I’ve loved Krampus — St. Nick’s horned enforcer — for years now. I’ve posted about Krampusläufen (Krampus rampage-parades) books about Krampus and the vindictive Alpine beast nearly topped the list of 10 Best Holiday Monsters a couple years back. Until this year, however, I hadn’t taken the time to make myself a Krampus Mask. My final impetus came from the Krampus Ball 2014 to be held 20 December at the DreamLand Theatre, Ypsilanti. Yes, yes, it’s a bit late. Krampus typically appears around 6 December and St. Nick’s feast day but this event promises to be a Solstice-shindig, a time for monsters to let their hair down and cut loose… as if that would be a problem for Krampus.
The design for my Krampus mask started with a pallette to distinguish it from a mere horned demon (reds) or woodland faun (greens and browns.) I wanted to go COLD and than meant blues and whites. I’m channeling a bit of Cold Miser here (who also made our list of Best Holiday Monsters BTW) White fur, chilly blues… heck I was tempted to try icicles. I knew I’d wear this to a party, so I didn’t want horns that might poke others if I got wild on the dance floor. This meant curled ones. Honestly though, much of this “design” work happened as I started playing around with the materials. I find too much pre-planning can really inhibit my craftiness but your mileage may vary.
Since I am a hoarder, I next raided my box of failed experiments where I found a forehead mask made of plaster bandages form-fitted to my face (and yes, I happen to have a model of my head made on a previous Weird Date Night with Elsa) and a gritty paper mache nose I’d made atop a commedia d’ellarte mask. The base mask was rigid enough that I thought it could anchor the horns. I also liked how the nose would echo the shapes of the Krampus horns. I glued them together with white glue and clamped them with bull clip style paper clips. The paper clips are incredibly useful tools, second only to my vast collection of brushes. Pro Tip: use a brush to spread the glue then wash the brush out thoroughly.
The horns started simply enough. I took a sheet of stiff craft paper (11 x 17 but I don’t think that really matters) and made a paper airplane which I crumpled up. It’s easy to overly compress the root part of the horns so I adjusted them after initial formation. Pro Tip: natural horns curl in a particular direction — check out some reference photos if your’e going for realism — but I was really accenting an asymmetrical vibe so I purposefully ignored Mother Nature and made two “right-hand” twisting horns. I’ve read that our brains find asymmetry to be “unnatural” and I wanted to tap into that sense to make my Krampus feel monstrous. For weight and stability concerns, I needed horns that were basically hollow so I added just a thin layer of blue paper towel wetted down with normal white glue. If I was doing this again, I might try applying the cloth layer directly to the crumpled paper airplane but since this was my first time making horns, I’m glad I used an intermediate layer. Dan Reeder of Gourmet Paper Mache.com even removes the interior paper once he’s applied the top coat. Papier-Mâché Monsters“>Reeder’s book Papier Mache Monsters has been a great encouragement in this project and others. His series of Youtube videos is both instructive as well as amusing. Check them out especially if you need to psyche yourself up before getting dirty with the craft gear.
The tricky part was how to let them dry without deforming them or letting them stick to a surface. Pro Tip: glue is sticky! I used two wire clothes hangers. I twisted them into a rough spiral shape and suspended them from the copper pipes in the basement ceiling. My workspace is quite modest by the way so don’t think you can’t do this because you don’t have a workspace like on FaceOff. My surface is half of a chest type freezer, illuminated by two bare lightbulbs, in a basement that lacks running water. Your most serious limitations often are in your mind… which isn’t to say they aren’t real.
Once things dried overnight, I attached the horns to the face mask with more white glue (use that brush for an even coat!) held in place with magic duct tape and clamped with more bull clips. At this point the structure is only semi-stable. Again, I suspended the construction with those deformed clothes hangers. (Note: I sprayed the horns with gray primer mostly because I was chickening out and needed to see if they even vaguely looked like actual horns.)
This step is where the magic happens. Seriously. I have to give props again to Dan Reeder. Using cloth and glue instead of newsprint and flour-paste results in creations far superior to the papier-mache I learned in grade school and far cheaper and lighter than the plaster bandages I had been using. I started with the horns. I love the spiraling ridges found on some horns and decided to replicate them with the cloth layer. I wetted down one side of the cloth strip in glue, then rolled the long end to make that ridge. Then I wetted the other side, squeegeed off the excess and applied it to the horn starting at the tip. Again, real horns have a natural twist to them… and I realized too late that one of my horns has ridges going in the opposite direction to the horn’s twist. I let these horns dry while I was at work.
When I got home, I applied the cloth and glue treatment to the face. I rather liked the warty texture of the nose so I focused on the forehead, mostly wanting to add stability to the point where the horns attached. Again, reference photos are your friend. Dig especially this video about how Dan Reeder replicated “Darkness” from the movie Legend (1985) While the glue is still wet, play with the strips. The folds are highly reminiscent of flesh already and with a little finessing using the handle of a paintbrush, they can be manipulated into rather subtle expressions. Don’t worry TOO much at this point. Paint will really help sell the shapes you’ve created at this stage.
After letting the cloth layer set overnight, the mask was ready for a base coat. I had half a gallon of light blue house paint in my craft hoard so I started there. I wanted tonal variation in the piece, going from nearly white at the tip of the nose to much darker on the horns. The base coat at least finally gave me a sense that the mask was coming together. I had some leftover blue spray paint also in the craft hoard which I used on the horns.
But then I realized that same deep purply-blue would be good for the creases of the brow and along the nose so I sprayed a bit on the face as well. I angled the direction of the spray down ward so to hit the crevices of the wrinkles. I figured worse comes to worst, I could paint over it with more blue housepaint.
Once the base and accent colors had thoroughly dried, I picked up a 1″ craft brush and started dry brushing more of the blue house paint. Dry brushing is its own kind of magic since the pigment only sticks to the raised textures. The monster was starting to come alive. I then used a bit of ice-blue (extremely pale) craft acrylic on the tip of the nose. I have learned from many bad experiences that it’s easy to ruin something by over-working it so once I got the general sense of color laid in, I let it dry. I got the overly dramatic lighting on this shot by hanging the piece on clothes hanger wire but then turning the picture upside down.
While the paint dried, I took some of craft fur and started fashioning a cowl. I bought WAY too much fur… but it went into my craft hoard for later monsters. The cowl barely used half a yard. I got what was called “Grizzly Bear–White” fur, a name which I found kind of comical. I placed a corner in the center of my forehead and let it drape over my head and down my back. I figured I could get a rough head shape with two cuts radiated from my, ahem, bald spot area. I boldy made a couple snips. I hand stitched the pieces together and cut away the excess. The expert at the fabric store warned me to make cuts from the underside using an exacto blade or else I’d get a faceful of fluff. She was right. This cowl is NOT high couture and if I wasn’t wearing a blue horned demon mask on top of it, I might even be embarrassed to be seen in it. Mostly I wanted something that would read as a full head of hair as well as a bit of weight to help balance the mask.
I grabbed my detail brush and used more of that ice-blue to accent the wrinkles in the forehead, the ridges of the horns and to add some creepy veins around the eyes. I glued a bit of fur scrap to the face for eyebrows and I was more or less done.
My secret for keeping a face mask attached to my head is a shoelace. They’re strong, readily available and long enough to wrap around most people’s heads, which is my other secret. Some of the masks I make aren’t overly strong, and I’d hate to tear one in half as I’m tugging on the strings to fasten it around my head. To minimize the force on the mask, I run the shoe string through two holes just around forehead height. The string runs on the inside of the mask’s front.
The cowl came out better than I feared given that I don’t really sew and I left it to the last minute. I made a tuft in the center of the forehead by cutting a triangle, then hand stitching the edges together to hide the seams and add some loft. Note well, HAND stitched. The expert at the fabric store said I could use a layer of tissue paper to help keep the fluff from mucking up the spindle of my sewing machine… but I decided to save that device for when I need regular, visible seams. I attached this tuft to the mask itself with a medium sized bull clip. I then finished the edged by cutting triangles, sewing together the seams then finger-pressing them flat so the seams were hidden. It’s a bit like a fright wig but it also adds a bit of stability and weight to the mask.
I’ll complete the look by wearing my neon blue shark-skin tuxedo jacket and my black dancing-jeans. You could argue that this mask isn’t “really” Krampus since it lacks that salacious tongue, and you’d be right. But I’m also not bringing a basket to haul away the naughty nor a bramble of sticks to whip the insolent. But I also won’t be that guy in the low-effort didn’t-even-bother-to-try outfit. There’s satisfaction enough for me in knowing that.