How To Make a Gourd Mask - Making Gourd Masks
How do I make a gourd mask? I will share some of the techniques I use for making gourd masks
I am so glad you asked that question! While gourd masks are absolutely gourdgeous & everybody loves them they are a lot of work...but so much reward when you have finished.
Gourd masks are amazing & slightly reminiscent of the masks seen at Mardi Gras. A gourd friend in Louisiana said add some purple, green & gold & it would be a Mardi Gras mask. I'm not sure who started this fantastic gourd art form but it has been inspiring.
One common thing I found when I started making masks is that they are very labor intensive & the materials really start adding up...the beads, feathers & other embellishments, wow, it's mind boggling. It really was an eye opener. Now I know first hand why masks are so expensive & I will share that with you so you have a better understanding.
To skip all the rest of stuff on this page & go straight to the good stuff you can click on the link at the top of the page or click here to go to my Gourd Mask Gallery.
Why are Gourd Masks So Expensive!
Now you wonder why gourd masks can be so expensive let me give you some idea why. While gourd masks are gourdgeous they can be very expensive to make. A big part of it is the feathers but masks are very labor intensive. In addition to the feathers, which can cost well over $100 there are the embellishments that might be used such as inlaid beads, buttons, concho's, & other accessories.
Put all the feathers & embellishments together along with the work involved in designing & putting it all together & you might understand why the artist is asking for what seems like a small fortune to you. Just like the job you have, artists are trying to make a living. You can't make a living if you don't ask a reasonable price taking into consideration their time as well as the materials involved in making their art work. So, perhaps next time you are thinking about asking if the artist will take less for their art work you will think about how much work is involved in that piece of art & how you would feel if someone asked you to take a cut in pay!
The average person creating a gourd mask is usually selling them for less than they are really worth but it's a way to improve their skills & get their work out there in the public eye. When I first started making masks I sold them for a lot less than I do now. Why, because the masks I made when I first started were a building block & in my opinion I didn't feel comfortable charging much more than the cost of the materials. As I gained confidence as a mask designer & my work improved I was then able to make a living rather than giving my masks away for the price of my materials.
Gourd masks can range in price from $25 to thousands of dollars of course depending on the size, the time involved to make it as well as the materials & of course the artist who made it. Put this all together & the price will vary as much as the artist who creates them.
I had no idea when I started making masks just how much work is involved in designing a mask. Painting is the easy part. It's the challenge of coming up with some wild designs, finding just the right feathers, embellishments & accessories to make it work (& it might take a lot of shopping to find just the right embellishments to pull it all together). To me the important part is tying it all together so that everything "fits". Once the face itself is designed & then put on the gourd & painted then the hard part begins. Laying out & arranging the feathers, measuring & drillilling holes to ensure proper placement. While I have found my new passion, making a gourd mask is a lot more work than just coming up with a design, painting & adding embellishments to a gourd bowl, vase, etc. But well worth all the work because it is so much fun coming up with the ideas & then carrying them out!
What I discovered about making gourd masks is that you really need to open up your mind & let it get a little crazy. So, if you are inhibited & afraid to step outside the box gourd masks are not for you. You have to get wild & crazy. Something I thought I had forgotten how to do but it's all coming back to me, one gourd at a time!
Each gourd mask is a unique work of art & make great gifts.
Care & feeding of the feathers in your gourd mask feathers & crafts
I started collecting Kachina dolls when I first moved to New Mexico more than 25 years ago & each one is covered with feathers. Eventually they collect dust...duh! Well, I had no idea how to clean them so I did some research & talked to some "feather experts". I also had several Kachina's damaged during our last move back to New Mexico & I was devastated. Unable to find someone who know how to repair them I went on a quest to find out how to do it myself.
How to fix a "ruffled" feather: First, if you need to repair any feathers that have been "ruffled" or bent use a clothes steamer & then with your fingers spread them out along with the natural growth. I learned this from the "feather ladies" who I have been buying my mask feathers from. I used this technique to fix some of the feathers that were damaged on my Kachina dolls.
Supplies you will need to clean the feathers: a vacuum that blows out as well as in or a hair dryer with a cool setting; a damp cloth & some patience.
- The first thing to do is blow off the dust. You can do this with either the vacuum (blowing out) or a hair dryer on a cool setting.
- Using a damp microfiber cloth (no dripping water please) put the feather (if possible) in the palm of your hand & very gently wipe the cloth over the feather. This will remove any dirt that did not come off by blowing it with the hair dryer or vacuum. Continue this until all dust & debris have been removed.
- Use the blow dryer to VERY carefully dry the feathers or you can just air dry them since they should not be very wet.
Helpful hints & Precautions
Never use the blower close to the feathers & be sure to keep it on the lowest setting. If you use a high setting or get too close, you could actually blow the feathers off or you could singe them.
If a feather does fly off use some glue (I use CA glue but you can use tacky glue), carefully re-attach it. When I use feathers on my gourd masks they are almost all inserted into holes & then glued so they are pretty secure but in some craft projects the feathers may just be inserted inside a bead or cone. In these cases it is very possible that the feather comes out & needs to be secured again. Using a drop of CA glue will secure it & will probably not come out again.
If your craft piece is one that hangs on the wall you can leave it hanging & do the steps above & you will find it much easier to do the clean up by leaving it on the wall.
The main thing to remember when cleaning feathers is to be careful & very gentle & make sure the cloth is not WET, just damp with no water dripping. In this case, less is better.
The heat from a hair dryer can be very hard on feathers; so keep it on the lowest setting & be sure you put it on the lowest setting. If the dryer has a "cool" setting this is the one to use.
These instructions are good for real feathers that are not dyed or painted. If your piece has painted or dyed feathers (such as imitation eagle feathers) avoid using a damp cloth & do not use a hair dryer with any heat. Using a damp cloth could cause the dye or paint to run. It is also best to use a blower with just cool air.
How I Make a Gourd Mask
Here are some basics on how I make a mask. Learning from my first mistake I have now got things down to a system so I'm a bit more organized & have a good idea how to do my feathers so they are not too close to each other & not too close to the wall. As they say, practice makes perfect. Each person has their own way of doing things but this is what I have found that works for me.
- Choose the gourd
- Select the beads & embellishments (not the feathers)
- Sketch the design in pencil
- Burn the design
- Do any carving or cutting that is part of the overall design & where the beads will be inlaid
- Lay out the larger feathers (smaller feathers in the front will get laid out as I work) & then take a photo of the layout with the mask laid out on top of the feathers
- Paint the back of the gourd with black paint mixed with polyurethane for a 1 step color/finish
- Do all the painting on the face with dye inks, metallic or regular paint, metallic ink, etc.
- Apply polyurethane varnish to the & allow to dry
- drill holes for the large feathers working from the back towards the front
- Insert the feathers & if necessary add some CA or hot glue to secure them in place
- Inlay any beads &/or attach other embellishments such as pins/tacks
Once these are added I cut off the sharp tips of any pins or tacks that are on the back. If these can't be cut off I use some hot glue to the ends to prevent someone cutting their hands on them.
Learning the hard way (feathers too close to the wall & too close together) I now start my first row (in the back) spproximately 1/2 inch from the edge of the gourd but lay the feathers down to make sure they will not press up against the wall when it hangs. Once I get the right distance from the back of the gourd I start marking where I want to drill the holes for the first row & lay out the next row allowing enough space between rows & feathers so they don't hit each other. It's hard to say exactly how much spacing but I drill a row, add the feathers & then plan the next row with the proper spacing. I mark where each hole will be with a pencil to ensure the hole is drilled in the correct place. Make sure the hole is slightly larger than the quill but not too large. You don't want to break the quill pushing it in the hole but you also don't want it moving around.
With the gourd flat on my work table I work from back to front inserting the feathers. Larger ones in back & inserted first. I use a hot glue gun or a medium CA adhesive to hold the feathers in place. Hal Sager, a wonderful gourd mask artist suggested adding a spacer behind the feathers in the back. This will keep them in the right position away from the wall until you they are glued in place.
Once I start laying out feathers often I end up having feathers that will be placed at an angle so the drilled hole has to be at the same angle I want the feather to go.
After all the larger feathers are added I will begin working on the very small front & accent feathers or "bangs". For this I use a pin vise to drill the small holes as I add each feather. Each feather is laid out, holes marked & then the holes are drilled.
On larger gourds with lots of tacks I have been known to add a black fabric backing to the entire gourd when it's finished to protect from getting cut on the sharp pins. The other option I have used is to cut the backs off the pins so they do not stick out.
The final step is to add something to hang the mask with. I might add a hook to either side & use picture wire or I use a piece of leather lacing & create a hook behind the feathers.
The feathers used in every one of my gourd masks & other gourd projects are natural feathers & are not dyed or painted.
Gourd Mask Step-by-Step Tutorial
This is a step-by-step tutorial on how I make a gourd mask. It is a project I was making for the 1st Annual Louisiana Gourd Society's Gourd Festival. In honor of this glorious event I decided to make a "Mardi Gras" themed mask. I hope you enjoy the project & it inspires you to start a mask of your own. It's challenging but the rewards are worth it.
You might not want to make a Mardi Gras mask but the steps I use can be carried over to almost any gourd mask you wish to make.
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