mix of pigments and Kroma Crackle as a medium. I first found out about Kroma Crackle from Joseph Wu’s use of it on his own origami, as you can see here. When I saw what he was doing, I had to try it for myself. There are a  lot of crackling glazes out there, but they are usually glossy and work best on hard non-porous surfaces. Kroma Crackle has more of a matte finish and is flexible, not brittle, when it dries.

To prepare my verdigris I will assemble my materials.

mask finishing 23   Most of the pigment will be in powder form. In the jar is powdered glauconite, a mineral traditionally used to create blue-green paints. I happened to have some around from years ago when I used to play at making my own paints (but that’s another story). If you’re interested in such things, you can find Rublev natural pigments and other traditional artists’ supplies at

I also have Micaceous Iron Oxide again, some Phthalo Green and Manganese Blue, and of course the tube of Kroma Crackle.

First I mix up a little of the liquid paints – MIO, Green and Blue in roughly equal measures. mask finishing 24mask finishing 25

Then mix in the glauconite to make a thick mud. Add a little water if necessary, but I only want enough liquid to disperse the particles of glauconite so that it will mix with the Kroma Crackle more easily and without clumps.

mask finishing 26mask finishing 27

When the pigments are thoroughly incorporated in the crackle medium, I use a broad brush to slather the mixture onto the mask.mask finishing 28I want to make sure to get it into all the crevices. After I’ve coated the whole surface evenly I can continue to go over the surface to brush some of the glaze away from the high points so that the bronze underpainting will show through.


The crackle glaze takes a long time to dry, but I can accelerate it a bit with a hot air gun. Getting the drying started will at least keep the goo from dripping of the mask before it is dry.

mask finishing 30mask finishing 31

When it dries, it will lighten in color and become opaque. Added a final coat of shellac will make the crackle somewhat more transparent where it is thinnest, so the bronze can come through more. But I have to wait until the crackle is absolutely, completely dry, through and through before I can apply the shellac. That will take no less than 24 hours. Usually it is best to wait a couple of days at least.

mask finishing 32When it is dry, I get out the clear shellac, thinned at with at least 50% alcohol. The crackle glaze drinks up the shellac so I make it very thin and apply it generously. The crackle becomes very transparent when it first absorbs the shellac, but it will become more opaque as it dries.

mask finishing 33mask finishing 34When the shellac has been applied, the surface looks blotchy but that will even out as the shellac cures.creon bAnd finally, the finished mask.

All told, it took about a week to complete this piece but a lot of time is spent waiting for something or another to dry before going to the next step. Usually I have more than one project going on so I always have something to work on.


Finishing a mask (pt. 1)

The mask looked like this by the end of the last post.

mask finishing 1 It took a lot of work to get here, but we’re not done yet. This ephemeral piece of paper needs to acquire more permanance.


First I glue a piece of wooden skewer to the back.mask finishing 4

This will help hold the shape as well as provide a means to hang the piece for display.

Then comes the first shellacking. There are fancy shellacs that you get from the art supply shop, but I have found that the stuff you get from the hardware store works just fine. I cut it 50/50 with denatured alcohol to get a thin consistency. The shellac needs to soak into the paper, not sit on top.mask finishing 5


I have a long, stiff-bristled round brush that I use exclusively for shellacking. It can get under creases and in tight spaces and the long bristles hold a good amount of shellac. mask finishing 8

I work on the back first, trying to get  shellac into the paper as quickly and evenly as possible.
mask finishing 9

You can see the paper looks blotchy from some unevenness of saturation. I thin the shellac out with a bit more alcohol and work on the front of the mask to get into places I couldn’t soak from the back.

I’ll have to wait a while for the shellac to dry – a few hours at least but preferably 24 – before I can begin painting. Water is the enemy of shellac. You cannot shellac the paper if it the slightest bit damp or the shellac will get gummy and not cure properly. You also don’t want to start applying water-based paint (which is what I’ll be using) until the shellac is completely dry.

I’ve decided to go with a bronze look for this piece. There are a lot of faux-bronze finishes you can find at craft stores (and I will use some of them, but for highlighting only). I find that many of them have a flat, cheap or unconvinvingly glittery appearance. Especially when creating an old metal effect, I prefer to use layers of color and texture, with just a highlight of metallic paint and the final shellacking to provide the gleam of metal.

mask finishing 10   Having said that, I will start with a metallic bronze paint and micaceous iron oxide for the underpainting. The colors will be obscured by later layers however – what I want is a dark layer with a bit of shimmer underneath to give the surface some depth.

mask finishing 11   I’ve watered down the bronze and iron paints to make a wash and I’m using a broad, soft bristled brush to lay it on quickly. The Golden brand Micaceous Iron Oxide, by the way, has been a great addition to my palette. It is an unassuming charcoal gray color but it is infused with coarse mica so it provides texture as well as sparkle. By itself it has the appearance of cast iron.


mask finishing 12   The piece is completely covered. The very wet paint is causing the creases to loosen and begin to unfold, especially in the beard.

While stil wet, I begin setting the stage for the bronze color.

mask finishing 13This will be a mix of Burnt Sienna and Alizarin Crimson.

These colors are a part of any artist’s palette so they are not difficult to find. I’m using Golden brand again but you can use any kind you prefer.

This layer is also painted thin so that the dark color can wash into all the nooks and crannies.mask finishing 14

The beard has almost completely unfolded from all the wet paint. The previous shellacking keeps it from coming apart entirely so any part of the mask that has come undone can be pushed back into shape when the paint has dried.

mask finishing 15

The Sienna and Crimson layer is dry and the mask has been reshaped. The mask has become much stronger after shellacking, wetting, re-molding and drying, and will be able to hold up to the rest of the painting without coming apart.

The underpainting is done, so now I’m preparing the primary color. I use Burnt Sienna again as the base color, lightened up with a little yellow (I’m using Arylide Yellow because it is less bright than the other yellows I have) and tinted with Yellow Iron Oxide and Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold.

mask finishing 16

mask finishing 17     Burnt Sienna is the most opaque paint in this mix, so it will be the base color. It needs to be lighter and more “orangey” to look like bronze, so the Arylide Yellow (I think it’s the same as Hansa Yellow, for what it’s worth). Yellow Ochre would have been my first choice since the Arylide is a little too transparent to hold it’s own against a dark background, but I couldn’t find my ochre. The Yellow Iron Oxide and Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold (which I’ll refer to as QNAG so I don’t have to type that whole thing out each time) are the most transparent and act more like a stain.

mask finishing 18   As I paint, I change the proportions of the paints. I start working with mostly Sienna and Yellow to get a baseline color and when most of the mask is covered and the paint is still wet, I add increasing amounts of Iron Oxide and QNAG to tint the color to the right hue. When I’m just about finished and the mix is mostly the transparent colors, I add a little irridescent gold. This is another transparent paint that doesn’t effect the color much, but it does give the whole a metallic sheen.

mask finishing 19Then I wait some more. I will be doing some dry-brushing to finish up the painting, so the background will have to be dry.

I use a metallic gold paste (marketed as a “dabber”, it comes with a sponge applicator but I use my brush instead). Any metallic paint would do as long as it’s not too thin or transparent. I’ve added some QNAG to get a coppery color.

mask finishing 20   I get a little bit on a short, firm bristled brush and blot the excess off on a paper towel. Then I brush very lightly just over the highlights. I don’t want to overdo it.

mask finishing 21Then when everything is dry, I can seal it all with another coat of shellac. This time I’m using amber shellac (It usually comes in clear and amber. I’ve used clear so far since I only wanted to preserve the paper without changing the color). I’ve added a couple drops of red and green alcohol dyes to darken the shellac even more from an amber color to a sepia/brown.

mask finishing 22

And now it’s bronze. And it could be done, were I the sort to leave well enough alone.

But what I really want is old bronze. Bronze that might have been exposed to the elements for centuries or dredged from the bottom of the ocean. So in my next post I will show how I make  a faux-bronze patina. It took several hours to get to this point, and I’ll end up covering up a lot of what I’ve just done. Every mask is different and I learn something new each time, so nothing is really wasted.

A few observations about the process so far:

I really could have used some yellow ochre.

The QNAG was more useful than I thought it would be. It has a nice rusty orange/gold stain to it. I found that it makes a good transparent glaze over a metallic base.

The Yellow Iron Oxide didn’t do much at all. It couldn’t compete with the darker colors. It would probably work better mixing with lighter colors.

I think the bronze paint in the first layer of underpainting was unneccesary too. The Micaceous Iron Oxide set the groundwork with texture and shine and the Burnt Sienna and Alizarin Crimson that came next laid the foundation for the color.

I don’t usually do product endorsements – I certainly don’t get paid to do it, and I think you should just use whatever works for you anyway – but I can’t say enough about Golden paints. I’ve used a lot of paints over the years, from high priced “Fine Arts” paints to cheapo poster paints. Golden, which sort of straddles the unspoken line between “Fine Art” and “Craft” supplies, is one of the best paints I’ve used. Their selection is remarkable. The QNAG, which I admit I only purchased because I had never heard of it before and was intrigued by the name, has actually proven to be one of the more useful paints in my arsenal. They have a variety “novelty” paints like irridescents and interference paints which are consistantly high quality.



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