Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Transforming White Paper Masks Into A Halloween Costume

White paper masks
When I first stumbled on these white paper masks in a small but amazing "general" store in the middle of nowhere on Vancouver Island in Canada last April, I just looked at them and moved on. What on earth could you do with these, I thought? However, as I continued to be amazed at the unique and very inexpensive art supplies in this store, I suddenly remembered my friend was coming to visit me around Halloween here in Palm Springs.

Snowbirds, Gays and everything in between go all out for Halloween in Palm Springs. No, it's not a raunchy affair like in West Hollywood ... more of a family affair, more or less. Jesus was our bartender at Lulu's, we saw men dressed, and quite well I might add, as Polynesian beauties, the Pope with his girlfriend, even a dominatrix leading her husband around with a chain around his neck. Even the kids get involved. Third place in the evenings costume contest went to siblings dressed (and quite well too) as minions, one of my favorite cartoon characters!

While I haven't worn a costume in years, I was so intrigued by what I saw on a visit last Halloween I decided that this year, friend from China in hand, we would dress up! But as what? I bought the two white masks and thought that I would be inspired by masks for sale at the weekly street fair and what I remembered from New Orleans and Brazil. But a costume too? Never!!!

Two sided - red and black reversible
robe with amazing embroidery

When I visited Hong Kong again last July (2016) I mentioned to my friend that it would be nice to find something we could buy and wear in Palm Springs for Halloween. Even more reluctant than me, we toured the seemingly endless opportunities to shop there. If you haven't been to the Night Market on Temple Street in Kowloon, open from 6 pm to midnight every night, you have truly missed a shopping opportunity of the first order! It may be, ugh, junk, but fun junk. Really!

We struck gold though when walking through one of about three malls at The Peak, the top of a mountain behind Hong Kong with a spectacular view of Hong Kong, Victoria Harbor and Kowloon, especially on a clear night! Looking at all kinds of things we really didn't need, we stumbled on a row of racks crammed with robes. The first few were eh, but as we worked our way down the row we found more and more beautiful sateen robes with amazing embroidery on both sides! They were $269 HK dollars, too rich for my blood until Qiang said, that is about $35 American. Trying one on (one must be very careful in Hong Kong ... their large would be very small to an American), I found it fit perfectly and I liked the slinky feeling of the fabric with, even if machine made, beautiful embroidery.
Traditional Mandarin hat with pigtail

I bought it. Then I told him I needed a traditional Mandarin hat so I could dress as an educated Mandarin from the old days. He said he knew just the place.

On another day of shopping (I swear this is the national sport and the locals know the prices of absolutely everything too!) he took me to an alley lined with shops. These small shops are everywhere and usually line the alleys with small booths stuck up near the walls where shopkeepers sell just about anything you can imagine and maybe more. There, hanging on the wall alongside the shop were latex masks of just about everyone famous you might know along with those you don't. Inside the dark dim shop we found the proprietor, not a very friendly sort, and inquired about the hat I wanted. She went somewhere and returned with a stack of red and black hats, complete with golden embroidery and the old traditional pigtail. I bought it.

To make the costume complete I searched for but couldn't find the type of shoes they would wear and figured black Crocs would give about the same effect. I mean here, we never worry about the rain.

Could this be a tiger mask?
When I came home I pulled out the two masks but just couldn't decide just how I could use them in my costume. Then, after my friend sent me a photo of a tiger backpack he bought for his costume I realized I could convert the large, butterfly shaped mask into a tiger face! How easy (or hard) would that be?

Comparing the photo he sent to the colors of paint I had or could mix up, I decided to paint the entire mask a tiger tan color. However, the shape seemed to be a real obstacle. I forged on first adding the white brows, cheeks and other white areas of the face where they would appear cutout or not. After I was satisfied with the white, I let that dry and using the end of a flat brush more of less squashed the paint tip down on the face to create the tiger stripes. It was far more fun than I ever thought.

The finished tiger mask
I used DecoArts Traditions paint for their opaqueness and was pleased with the coverage I got considering the mask was painted completely tan. The Traditions white and black coming later had no problem with coverage. Letting this dry, I put on a bit more white and then a bit more black especially around the eyes making sure the stripes stood out from the tan face. All considered, especially since you won't see the nose, I think it does a credible job of capturing a tiger's face with an unusual, butterfly shape!

I used DecoArts Matte varnish, two coats in fact, to give the paper more strength and to protect the paint from sweat and such.

While it may have looked difficult, the tiger mask proved to be the easier mask to paint. Using a small butterfly shape with very definite formed lines and circles proved to be more of a challenge.

The raw, white butterfly mask

I realized the mask had to mirror the robe and hat so I used matte black paint top and bottom leaving the central flat area red. To pick up the gold embroidery on both the hat and the robe I used gold for accents. Painting the black first proved a challenge when I used red in a band across the mask around the eyes. Several coats were needed to hide the black.

Because it was so detailed, I ended up using a liner brush to paint the gold! I again used Traditions paints ... black and Naphtha Red and got pretty good coverage even though I was sloppy with the black. Interestingly, the gold paint I used from the old Delta line did an amazing job of covering both sloppy red or black paint.  
The Chinese themed mask ... finished?

Finished Chinese themed mask ... bling and all!
The Chinese Mandarin costume
I liked the look of this mask and had to admit it works well with the costume. However, a neighbor noted that I should use some of the Michael's jewels I was planning on using on a new birdhouse. Jewels? Really? It isn't gaudy enough? They assured me, glam was in and so I relented and agreed to add "jewels" to the gold circles for a bit more bling. I guess if I had come this far, what was a bit more? After all this is Palm Springs and excess of anything is not unheard of. After adding the jewels I had to admit they really did give the mask more of a Mardi Gras look, one that would be perfect for Halloween.

You may be wondering how does it all fit together? Was I too crazy? I don't know, look for yourself? Is this costume a keeper? Something to trot out every year? It certainly was fun for me to design and put together.

I think the lesson here is that we need to always be aware of the things we stumble upon, no matter where, and to grasp how they might be used in our creations. Did I design this? Certainly! And, you can too. It just takes the time to gather things you like, see how they might work together and then work on the parts so that they DO work together. Here, by using black, red and gold, I was able to design an outfit that mimics what might have been seen in days past. It ties together with color items that we might otherwise have never seen.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

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