You will need:
veg tanned leather, 4-6 oz
olfa knife (box cutter) with a fresh blade
bevelling tool (optional)
tragacanth gum (also optional)
burnishing tool/edge slicker (even more optional)
hot water (not optional)
acrylic paint (preferably soft bodied) and/or leather dye (assuming you want to paint the mask after)
All of the leather masks are made with vegetable tanned leather. Everyone has a preference; I prefer to work with 5-6oz leather, which has a weight and thickness that I find molds best and yields the best results. Some prefer lighter leather, but I like a bit of substance – much heavier though and we would be better off making armor.
Step 1: Trace Desired Mask Pattern
Leather with the pattern traced onto the back side.
Step 2: Cut Out the Mask
Mask right side up, all cut out.
Once the mask blank is cut out, the edges need to be examined: often they will have snags or burrs, especially at tight corners. Any delicate corrections can be made, before moving on to the next step – bevelling the edges. Some people skip this part but I feel it makes the finished piece look that much more finished. If you don’t have a bevelling toolthough, don’t fret! Your mask will be fine.
Step 3: (This Step Applies If You Have a Bevelling Tool)
This step also helps to smooth out any of the snags that you may have missed, and creates a nicely rounded edge (after you’ve burnished it).
Step 4: Soaking and Molding the Mask
Once this is done, you are ready to soak the mask in hot water for approximately 5 minutes or until you stop seeing bubbles forming on the underside of the leather. The hotter the water, the less time you will have to sculpt it after, and the harder it will end up. If the water is really hot you will also notice more shrinkage. Tempting as it may be, do not attempt to create boiled leather, by dousing your project in boiling water. I tried
I started molding while it was drying. When it is removed from the water, the leather should be flexible and soft. Lay it on a towel for... well, you have a while. Initially, the leather is too wet to maintain any form. You can heat it with a hair dryer or in the oven (on VERY low heat!), but I prefer to let nature take its course. After a while, you will be able to mold it and the leather will start to hold the shape. The best way to make sure that the mask is a comfortable fit is to mold it from time to time upon your own face, or the face of the intended wearer if they are accessible.
Step 5: Let It Finish Drying, Then Paint
Sculpted mask drying on a styrofoam head.
Once you are satisfied with the shape, prop it on your face, or a convenient replacement, until it dries fully. Depending on the leather, humidity, heat of the water and such, you will likely have up to a few hours afterwards where small reinforcing pinches or tweaks can be made to the design, but the overall mask is the way it is going to be. Let’s let it dry for a day or two, and you’re ready to paint!