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I'm the duchess: Art inspired by Alice in Wonderland

On the last weekend of September I'll be participating in a local theatre production of Alice in Wonderland. I'll be playing the Duchess! Can you remember her from the movie? I can't. But hopefully I will deliver a performance that will put the Duchess's face in all of your imaginations, PERMANENTLY. You can purchase tickets for it here:

My enjoyment of this theatrical production has been greatly enhanced by some art side-projects I've taken on. Namely, doodling during practice, creating a mask for the frog footman, and making my first piece of costume jewelry ever: a tiny mad hatter head for the mad hatter to wear.

wonder(land)ful doodles!

During the rehearsals I did some impromptu figure drawing sketches, then developed them later into these little icons. Some of them retained the original looks of the actors, some didn't! Can you recognize any of the original Alice in Wonderland characters?

Doodles of the Alice in Wonderland Characters, done in Procreate
Wonderland Doodles

Frog mask Project

This was a very fun project. I've become a bit obsessed with learning how to make theatrical masks, because they can add such a level of storytelling to the characters that wear them!

This was my process for the frog mask:

Step 1: Sculpting

The first step in creating these kinds of masks is to sculpt a clay version of the mask. I just bought a bunch of kids plasticine clay at a local stationary store, plus a thrift store, and mushed them all together. It doesn't matter what the colours are at this stage of the game, though I do like how the colours ended up looking for this frog!

I realized quickly that I wouldn't be able to create a frog mask where the eye holes for the person matched the eyes of the frog. So I decided to make the nose holes into the eye holes. Unfortunately, frogs do NOT have big nose holes! So the froggishness of of my frog mask was compromised a bit. In retrospect, I should have spent a bit more time in this stage of the process, focussing on making the mask more symmetrical, even and smooth. Later on I found that it was turning out a bit bumpy and wobbly. Oh well! This is only the second mask I've ever completed, so there's gotta be room for grace!

Step 2: Casting a mould

After I'm happy with the sculpt, the next step is to create a mold for the paper mache. Apparently in traditional Venetian mask making they use plaster of paris at this stage of the game, but I haven't tried that yet. I made the mould out of plaster strips, instead. You can buy those at Michaels or on Amazon, if you want. Plaster strips are wonderful sculpting tool.

After the clay sculpture is all covered in the plaster strips, I wait for it to dry and then pull all the clay out of it. That part is a great workout for the fingers, and deadly for the fingernails!

Step 3: Paper mache/Paper clay sculpting Art project

For this project, anyway, I made a bit of a boo-boo. I tried to press paper mache strips into the plaster mold I made, but I guess I didn't soak the paper enough in the glue/water mixture, so it wasn't actually very stuck together when I pulled it out of the plaster mould! Perhaps I should have let it dry longer, perhaps I should have done more layers, perhaps I should have let the paper get more soaked... Not sure. But in the end, I had to put ANOTHER layer of plaster strips on top of the paper mache stuff, and then sculpt over that with paper clay to make it smooth. This created a bit of a too-heavy mask, in my opinion. Next time I'll try something different.

But it looked alright, anyway!

Step 4: Painting

This was a very fun part of the project! I used acrylic paints for the colour. In the future, I would like to find a kind of paint that doesn't feel as sticky as acrylic. Do you know of any? I'd like more of a chalky texture for other masks, but for a frog the shiny sticky feel was actually pretty ok.

And that's that! It turned out a bit less symmetrical than I'd like, and unfortunately I didn't have the head dimensions of the kid that's going to wear it, so I think it fits her even more awkwardly. These are things I'll have to improve on for future masks. But I like the general look of it, and it was a blast to make! So all in all, I'd consider this project a success.

Mad hatter pin

As per my wont, I got side-tracked into a non-essential but VERY FUN project: a mini Mad Hatter pin for the Mad Hatter to wear! :D

This was another first for me: I've never made jewelry before, and I've never tried sculpting a real person's face before. However, I think I captured his face quite well, if not in a slightly doll-like caricature style!

I started off by sculpting with paper clay. I let it dry, then I tried painting an undercoat of brown, with the idea that I'd sponge colour over it, leaving darkness in the cracks. But I bumped into a problem - I do not like how streaky my acrylics are! I wanted a porcelain-like smooth finish on this, as if it were made of enamel. I ended up getting close to the look I was trying for by mixing my acrylics with a very high ratio of gloss medium.

After I was done painting the face I remembered that the whole point of the project was to make the mad hatter, so I sculpted a hat. I went to Michaels and got rather over excited in the bead/jewelry section and bought a bunch of gears and keys and gold coloured glass beads. I guess now I'll have to make more steampunk jewelry. Oh well. ;)

I sewed/glued everything to a piece of black felt and then trimmed it down so you can't see much of it. I am very happy with how it turned out!

Thanks for joining me on this VERY FUN creative journey! I hope you enjoyed seeing my process!

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1 Comment

Shaina Widmer
Shaina Widmer
Sep 15, 2023

Crazily creative lady you are! I love your work.

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