His scary imagination gives a Portland artist a creepy-crawly advantage

Ah, the sounds of Halloween: the idling of car engines as parents wait for their trick-or-treatin' tykes, the tinny laughter of plush vampires with silicon chips in their hearts, the bloop of supermarket scanners ringing up bulk candy.

The country's favorite pagan holiday may engender a riot of noise and color, but Tim Blough, actor and mask maker extraordinaire, works in total silence.

The Southeast Portland resident is one of the most talented mask makers in the country, specializing in horror. His latex Frankensteins, zombies and Star Trek-style, lumpy-headed monsters are bought by collectors, and his skills are sought out by prop departments for movie companies.

As you step through the mess of plastic and clay that fills Blough's studio-garage, along the immaculate kitchen and into the basement, you enter the Clive Barker-like world of Blough's imagination. Rows of fiendish heads sit on shelves, while hideous half-masks rest on a TV set.

Blough, 42, began making masks when he was in high school in Phoenix, Ariz. He starts with a sketch, then spends 20 to 25 hours sculpting. He forms a head in solid clay, then casts a plaster mold into which 'slip' latex is poured. The thin skin of rubber dries in 45 minutes and is pulled out. Finally, he paints the details on with an airbrush.

The detail is amazing, down to the fine wrinkles and warts. If he does a gash, he makes sure bloody muscles and tendons show. Buyers are often impressed with Blough's mouths Ñ instead of just painting teeth on, he molds them individually, often risking difficult molding with his complicated 'undercuts' and 'overhangs.'

Yet the cost can be modest. A custom-made original will run $250 and up, but copies are $60 for a full head or $100 for an outsized head such as his Werewolf.

'I do a half-mask for $29, because I'm competing with Wal-Mart and Kmart, where you can pick up a mask for less than $25. But their stuff is made in China or Mexico, and it's not high quality.'

As adults constantly tell each other, Halloween is not just for kids these days. Half-masks have grown in popularity as adult Halloween balls have become popular. 'People want to be able to eat, drink and smoke in costume,' Blough says.

A walk in the park

The mask maker describes his artistic inspiration as coming from the classic horror flicks of Universal Studios that he saw as a kid, but he also draws upon insects for his ideas.

'I'll go out for a walk with my wife and the dog and see the bark of a tree close up, or a bug, and be inspired,' Blough says. He doesn't bother with anatomical textbooks, however. And he doesn't give his mask names much thought, taking his first impression and running with it.

Blough is a fan of makeup artist Rick Baker ('The Nutty Professor') and of designer Stan Winston, who dreamed up the faces of the monsters in the movies 'Aliens' and 'Predator.'

'But I generally like to stay well away from copying other people's work,' he says.

In his Reaper mask, a green cheekbone protrudes. 'Gore. The distributors want that,' Blough says.

He's not a fan of gore, but when he's had a stand at comic book conventions he's noticed children tend to like it.

'They're also drawn to the teeth and horns; they have to touch,' he says. 'And some women are intrigued, too.'

Multiple talents

Blough makes more of a living from acting and prop work than from the masks. He's appeared in local productions of 'The Tempest' and 'King Lear' and in 'La Chunga' with the Miracle Theater Company. He was technical director as well as mask maker for the Classic Greek Theatre of Oregon's production last month of Aristophanes' 'Birds.'

With all this imaginary work, Blough seems to have done what some people pay psychotherapists a fortune to help them do: He has tamed his unconscious.

He says he doesn't have nightmares and is not easily frightened. When he watches a horror film, he usually finds himself looking to see how it was made rather than worrying about who's going to get splattered next:

'I'm not squeamish when it comes to make-believe, but a car accident Ñ I'm the last person who'll look. Violence, gangs, drive-bys, that's what scares me.'

Blough's work is on display at Georgie's Ceramics & Clay, 756 N.E. Lombard St. A gallery of his creations can be viewed on the Web at:

Contact Joseph Gallivan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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