You guys, I don’t even know where to start. I’ve been delaying the writing of my post for hours because I just cannot put into words the delight of speaking with Amanda Carroll of Artisan Maskers. In an effort notto do Amanda and her partners a disservice through my lack of appropriate verbiage, I’ll introduce her with a photo. It’s worth a thousand words you know.
Are you rendered speechless? Now you understand that (non) introduction. Amanda and her team are amazing! They do amazing things! What to find out how?
Amanda Carroll: I’m more than happy to answer any questions about our “tools,” although, truthfully, it may be hard for me because one of the things I love most about the mask-making process we use is that I don’t really need anything specific to do it. The first ones I can think of are the Styrofoam wig heads we use as our bases; scraps of paper to make the mask base, and fabric and other odds and ends to decorate them; and, sadly, our hot glue guns (how did the Venetians do it without them!?).
Janice Bear: So the wig heads are for display and photos?
AC: No, we use them to actually form the mask base. The Venetians (and modern-day artisan maskers) used clay molds that they’d push their paper pulp into to form the base of each mask. We form the mask base on (not in) the Styrofoam heads. That way there isn’t a need for a new mold each time we design a mask with a new shape or in a different size.
JB: Oh, I see! Did you try many methods before settling on this one?
AC: We used to use our own faces! It was incredibly involved because the bases take about a day to fully dry. Several of us would get together in the evening, often joined by more friends and significant others. Each of us would cover her entire face with Vaseline, lay the papier-mâché on top of the Vaseline, and settle in for a long movie while the mask began setting up. Many hours later the mask was hard enough to take off to finish drying. Even then we’d still have some masks with curled edges or collapsed areas. Those Styrofoam heads have saved a lot of hassle!
JB: And then, one day you woke up and decided disembodied heads were the way to go?
AC: I don’t remember…I think, actually, I was helping at a theatre production and I saw the Styrofoam heads lined up on the tables backstage – with the wigs, of course. I think it sort of hit me then and I started looking at our options. I originally considered the mannequin heads used in hair shows because once the hair is cut they’re pretty much useless, but the shipping was sort of ridiculous. The heads we ended up with are available at any beauty supply store for around $5.00. They’re pretty ugly, but they’ve really held up.
JB: So anyone launching their mask-making business definitely needs a few heads?
AC: Ha! No. Even though those Styrofoam heads have saved a lot of hassle, we used to use our own faces as mask forms, so they aren’t really necessary. Everybody has her own approach, even within our shop.
We’ve sort of become mask connoisseurs, though, and we check out new mask shops as soon as we hear about them just to see what they’re doing. There is one artist in particular who I admire. She keeps very close to the old ways of mask-making, using the molds, only decorating with paper, and just really preserving the art.
Some maskers buy their bases and concentrate on the decoration. We make our own papier-mâché, generally using 20lb paper from the recycling bin and a homemade wheat paste. We also have no compunctions putting just about anything on a mask—from typical feathers, glitter, and ribbon to upcycled junk, broken jewelry, and scrap fabric.
Whatever the method, there is no judgment on our part. We’ve learned a lot about the art form, but we’ve forged our own ways of creating because it allows each of us to concentrate on the part we like best. We certainly appreciate the old methods, but let’s face it, because I’m a tree-huggin’ hippie, I developed a method that would let me work with anything I happen to find. It also helps us keep our costs down.
Do you guys just love Amanda and her masks and those “ugly” heads? I was especially taken with the idea that her business and her “tool box” let her create with whatever she can find. I absolutely relate to that! Do you?
What do you think about “winging it” versus preserving the old art form methods?
Amanda Carroll is just one of a group of cousins, sisters, and friends who started making masks as accessories for a fancy party ten years ago and became addicted! To find out more, please visit the Artisan Maskers profile page on Etsy.