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In the book, the Masks of Agostino Dessi, his method of paper mache is partially outlined, with some of the details omitted. If anyone has tried his methods using the carta lana wool paper, and can fill in some of the missing methodology, your help would be greatly appreciated.
In the plaster mold, the first layer of thinner paper is applied wet without PVA glue. Subsequent layers are applied with glue brushed on to the layer already in the mold. I am wondering if these subsequent layers are also first soaked in water.
I have been using this paper and glue, and have been trying some variations in order to reduce or eliminate bubbled or loose pockets in the mask when removed from the mold.
My last post got an extremely well thought out response and hope for more of the same. Thanks in advance for any assistance, David.
I have never seen the book, but just ordered it through my library.
The first layer with no glue is often used as a self-releasing method.
Without knowing the exact methods, I would suspect the next layers might work best if they were soaked and then drained until just damp. The dampness might help break the surface tension and resistance to the glue.
An alternative might be soaking them in diluted PVA glue (50/50), and using a non-absorbent roller (wood or rubber) as a squeegee to remove most of the glue, then press it into the mold.
Do you use your fingertips to press the paper into the mold, or a sponge, or... ?
What kind of glue does Dessi use?
Is the wool paper like a finer, thinner wool felt? Is it pure wool or mixed with another material?
Whether you soak the subsequent layers or not really depends on their flexibility. The more flexible they are, the less need for even damping. At the same time, the paste must be well absorbed so, the thicker the sheet, the more paste and greater time for soaking in.
As Sue (bless her!) says, finger tips are great, so really press each layer into the previous one. If you can allow the time, let each layer from the second onwards dry thoroughly. If you find a bubble, slit it with a sharp knife, squeeze a bit of straight PVA in and press down well.
If you are laying onto a dry surface, give it a thin wash of only slightly diluted PVA before applying the next. This should give you a laminate that is really strong.
Tell us how you get on eh?
I just finished the paper mache portion of my next mask, and think I have it figured out for the next try. My first layer went in soaked in water only, allowed it to dry, brushed surface with PVA glue, allowed it to dry, then did two layers with the thicker paper coating both sides with glue. When I pulled it out of the plaster cast there were many loose flaps on the surface that I was able to easily fix; some small pieces stuck to the cast despite the vaseline. The mask was much smoother, and more true to the finer details. I just reread Dessi's book on his method, and on the next one will put the second layer on without soaking. I think I'm getting close.
There is no information that I can find on this wool paper. It seems to be the paper of choice with the best of the Venetian mask makers.
Thanks Sue for your most insightful and well thought out response. I really do appreciate your time and interest.
"My first layer went in soaked in water only, allowed it to dry, brushed surface with PVA glue, allowed it to dry, then did two layers with the thicker paper coating both sides with glue."
I don't understand. Why allow the first layer to dry? Why coat the surface of the first layer and allow it to dry? Why not coat it with glue and apply the second layer?
Try this with some scraps without a mold involved, just on a sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap (cling film): wet the first layer until it's thoroughly damp, then coat the top of it with PVA glue while it's still damp. Immediately apply the second layer and press together. Let dry. What kind of adhesion do you get?
Why not use some of your smallish scraps and do several experiments without the mold? Papier mache is a great example of learn-by-doing.
I get the feeling that you're thinking of this in terms of separate layers. What you want is is to meld the layers and the glue together so you end up with a multi-layer material fused together with glue. I suspect that damp-with-glue will work better than dry-with-glue, but only testing will tell.
Again, thanks for your time and interest. I am trying to follow Dessi's clues as closely as possible. The wool paper can start to deteriorate into small particles when soaked, and I think letting the first layer try is necessary. I am going to apply the second layer with coating both sides with glue by hand and then pressing into the mold. When I try to do multiple layers without allowing some drying time, I tend to get lost and sometimes miss areas with the number of layers I am trying to achieve (two layers of thin paper and two layers of thick paper). I have done several maks with one layer of thin paper and two layers of the thicker paper, doing them all coated by hand with glue on both sides and allowing time between layers to dry. This was not too bad, but had too many surface repairs and bubbled or loose areas.
Small tests would be sensible, but I get a little too impatient to get a mask I can finish. I have come up with various finishing techniques, mostly by trial and error and chatting with knowledgable artists selling in art supply stores, but basically learning the hard way.
Thanks again and happy Labor Day!
Impatient??? Well, join the club!
Okay, if soaking doesn't work, what about dampening with a spray bottle?
I just feel that your problem might be the dry wool layer not sticking to the glue-coated layer. Wool doesn't absorb water very well, not like cotton or wood-based paper. That's why it's good for socks and knit caps. Have you ever washed a wool blanket? I have a nice, thick queen-sized 100% wool blanket. I wash it in the washing machine, then put it on the dryer. Do you know how long it takes to dry? Ten minutes, if that. Moisture is only held BETWEEN the fibers, not IN the fibers.
Would you try a quick experiment for me? Take a sheet of the paper, hold it at a 45º angle and dribble half a spoonful of water on it. What does the water do, absorb or roll off?
Wool also contains lanolin, so I am wondering if that is an issue, causing the glue to fail.
Are Dessi's masks made with hand pressure or machine pressure? Does he use PVA?
Did you say what your molds are made from? Plaster? Plastic?
Sue: Water was absorbed. Dessi uses PVA glue, and presses paper into mold by hand and wet brush. I am using Hydrocal White to cast my molds.
If you want to see an interesting video on making masks in Venice (Boldrin brothers), go to www.mascarer.com
I have bought several of their masks, have spent many enjoyable hours in their two shops, and have enjoyed talking with Massimo. I am planning on going back next year, and hope to learn some of their techniques. I also hope to visit Alice's Mask Shop in Florence.
If you want to see some of my earliest attempts and some photos of works at various stages in the process, email me at dwinitt.com
One other thing, when buying the Dessi book, they include a sample of the paper. If you'd like, I would send you a piece.
I am as reasonably a normal person as an architect can be who is gotten hooked (some might say obsessed) on paper mache masks.
Best regards, David
So what's wrong with obsessions??? It's the only way to fight the ho-hum part of our existence.
I'll email you at your site.
For some reason, I can't read my new emails, so don't expect a quick response. Stupid computer!
Sue: Mailed you the paper samples today, and tried to email pics of a few masks that I made. Hope you overcome your technical difficulties. After you mentioned Gemma Taccogna, I did a bit of research, and bought one of her pieces. Do you or anyone else know where to find her works for sale other than on Ebay?
Look forward to more chit chat.
Regards to all!
After all these years, I would suspect that Gemma's works are mainly in the hands of collectors. I am surprised that there is any of her work on Ebay.
David W, thank you! The pieces of wool felt just arrived today.
I've never seen anything like this, a sort of cross between wool felt and construction paper.
I'll have to play with it a bit.
Here's a place that sells the wool paper if you fall in love with it : )
http://www.squires-shop.com/ibf/index.p … parent=209
Sue, best of luck with the paper. I just cast a new mold, my most ambitious yet, and I'm trying a few variations on the paper mache process that seem logical and will hopefully reduce the number of minor problems I have been having. I ended up purchasing three works by Gemma, and look forward to receiving them. I will also take to heart some of Gemma's advice and just enjoy the whole process.
This has been a fascinating thread. I hope, Dave, that you will add some of your pictures to a gallery. Thanks for sharing your exploration.
I just removed my latest mask from the mold, trying to improve my technique. I did the first lightweight wool paper layer soaked in water only, allowing it to dry thoroughly. Brushed on a layer of 50/50 PVA glue and applied a second layer of the lightweight paper, coating both sides (by hand) with 50/50 PVA glue, and allowed it to dry. I then applied two layers of the heavyweight wool paper, coating both sides with 50/50 glue, allowing time to dry between layers. I then allowed 24 hours to dry. The mask released easily from the mold, small pieces stuck to the mold, and there were several loose flaps on the surface. I glued the flaps down and coated the surface with glue. I only had one area with an air bubble, and total repair time was minimal. I like David O's idea of coating a dried surface with glue; however, it gets hard enough to know where you've glued down a piece when you're well into a layer. I wish they made two different colors of these papers.
I received the three Gemma pieces that I recently purchased, they're really quite remarkable. I have now added acquiring more of her work to my growing list of obsessions. I am also planning to visit the studio of Agostino Dessi in Florence this coming April, and returning to my favorite mask shop in Venice. If I could only move to Italy and make masks............
I appreciate and enjoy the interaction.
"I wish they made two different colors of these papers."
Could you subtly dye the second layer so you know where you are?
I have colored the adhesive for a couple of projects so I would know that I was covering in even layers. Even if it was just a slightly darker grey, it should help.
I wanted to update my fellow pmers on this odyssey. This mask making journey/discovery has been quite an experience. I don't think I have ever had to learn (mostly the hard way) so many different skills and techniques, and then locate the materials to do them with. It's a lot of rigamoral to go through to make one of these masks, and I have a growing appreciation for those I saw in Italy that do it so beautifully, and also earn a living.
I just wanted to list some of the things that have gone into the brew. Sketching an idea; sculpting that image into clay; casting the mold in plaster; trimming and fixing the raw paper mache mask; coating the mask with gesso; underpainting the mask with acrylics; adding a crackle medium; painting over the crackled areas with acrylics; painting the mask with watercolors while adding some faux-finish; spraying multiple coats of acrylic sealer over the watercolors; applying multiple coats of acrylic varnish; adding metal leaf; applying a finishing wax and buffing; and finally adding tie- and hanging-straps. Actually, it's been even more involved than it sounds.
I've had a great time, learned a lot, and have enjoyed chatting with you all. Hope we can all keep in touch.
David, the book The Masks of Agostino Dessi came to me on an interlibrary loan. It is extremely interesting! The wide variety of ideas and treatments was inspiring. Walking into his shop must be overwhelming from the sheer number of masks and different designs.
Looking at the two pieces of wool paper that you sent me, I can see how it would speed things up, compared to using paper. The additional thickness would be an asset, esp with what seems to be the additional flexibility of the material.
How many layers do you use to form a mask? Do you use smaller pieces and meld them together with pressure, or do you use larger pieces and use the flexibility of the material to fit the mold? Do you tear the pieces so they blend in better than cut edges?
I know that Dessi seems to only use PVA glue, but have you experimented with any other kinds?
The only part of the book that I kind of objected to was his use of plaster on live models. His admonishes that you shouldn't use this method without professional instruction, but he doesn't say WHY. And the why is the severe burns that can go along with this method if the plaster is put on very thickly.
Here in the U.S., you can buy rolls of plaster bandaging (used to build up casts for broken arms, etc), and it is much safer due to the thinness of the plaster. You can back it with poured plaster for strength.
Translating to US dollars, how much does this wool paper cost? Is it sold by the sheet or by the package?
Your work is beautiful! A person wouldn't realize that you are relatively new to the art.
Sue: I use four layers of the wool paper, the first two are the lighter weight and the second two are the heavier weight. I tear the paper, and tear the perimeter (perpendicular) in several places. I start with somewhat small to medium pieces, depending on the terrain. I try to use larger pieces for the last two layers. I try to minimize the overlap, but some areas by virtue of the intracacy, get overlapped and built-up a bit more than others.
The paper is 3.95 and 4.95 euros per sheet (increase that by approximately 50% to convert to dollars). The paper is cut into smaller sheets (8"x10") and packaged in a plastic bag. It is great to work with. It costs approximately $15 to $20 per mask for the paper.
After first trying and not liking Elmers all-purpose white glue, I have stuck with the PVA. The more expensive Gamblin PVA glue was not as good as the Titebond II that I buy by the gallon at a high-end woodworking store (Rockler).
If I could reduce the number of hours devoted to the prep time for each mask, I think I might be on to something. I have just submitted for admission to the American Craft Council show to be held in Atlanta, March 2009. They accept 10 new "rising craft artists" to the show who have not participated previously. I have my fingers crossed, I would really like to test the waters.
Thanks for the kind words. When I question my sanity, encouragement always helps.
The only way to speed up is experience, in my opinion, and there's even a limit to that. The various differences and intricacies in art don't apply themselves to mass production very well. That's the difference between real Art and mechanical output. Every one you do will be different, and that simply takes time.
Ooooh, Rockler! I've seen their catalogs and drooled on them...
I will be crossing my fingers, toes and eyes for you regarding the American Craft Council show.
Thank you for the information.
I was a bit bored and thought I would try to keep this dialogue going, as well as provide an update/improvement to the process. I had been having problems with unglued areas or bubbles and some sticking of the initial layer of paper to the mold. I now apply a sparing layer of vaseline to a new mold to fill in some of the scratches and minor crevices in the plaster surface, and then spray a light coating of Pam cooking spray each time before starting the papering process. This has proven to be far easier and quicker than using vaseline, and hardly anything sticks to the mold (which has reduced time spent cleaning out the paper that used to stick). The Pam has been a marked improvement in the process.