Glynn McKay, Mask Making
Grange Books, 1994
80pp; cloth; illustrations throughout
ISBN 1 85627 591 4

Reviewed by Paul Withers
Classics Dept,
University of Reading,

This informative book is aimed mainly at the novice. It sets out in basic steps how to make a variety of types of masks, from the half-face mask fabricated from plaster bandages to a whole head mask made from latex. I believe this book would be a very helpful guide for newcomers to the art of mask making.

According to the flyleaf, McKay, who has made masks for films and television and has worked closely with the English National Opera, has recently researched Greek masks with the help of Professor Easterling of Cambridge University. One would therefore expect this to be a useful book for those planning to produce a Greek play with masks. Indeed, the chapter on celastic masks deals with masks made for a production of Euripides' Medea.

The book is divided into fourteen chapters. The first recounts the history of masks and mask making, ending in a short introduction to the rest of the book. Although this chapter tends to leap from culture to culture and from style to style, leaving the reader no time to catch his or her breath, it is full of information and interest. Here and throughout the book, the author draws on his own experience to add caveats that masks must be tailored for the occasion. He forewarns of problems that may occur and suggests ways of avoiding them. For example, a director would not want to have to replace a mask just a few days before the performance because it lacked proper breathing holes for the wearer. Nor would an actor wish for the embarassment which would be caused if a mask disintegrated mid-performance. McKay always keeps the reader aware of potential difficulties.

The next two chapters explain how to make half- and full-face masks straight on the face. Highlighted boxes offer extra advice and make it easy to see at a glance what materials are needed. Illustrations demonstrate the process of making the masks.

Chapters 4 and 5 outline how to prepare a cast of the face and then make a sculpt over the cast. Here again, simple advice on matters which could otherwise be overlooked is presented to the reader in a form which is in no way condescending. Particular care is devoted to ensuring the physical comfort and mental well-being of the model. Once again, problems are obviated before they can be encountered, so that even the novice cannot go wrong.

Chapter 6 describes making a papier mache mask from the sculpt, including the decoration of the mask. The subsequent pages then show other papier mache masks made from a sculpt, briefly clarifying differences in process.

The subsequent three chapters demonstrate how to create a plaster mould from the sculpt and then how to make a latex or celastic mask from this mould. Here again, simple caveats help to prevent possible problems. In both the chapter on latex masks and the one dealing with celastic masks, other masks made by employing the same techniques are shown, and any processes which depart from the initial example are explained.

Chapters 10 and 11 detail how to make additions for the mask, such as hair, teeth, eyes, and hair-pieces. McKay's expertise shows in his suggestions for making the additions more realistic, such as mixing different shades of hair to make it look natural. Advice is also given on the type of hair to use and where to purchase false eyes or cheaper alternatives.

In the following chapter we learn how to make a cast of the whole head. This chapter, I feel, suffers slightly from a lack of instructive illustrations. The process, however, is still described in enough detail to make it straightforward.

The penultimate chapter outlines the technique for constructing a whole-head mask. It leaves out the making of a clay sculpt from the cast of the whole head, this being essentially the same as the method for making a sculpt of a face cast. This chapter lives up to the high standard of the rest of the book, showing how to make the mask from latex or from latex and foam. These instructions are followed by descriptions of another set of whole-head masks, again explaining differences in procedure.

The final chapter lists stockists of the necessary materials in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, including clay, plaster, sculpture tools, latex, celastic, plaster bandages, polyurethane foams, dental alginate, hair and wigs, acetone, and taxidermy supplies. The majority of the US stockists supply either New York or California; those for the UK mainly serve London and the surrounding area; and those for Australia are all in New South Wales. This uneven distribution of suppliers may limit their usefulness to some extent, depending on the budget of a given production.

The numerous typing errors which litter the book's pages detract from its overall impression of quality. In spite of these flaws, this is a useful and informative book written by an expert. His knowledge and practical experience are evident from every page of the book and recommend it highly.

Paul Withers
University of Reading,