INTERVIEW WITH AN ARTIST: Jay Stead on Recreating Iconic Movie Props and His Obsession With All Things Horror

Having a little movie magic you can keep for yourself is the kind of thing almost all movie fans aspire to. Although a lot of people turn to simple posters and sculptures, for many dedicated people the most cherished part of a collection is a movie accurate replica of their favourite props.

Jay Stead launched Maniac Masks as a passion project to create the kind of replicas that really do justice to his favourite films. Although he has recently branched out into original designs and other horror props, Jay’s specialty is hockey masks inspired by the iconic movie villain Jason from the Friday the 13th franchise. He takes painstaking care to make some truly stunning masks and the effort he puts in is clear in every single piece.

We spoke to Jay to learn more about the pure love that inspired him to dedicate his life to creating such brilliant recreations of iconic horror history.

Kirstie: How did you get into hand crafting horror masks?

Jay: I got into the horror genre very early on in life, mainly because I loved the special effects and the fact that anything is possible in horror movies. This makes it an incredibly exciting and diverse subject matter. This love for all things scary materialised into drawings, craft, photos and ultimately the masks that have become my now full time career.

I started to experiment at first with cheap blanks to gauge my skill at recreating these screen-used masks. I continued to do so until I was 100% satisfied with the quality and accuracy, which was very tough considering there are twelve completely different hockey masks that Jason wears during his reign of terror all different sizes, shapes, colours and strap set ups.

As soon as I was totally satisfied with each finished mask, I decided it was time to begin sculpting molds and vacuum forming my own screen accurate blanks. I use my creative side to inject my own unique vision into the paintwork so as to use all the hallmark scuffs, chevron placement and weathering, but put my own twist into each one. I like to make them all ooze detail and menace, which I’ve become so well known for in this business, hence Maniac Masks by jaystead79 was born.

Kirstie: What are your favourite materials to work with when you create?

Jay: My favourite materials to use for my hockey masks are as follows:

1: 2mm-3mm high impact (petg) polyethylene terephylene plastic for the hockey mask blanks due to its superb durable quality. It’s what many of the screen-used masks were made from.

3: 100% genuine black and tan soft Italian cowhide leather, 3mm thick, with antique and rapid rivets.

4: Inch-wide premium quality sporting elastic with quick release aluminium snap studs.

5: Humbrol enamel and Acrylic paints and humbrol clear coat, primer and washes, plus base coat rustoleum spray paints. Also red acetate plastic sheet for the iconic chevrons on various masks.

Materials for machetes and Freddy Kruger razor glove replicas are as follows:

1: Solid brass sheet, copper pipe for fingerstalls and replica laser cut steel p210 vintage tomato knives for blades, plus an original pig skin Wells Lamont drivers glove with ball and taper make these Freddy gloves look like they just walked off a movie set. Much research was done to achieve the look and feel of the real thing.

2: Aircraft grade aluminium for machete blades, brass dowel rod for handle fixtures and solid pine for the two piece hand carved handle for screen accurate precision.

Kirstie: What drew you to the horror genre?

Jay: I was a fan of horror ever since I saw my first scary movie, which was the awesome John Carpenter classic The Thing. This movie is 100% prop and practical effects, driven with some of the best puppetry and visual effects I’ve ever seen. Still to this day, it fascinates me. It went on from there.

I began to collect horror movies and soon became a human encyclopaedia on all things horror, even learning the lines off by heart. It’s been that way ever since, only now I’m the one making the masks from my favourite movies. My passion has materialised into works of art that now exist all over the world. I am truly honoured to be able to say my dreams finally came true.

Kirstie: What is your favourite horror film? Why?

Jay: My favourite horror film is a very tough question. There are a few which are, all in their own way, nothing short of pure brilliance. But if I have to narrow it down, it’s going to be Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. It’s got it all. A great cast, humour, tension, gore, a great sound track and the best Jason, hands down, with some fantastic kills and my favourite hockey mask of the series. Part VII‘s mask is my second favourite.

Kirstie: Who is your favourite horror villain? Why?

Jay: My favourite Jason is CJ Graham’s performance in be Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. I love how he looked. He takes out a group of paintballers and kits himself out with jungle machete (one of the machetes I replicate and sell), a utility belt, which has a sheath, a hunting knife and a set of throwing darts, which makes him the most tooled up, ultimate Jason in my eyes.

I particularly love the hockey mask. Its origin is unknown as it is thrown into Jason’s coffin when Tommy Jarvis attempts to send Jason straight to Hell where he belongs. But its simplistic single chevron and unique colour and shape and tan straps with leather patch that just generate a cold merciless feel add a machine like edge to Jason, which is really excellent.

Kirstie: What is your favourite incarnation of Jason? Why?

Jay: I have been branching out recently to try to expand the choice of masks available in my shop to try to grow my business and show that my skills don’t end with hockey masks. These include masks that are also made with the same process vacuum forming, such as the You’re Next fox, sheep and tiger masks and The Purge: Anarchy GOD mask and (coming soon) the Brandon James MTV series Scream mask. Hopefully, I’ll also do a Hannibal Lecter anti-bite mask, which are all iconic and excellent exciting pieces to bring to life. I give all of my masks a Maniac Masks makeover, so for more new products, watch this space!

Kirstie: What made you want to create masks inspired by other characters?

Jay: After researching the market for prop replicas such as machetes, Freddy gloves and Chucky voodoo knives, I decided to try and make some of these using aluminium and other high end materials. I want to be able to offer a realistic, screen-accurate alternative to these cheap and totally unrealistic versions I’ve seen being offered. I’m so glad I did as it’s brought a new fan base to my shop. I’ve been told over and over again how they are so happy to finally have an almost identical replica of their favourite slasher’s weapon of choice to display in their collection. I’ve even had requests for other props and this has had a positive impact on my business, creating many repeat buyers. I’m sure I’ll continue to try to create even more in 2018 – starting with the Book of the Dead from Evil Dead.

Kirstie: Do you have any plans for even more TV and movie inspired pieces?

Jay: I plan on making a complete range of the various gloves worn by Freddy Kruger in the Elm Street series. I’ve found that, like Jason, Freddy has a huge following and there’s a huge market out there for high quality glove replicas. I also plan to offer a range of Michael Myers butcher knives for the die hard collectors of the Halloween franchise, as I’ve been regularly asked for these. I have some extremely out there customised hockey masks in the works too. I have already produced a Pinhead Hellraiser style hockey mask and, more recently, a Pennywise IT hockey mask which has proved very successful.

Kirstie: What is your favourite mask you’ve ever made?

Jay: My favourite mask to make has to be the Part VIII. I really enjoy the weathering process that’s involved making this mask, the gradual build-up of grime and the strap making, as I find leather craft very relaxing. There’s something so satisfying about putting the straps onto the mask and seeing the finished product and uploading images of the latest creation to Instagram to gauge reaction from my fantastic group of supportive followers and fellow artists.

Kirstie: How do you create such realistically detailed weathering on your masks?

Jay: The weathering is done in a whole manner of ways from iron oxide to engraving tools to mixed acrylics to humbrol washes, often built up layer upon layer. I use sponges to dab the paint into place as brushes leave brush strokes and even sometimes use my finger. There are so many tricks I use. I’ve gained much knowledge of what colours to mix and how to apply it to create the illusion that the mask is rusting or pitted from water damage. It’s the most important part of what sets my masks apart, so I tend not to disclose exactly how I achieve these finishes it takes hours of experimenting. But it’s the most enjoyable part for me.

Kirstie: How did you go from a passionate hobbyist to full time creator?

Jay: I was previously a head chef and practicing my painting skills on cheap blanks in my spare time. I decided I wanted more from life to own my own business and be a successful artist in the horror world, so handed in my notice and invested everything I had into creating a workshop and building a vacuum former and kitting the studio out with all the tools and paint and plastic I’d need to make this work. I sculpted my molds and practiced warming the plastic and getting the timing perfect to pull off the petg blanks, which was extremely hard in itself. Finally I was ready to go. I also started supplying with masks to which often showcase at various horror conventions around the country which has led to Maniac Masks reaching an even broader audience.

Kirstie: What do you think the future of handmade props in film and TV will be like?

Jay: I think that there are too many movies these days solely relying on CGI to save the day. I really miss the practical special effects like we remember from Tom Savini and Stan Lee, these were what made the 80’s great and mostly why if you ask anyone over 30 what their favourite era for horror was they say 80’s. I have noticed a few movies of late that have gone back to basics and used more props and animatronics, like Star Wars for instance. The last two movies were a massive improvement on those awful episodes One, Two and Three due to more prop building and less computer generated images. Watching special features of how a movie is made and seeing nothing but green boards and actors playing make believe is sad. Bring back animatronics and costumes. To me, that’s the magic of movies.

Kirstie: Why did you choose Etsy to showcase and sell your creations?

Jay: I decided to sell via Etsy as it’s the go to place for unique handmade products. Artists and creative people can showcase their work and take advantage of some of the excellent tools available to them from competitive prices on fees and listings to marketing tutorials and a helpful community to ask advice, but also a fantastic dashboard setup where you can gauge where your customer traffic is coming from and where you can improve.

I find the easy to use features extremely helpful. The graphs that show sales profits and which products get the most views, tutorials on how to market your business, it’s all there. It’s a way of having a shop that you can mould into your own, create a name for and ultimately turn into a success. I can’t rate Etsy highly enough.

Kirstie: Do you have any advice for budding creative entrepreneurs?

Jay: If I can give anyone who is thinking of starting a business any advice, it would be research your market. Make sure it’s something that is going to be profitable. But most importantly, enjoyable.

If you love it, other people will love it. Your passion will shine through and your customers will be as excited about what you do as you are. Build a group of like-minded people around you. Learn everything you can. Knowledge is power, so know your product, believe in your product and never give up. I have “I will succeed, never give up” in big letters on my workshop door and it reminds me that failure is not an option.

Customer service is paramount. Build customer relationships based on trust and you are half way there. One happy customer can turn into ten when word spreads that you provide quality goods fast and can be trusted to deliver. Lastly, marketing is key. Use every social media you can to propel yourself into the market and you can’t go wrong. I hope this helps.

We’d like to offer Jay a huge thank you for taking the time to talk to us! If you want to snag one of his awesome masks for yourself, you can find them on his Etsy shop. You can also keep up with his new projects by following him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Don’t forget to check out Vampire Squid’s own Etsy gift guide featuring Maniac Masks!


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