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Blurry Forest

Dragon Head Construction - Process

I've never made a dragon head before, and I had no idea where to start. I've not done much in the way of sculpting, other than the Zuul masks I created for last year's LOJ Masquerade Ball. I knew this dragon head needed to be much lighter, so I couldn't use plaster strips like last year, and I knew I needed to make sure it fit my husband's head comfortably so that he could walk around in it for hours and still be able to see. My solution was the old standby - paper mache. As the daughter of a Spanish teacher, I grew up making many, many piñatas, so paper mache is the easiest route to sculpture for me. But I didn't want it to look like my 8th-grade self sculpted it, so I did a little research. I spent several days studying videos from Jonni at Ultimate Paper Mache and Dan at Gourmet Paper Mache, to see their tips and techniques, before I tried my hand at it. (Seriously, go check them out! They are so amazing!!)

Ultimately, I ended up MacGuyvering things my own way because I was short on time, and it turned out somewhat okay. And what didn't turn out well I hid with craft foam dragon scales, because you know I hadn't cut out and painted enough of them on the jacket already, haha.

Here's my process:

Step 1: Armature and Paste - I created an armature from wads of newspaper and masking tape, in the general shape of a dragon head. (Which, as it turns out, looks more like an alligator head, but I digress.) Because I was pressed for time and Los Angeles was unsually humid that week, I decided to use Elmers Glue and a little bit of warm water as a paste.

Step 2: The Application Process - I ended up doing two layers of the paper/glue/water shell on the armature. My supervisor Fergus was very helpful, biting my arms as I worked.

Step 3: Drying The Head - I left it on the patio to dry in the afternoon heat and then overnight, and it worked out great. The next day, I used an exacto knife to remove it from the armature and split the head shape in two halves.

Step 4: Shaping The Dragon Head - Figuring out how to position the mouth was the next challenge. I didn't want it to be a mask, but more of a hat, so that my husband could see while he was wearing it. I had to cut the underside of the bottom piece, making it just a jaw, so that I had room to fit it onto my husband's head.

You'll also see the beginnings of teeth in this photo. I did not have the time to sculpt plastic teeth, as I only had a few days to make this headpiece. But no fear - press-on nails to the rescue!! I cut them into sharper fangs, and later painted them to look more toothy.

Step 5: The Inside of the Mouth - I really wanted to try the cloth mache technique that Dan uses at Gourmet Paper Mache, but I had no cloth and no time. So, I used paper towels instead. I figured, since it was the inside of the mouth and it wouldn't be too visible, that it'd be an ok cheat. It worked out pretty well for texture, and looked decent when painted, but it was definitely fall-aparty when it came to creating the gums around the teeth. The cloth mache looks way better than my paper towels!

Step 6: Structural Integrity - Once I finished installing the teeth/gums and painting the inside of the mouth, I assembled the head into it's wearable form. I used an old baseball cap that fit my husband well - I cut off the brim and then attached the dragon head to the hat with masking tape and hot glue.

Step 7: Making It Look Dragony - I realized that my base head shape looked more like a derpy donkey than a dragon, and it both made me laugh and made me grumpy. I had planned on installing horns and spikes, so that helped, but it needed more dimension and shape - ridges and such, to make it look more like a dragon. I knew I wanted to also install LED bike lights for glowing eyes, so I needed to build out a nook for them.

I sculpted the big horns out of more paper mache over aluminum foil, so that they'd be light but also a counterbalance to the snout. Then I added on the spikes - plastic icicle Christmas tree ornaments that I cut the tops off of and stuck in upside down. (They glowed in the dark, too!) I drew on with sharpie the general area of where I wanted to add in ridges and details, and started building out the eye and nose ridges.

I used twisted paper towels and masking tape to create the shapes that I wanted, and then I paper mached over top of them.

Once these layers dried, it looked a bit more like a dragon than it had, though it still had a derpy lip-snarl thing going on. (I figured out how to fix that with craft foam scales later on.)

Step 8: Painting The Beast - I started with a base coat of black, and quickly realized that no paint job was going to save the surface texture of this headpiece. So I decided to make it more uniform to the jacket, and add in craft foam scales to hide my crappy texture.

I also built in eye light windows - I made an oversized eye shape with the craft foam, cut out the center, glued in a sheer orange fabric, added a piece of craft foam for the pupil, glued in the bike light, and diffused it with kleenex like we had for the Zuul masks last year. I attached the window at one end with glue, and the other end with a piece of velcro. Then I added the tiny scales to hide it all.

Once I got the foam scales installed, I blocked off the eye light windows with painters tape and started the same painting process as I did on the jacket.

Red/copper centers, silver tips, black "burnishing" around the edges and a shimmery black wash over top.

And here's how it all turned out! Below are other angles, and a view of the eyes lit up:

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