The Many Masks of Angela Sasser
What started as a hobby soon began to take over her life, says Angela Sasser, a 35-year-old, Atlanta based artist with a penchant for fantasy. She grew up absorbed in mythology and particularly enjoyed tales of tricksters, elves, and winged beings and, later in life, managed to convert this interest into a career.
By day she works as an illustrator and that continues to be her main line of work,
but she quickly learned that her love of painting fantasy art translated well to leather mask making as well. She’s been doing that for about five years now and it serves to supplement her primary income. She says it’s also her “fun time”.
Bringing Fantasies to Life
With two BA degrees—one in in English and the other in Studio Art and an MA in arts administration, her part-time career as a leather crafter slowly volved.
“I’ve always been fascinated with masks as symbolic elements in my art,” she says. “I began making the masks from my paintings in clay and eventually discovered the leather mask tutorials of Andrea Masse-Tognetti. Leather proved to be the perfect medium for making these masks. The flexibility and breathability make leather perfect for wearable props.”
So, just who is wearing these masks? Most of Sasser’s masks have been purchased by cosplayers who specialize in fantastical characters or photographers looking for high fashion props for their photo shoots.
“I create masks that help to bring fantastical creatures and fairy tales to life in a unique way,” she says.
It’s her desire to help people channel the essence of their characters hidden within and to help them draw on their true potential to be beautiful, terrifying or anything else their imagination can conjure.
Learning the Craft
Sasser’s leather masks are meticulously carved by hand, soaked in water, and baked in an oven to harden them. After hardening, she paints them by hand. Main artistic influences include art nouveau, pre-Raphaelite art, the Symbolist, and 90s comic book artists.
And, while she has done custom work in the past, she is currently focused on her personal mask designs.
“I like to think my unique expression and fantastical subject matter set me apart from others who may be using their leather crafting skills for similar projects,” she says. “There are some talented mask makers out there like my mask mentor, Masse-Tognetti of Merimask; my good friend, Brenda Lyons of Windfalcon; and my fellow cow folder, Roland Wong of B3 Designs. We use similar methods, yet each of us has an artistic vision and style that makes our masks unique. For example, my background as a visual painter adds a unique artistic touch to my masks.”
Sasser works out of her home studio where she has set up a leather station. It’s the same space where she creates her paintings. And, while her leather crafting mostly focuses on masks, she has also made some hair brooches, necklaces, bookmark, and barrettes. Her leather comes mostly from Tandy Leather Factory since she says their “specials are so good!”
How long does it take to make a mask? It depends on the mask. Some of them can be quite detailed. Not counting drying times or breaks and including the research and design time, on average, it takes about 10-12 hours to complete a mask with a moderate amount of detail.
For Sasser, the most difficult thing about the mask making process is not so much the time, but the physical repetition.
“It can be hard on your hands, neck and shoulders, but it’s not difficult to do once you have th
e proper tools,” she says.
Her personal favorite is the January-flower-and-garnet-themed one from her “Ladies of the Month” series—a multimedia series of masks and paintings inspired by birthstones. Each month there is a portrait of a lady accompanied by a matching leather mask. Each mask is a limited edition and only ten of each design will ever be made. She’s also partial to the fairytale inspired black and white swan masks.
Sasser is also the author of Angelic Visions: Create Fantasy Art Angels with Watercolor, Ink and Colored Pencil, an illustrated how-to book which has been published for the mass market by Impact Books. In the near future, she plans to produce her own coloring books.
If you’re interested in learning more about the mask making process, Sasser has free tutorials at www.youtube.com/user/angelicartisan and also sells mask making resources at www.gumroad.com/angelicartisan.