Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

watch overshare: the links.net story contact me

Fast and Cheap Diablada Owl

How I came to build a Horned Owl Headdress for Halloween

George my stepfather died, after 23 years of marriage. A few months later my mother took respite in Paris for a few weeks. I went to stay with her for a week, to walk the city, to shop and cook a few meals together, to visit museums. The Musee de quai Branly has an exterior completely covered in plants and an interior completely packed with the art and treasure of what you might call the orient and the tropics, if you were making a museum of foreign culture in 20th century Europe. I love masks in particular and I take pictures of the masks I want to remember and study for emulation.

There were splendid masks on display. Some included embedded human teeth - edgy! One series of costumes was completely arresting: giant wide heads, with huge swirled round eyes staring out from under horns - no human in sight. Standing next to one of these things was powerful, eerie - something about the size and placement of the eyes.

I took this picture of the hot Diablada mask action:

Diablada Mask @ Musee de quai Branly

We had a Halloween push coming up at the office - encouraging people to dress up - I needed something. I didn't have a clever concept, but I wanted to make something I could wear on my head. Last year I wore a macrame elephant face with a grey jalabaya over it, which completely masked my identity. Hiding your identity during human interaction is socially provocative; wearing something absurd defuses what can otherwise be a tense situation. I figured elements of the diablada could be both unsettling and amusing.

The combination of horns and large side-sitting eyes seemed ripe for adaptation, combined with a beak-like center to cover my face. I had been visually tooling with an owl face a few months earlier in my notebook. I've become interested in the idea that you could easily start a religion based on worshipping plastic owls - they're already widely installed in varied public spaces.

So, a horned owl head-dress!

fast and cheap horned diablada owl

I went to a mask-making workshop at a nearby art store Flax. Manager Max Repka showed a group of parents and kids and me how to glue use papier mache, plaster of paris, foam, and felt, to make unicorns, raccoons, lions and spider man. Most inspiring for me, he used basic cardboard to fashion the infrastructure of the piece. I immediately remembered what a flexible building material, inexpensive is (a lesson forgotten since childhood). And cardboard combined with a hot glue gun? you could experiment with form quickly.

Mask Making with Max Repka

I searched for "cardboard helmet" and came across this page on cosplay.com with links to useful pencil sketches of the process described in this forum post: one two and three.

Using that tutorial, I fashioned an amazon delivery box into a basic helmet structure, with slots on the side for horns or antlers:

"could this be interesting without any more effort?"

Borrowing technique from Max at Flax, I flexed Amazon delivery box cardboard repeatedly until it bent easily. Then I hot-glued it tightly into a sort of rod. I made one rod fit around another rod, so I could insert or remove different shaped antler designs. That was a fast-and-dirty way to get antlers, but they were very straight. Surved antlers seems more evocative some day!

workspace and basic helmet architecture

Hotglued the antlers onto my basic 4 strip cardboard mask. Hotglue hotglue!! Trying things on, making a mark where I wanted the pieces joined, then hotgluing-cardboard-to-fit-my-head. Fun fast cardboard costume-making!

I visited the fantastic SCRAP - "Scroungers' Center for Reusable Art Parts" - woo hoo! $3 for five colors of felt, 2 plastic balls. Painted these plastic balls white and black, applied some felt over my head, and I had a basic owl:

getting close to final construction

This was enough to give it some bit of personality, even on its own:

horned owl on the counter

So I wanted to give it a chance to stand out without distracting from the mask with my face. On the Diablada masks, the wearer doesn't look through the eyes - they're hidden inside. I used a niqab and burqa from AlHannah Islamic Clothier to fast forward myself to that approach:

halloween @ ngmoco:)
Two people at ngmoco:) my workplace decided to dress up as me for Halloween, so I'm actually the horned owl on the left here :-)

Everything is temporary - in life, and in this mask. The eyes are hung over the cardboard with string or tape and held in place with velcro. The felt stays on the cardboard with velcro. I can actually turn the eyes around, and move the felt, and the predator (owl) mask becomes prey (a beetle). Making that work back and forth between predator and prey as a switchable mask would be fun!

But I took this mask and burqa/niqab setup out on the dancefloor and I danced until I sweat and my eyeballs fell off and this is not a great costume for unstoppable booty-shaking. So I actually ended up spending the rest of 2011 dressed as "Daisy Dude" wearing cut off jean shorts and a button-down shirt knotted at my midsection. Hah!

Rave un2 the light fantastique!!


  • 2 small delivery boxes
  • 2 colors of felt
  • 2 plastic balls
  • $8 glue gun
  • Velcro
  • White tape
  • string
  • White and black acrylic paint, paintbrush
Making the mask was fun, playing with the materials, rapid iteration. The eyeballs had such high impact, it gave me a taste of the Diablada I was looking for. I ended up looking more like a cheap muppet than a true devil, which was probably a good thing since I was hidden behind a burqa and that can freak out my fellow Americans.

burka with owl headdress

justin's links by justin hall: contact