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Discover Leather Masks

Making leather masks can be a very creative experience. Start simply and develop the methods that suit you. Read books, check web pages and find an expert to watch.

I learn most from watching and asking questions. Then I go and try it for myself. Often I make a mess first time around. Making a mess of yoru leather masks often teaches you more than getting it right first time. Just go and do it.

Leather is made of animal skin. It tends to come from cattle and pigs. If you are vegetarian them this could cause you problems.

To make leather the hide is tanned and all the natural oils and fats are removed from the skin. These chemicals are replaced by other chemicals.

The type of tanning gives different types of leather. I believe that leather was originally tanned in the urine of the cattle. That would be make for fun leather masks, huh?

Oil cured or chrome leather is used for shoes and garments. This type of leather is soft and elastic. Rawhide is made from salt cured leather and is quite stiff.

Vegetable tanned leather is treated with oak bark and other plant extracts. As these chemicals are soluble in water it is possible to use their properties to the artist's advantage. When the leather is damp it can be bent, shaped, carved and stretched.

Once it has returned to the dry state it keeps the shapethat you have forced it into. Vegetable tanned leather opens the door to amazing creative possibilities for the craftsperson creating leather masks.

Which leather to use for your leather masks

The best choice for this type of work is top grain vegetable tanned. Go for a thinner leather such as the 3 / 4 oz grade. This allows for flexibility and ease of use when shaping the piece.

Thicker leather may be used but can be harder to use. Start thin and get used to the techniques and then you may wish to use a thicker piece.


All kinds of tools may be bought; the essentials are


A good sharp knife with a heavy duty blade, e.g. Stanley Knife for long straight cuts A lighter scalpel such as a X-acto for small detail

Heavy duty fabric shears for cutting curves

Steel Straight edge

Modelling spatula - you can use a spoon for this.

As you begin to understand more about the medium you will appreciate the value of the different tools. Then is the time to begin to buy specific modelling tools as you need them.

You will also need formers to shape the leather over.

If you have some sort of face former to use this is good. If you don't then you will either have to learn how to cast in plaster and make your own mould or buy one. I have a glass model

head which I use for mask projects.

The method

Begin by softening the leather

Place it in warm water for just a few minutes. Drain and pat it dry with a towel or similar absorbent paper or fabric.

Leave it to dry for about 30 minutes. It must be not too dry and not too soft. Timing is essential.

Force the leather with your hands into the mould shape to get the initial impression. Don't worry about precision at this stage. Remember wash your hands regularly then you will not get gease from your fingers onto the leather, it makes it hard to colour in the final stages. eave for 1 to 2 hours.

With experience you will recognise that the time is right as the leather will begin to shape really easily. Now go to town and really create the effects that you want. Bend the leather, stretch it, crease it. In the first stages remember there will be frustrations. Stick to the task and get done what you can.

Any parts which do not go as you intended can be dampened again with a water spray and reworked.

Colour and applied decorations

Leather dyes work best but you can use acrylic paints.

If you are applying paints use the normal brushes that you enjoy.

For alcohol based dyes you can use sponges, your own home made applicators or brushes.

One suggestion I have come across for applying a metallic finish is Rub n'Buff. Simply apply it when the leather is dry rub it on, let it dry and burnish with a cloth.

Finally you do need a glaze or varnish to cover your beautiful finish. Remember water, greasy fingers, etc. will mark your mask unless you protect it. One suggestion is Satin Sheen. This gives a transparent matt finish.

This is a very brief introduction to a very skilled set of processes in creating leather masks. As I said before do experiment and do expect to go wrong sometimes. As you practice you can only become more and more skilled.


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