Whisker’s First Winter – The Puppet Build
Here are a couple of videos detailing how we built the puppets for Whisker’s First Winter!
Seaside Terror sculpting and casting
I am so excited about making for Seaside Terror. The details I have included here are brief so do get in touch with me if I can help you in more detail!
All small puppet heads are sculpted in clay and cast in a one part mould, then filled with latex. Sculpts are inspired by a collection of images based on the personality traits and emotions portrayed by each character.
The larger puppet head is a two part mould. I use metal sheeting for a clear cut. I then fill the latex head with foam in order to secure the hand for lip-syncing her.
Once the latex mould is dry, I stick them like masks onto wooden balls carved by Reb. I carefully cut small pieces of material and shape them around the face, creating interesting lines and textures. I play with horsehair to sculpt a style for each character and I buy nice eyes instead of making them myself.
The large puppet body takes me the longest amount of time. First I draw her out on a large piece of paper to get an idea of her size. I then use plastic piping to create a skeleton. I shape pieces of foam around each section of limb, ensuring that the puppets movement still works well. She looks a bit like the mitchillin man! I then wrap material neatly around her body and create a bikini for her! Her hands and feet start with a wire armature which I then shape foam and material around.
To make the mask I use Alignite to cast my own face. I sculpt the features on this so that they line up. I then cast into Latex, line the inside with renoflex to firm it up and foam for comfort. Material is cut and stuck into the front to key in with the other puppets. To add extra highlighting I brush some dry paint onto certain areas of the mask.
In April this year we began creating the puppets for Seaside Terror. Initially this began with sketches and discussion around how we wanted the characters to move. From that I created scale drawings and made the puppets internal structure. These included a combination of ball and socket, mortise and tenon and butt joints. I would trace the size of body part from the drawing, transfer it onto Balsa wood and carve it. Afterwards, I hardened the Balsa wood with mixture PVA glue and water. For the butt joints I used the inner tube of a bicycle tire, enabling the joint to be strong but also elastic enough to move in many natural directions.
Here are some of the puppets in their skeleton form. They were then passed over to Kathleen to design their faces and our costume designer, Naomi to dress them.
Alien Om Bord!
In the summer of 2017, I created a 3 minute puppet show to perform on the street ‘Alien Ombord!’. Created as part of Aarhus 2017 European Capital of Culture and Kulturhavn Københvan, the alien space rocket toured all over Denmark. Combining shadow puppetry, rod puppetry and storytelling (in Danish) I was very proud of the little project.
Dukke in Denmark
This month I have made a puppet for Hvid Støj’s production Senses of Cities due to premier in April as part of Aarhus European Capital of Culture 2017. The puppet (dukke) Laura is now dressed and ready for the puppeteers to begin rehearsal. Here are some images of when she was just a skeleton. She is carved from Balsa wood and covered with shimmy leather.
For Knaresborough’s production of Wind in the Willows I will be making 8 large ducks! Duck heads are sculpted in clay and then a two part plaster cast is created. The cast is too big for one person to lift and requires approx 18L of latex to fill! For the next 8 days I fill up at night and empty in the morning, allowing a full day to dry before I pull it out of the mould to dry fully.
The feet are sculpted and I create two casts of this otherwise I would run out of days. Now I have so much pouring and emptying of latex to do my flat is filled with fumes and my clothes are ruined!
The heads require hardening. A pattern is created out of material and pieces of renoflex are cut, heated and moulded into the inside of the head. By this point I am getting through a large pot of adhesive per day!
I realize I have a big job on my hands and not enough time to complete it so for the first time I take on some work experience students. Delegating and demonstrating exactly what I need them to do is a new skill for me!
Body shapes are created by fixing plastic tubing together and cutting out plasterzote shapes. These take a long time to coat in waterproof PVA before being spray painted. Finally I attach the braces.
The feet are very floppy so I cut and shape pieces of renoflex and foam to fit inside of all 16 pairs of shoes. A hard base is created by coating foam in latex soaked cotton.
The paint I purchased turned out to be bad quality so it took me many many layers of building up colour to create the effect and blending quality that I wanted. I use clear nail varnish on the eyes for extra sparkle.
I try shading the feet but because of all the detail I decide that this is not working and I am running out of time so a few layers of orange look good. I insert eyelets and laces.
Why did I want to make ‘Red Rust’
A few years ago me and Rebekah had discussed that we wanted to make a show about our Grandmothers. Our Grandmothers were one of the most important and influential people in our lives, so it would very much be a personal journey. For three years I worked in health care as a specialist and senior carer for people with severe special needs and physical disabilities, as well as for people paralyzed after car accidents and the elderly with dementia. The sheer exhaustion and emotional fatigue of this work is very memorable to me. I even fainted once whilst inserting a catheter into a male patient due to feeling so overworked. The reason I worked in healthcare was my love of connecting to people, making them happy and reminding them of the absolute joy that life can be. Very soon, I became a personality that patients would look forward to seeing. I would also forever respect and admire those who work in the healthcare industry. The hours are long, resources are stretched, training is limited and pay is low.
Some years later my own Grandmother had a stroke. She was admitted regular into many hospitals, nursing homes and eventually onto a Dementia unit. Her journey through the elderly care system was a very long one. I witnessed first hand the pressures this places on family members. As her dementia developed she relied on me to remember things for her, I knew what foods she liked, how she had her tea and what she valued most in life. Eventually she could not speak anymore, people and events had become so jumbled I could not tell where she was. I continued to tell her how I knew who she was and that I had all of her memories in a safe place.
The way we remember became a fascination of mine. Some memories we preserve as if in a personal museum, whilst others we try to destroy and forget. The long-term memory feels limitless and permanent, but it can be unstable like the weather and vulnerable to breaks or even replaced with false ones. Short-term memory and the present become almost insignificant.
We began to work with an elderly group in Leeds called ‘Caring Together’ as well as with my Grandmother on the dementia unit and soon we saw the importance of objects in relation to memory. Objects live longer than the flesh and it is common for people to invest a lot into them. They remind us of who we are and where we are from. Often I have found the most mundane items can become the most powerful. I remember showing a tractor to an old man and he began to cry. Something in that object had evoked a strong emotional memory, which he had been suppressing.
As I sat with my Grandmother, it felt as if Death was always present, sometimes she would accept it; even yearn for it, whilst at other times she would scream it away. Towards the end, she could not stand, but when she smiled I could remember how she liked to dance. I would allow my puppets to dance in this same way. When she winked at me I could remember how feisty and quick-witted she would be. To the rest of society she was just another frail person who’s nappy needed changing. But for me she was everything.
As the first premier performance of ‘Red Rust’ approached my Grandmother passed away, all the time I was holding her hand. When I saw people’s reactions after the performance I could see that everyone else felt the same as me. We were all dealing with elderly loved ones, coming towards the end of their life, trying to understand what is happening to their mind and body, as well as contemplating the significance of our own lives. These are big subjects to take on, especially for theatre that has to sell to audiences, but I believe that ‘Red Rust’ has been well crafted, balancing comedy and pathos into a performance that will leave a lasting memory on its audience.
The Nurses Are Coming!
For our new show, Red Rust, I have been creating an army of nurse glove puppets. It has been a really exciting and productive process, sketching designs, learning how to make a silicone cast and then casting multiple heads in jesmonite.
Here are some images of my process.
These nurses are going to be very funny and slap stick, performing caring tasks with over sized objects and never enough time! We hope this will communicate our fear for the future of the care system, especially under recent cuts, as resources and people are stretched to the limit.
Kathleen’s making process for ‘Red Rust’
To design our main puppet ‘Sa’ I firstly collected some images that I liked. Rather than draw pictures I collect all the qualities I like and sculpt them into clay. Sa is an old character, but I did not want her to look like a typical old person. I wanted her to look like a hard broken object, without clothes, full of cracks and hollow. The audience would see her as a naked puppet. She also needed to be very strong but extremely light.
All the body parts, except hands, legs and arms were sculpted and cast in latex separately. This is how I design and present ideas. I sculpted 5 different faces until I was happy.
The next step was to scrape out all the clay from the plaster mould and pour in latex. Leave for 4 hours , pour out and leave over night to dry. Then using permanent pen I created a pattern on the latex which I traced onto thin materials. This developed a pattern for each body part.
I then cut each piece using a scalpel and regularly changing the blades out of the thinnest plasterzote I could find (5mm). Using the latex cast as a base I applied instant contact adhesive to the individual patterned sections and stuck them on. For most of it, I also used a hot air gun which shapes and slightly changes the surface of the plasterzote.
Once complete I used a dremmel to smooth out any imperfections. For the hands I created a wire armature, which allowed me to position the fingers nicely. I then freely applied plasterzote in order to build them up and give them shape. Here you can see an un-dremmeled hand and a dremmeled one!
Once all of the main body parts were complete I applied 3 coats of PVA glue to seal the plasterzote and create a surface. Then using disposable brushes I painted on 2-3 layers of smooth cast 65D. This dries as a hard white plastic.
It was then time to start making the legs and arms. Using dowel, thin black strap and araldite I made the butt joints. I also reinforce the joints by gluing tightened fabric around the ends. For these puppets this was ok because I would then cut out pieces of plasterzote and glue them over the wood. In the picture below I have used rubber bands to hold everything in position whilst drying.
I reinforced the inside of the body with wood dowel and screws. The legs and arms were then screwed and glued onto this frame. The torso was glued together using thick elastic. This allowed individual torso parts to stretch and move in a beautifully detailed way.
Painting and finishing is my favourate part! Firstly I painted her a bronze colour, then using a soft piece of sponge and small paint brush I created darker shaded areas areas. I would normally do this the opposite way around, starting with a dark base and adding in the lighter areas, but she was so detailed I decided not to. I then used a nail file to add in scratch bits of black paint.
If you would like to know more about any of my methods. Please get in touch. I would love to hear from you!