It isn’t often that I create custom designed masks, anymore.

The moment you attach a price to an item or service it becomes a commercial transaction.  Sadly, cordiality tends to fly out the window because a client is terminally indecisive, or in some cases unscrupulous — someone has decided he now owns a piece of me, and sets about exploiting that misapprehension.

In other cases the order changes, then mutates, becoming costlier with each communication.  Soon the agreed-upon price of the mask is no longer commensurate with my time and physical effort.  Not only is my time used, wasted and discarded, so are the materials — and leather is expensive to begin with.

Yes, it sounds mercenary.  It is.  This is business.  After all, it’s called “The Merchant of Venice”, and not “The Charitable Organization of Venice”.

A few weeks back I was contacted by someone wanting a matching pair of custom masks.  The hitch?  He needed these masks in hand in about two and a half weeks.  Close.  Real close.  But he was so polite and respectful that I was reluctant to turn him away.  I told him of some one-of-a-kind masks I’d sculpted but not yet painted, and that I’d be happy to give them whatever colors he needed.

At all times polite and timely in our communications, he selected these — a unique mask for himself, and a new prototype (for my ‘faerie’ series) for his lady:

masks waiting for their colors

And after he helpfully provided me with these ‘digital swatches’, with the image in the middle being a detail of his lady’s gown (beautiful!  I’m so coveting!) —

Digital Swatches

— I got to work on the palette, mixing main and accent colors until I was satisfied with the results.

The real challenge here was the differences in light and color, between the digital swatches on the desk top monitor in my office and the pigments in my mask studio.  As a result I kept dashing to and fro with the manic need not only to match colors, but to understand where they needed to be in relationship to each other and the contours and spirit of each mask.

Even while using a respirator it’s difficult to not breathe in airborne molecules of leather dye, which is hard on the lungs — with lingering and accumulating effects.  So I rarely airbrush masks these days, instead doing it all with artist’s brushes and acrylic pigments, applying the same fine art techniques I use in creating my paintings.

Below are the finished masks, “Sea Drake” and “Sylph” No.1 — and their lovely couple in full regalia:

BvR and His Lady

The picture on the left was taken in my studio under controlled studio lights, and the picture on the right — taken at the event using a flash –was provided me by the patron.

If more of my patrons were as amenable as this gentleman, I might be moved to reconsider my standing policy on custom mask design and creation.

— Ryl

p.s. Thanks, Brayden — it was a pleasure to work with you!