By: Natalie Saar
With Halloween in our rear view mirror, some people may not have masks on their minds. However, for artist Olga Semenova, any time is the perfect time to conceive and create a mask that will inspire and delight people.
Mill Canyon Photography
One look at photos of Olga’s masks and you’ll be captivated and feel like you just can't stop at one. Whether it’s adorned with foliage or blinging with LED lights, each mask will transport you to another mental space. In fact, according to Olga, at a recent RAW Showcase, she received many compliments and comments, asking her why she doesn’t take her show on the road to Las Vegas.
Photo by Larry Kwon
Despite the brilliant designs of these masks, they were actually borne from a place of pain. Olga found mask making to be an escape from depression, back to a time when she was a child and was introduced to the sense of whimsy that masks create. Olga explains, “The creation of a piece of art is always a challenge and all of your energy and efforts are concentrated on solving this problem. This is how your mind becomes distracted from the burden of day-to-day problems. You are turning the inner resources of your mind to solve the problems of your creation. When the piece is finished, you feel satisfied with the result of your work which is always a pleasure. Pleasure is a positive emotion which helps you to overcome your routine problems and carry on with your life.
This is my experience.”
Much time and TLC goes into each of Olga’s masks, starting with who the mask really is. “First of all, I am creating a story of life for this mask/character and after this, “The Creature” will be born. In my case, every mask must have a personality. This is the hardest part of making masks: the birth of the idea. The easiest part is ordering all the decorative material which includes; feathers (which I typically get from Australia and UAE), rhinestones, lace, silk ribbons, gold leaf, and various types of paints.”
“I use two main papier-mache methods,” Olga explains, adding some clarity to how such intricate masks come to life. “One of the methods I use is by gluing paper strips together with adhesive, and the second method I use paper pulp which is obtained by soaking hot paper and adding glue afterwards.” She continues, “The first technique I use more often. I sculpture the mask in the form of a clay mould or create a mask on an actual face and after that I make the reverse-form of gypsum. I prepare the glue using my recipe and paper strips (wool paper) glued together in reverse-form. That's all. Nothing difficult. After drying, the mask should be polished and coated with a special layer of paint and the final touches are decorating and creating the crown or headdress. I use hand brush-painting (acrylic),3D -painting, mix media textures, glue-painting, decoupage, ribbon embroidery, gilding, silvering, crystal mosaic, lace technique, wet skin technique and macrame.” But even Olga admits there are some techniques she’s going to keep a secret.
Photo by Mill Canyon Photography
Like any artist, Olga’s inspiration comes from what she sees every day. “I draw my inspiration from my life, my experiences, and from the people around me. Today the walls of my house are covered with masks, but they are far from simplistic artistic creations. Each mask has a meaning and represents a real person with mystical characteristics. For example, none of us are perfect and the ‘Mask of Balance’ symbolizes the different aspects of a person’s personality. The main positive and negative sides of a character are depicted in black and white, divided by a central red line. I have more than 200 masks and headdresses all in widely different designs. While some are classic, I’ve also crafted modern masks with LEDs and ones in a Steampunk style.”
While her masks are breathtaking in person, what gets many people hooked on her masks to begin with is her Instagram and photos. When asked how she achieves such rich content, she says it’s a mixture of a designer, the photographer, and the model, blending an idea, a vision, and ultimately the final product.
To get her started, Olga received help from her friends and family, and this help drove her towards success. “I am not afraid of hard work, because I have my family and people who trust in me. I have no right to surrender and betray them. All I need is a firm surface to start our high jump.”