Miasma, a Steampunk Plague Doctor Mask

It's been several years since I introduced Dr. Beulenpest and Ichabod, my existing steampunk plague doctor masks. I felt it was time to create a third one, which I am calling Miasma. Years ago, people believed that the Black Death was caused by noxious air called Miasma, which came from decaying organic material. Thus the mask Miasma guards against this "bad air".

beullenpest and ichabod
The new Miasma mask

The new Miasma mask

I wanted to create something similar to Dr. Beulenpest and Ichabod, made mostly of veg tan leather with cold cast beak and eyes. I decided to go for a dragon or raptor look to the beak, rather than the pointy bird beak of the earlier two pieces. I began with a lifesize sketch from which to work. I played around with several ideas of how to construct this part, and wasn't happy with them, until I built it as shown in the photos.

beak construction

Once again I molded it and cast another copy. Then I shaped the angled base of the beak, and added some rows of copper balls to accentuate the steampunk look. Again I molded it, and cast it in a lavender color to use in the mask sculpture. To create that I took a lifesize face form and built up Plasticine on top of it, working around the eyepieces and upward to where I attached the resin beak.  

It took quite a bit of shaping and reshaping until I created a profile that I felt worked. Once I was satisfied I sealed the clay with resin, and covered it all with masking tape. I spent some time deciding where to place the seams, which I then marked with a Sharpie.


After a few further adjustments I laser cut the pieces from veg tan leather, and handstitched them together for my first leather prototype. It definitely had some problems which I had to correct. The middle buckles lay right over the ears, so I moved them down and eliminated the fourth and fifth buckles and straps. I also decided that the leather staples holding together the bottom seam wasn't right, and I converted it to being handstitched. The fit around the beak needed some tweaking as well.


I tried several different eyepieces, and wasn't terribly happy about how they were looking. The photo shows some of them constructed in fiberboard and acrylic. Ultimately I elected to go with a cold cast aluminum eyecage (not shown), and for those who want lenses, the hexagonal lens cap shown on the far right.

On the right are four orange Pony clamps, used to wet-form the leather ventilators. The clear acrylic top with the elliptical hole in the center is forcing the red leather around a resin form. Once the leather is dry it will hold its shape, and I can then cut it in half, making a pair of ventilators. The completed ventilator consists of the shaped red leather piece capped off with a cold cast crescent.


Here is the mask all assembled and stained. You can see the domed eyecage, the ventilator with cap, the chin strap, and the 12mm domed rivets running across the top of the mask. The leather mask is finished with a black/brown stain that allows some of the underpainting to show through.

Miasma with plague doctor hat

Miasma with plague doctor hat

Back of Miasma shown over a balaclava

Back of Miasma shown over a balaclava


 I laser cut fiberboard sheets into the different levels, and stacked them and glued them together. I made a silicone rubber mold of that piece (on the far left) and cast it in urethane resin. Next I sanded it, bandsawed it in half to distinguish the top and bottom sections of the beak, and added some found metal bits. I was attempting to achieve just the right balance between animal and machine.


I cut off the masking tape with an Xacto knife along the seam lines, laid each piece out flat and scanned them. Using CorelDraw I cleaned up the lines, and added seam allowances and stitching holes. Then I laser cut the parts in card stock and taped them together. As you can see from the photo I had also cast the beak in cold cast aluminum (the final material) and polished it.


My second prototype--shown here painted black--has the previous changes plus a few other goodies. I attached a chin strap, mostly for looks, but also to add an interior neoprene foam pad for comfort. On both sides of the leather beak I added in leather "ventilators", and I also tried out a large telescopic eyepiece.


The photo on the left shows some of the jigs I built along the way. On the far left with the alligator clip is an airbrushing mask that I vacuum-formed to protect the red color of the ventilator while the purple undercoat is being painted.

To the left are the mask pieces before they are stained and assembled. At the bottom are the two ventilator pieces. Leaning against the mask is the cold cast domed eyecage. At the bottom left are the two black neoprene foam pads that go inside the mask.


To put  a lens under the domed eyecage would be impractical because it would be difficult to clean, so I am also offering Miasma with a flat gray lens with the hexagonal lens cap. We can also make these with either red or clear lenses. The gray or red lenses hide the wearer the best. The eyecage allows for maximum air exchange.

Miasma with leather hood

Miasma with leather hood