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.



2 thoughts on “Finishing a mask (pt. 1)

  1. Pingback: Finishing a mask (pt. 2) | origamijoel

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