This little beauty didn't set out to become the muscle-car of dog masks, but I'm so glad he did.
I had recently finished making a Daedalion mask, a sort of part lion/part sun kind of thing, and it was hanging all alone on my kitchen wall. Normally I wouldn't start a project just to fill a space on my wall, but it was obvious that something else needed to be there, to provide balance. That's when the idea of a sun dog crawled into my head and laid eggs in my brain.
The Daedalion has a wide, flat mane that creates a pretty large footprint on my kitchen wall, so the sun dog would need to echo that in some way. And the Daedalion is smooth and simple, light on the physical details, so the sun dog would need to echo that as well.
Before I began, I imagined that I would create a blocky, cartoonish dog face, only slightly more complex than the lion's face, and that instead of the mane it would be ringed with broad, triangular sun rays.
As you can see, none of that happened. I'll discuss that as we go along!
Step 1: Freeforming the Face
I built the face directly on one of my mannequin heads. When I started this project I had literally no idea how I was going to make the dog face, or what it would actually look like. I just figured that I would begin, and see what happened.
Knowing that I may have to make radical adjustments, or entirely scrap what I was working on, I decided on cheap, dry, easily replaceable materials: strips of corrugated cardboard and masking tape. The first step on this mask was to tape a piece of cardboard from ear to ear, over the crown of the head. I used more for the brow line, and a single strip down the middle of the face and jutting outward from the bridge of the nose to form a snout. Another cardboard strip from the tip of the muzzle and back to each ear of the mannequin gave me enough scaffolding to work with, and I was able to start shaping the features using masking tape.
The jaw, lips and nose were all simple builds, cut from cardboard and taped into place. The eye openings were cut from separate pieces and slipped down behind the scaffolding strips.
I built another layer of scaffolding to reshape the top of the dog's head, lifting and broadening the crown.
The ears were traced on flat cardboard, then curled and bent by hand into something more expressive.
As it all came together, I made a few little adjustments to the outline, but mostly the whole thing worked on the first try.
Once I had this dog face, I was too scared to move it. The mask was taped to the mannequin head, and that anchor at each temple was the only thing holding it all together. I decided that the smart thing to do would be to put a layer of paper mache over the face before I even attempted to shift it.
Step 2: Freeing the Face From the Form
I proceeded very carefully. For this project, I added a little white glue to my flour paste because it makes for a slightly sleeker surface, I find. I applied the paste with a paintbrush, smoothed on the paper strips and then brushed them down with more paste.
I set the paper mache skin using a blowdryer, gently smoothing the paper strips down with my fingertips as I went along.
Once I had achieved a sufficiently strong coating, I carefully released the tape and removed the mask from the mannequin. With an Xacto blade, I cut away all cardboard that was no longer structurally necessary and added some more tape where I needed it. Then I got to play with it on my face for the first time!
Step 3: The Extended Edition of Dune
With the mask free, I needed to work on covering the inside, but first I needed to choose how to tie it. I made a tiny amount of paper mache clay (a lump about the size of a squash ball) and quickly formed a couple of loops on the inside. With the remainder of the clay, I smoothed a lumpy spot on the forehead, and added a little dimension to the front of the muzzle and the backs of the ears.
For the next two days I spent my free time finishing up the paper mache job. I coated the whole inside of the mask, even preserving the opening between the upper and lower lips to facilitate breathing and speech. I put several coats over the face. I wanted a thick skin because it gives me more to sand and shape later on.
It was during this stage that everything changed.
I loved the shape of this face. Maybe it's because it looks a bit like my own dog. In any case, it was better than what I had intended to build and the more I thought about it, the more I didn't like the idea of attaching sun rays to it.
But I had been contemplating the paint job, as I always do, while I made the mask. Wondering how to properly express the idea of the sun dog. I'd already decided on a red and yellow palette, and I thought flames might be incorporated into the design.
When I decided to abandon the sun rays, I didn't know what that would mean. Would it become something wholly different? Would it just be a dog? But the flames didn't die down.
During that last night of paper mache, as I worked through the entire extended edition of Dune, it started coming together in my mind. Flames, like a muscle car, but also like the pattern on a border collie. Red, yellow, and white.
Step 4: Flame On!
After coating all the mask surfaces with clear gesso, I drew the flame pattern with a pencil, by hand. When I started to paint in the white bits, I finally got my first good look at the dog, and I liked him a lot!
I fully coated the white areas three times before I primed the other sections with a single coat.
Step 5: Boy Is My Face Red
The red areas also required several painstaking coats of paint, but the results were pretty sweet.
Once the red and white areas were all well coated and quite dry, I began to introduce the yellow elements. For the red flames, I added yellow to the tips of the fire. For the white flames that extended into the red areas, I added yellow flames licking about the edges.
I also sketched in some nose details, and put on the mask to make my dog uncomfortable.
Step 6: Final Touches
With just a little bit of black, I emphasized the nose details, painted in the lower lip sag, and added a series of whisker spots.
This felt a bit like a final step, but the large unbroken red area around the eyes was still haunting me. I decided to bring just a few dancing yellow flames to the eyes. That felt more like a final step.
I let it rest overnight so I could reconsider my position in the sunlight, but I was still happy the way it was. I put a matte varnish on the inside and several coats of glossy varnish on the outside.
Step 7: Zoom!
I love this mask! Sleek and shiny, setting land speed records wherever it goes, this dog mask is ready for belly rubs, Formula 1 racing, and everything in between!