The blueprint of... Tsuru

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By Myana
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The blueprint of... is an article serie where we’re taking a closer look on an Artisan Crafts deviation and how it's made.

Today we are dissecting Tsuru by merimask

Tsuru by merimask Tsuru by merimask Tsuru by merimask

First off, please introduce yourself?

My name is Andrea Masse-Tognetti. I'm a 43 year old professional artist living in Western New York.

Please explain what we are viewing.

This is a leather mask I call "Tsuru" (which means "crane" in Japanese). It was an experimental mask; I was trying to depict a scene rather than an animal or just some design. I chose two cranes flying in the clouds over Fujiyama and a rising sun as my "scene" and I did them in the style of Ukiyo-e woodcut print art, circa 1700's, whith stylized clouds and a sepia overtone to the color scheme.

Can you describe for a layman how it’s made?

All my masks are made from rather thick leather, usually one piece. I carve the leather by hand with no stamps, molds or forms, then shape by hand using nothing more than heat and water. When the mask hardens it's painted with colorfast acylics and sealed for durability. All my pieces are wearable art.

Tsuru by merimask Tsuru by merimask Tsuru by merimask

What tools did you use?

My tools are pretty basic; I have a swivel knife for carving and some bevelers, to press the leather in different ways (in leather carving, it's sort of like wood carving except you flatten what you don't want to use rather than cut it away. That's how you get a 3-D effect). All of the shaping is done with just my two hands...leather is like clay when it's wet so it's a great sculpting medium. You can find a picture here of my tiny workspace:…

What was your inspiration in creating this?

Oh, this was a very special mask. There's an interesting story behind it. The short version is just this; I was very sick last year, in & out of the hospital. I was feeling sorry for myself when an online friend showed me a clip of a Japanese TV obstacle course show called "Sasuke" (it's on G4TV here in America, called "Ninja Warrior"). This non-professional athlete, no different from you or me, did this amazing obstacle course that no one else could complete (not even olympic athletes) and did it with a smile on his face. It did something to me; the very next day I started riding my bike again and by the middle of summer I was up to 40 miles a day! I wanted to thank the people who inspired me, so I sent gifts of my art to these people in Japan. This mask, Tsuru, was for the producer of the Sasuke TV show. I chose cranes because in Japan, cranes are the symbol of healing and Sasuke had helped me to heal and get strong.

When the producer heard my story and saw this mask, he was SO moved that he invited me to attend the filming of Sasuke! Last September I got to meet all my heroes in was a truly magical thing. Pictures & the whole story can be seen here:…

How long time did it take you to make this?

This mask took really, no more than five hours to make. I've been making masks for about 16 years now, and the design fell out of my head pretty much complete.

Tsuru by merimask Tsuru by merimask Tsuru by merimask

Did you run into anything unexpected while creating?

The only problem I had with the design; Mt Fuji sort of canted sideways in the shaping process. In the flattened mask it was perfectly level but it was twisted during shaping. In retrospect I should have anticipated that...

Are you happy with the result?

Aside from Fuji being a little off balance, I'm crazy about this piece. The strong slash of motion created by the wings of the birds travels nicely from top right to bottom left and draws your eye from Fuji to the sun. The accent of the bright gold sun adds to the dept & texture, and the symbolism is unexpectedly perfect (since the gift of this mask led to my brother and I flying to Japan, the way these two cranes are flying to Japan!).

Where have you learnt your skills in this area?

I'm entirely self-taught, but I come by my artistic skill genetically. My father was a professional artist and my brother is as well (you can see his work at He has a DevArt site!). I fought my nature, even went to college for something unrelated (archeology) but even so I ended up being the one who illustrated the artifacts found and when I graduated I simply found myself making art anyway

Tsuru by merimask Tsuru by merimask Tsuru by merimask

Do you take your own photos? Any tips you want to share for presenting your work?

I do indeed take my own pictures. Outside lighting is best (especially on a cloudy day or in the shade). I try to use a neutral background, usually (the concrete of a sidewalk is wonderful!)

What is the best tip you can give to others wanting to test this craft/material/technique?

I ruined a lot of leather teaching myself this process. I'd say; experiment and don't be afraid to ruin a lot of leather. My work is unique because this wasn't a process I learned from a book or a class. When you learn on your own, you are free to develop your own style...something every artist struggles to find.

Are you selling your work?

I sure am! You can visit my online Etsy shop at

More photos of Tsuru:… and…

Fire Dragon Mask by merimask Dragon of Strength + Gratitude by merimask Frost Dragon by merimask Blue Dragon Mask by merimask Haku Mask by merimask Red and Gold Dragon Mask by merimask Asian Dragon by merimask Ginkgo Fox Mask, version two by merimask

Thank you merimask for participating and taking the time to answer my question!


I'd love to recive suggestions for next "victim" to interview! Note me with a link to the deviation you'd like to know more about and I'll contact the deviant.

Also, let me know if there are any questions you are missing in this type of interview!

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FeltAlive's avatar
Incredible! What a great interview and an amazing artist. I am intrigued at leather as a sculpting medium. Off to explore the links!
Goldenwolf18's avatar
awesome :D she is an amazing artist!
kezbabybabe's avatar
Wow, what a stunning mask and the story behind was fantastic!
DAnnsCreations's avatar
:wow: That is an amazing technique, thank-you for showing us her art... dashing off to check the rest of her gallery :glomp: :w00t!::iconw00tsplz:
snowmask's avatar
My goodness that's astounding.
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