Tom Banwell is a self-taught man of many talents. He’s a leatherworker, a caster/sculptor, and a tireless inventor of a vast selection of imaginative facemasks, many of which have been featured in films, television, and major magazines.
His most complex and extraordinary works are his “steampunk” gas masks, but he’s also known for his delicate, laser-cut leather party masks and other uniquely shaped costume masks. Just to keep things interesting, he also makes rayguns.
His fantastic blog is a must-read for any costume designer or lover of steampunk. It’s filled with well-written, step-by-step explanations and interesting tips and tricks. (Be sure to search for “A Steamier Raygun Holster,” “Elevated Shoes,” and “Modifying a Straw Hat.”)
When asked why he gravitated to gas masks, Banwell says, “A gas mask, though functional, dramatically alters the appearance of the wearer. This can be perceived by the viewer as terrifying — as one resembles a monster — or humorous — as one becomes a silly clown.”
Banwell manages to combine these two feelings to create unforgettable masks that embody both fear and curiosity. The formal, antiqued leatherwork feels classic and foreboding, but he says the form of the masks — which can resemble a rhinoceros or an elephant — is “pure fantasy.”
Banwell is constantly looking at the world around him and re-creating it in the most mad and pleasing manner possible. Looking through his fan photos, it’s clear that when seemingly ordinary people don his masks, they unleash the more fantastic selves that lay dormant.