Tag: art history

Art Lesson: Leather Mask Making

Leather Mask Example

As a current 3D I and 3D II teacher I have a ton of sculpture lessons up my sleeve. I like to change things up every year; I keep some projects consistent, while switching others out completely and slightly altering others. While student teaching I developed a Venetian mask lesson, inspired by my trip to Italy a year prior. I spent endless hours planning, researching, PowerPointing, and creating my example.

The original lesson had students create a mask form using plaster strips as a base and liquid plaster on top to create a smooth surface. For the most part the project was a success, the masks looked nice, the students had a good time, but I still felt limited. It was difficult to achieve fluid shapes or add large forms with a material as rigid as plaster. Despite a few doubts I taught the lesson two more times before taking a break.

When I started my new job I returned to the world of sculpture after a two year hiatus. As I planned for my first year as the 3D I and 3D II instructor, I found myself returning to the idea of mask making. While researching my mask resurgence I discovered leather mask making.

I never would have considered this project at my last school. On a shoe string budget materials that contain the word “leather” are automatically turned down do to cost. However, at my private school job with my private art school budget suddenly these expensive sounding words were appealing. I began research and quickly realized leather is an incredible material that can be twisted, curved, cut, and carved very easily. I made a few phone calls and found a leather provider.

After some research I was shocked to discover I could actually get the leather I needed at a reasonable price. Through a company called Brettun’s Village I could get a hide for a decent price. After calling the company I was told they would send me enough leather scraps for a small town to make masks for only $50. I was in, and the leather mask making began.


  • Paper for template
  • Scissors and Xacto to cut template and leather
  • Pins to hold template onto leather to trace
  • Sharpie or pencil to trace around template onto leather
  • Leather (3 oz veg tan leather)
  • Bucket/sink with water to soak mask
  • Towels to help dry mask
  • Hair dryer or heat gun to help dry mask as you mold it
  • Pliers for folding mask
  • Plastic and wooden ribs for folding leather (clay tools and bookmaking tools work well)
  • Acrylic paint and paintbrushes to paint mask
  • Elastic to use to hold mask onto face



Introduce the students to Venice, give them some history and background as a base. Introduce the holiday, Carnivale, the traditional mask wearing holiday celebrated right before Mardi Gras. Show them examples of mask shapes and the meaning behind the shapes. Introduce the idea of symbolism, using colors, shapes, and symbols to represent something specific. Show them work by artist, John Flemming. His work pushes the boundaries of a typical mask. He uses leather to create extreme and interesting mask shapes.


Have students do their own research on masks and symbols. Have them consider their favorite color, horoscope sign, birthstone, interests, and ways they can represent themselves through their mask.


Have students do three full color sketches of different mask ideas. Help them select the best option.


Draw a life size version of the mask. Use an Xacto knife to cut out areas on the inside of the mask, cut the outside shape with scissors.



Cut a piece of leather roughly to the size of the template. Pin the template to the leather using straight pins. Trace around the exterior shape and interior shapes with a pencil or sharpie. Cut the mask out of the leather using scissors and an Xacto knife.


Soak the mask in water for approximately 10 minutes, or until the leather is saturated. Sandwich the leather between two towels to squeeze out excess water.



Have students place the mask on their face and begin forming the mask to their face. As the leather dries it begins to hold the shape. To help speed the drying process use a hair dryer or heat gun on the leather. Once the mask is roughly formed to their face have them add details. Use pliers to round out the edge of the mask or cut outs. Pinch the leather between the pliers to create raised areas. Use a bone folder or wooden rib to press into the leather to create lines and indentations. Use your hands and fingers to round out and roll over areas. The leather can be twisted, dried, and will hold it’s shape. Have the students continuously press the mask to their faces to make sure it maintains a good fit.


Have the students cover the masks in bags if they aren’t finished molding the mask before the end of class. Areas can be re-wet and re-molded. Once their mask is molded, allow the mask to dry out completely.


Paint the mask using acrylic paint. Encourage the students to use light shades to emphasize raised areas and dark shades to emphasize low areas of their design. The mask should be painted inside and out.


Create holes on the edge of the mask for the elastic band to be strung through. Have the students write an artist statement about how their mask represents them. Have a class critique of the completed masks.


This project is a great assignment to introduce history and symbolism into your class. The students also become very invested because of the personal nature of the lesson. If you love this lesson but don’t feel like doing the research check out my Leather Mask PowerPoint here! Check out the rubric I use here.


Thanks for taking the time to check out on of my art lessons. I hope it helps you in your classroom. Help me spread the word about my lessons and art by sharing, tweeting, liking, or whichever social networking method you like best. Thanks for stopping by!


Mixed Media Artwork: “Caged” and “Trapped” Interpreted

Mixed Media-Caged and Trapped

Last January I received an e-mail from a high school student in Birmingham, England asking if I could help them with an art assignment. As a high school art teacher myself, I was more than happy to help, after all my blog focuses on art tips and how tos. I was expecting a question about materials, a process I covered on my blog, or some other art related technique. However, I was surprised and flattered when I realized the questions didn’t relate to techniques or process, instead they were questions about me. She ran across my two pieces, “Caged” and “Trapped,” and decided to choose me as the subject of her final art assignment.

In this moment I felt like a real artist. I remember contacting one of my favorite artists, George Long, when I was in college. I had to select an influential artist and write a paper about them. I had the opportunity to talk to him on the phone, and interview him for my paper. It was a moment I will never forget, I had direct contact with someone who inspires me, and greatly inspires my artwork. I couldn’t believe the tables were turned and someone was asking me about what I do and why.

Her assignment was to find an artist that inspired her, write a short bio about them, and recreate the work of art that inspired her most. She explained the project and included questions for me to answer. I very quickly answered the following questions: 1) Are they any art movements in your life or you have been connected too, any background information where and when you were born? 2) When was this piece created, what was it created for, why did you use the mediums you did? 3) What were you trying to convey in this piece, what influenced you to do it? 4) How can I link this with my final piece, how can I carry it on to produce something similar? And I followed up with fairly long winded answers and much appreciation for being selected, and how honored I felt. The only thing I asked in return was to see her final product, which she recently sent.

Interpretation of Caged and Trapped

Reinterpretation of Caged and Trapped

To recreate my mixed media pieces she used watercolor, and I think they look amazing! It’s a little surreal seeing my name at the top of a paper, and artwork inspired by mine. I loved having the chance to help someone out with an art project, and I loved having the opportunity to see the finished product. I was even more shocked when a few weeks later I was approached by another student asking if she could use these pieces as inspiration for her art project. Technically I am a “professional artist” since I sell my work, but in this moment for the first time I truly felt like a real life artist.

Thanks for choosing me for your project Amy, and following up with pictures! Your project looks great!

Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you find something to inspire your next project. Help me spread the word about my arts and crafts blog by sharing it with others! I couldn’t do it without you. Thanks for stopping by!