ALIVE and WELL: The Process of Reviving a Dead Art: Commedia Dell'arte (week 5)

Welcome back, and thank you for joining us for our next instalment. Last week we talked about the mask making process, and our educational trip to Italy. This week however, we are going to explore a more contemporary mask making technique, developed by Shane, our resident mask maker. It enables us to mold leather in the traditional style, but the matrix, usually made of wood, is simplified with clay and chemistry.

Let's explore this new technique by breaking it down into 5 steps.

Firstly we design the mask out of clay, we use California W.E.D because Shane is a giant nerd and wants to pay more money for an international clay that was sourced, used by and named after a guy called Walt E. Disney (you may have heard of him), but technically we could use any clay, the difference in quality doesn’t have any impact on our process.


Secondly, we built a silicon mold over the clay, this usually takes 6-8 layers of very thin silicon, strengthened by a layer of fabric. Ignore that piece of wood for now, we will explain that in a moment.

Next we use some plaster of Paris, this is going to create a cradle for the mold to sit in, otherwise it would lose its shape completely due to the viscosity of the silicon. The shapes of the design can create problems with separating the plaster and the matrix to come, therefor, once the plaster has set it needs to be gently broken into 2 or 3 pieces.

Fourth step Takes place after everything has set, been separated, cleaned and dried. We use an epoxy resin to recreate what we had in clay in plastic. So that we can still use the sealing technique learnt from Antonio Fava we must also include a wooden backing as part of this process. We have incorporated the wood in the first stages with clay, and have cemented it into place using some of the left over plaster. It's a little uglier than we would like, heavier than wood and more blocky than full carved wood, but it will do nicely.

If you missed last weeks blog and you want to compare the two, not to worry, you can do so by clicking >>> here <<< but let's have a look at the wooden matrix now so you can see how they shape up next to each other.

There are a lot of similarities with the end product. Even though the design process was easier in clay than carving wood, it is worth noting that it is still time consuming because it involves much more wait time, and is a little more expensive because it requires so many more materials that are more costly than a simple wooden block. The real benefit of this new process is the flexibility it has given us in our design options. We can try a number of different expressions, changing it three dimensionally until we are happy. Wood techniques require you to draw the idea on paper, exploring those differences until you are happy, but you never see it three dimensionally until you carve it, and if it doesn’t look right you have wasted 30-40 hours of intensive work. The time cost is mitigated when you create multiple masks at a time, which you simply cannot do with wood.

The fifth and final step is to mold the leather in the same style as the Fava method. We apologise for being so selective with the pictures below but as we explained last week, we do not want to reveal to much of the Fava method. I hope you can appreciate that decision.

We would love to show you the end result but unfortunately this is where we are up too in the process. But we will keep you updated on this masks and all the others we create in the coming weeks.

What do you think of our design for the Pantalone x Cyclops? Let us know in the comment box below, or on our social media, such as Facebook >>> here <<<., or Instagram >>> here <<<. and if you missed the weekly instalment which covered this character you can go back and check it out >>> here <<<.

See you same time next week.