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Archive for making puppets

Evolution of an idea

Come with us on a visual journey, watching a new show grow from a seed.


The first step is Chuck Norris, the Dort’s pet bunny from Owl In Spotlight. This photo is Chuck in both his forms, big and small. Friends of ours came with their 2 year old daughter to see the show, and she was transfixed by Chuck. At one point in the show when he disappeared off stage, she said “Bye Rabbit!” and once she got home, she spent the next week carrying around a small toy rabbit that she was given at birth but had ignored since then. Clearly she was taken by Chuck. So I decided to knit her a Chuck Norris for Christmas. Then only problem was that neither Chucks had legs and I wanted the toy I knitted to have legs. So I asked people who had seen the show what they imagined Chuck’s legs to look like. The little girl’s father said that he’d envisioned them as long and paisley.

So that’s what I knitted.

When she grows up, I’ll explain to her that this was her dad’s fault.

We were gazing upon the finished paisley Chuck Norris and it occurred to us that it looked like he had bird legs. So I knitted another one, with super long legs in a good birdy orangey-yellow

His name is Aaron.

I had been knitting octopuses for friends and decided that since Aaron was a birdbunny, that I wanted to knit a guy with octopus tentacles and something else on top. Rob suggested a yak. So I knitted a yaktopus.
This is Steven.

By this stage, we had the idea for the new show titled Things That Shouldn’t Be. There are two more main characters, Tom the Penguphant, created while working with children at the zoo and almost finished (he just needs little penguin feet and he’ll be done) and Elise, the monkeyfish, based on the idea of the FeeGee mermaid. which I’ve knitted a prototype but we want the tail to be longer and more eel like for the finished guy.

So that’s the story. From puppet to present to weird idea that makes us smile to show.

S

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A little bit about painting foam

(This comes from the post 15 years of glue, but it’s a useful and interesting little bit that I thought should have it’s own post)

Foam is a weird and thirsty subject. It’s impossible to paint in a normal manner, the foam, being a sponge, sucks up all the paint and you’re left with very very little on the surface. Dreadfully frustrating. If you’re looking to paint foam, go for the spray can approach. That covers the surface with your chosen colour and doesn’t give enough to soak in and disappear. Do test a patch first to ensure that the paint has no chemicals that will dissolve or pockmark the foam. You can also use an airbrush successfully, if you have an airbrush and can use it successfully. Use a mix of ink and water and you’ll be laughing. No need to buy expensive fabric paint! (Oh, if only someone would have told me that when I first started!) If you do find you need to paint your puppet with regular paint, use acrylic paint and mix it with latex. You can get this in craft stores. It’s usually pink or yellowy and dries to a weird transluncent orangey colour. It’s very flexible when dry and lends that flexibility to the paint you mix it with so that the paint doesnt crack and flake off with the movement of the foam.

Thus endith this painting foam moment.

S

15 years of glue

I was talking to Puppets in Melbourne‘s Naomi the other day via our twitter (come along, join the fun!) and we got to discussing types of glue we use and prefer. And although it was informative in tiny 140 character chunks, I figured I should expand and share my 15 years of gluing experience to others in the puppet building way…

We make puppets in any number of ways, we’re not a one puppet type company. We’ve made finger puppets, hand puppets, hand and rod muppet type puppets, shadow puppets, toys as puppets, bunraku type table top puppets, marottes, marionettes and other, random types of guys that don’t really fit into any one puppet type but did what we needed them to do and we were ok with that. And the point of this long and badly grammarised list is that we make lots of different types of puppets out of lots of different types of materials and different glue is needed for different things. So here is a list of glue types, what they’re for, how they dry and what you could use them for.

CONTACT ADHESIVE We use this a lot. A very lot. Contact adhesive is for foam, cardboard and can be used for metal rods as well. IF you’re making a hand and rod puppet out of foam, this is the glue for you. We use a gel formula, which means that it’s non drip, which is really handy for all the odd and weird angles you’ll end up gluing when building your puppet. Although it’s perfect for foam it can bleed through thinner materials (like thin felt you might be using to skin the puppet) so be wary of that. Test it first if you’re worried on a scrap. It’s usually a yellowy colour and will dry that way, so be careful in the application so you can’t see it in the final product, however it is wonderfully flexible, which keeps it adhering to your foam no matter what bizarre shapes it gets bent into over it’s lifetime. It has a strong smell and it’s best to use outdoors or in a well ventilated area. These types of glue can be toxic, so read the warnings and actually heed them. Damn useful glue, lets hope in 30 years time it doesn’t turn out to be this generation’s asbestos or something.

HOT GLUE GUN This is our other staple. It’s much more versatile than the contact adhesive, you can use this pretty much for anything. Cloth, foam, paper, cardboard, metal rods, this glue does it all. However, it’s not all positive. It dries opaque white, so again try very very hard not to have it leak out to the top of your final product. It also dries in a less flexible wodge (depending on how much you put on) so it can break away from whatever you’ve glued if you’re a bit unlucky. The thicker wodge also will show up under paper, so avoid using it for gluing paper to card for sets or standies and you’ll probably see it under most materials too. It will soak through thinner materials, so it’ll look like a permanent damp patch. Bad for faces and hands. Always test it out first on a scrap to see what it’ll do. This little tip goes for any kind of gluing. It’s also hot when it squirts out of the gun. Very very hot. You will get burned by it at some stage. That’s a given. Be prepared, if you get yourself a good one, it’s gunna hurt like a massive burn. Which is what it will be. But it’ll probably leave a great blister you can gross your friends out with.

SPRAY ADHESIVE this is an awesome glue, but for very specific purposes. It holds paper to cardboard like a dream. For months. No lumps, no problems. It might start lifting after a while though, it’s not a permanent solution. But then, what is? It also holds material to cardboard for a short time, which is perfect for hand and rod puppet mouths to position the material in the right place without any wrinkles before hot gluing or contact adhesive-ing it underneath.

These three are the most useful glue for making puppets. But there are always a bunch more.

Super Glue (thanks to Naomi’s comment below for reminding me!) it a super strength grippy glue. But it has it’s downsides. Again, it dries white rather than clear, so it’s best to keep it away from visible places in the finished puppet. It also dries hard and pretty damn inflexible. In one of my puppet-making books it suggests to use superglue for seams when making puppet clothing, but I can’t see how that would be a good thing owing to superglue’s tendency to soak into fabric and turn white, plus it’s inflexibility when dry wont lend itself to clothing moving properly. It doesn’t glue everything to everything, no matter what the makers claim, and remember it was invented for medics in the battlefield, so it’s super awesomely good at gluing skin together. Keep your fingers clear! I know of a girl who once superglued herself to her car. Dreadfully embarrassing for all concerned.

PVA glue was created as a wood glue. As such it glues wood like a dream. As long as you dream of gluing wood I suppose. It’s also the glue you reach for if you’re making or repairing books. Which works as paper is just wood further down the manufacturing line. It’s super useful for paper mache, which is one traditional way of making puppets and most people have done it during primary school. It dries clear and sort of flexible, more flexible than hot glue, but it doesn’t hold as well to weird things like foam.

Foam (she says, diverting off topic for a moment) is a weird and thirsty subject. It’s impossible to paint in a normal manner, the foam, being a sponge, sucks up all the paint and you’re left with very very little on the surface. Dreadfully frustrating. If you’re looking to paint foam, go for the spray can approach. That covers the surface with your chosen colour and doesn’t give enough to soak in and disappear. Do test a patch first to ensure that the paint has no chemicals that will dissolve or pockmark the foam. You can also use an airbrush successfully, if you have an airbrush and can use it successfully. Use a mix of ink and water and you’ll be laughing. No need to buy expensive fabric paint! (Oh, if only someone would have told me that when I first started!) If you do find you need to paint your puppet with regular paint, use acrylic paint and mix it with latex. You can get this in craft stores. It’s usually pink or yellowy and dries to a weird transluncent orangey colour. It’s very flexible when dry and lends that flexibility to the paint you mix it with so that the paint doesnt crack and flake off with the movement of the foam.

Back to glue.

If you have hot glue, contact adhesive and spray glue, you’re pretty set for puppet making. Occasionally we use Araldite for set things, but with it’s total non-flexibility I wouldn’t use it to make puppets with. The only other type of glue we use for puppets is a CRAFT GLUE I bought at a fabric store. It’s perfect for glueing fabric to other things (cardboard, wood ect) and thus makes set-making pretty simple. It dries clear and with no thick wodge, so it works under thin things like material and paper and it’s nice and simple to use. I’d still test it on materials first because it can soak through thinner materials and again look like a wet patch even when dried.

So that’s your glue round up for the moment. Feel free to add others that I might have forgotten or don’t know about.

Good night and good luck.

S

Hand puppets




Monster Puppet

Originally uploaded by Jaz Harold

So I’ve gotten to a point in the making of Owl In Spotlight that I need to make a couple of hand puppets. We’ve got a number of finger puppets in the style of the guys I’ve been making for Dave’s Vlogs (you can see them at our flickr page here) and now I’m onto the hand puppets.

But I’ve got a problem. Although I like the idea of the hand puppets to tower over the finger puppets, I’m not a fan of the way conventional finger puppets bunch across their bellies when you put their hands together. I’m also not a fan of the “hands up!” look that most hand puppets have, which stems from the placement of fingers on the human hand., Damn evolution.

So I went to have a look on Flickr for other ways to do the ol’ handpuppet idea.

After wading through quite a number of not-great puppets and a couple that were awesome but not right for this project, I came across this guy, which is sort of a mix between a conventional hand puppet and the hand and rod puppets that I’ve built in the past. It’s a simple and beautiful way to make a puppet, although it does require two hands, unlike the conventional hand puppet which only needs one. Because the show is big and we only have two puppeteers, how many hands each puppet takes is certainly needs to be take into account.

THe other type I found which I haven’t seen before is this one




Squirrel Hand Puppet

Originally uploaded by Handmade Goodies

The pointer finger holds up the head, the thumb and third finger are the arms but in an intriguing twist, the ring and pinky arn’t hidden but left on display. A little odd but kinda elegant, the puppet isn’t all lumpy to accommodate the hidden fingers. Not sure how this kind of puppet looks while being performed, but certainly a different idea for creating a hand puppet.




Eco-Friendly Handcrafted Hand Puppet

Originally uploaded by Uptown Puppets

There was also this guy, who is a little Muppet like for my tastes but a great design. It’s basically the monster puppet above but without the rods to use the arms. So the arms’d just dangle there, unless manipulated by the puppeteer’s other hand, which I worry would look a little clunky due to the size difference in the skinny arm and the puppeteer’s hand, plus it goes back to my original problem of the puppet being then a two handed puppet to manipulate rather than a single hander.

So I’m not sure any of those have solved my problem, but it’s always good to go outside and see what other people are doing and how they solve the problems we all encounter…

S

When limbo goes horribly wrong…

This is one of the newer guys. It’s not aimed for any show at the moment, we’ve got the two shows this year to create puppets for, and they’re both bowling along nicely, but occasionally there is time for other guys too.

I was watching a woman I know the other day, she’s tall and impossibly thin, she’s older, so her skin is textured with wrinkles and it seems paper thin. She’s pale, but wears a lot of black which just throws into greater relief just how pale she is. She seems delicate and fragile, but there’s this hardness underneath that’s fascinating. As I watched her, it occurred to me that she’d make an incredible puppet, or more correctly, she makes an awesome base for a puppet design.

So I went home and started on it. This puppet, which has neither name nor gender at the moment (although I’m wondering if it wont turn out male) was created from kebab sticks (for bones), nylon twine (for joints) and masking tape (for body form). It has hands and fingers but no feet at the moment, I expect I’ll make it feet further along in the process.

I wanted to be able to emulate the skin texture of the woman that inspired this puppet, so I bought some crepe paper. Oh, crepe paper, dreaded craft material of many childhoods! It doesn’t tear neatly, instead it stretches out badly before ripping untidily. When ever it was wet, glued or any kind of damp, the dye ran horribly and not only made it look terribly patchy like bad tie dye but also stained fingers, clothing and any faces that got too close. Disappointing, horrible crepe paper! . Yet still, everything has it’s uses, and I’m SO proud that I’ve finally found crepe paper’s. It’s make an incredible skin texture for this puppet. I can’t wait to continue on it!

And staring at this puppet, tangled in the PVA glue container as it was (drying, you understand. If you cover the whole of a round thing in glue, you then have to figure out a way to let it dry without touching anything, otherwise it’ll stick to whatever it’s resting on. Hence it’s carefully balanced on the PVA container) and I was looking at it, and it occurred to me one of the reasons I love making puppets. It’s such a magical, wonderful world. Not only can anything exist in the puppet world, but you can make anything you can imagine without it not fitting into the world.

In the puppet universe, all of the usual rules are suspended.  The laws of gravity and relativity, physics and science are warped and molded to fit imagination and fantasy. Anything you can imagine can be created and live and breathe in this world. There are no limits. Huge creatures, needing three or more people to move, can exist in the same space as tiny delicate little guys no bigger than your finger. The possibilities are endless in the puppet world. And that’s beautiful. Beauty is endless in the puppet world (but then I’m biased 🙂 “Theatre of the impossible” is the title of one of the books on the history of Australian puppetry (by Maeve Vella and Helen Rickards) the phrase comes from someone (and I’ve just for the moment forgotten who) describing puppetry. Theatre of the impossible. There’s no point using puppets for things that human actors can do. Why wouldn’t you get human actors to do that then. Puppets are best utalised when they are doing what comes naturally to puppets, things that humans can’t.

And staring at that half made, impossibly thin puppet caught in the handle of a glue container, musing things impossible for people that puppets can so easily do, it struck me that the world of puppetry is beautiful and unique. Anything I can think of, I can call into being, and anything I can make can live and breathe.And that’s an incredible world to be a part of.

This is how Frankenstein must have felt.

Without all the rotting body parts, grave robbing and crushing guilt, of course.

S

A little bit of history repeating…

So we’ve recently acquired two really good books about the history of puppets and puppet theatre. I love reading up on the history of things. It’s so important to know history, to know where things came from and why they were developed, but it’s also really interesting.

For instance, we have a set of little heads (and how many professions get to say that!) which we have spent quite some time discussing how to make into puppets. We’re heading down the marionette path, but didn’t want to go the whole 8 string complication. So we thought and we figured, we chatted and discussed and didn’t really make any decisions. But early European marionettes from the 17th and 18th centuries provided the answer. They had a single wire attached to their heads and a single long looped string attached to each wrist that went up to the wire. Nice, simple, clever design and that’s how we’re going to wire these guys up.

There’s a phrase I’ve heard a lot in the past 6 months, “Why reinvent the wheel?” and I think it’s a smart idea. Why spend all your time trying to figure out the first steps when a bunch of people have already done all that work for you? I’d rather spend some time researching and then using the knowledge of the past as a launching pad for where I want to go next. History is a goldmine of ideas to be inspired from, to borrow from and to build on.

I love using historical skills and patterns. It connects you to a long tradition and hundreds and/or thousands of people who have lived before you. It neatly slots you into the history and running narrative of the world and it keeps traditions alive for the next generation.

It’s also fascinating to learn more about whatever you’re interested in. For example, Toy Theatre is not, as the name might suggest, bunging some Barbies and Lego on stage. Rather it was a take home set of thin printed card which, when assembled, was a little proscenium arch theatre with flat card sets and actors which allowed people to have the theatre shows of the day in their own home. Like TV, only paper. How beautiful is that? Love the take home theatre idea!

Some of the old puppets are also really inspiring. I found images of puppets that transform. Some are acrobats, who have multiple heads pop out of their hats and bodies, and some change totally, like an opera singer in a massive dress that flips totally upside down to become a hot air balloon. I love that idea, that they totally change from one thing to another. So I’ve found another type of puppet I want to create.

All from reading history books.

I love a good bit o’ history. And a nice cuppa, of course…

S

huh

Only two shows left of the two week run.

And during our first week, what we were doing but planning the next one. Sheesh. But I think it’s gunna be interesting.

So I’m currently embarking on what you could call a pre-project, creating one of every type of puppet we can think of, to learn how they move and figure out what kind of stories they’d be most useful for. Plus, we’re using only what we have around the house, which is fun and cheap.

Bunraku type puppet out of toilet rolls, check.
Rod puppet out of dowel, felt and an old pillow case, check.

We’ve got a number of foam mouth puppets and finger puppets kicking around, so next is a simple hand puppet I think. Weirdly enough I’m not sure I’ve ever created what surely must be one of the most common puppets to make before. To make it interesting, I’ll make a paper mache head for it, something else I’ve never done.

Love it!

S

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