Birds and Bugs

Owl Over the Moon

Opera-matic, a collaborative arts group in Chicago, contacted me this last spring to make a mask for The Moon on the Lagoon, The community performance featured lullabies and the faces people find in the moon. What a cool idea!

I was sent this image for initial inspiration.
I was sent this image by a group in Chicago commissioning an owl mask.

Part of designing the mask is figuring how it will align with and/or cover the performer’s face. The producers knew they wanted the mouth of the performer available, so I approached it much like a three-quarter character mask.

Sculpting happened quite quickly on this project because the mask was needed quickly.
Sculpting happened quite quickly on this project because the mask was needed quickly.
I knew the image of the performer in the mask would be projected onto a surface, so I wanted to be sure to include various amounts of relief in the sculpture.
I knew the image of the performer in the mask would be projected onto a surface, so I wanted to be sure to include various amounts of relief in the sculpture.
For this project, I used an underpainting technique for highlight and shadow. I started adding tones for the feathers after.
For this project, I used an underpainting technique for highlight and shadow. I started adding tones for the feathers after.
The initial painting treatment. Though I liked it by the light of day, it seemed like it might be too dark for the context in which it would be performed.
The initial painting treatment. Though I liked it by the light of day, it seemed like it might be too dark for the context in which it would be performed.
Luckily, the idea of underpainting continued as I lightened the tone with additional layers of feathers. It ended looking nice and complex.
Luckily, the idea of underpainting continued as I lightened the tone with additional layers of feathers. It ended looking nice and complex.
The mask projected on the image of the moon in Humboldt Park, Chicago. Photo ©2015 Kelly Peloza
The mask projected on the image of the moon in Humboldt Park, Chicago.
Photo ©2015 Kelly Peloza
The production team had their own discoveries. The found that they wanted more eye movement than anticipated, and adjusted the eyes accordingly.  Photo ©2015 Kelly Peloza
The production team had their own discoveries. The found that they wanted more eye movement than anticipated, and adjusted the eyes accordingly.
Photo ©2015 Kelly Peloza
Photo ©2015 Kelly Peloza
Photo ©2015 Kelly Peloza
Variations on a Mantis

Inspiration and discovery continue throughout the process of making. Those moments are my favorite in my process. These inspirations can manifest in an accident, through a coincidence of timing, etc.

The first version of this mask was made for the Grand Guignolers company in Los Angeles. It was to be human in scale, which directed my choice about how to create visibility for the actor.

Coy. So coy. Just a like a mantis.
Coy. So coy. Just a like a mantis.
Though difficult to see here, the exoskeleton is textured with small brushstrokes to add life to the painting under stage lights.

This amazing insect was so inspiring, it started appearing in other projects, like the shadow puppet show bugged, created with Rollin Carlson.

An exploratory image from the making of "bugged"—like so many images, it didn't make it into the show.
An exploratory image from the making of “bugged”—like so many images, it didn’t make it into the show.

Working in shadow encourages an essentialization of form. It’s interesting to look back and see which elements carry on and evolve through the various iterations. After this further exploration of this form through puppetry, I realized wasn’t quite satisfied with the silhouette. I jumped at the chance to improve it with my next commission for the insect.

Round 2: blocking in a sculpture for a new version.
Round 2: blocking in a sculpture for a new version.
Refining the sculpture
Refining the sculpture
I had to cut off part of the clay  mandibles to accomplish the papier-mache. They were made separately and joined once the cast had been pulled from the clay.
I had to cut off part of the clay mandibles to accomplish the papier-mache. They were made separately and joined once the cast had been pulled from the clay.
This praying mantis has a special paint on the eyes—a gold mixed with a green—to create an iridescence to the eyes.
This praying mantis has more texture on the eyes than the exoskeleton. It also has a special paint on the eyes to create a feeling of iridescence.

I refined the eye hole to be even more incorporated in the geometry of the sculpture. The next time I had the opportunity  to work on this mask, I played around a little with color. Research images guided my thoughts.

A variation from the previous sculpture. The eyes were further refined and smoothed with paper clay.
A variation from the previous sculpture. Research provided additional ideas fro coloring. The eyes were further refined and smoothed with paper clay.
For the eyes on this version, I began with a sponge technique to break up the flatness of the red. On top of that, I used a stencil technique to suggest the segmentation of the eyes.
For the eyes on this version, I began with a sponge technique to break up the flatness of the red. On top of that, I used a stencil technique to suggest the segmentation of the eyes.

I’ve learned great things each time about this he next time I work on this mask, I want to explore greater width. Here are all the versions so far:

Side by side
Side by side
In this silhouette, the mask is almost three times as wide as the human head!
In this silhouette, the mask is almost three times as wide as the human head!
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A View of My Studio

A few months ago I was approached by a photographer in Eugene, Oregon, named Dennis Galloway. Among his many other projects, he shoots panoramas of artists in their studios. We arranged a time and he came up an took this awesome photo.

We chatted about masks and photography and travels as we did this shoot. It went so quickly!

My studio, in panorama! Photo by Dennis Galloway
My studio, in panorama!
Photo by Dennis Galloway

The distortion caused by the rotation of the camera makes it look so much bigger than it is, and changes the shapes of things. Now I want curved tables to work at!

Check out more of Dennis’ work  at dennisgalloway.com​, and more of his studio panoramas here.