My first masks were somewhat two dimensional, looking a little like pie plates with stuck on noses, lips and eyebrows - a not uncommon problem that some makers never seem to overcome. Soon, though, I started seeing my mistakes, and began producing more curvaceous faces with features that seemed to emerge from beneath the surface - much better but still nothing great. Then our first child was born, and I was compelled to sculpt that beautiful face. Afterwards, when I stood back to look at what I had done, I experienced one of the most profound moments of my life - a joy exceeded only by the actual birth of our son a few weeks earlier.
The mask I had made was light-years beyond my previous efforts. Why? What had changed? The answer was simple. I was looking at my son's face through the eyes of love. No gaze is deeper than the one made while trying to take in every every nuance of what one is so bedazzled with. And the deeper I looked, I began to realize, the greater were the chances I could make what I saw.
So yes, one of my greatest teachers was a baby, for it was only by studying such a brand new face that I could have begun discovering the secrets to great maskmaking - secrets like the look of "lively neutrality". Lively neutrality is not an expression, but rather the condition of being on the verge of expression. A mask made in such a way seems as if it could go in any direction in the very next moment - laughing, crying, wondering, sleeping - and that flexibility sets up a wonderful sense of anticipation in the audience. "What's going to happen next? Let's keep watching." It's the mark of a great mask.
Another quality I discovered while making the baby mask was that "look of fullness" that is always present in the best sculptures - the ripe apple look. The energy of life seems to be pushing out from the inside. This full look is obvious in the roundness of a child's face, but over the years I've learned to see it everywhere, even in older faces. Sure, the eyes may be a bit sunken, the wrinkles slowly deepening, but in between you can still see life curving outward.
Maybe the greatest revelation I received from this baby making escapade was the importance of simplicity. A mask is made to be seen from a distance. Too many details, too close together, and it will begin to look muddy from about the fifth row back. This is true for all surface shapes and textures like wrinkles and lumps and such. It's also the case for color - two colors, three at the most - no more.
Lastly it can sometimes help to exaggerate the size of the features - just a bit, not too much - or even to enlarge the overall size of the mask. It doesn't take a new parent long to realize baby's heads are huge compared to their little bodies. Understanding this truth and making my mask proportional was the key to it's success. Part of the audience's glee with the baby mask comes from the fact they can see it so well. Knowing this I came to believe that "a little bigger" is probably best for almost all masks.
My son is all grown up now with a young son of his own, who I am fortunate enough to be able to spend a lot of time with. He just turned three, and as I've watched him grow I've been able to learn all these maskmaking insights all over again. So thank you guys - both of you.