sometimes the best stuff is in the comment-boxes

Blue Hervé. Acrylic and pencil on board. 2014

Enquiries to the Martin Tinney Gallery

The following comments (and my replies) are from a post I made back in January on completing the work titled Blue Hervé. This is the kind of dialogue I find really gets my creative juices flowing. I’ve illustrated today’s post with images of the work in process, from the maquettes to the daily progress on the easel. (The sharp-eyed will notice that I changed the head of the maquette part-way into the process.) I thank Jacqui Hicks, Marly Youmans, Phil Cooper, Jeffery Beam and Rebecca Verity for being such stimulating and supportive company at the Artlog.

Jacqui Hicks: Ah textures… I love those textures Clive, the suit, the t-shirt, the wolf’s fur; when you are painting clothing do you imagine the texture of a specific fabric or is it more the fall and folds that inspire?

Clive H-J: Both, really. It wouldn’t do were I to capture too specific a texture if the finished result distracted from the overall idea, so I tend to think of surfaces as patterning.

In this image I began to see the wolf’s fur as the eddies apparent on the surface of water, and that was fine, because it added another layer of possibilities to the piece. Moreover it took me down a different route to THIS image, where I thought of the fur almost as a cursive language that was a secret repository of wolfish knowledge.

My work on this theme tends toward the hieratic, and so lacking the kinetic in obvious terms, I place falling leaves to conjure restlessness. They also help the viewer to know how it is to be blind Hervé in that moment, with the sense of displaced air as the leaves pass, and the cold vulnerability of exposed skin in the presence of rough fur and sharp teeth.

So many things to be thinking about as a painting like this comes together, and I rarely capture all the thoughts buzzing through my head. And so I make another, and another, and another…

… and so it goes on.

Marly Youmans: The ‘cursive’ fur made me think of Diana Wynne Jones’s “Spellcoats.”

Strange kiss: teeth and neck.

I was thinking about how this story relates (in some odd fashion) to your love of the Staffordshire outsize dog-with-child figures. (And perhaps they dimly relate to the original mystic semi-encounter with the hooded man and his giant dog/wolf, when Jack was a mere puppy-child.)

Phil Cooper: I’d snatched a couple of peeks at this painting on my iPad in breaks at work this afternoon, taking in bits at a time; it’s grown on me over the day and now I’m looking at it on the big screen at home I’m completely smitten, it is really mesmerising me. I love the silvery whites cutting through the richness of the reds and blues, the wildness of the wolf with the tenderness coming through, Herve’s delicate expression, the planes and shapes running round the picture, the shadow across the wolf’s hindquarters, I’m astonished, it’s brilliant.

Clive H-J: You express thoughts so poetically that I think we’re completely in tune on this, on what I’ve tried to express and what you feel. As is ever the way, I see only the failings and the lack, and feel sharply how I might have made it better. But then it’s these feelings, no matter how painful, that spur me on to the next. There always has to be another, to make up for the deficiencies of the last.

Thank you, Phil.

Phil Cooper: I do identify with what you write about how you feel about your work Clive – maybe, as you say, it’s better it were thus as it spurs us on to making more work and striving for new heights. But in this case of this painting, gosh, you’ve created something of real power. That hand grazing the foreleg is the clincher for me, so soft but it’s like lightning!

Clive H-J: Lightning! Yes, I like that description. Thank you Phil. Lightning it is then.

Jeffery Beam: I love the sense of floating, suspension in this. The falling (in love?) and the contrast of the red (oxblood red) and the blues made even richer by the little bit of grey, and the black. Also that the Wolf looks straight at us while Hervé bends away with eyes closed, but not in fear it seems, but in transformation. The missing shoe, as mentioned above, Hervé’s shirt lifting up showing belly. All so tender and deeply felt. I’ve enjoyed watching the progress of this piece. Bravo as always wise and masterly Clive.

Clive H-J: No, not wise… or not wise enough… and far from masterly. But I aspire with each day at the easel to both those things, and doomed to failure though I must be, I still keep trying.

I’m glad that you see so much in it that moves you. It is deeply felt. I’m always moved by this tale, and never tire of it. Each time at the easel I feel as though I discover it anew, and fear I’ll never do it justice, no matter how many times I paint it.

Thank you for writing so beautifully about it, Jeffery.

Rebecca Verity: There is always something about each of your paintings that really gets me thinking. Often I can go online and research the story and learn something new, but today I will spend all day thinking about that missing shoe…

What action/adventure happened just before the moment of the painting that made him drop it? Where is he going next and how willl he get there with one bare foot?

Or maybe they’re just lying in a field together and he merely kicked off a shoe to feel the sunlight on his toes, and the other shoe will be kicked off in a moment.

I will never know, and so I will always wonder.

Clive H-J: Well I can see, Rebecca, that you recognise there have to be mysteries, and so I shall add nothing to distract from your own musings. A painting should be like life: lots of peculiarities that are unexplained and will most likely remain that way. But just so that you know, there are always reasons behind the oddities in my paintings, though I try to avoid being pinned down about them. (I recall the art historian who kept insisting that there must be a symbolic reason for the red horse in Green George, and how put out he became when I refused to oblige him with an explanation.)

However, if you’re interested in the back story of why I constantly return to the subject of the blind boy and his beast, then read THIS.


The Puppet Challenge Part 8: Lynne, Graeme and Anna

Lynne Lamb, Anna Marchi and Graeme Galvin

Lynne Lamb: Big Bad Wolves and Puppet Portraits

Lynne was so quick off the mark with the Puppet Challenge, that she was deep into creativity a bare week after it had been announced. To that end I’m going to include her… alongside Philippa Robbins, another who made many puppets… in an ‘overspill gallery’ toward the end of the exhibition, the better to do justice to what was produced.

For today I’m going to look at Lynne’s work on the theme of the wolf. It was never specified whether there was any particular mythic aspect she was examining. I’m assuming Red-Riding-Hood, though she may well have been exploring more generally the wolf’s role as the villain in folklore and fairy-tale. The journey began with digital sketches.

One of things that was immediately apparent in the work posted at her blog, is that Lynne is an artist down to her fingertips. She draws beautifully, even when the idea is just to get something down quickly. None of the sketches shown here were realised as puppets looking very much like them, but I think at this stage Lynne was playing with ideas. One of her great strengths is that she’s flexible about realisation, and once the making is underway, she allows it to carry her where it will, regardless of the starting points.

Above and below: digital concept sketches

Below: taking us into the realms of Greek myth and Cerberus, the three-headed Guardian of the Underworld

Below: this might be a take on werewolf iconography…

… and these two are indisputably werewolf-ian!

Below: once the puppets were underway, they romped off as though entirely confident of what they wanted/needed to be.

Above and below: Not one wolf under construction in Lynne’s studio, but many.

The three-headed wolf initially manifested as a demonic beast…

…and then donned a frock and acquired some strings to transform into this rather sinisterly winsome marionette, a three-headed grandma-impersonator in floral-print and flounces!

Elsewhere, a glove-puppet came into being, with needle sharp teeth and mad, yellow eyes.

And finally, the journey begun in a virtual paint-box, arrived in the world of corporeal pigment and brushes, and a series of puppet-portraits emerged that I absolutely love.

Graeme Galvin: The Canterville Ghost

I’ve known Graeme Galvin since I was teenager, when he was the designer at the Caricature Theatre in Cardiff, the puppet company I joined shortly after leaving school. Graeme designed and made so many of the puppets that I cut my teeth on, and so it’s a delight to present here the marionette he’s made for the Artlog Puppet Challenge. Graeme is, I think, the only long-time professional puppet-designer/maker who has taken part in the challenge. Time to salute a master.

Anna Marchi: Bluebeard

I haven’t been able to discuss puppet-making with Anna, as there has been a language barrier. But on completing him, at her blog she announced… in Italian, of course…

“Bluebeard! Finally! I finished the puppet version of Barbablu, and here he is, in all his cruel elegance!”

I like the phrase ‘cruel elegance’. I’m reminded of John Malkovitch as the viperish Vicomte Sébastien de Valmont in the film version of Christopher Hampton’s play, Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Below: the stages of making, starting with Anna’s concept drawing

I see no strings or control-rods on this haughty ‘Barbablu’, and I suspect his role in life is to be an ‘artist’s maquette’ in Anna’s studio. We shall have to wait to see whether he appears in any paintings.

The Mare’s Tale at Aberystwyth Arts Centre

It gives me great pleasure to announce that I am to have an exhibition in the main gallery at Aberystwyth Arts Centre next Summer. The dates will be June 6th – July 25th.

Above: detail of a Mari Lwyd drawing, 2013

It will be the first comprehensive gathering of work I’ve produced since 2001 on the theme of the Mari Lwyd, including many of the large Conté pencil drawings made for my original series titled The Mare’s Tale, held in public and private collections across Wales, plus illustrations I made for the Old Stile Press edition of The Mare’s Tale: poems by Catriona Urquhart, published in 2001. Added to this will be all the design work produced for the 2013 chamber-work of the same title, composed by Mark Bowden with a libretto by Damian Walford Davies.

Deposition III. Private Collection

The Mare’s Tale chamber-work was first performed by Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra at Theatr Brycheiniog last September, and the exhibition will include stage-designs and graphic design work made for the production, plus all of the puppets, models and maquettes I produced for sequences filmed by Pete Telfer and projected onto the stage during the performance. Puppet and animation sequences will be screened during the exhibition in a dedicated space.

Below: model for the chamber-work of The Mare’s Tale

Below: puppets made for the chamber-work

To bring things up to date, there will be new easel drawings and paintings on the theme, produced since the stage performance and for which I’ve reviewed my original material through the prism of Mark’s score and Damian’s libretto. From time to time I’ll be posting updates here re progress and developments on the project.

The Puppet Challenge Part 7: Graham, Caroline and Scott

Graham Carter, Caroline McCatty and Scott Garrett

Graham Carter: Puss-in-Boots

Above: Graham Carter’s concept artwork for  his puppet of Puss-in-Boots

Below: working-drawing

It’s always interesting when an illustrator known for a particular style of two-dimensional artwork, then has to realise a design as an object. Graham magnificently rose to the challenge, producing a delightful concept sheet that transformed effortlessly… or so it seemed… into a finished puppet. (I’m no such fool as to imagine it was a simple matter, but Graham has the skill and grace to at least make it look so.)

Graham writes:

“This is my first foray into puppet-making. (Well, apart from a ten-foot mobile Yeti rod-puppet I helped build for a parade a couple of years ago – but that was a group effort!) Firstly I’d like to thank Clive and Peter for inviting me to take part. I do like a challenge! When I accepted it though, I hadn’t quite anticipated the shift in mindset needed when making something ‘functional’ as opposed to purely aesthetic. Some of my recent 3D pieces do closely resemble puppets, and I had considered tackling this in the same way but that soon went out of the window when I realised that limbs had to actually move! As much as I tried to plan the puppet and make a few thumbnail sketches, I figured the best way, for me personally, was trial and error. I had a loose design in my head and figured I would tackle moveable limbs as I went along. Engineers would scoff at that of course, but I’m definitely not an engineer! When thinking of a subject I very nearly began working on a miniature puppet theatre-set based on the film of Jason & the Argonauts, with Skeleton Automata – but very quickly realised this would be a folly for a novice! Keep it simple! (Wise words Clive!) I thought it would be fun creating a character with long legs, and I narrowed it down to a frog-prince or Puss-in-Boots. I opted for the clever cat. In order to spice it up a bit I decided on a futuristic Puss-in-Boots, complete with bionic arm/paw (of course!) I did make him a little leather hat too but this only served to make him look like a 70’s pimp!”

“Ideally I would have liked to carve the model to give it that old-fashioned toy look, but I just didn’t have the tools. I chose instead to use wood I had lying around in my studio, plus any old nuts, bolts, wire and laser-cut wood off-cuts I had at my disposal. This gives it a rough and ready look, but I do actually quite like that. It took me a while to figure out how to get the limbs to function. I just stared at the pieces of wood for ages until I figured out a solution. If they were too stiff or obstructed I would just saw/sand a little here and there until they became functional. I’m pleased with the legs – the elbows are a little cumbersome and unnatural looking, but again – I think it suits my style, and the character (that’s my excuse anyway). The head is attached to a rod at the back to give it multi-directional function. I added the moveable eyebrows as an afterthought, as I wanted it to have that slight ventriloquist’s dummy look about it. (I would have liked to add a moving jaw too. Next time!)”

“I haven’t got around to attaching string etc yet to make him dance, but with a couple of screw replacements I think he could pull off some moves!”

“My son certainly loves him….”

I appreciate the fact that Graham opted for a ‘rough and ready’ look for his puppet. Some makers get bogged down trying to create a perfect, slightly retro, moulded-in-plastic finish, and while that may look good as a toy, the brief here was to make a puppet, and puppets are much more forgiving when it comes to surface detail. The magic of a puppet must stem not only from its design, but also from the way in which it moves. I’m sure that in the hands of a puppeteer, this Puss-in-Boots would turn in quite a performance. I love the idea that he can raise a roguish eyebrow, or arch them both in a look of ‘drop-dead’ disdain.

Caroline McCatty: The Ogre that Pretended to be a Little Girl

Caroline wrote at the outset of the Challenge:

“I’m planning to make a flying puppet based on a Chinese fairy tale called The Flying Ogre. I’ll attempt to make a glove-puppet that transforms from a little girl into an ogre, because in the tale he disguises himself as a little girl.”

“I have the idea to make a Little Girl glove-puppet whose head will open and the ogre pop out. The design work is all a bit rough as I don’t have time to spend making the prep work wonderful. Anyway this is where my ideas are going, but the final puppet will be less basic.”

Above: Caroline’s ‘mock-up’, made to get the feel of how the puppet might look

Caroline basically described a ‘trick-puppet’, commonplace in nineteenth century puppet performances, though more usually associated with marionettes than glove-puppets. Mechanisms and effects became quite ornate as marionette companies went to great lengths to outdo rivals in the ingenuity and splendour of their illusions.

Below: Caroline photographed the stages of making her Little Girl/Ogre glove-puppet

Above: a sketch of the Little Girl next to an Ogre’s head rather different to the finished one

Below: the carved and painted head of the Little Girl next to the completed Ogre head

The Ogre’s head is built around an inflatable bladder. The whole thing folds up and can be hidden, packed away inside the Little Girl’s head, which is made of two halves… a front and back… fastened with ties. When the ties are released, her face flops forward and the crumpled Ogre’s head pops out. With the aid of a tube and good lungs, Caroline can inflate the Ogre’s head so that it replaces the Little Girl’s.

You can see Caroline’s transformation puppet going through its paces in the film linked below. I think we can be pretty sure she’ll get quicker and more dextrous with practice. Ten out of ten for invention, skill and blow-power. A splendid result.

Little Girl into Ogre Transformation

Scott Garrett: the Earl of Rone and the Whittlesea Straw Bear

Scott turned to two ancient celebratory traditions for the inspiration of his glove-puppets: the Earl of Rone and the Whittlesea Straw Bear, shown in his illustrations above.

He writes of the custom of the Earl:

“Why the Earl of Rone? Well, he’s just one of a number of fantastic English folklore characters out there, madly eccentric. If I’d done the Hastings Jack, it would have just been a lump of vegetation. The Earl has a great physical character, chunky almost cuddly… but he is deeply dark. He reminds me of some old Polish/Czech character, earthy in his sackcloth garb, but with the graphic white, red and black mask and its sharp, angular nose.”

Below: the stages of Scott’s puppet. The first is a mock-up produced to check for scale, made of a ball and some gift-wrap.

Below: the finished puppet

Below: Scott’s early sketch for the Whittlesea Straw Bear glove-puppet

In Whittlesea it’s the custom on the 1st Monday after Twelfth Night to dress a ploughman in straw and call him a ‘Straw Bear’. A newspaper of 1882 reported the Bear “taken around the town to entertain, by his frantic and clumsy gestures, the good folk who had, on the previous day, subscribed to the rustics a spread of beer, tobacco and beef”.

The costume was described as being made of great lengths of tightly twisted straw bands wound up the arms, legs and body of the man or boy chosen to play the role. Sticks fastened to the shoulders formed a cone above the wearer’s head, and the face was completely covered so that the Bear was all but blind. A tail was provided and a strong chain fastened around its armpits. It was made to dance in front of houses and gifts of money or of beer and food for later consumption were expected. The custom evidently held an honoured status in the community, as straw was carefully selected from the best available, the harvesters saying, “That’ll do for the Bear”. The custom had long died out, but was revived in the 1980s. The straw costume is burned at the end of the celebrations and has to be made afresh each year.

I think Scott’s puppets are splendid evocations of folk customs. He wrote that he’d balked at the Hastings Jack, but I for one would like to see his take on that venerable tradition, not least because for a couple of years the Jack sported a mask that I’d made in the likeness of my late father.

The Puppet Challenge Part 6: Liz and the legend of ‘L’Ebérou’

Liz King Sangster: Boy into Goat

Liz Sangster and I first met over three decades ago. We worked together in the theatre. She was head of the scenic department at Welsh National Opera when I washed up there, a totally inexperienced and panic-stricken ‘designer’, clutching a stash of costume sketches and a stage-set model, the latter of which she was charged with transforming into a reality. A year later the production premiered at the New Theatre in Cardiff, and by then Liz and I were the best of friends. These days we live too far apart, Liz and Graham in the Dordogne, and Peter and I in mid-Wales. Thank goodness for e-mails!

Some of the things I’ve been most impressed by in this project, are the endless lengths contributors have gone to to get to their finished puppets. It simply wouldn’t be possible to show every stage of all of the journeys, besides which, most of the makers held back from progress reports. However, Liz kept me up to speed with all her thinking on the project, and because her work was so meticulous and process-led, I’ve decided to devote an entire post to illustrate how she produced her interpretation of a French folktale.

She began with a storyboard. From the start Liz saw what she was doing as narrative-led, and she intended (and I believe still intends) to produce it as a puppet-film. Her storyboard-art is wonderfully lively, worked in a limited and atmospheric palette. (The story takes place at night.) Here’s a slightly edited version, annotated with a simplified narrative.

red-headed EhBeh is sleeping in his bed, dreaming of bells and goats

he awakes with a start at the curtain flapping at the open window

though still dark, he has a compulsion to see the fountain in the heart of the forest. He rises and runs through the night

at the fountain his strips off his nightshirt and binds it around his head before throwing himself into the waters

he splashes about in the moonlight

suddenly beneath the surface of the water, he can see words swirling.

before EhBeh knows what’s happening, the fountain’s spell has turned him into a goat

However the words of the spell also offer a way to reverse the transformation, and EhBeh-the-goat heads off to fulfil the conditions before daybreak

he approaches St Georges de Monclar


while cantering through the streets on his quest…

a menacing figure blocks his way…

but EhBeh wins the scuffle.

Once the narrative was in place and storyboarded up to this ‘cut-off’ point (there’s more, but Liz says that must be for another day), work began on the puppet design and manufacture. Liz employed an admirable simplicity. Nevertheless the puppets are strikingly effective, and I really feel for the plight of the lanky EhBeh, both in his form as a young man, and as a goat.

Above: EhBeh asleep

Below: hanging in the kitchen at La Crabouille

Above: Liz designed, but has not yet had time to make, the stone ‘Fountain-head’ character of her storyboard. I really like the idea that the enchanted words pour from his maw, written in glitter on dark fabric manipulated to look like turbulent waters.

Once EhBeh, boy and goat, were finished, Liz went the extra mile and photographed and pasted images of the puppets into her digital storyboard. Here are a few of the frames. I love EhBeh’s skinny legs and flapping nightshirt.

As time was growing too short to begin work on the filming, Liz turned instead to making images of the characters for the Puppet Challenge exhibition, and she created sets in her studio from antique picture-frames and paintings that were lying around. With consummate artistry, she turned the photo-shoot into something entirely creative and delightful in its own right.

I intend to encourage Liz to continue with the project when time allows. The storyboard, the puppets and the character of the presentation, is a dark delight leavened with the charm of her wonky-legged boy-into-goat. And the picture-framed character-studies add another layer of pleasure. I’d like, too, to see the story translated into paintings, because she is the most marvellous painter.

The Puppet Challenge Part 5: Philippa and Karen and the two Fridas

Philippa Robbins & Karen Godfrey

Philippa Robbins: Raising Frida

A few years ago on a visit to Mexico to attend the festival of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) Philippa visited the studio of Frida Kahlo. I recall poring over the photographs when she returned, entranced by the collections of folk-art and antiquities in Kahlo’s living and work spaces.

When Peter Slight came up with the theme of the Puppet Challenge, I think most minds turned to the expected. Fairytales and folklore. But when I began to think about it, I could see that Kahlo was not such a strange choice of subject for an exhibition themed to ‘Myths and Legends’.

She has certainly achieved a legendary status due in no small part to her extraordinary life. There was the traffic accident that nearly killed her and thereafter severely compromised her health, and her celebrated marriage to the painter/muralist Diego Rivera. From the former she mined what would become some of the most iconic twentieth century self-portraits… though they are so much more than that… of the artist in the centre of her universe. So there’s a case to be made for her being a self-mythologiser, both in the manner she presented herself in person… the vividly coloured and embroidered folk-costumes, the flower-decked hair, the robber-queen jewellery… and the astonishing art that celebrated her ‘self-creation’.

Philippa built a lot of puppets over the period leading up to the Puppet Challenge. Although only the Frida puppet was intended for it, I plan on showing the rest of the puppets in a later post, because they’re examples both of the artist’s creative thinking, and of her capacity to acquire new skills to develop her work. But for today, here’s her Frida glove-puppet.

Philippa’s technique for all her puppets has been to build them in brown paper gum-strip layered over rough forms of tin-foil and balled-up paper, a puppet-making technique we share. Last year at her kitchen-table, pre-Puppet Challenge, I modelled a glove-puppet of a cyclops and Philippa built her first glove-puppet head and hands. (We two have long been hatching a plot for a collaboration themed to our puppet interests.) Philippa has evolved an interesting technique of finishing her papier mâché in layers of blue kitchen-roll.

When dry (she hastens the process by the use of a fan-assisted oven set judiciously low) Philippa creates the faces by transfer-printing, often using photographs of old Hollywood stars collaged to create her characters. In this way her puppets have an intriguing, organic finish that imparts to the group a collective identity, as can be seen in this snapshot of ‘blue’ puppet-parts in the studio.

Below: assembling Frida

A pleasing quality of all Philippa’s puppets is her attention to detail in the matter of their clothes. She shares with Jodi Le Bigre a distaste for garments that are nailed or glued to puppets. (Jodi writes about clothing her puppet in the ‘process’ post at her blog, and I wonder whether this is an aspect the two makers have in common because of early experiences with dolls, the dressing and undressing of which can be such a significant ritual of ‘play’.) Philippa’s puppet has a canvas ‘sleeve’, made the way I recommended to her, that permanently holds the head and hands in the glove-puppet shape… if you will, the ‘body’ of the puppet… but then over the sleeve is a beautifully-made muslin shift (see below) worn beneath the carefully pieced together patch-worked dress. This puppet is not only good in the hand to work, but it also has a hidden visual aesthetic known only to her maker and to those lucky enough to get a closer look.

Karen Godfrey: Touched by Fire

Karen Godfrey also chose Frida Kahlo as the subject for a puppet, this time a marionette. She built a puppet theatre for her as the setting for the film, set-dressed as a Día de Muertos altar complete with skeleton jumping-jacks, sugar skulls and fairy-lights. Frida’s appearance, with her elaborate, flower-dressed hair-styles, her sweeping dark brows and an emphasis on extravagantly coloured and patterned folk-costumes, has clearly been a gift to the puppet-makers. Karen wrote to me in an early e-mail about the project, how much she was looking forward to creating puppet-Kahlo’s jewellery, a happy anticipation I’m sure the real Frida would have shared.

Karen writes:

“I had never made a movie before and was surprised at how easy it was to use the free software program of Windows Movie Maker on my computer. The most challenging part, besides making the Frida marionette, was taking the hundreds of photographs for the stop-motion film. It was not easy keeping the lighting consistant through the whole photo shoot. Sometimes the sunlight would change and the trees by my window would create shadows.”

Above: a still from Touched by Fire

“What I loved about the Puppet Challenge is that it led me to make the movie. I have always thought it would be fun to make one, and I had always wanted to create stage props for plays. Having my Frida marionette to create small scale props for was exciting. I especially liked making the props for the ‘phoenix rising’ scene in the movie. I was surprised at how realistic the night scene looked around the fire, and I was pleased with the shadows I created with a lamp and a cut out image of a bird.”

My idea to create a Frida Kahlo marionette started because I am inspired by how she painted for herself alone. She didn’t care whether other people liked what she produced, creating her art because she needed to. In today’s world many artists don’t feel it’s worth creating something if it can’t be sold. They feel like if they are not well known, then they are not artists. It was my goal to create this puppet and movie for myself first. It helped me to connect with the deeper meaning of artmaking. I know something was happening to me on a subconscious level as I created the symbols, images, and scenes in the movie. Also, being able to move Frida’s body helped me to connect with her story and legacy. In some of the stop-motion photos that I took of Frida, I was amazed at how goddess-like she became. I felt like something greater than myself was happening duirng the photo shoots.

Below: from drawing to puppet

You can watch Touched by Fire, HERE.

Below: a stop-motion frame from the film

The Puppet Challenge Part 4: Stuart, Clive and Steve & Pamela

Stuart Kolakovic, Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Steve & Pamela Harris

Stuart Kolakovic: The Priapic Puppet

Stuart writes:

“I knew straight away I wanted to play around with making a shadow-puppet. I’m currently working on a comic book which features a decrepit and perverted monk, influenced in part by the character Ambrosio in Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, and Father Schedoni in Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian; a theme I thought I could develop into a puppet.”

“I made a couple of quick mock-ups using paper and brass fasteners, but quickly realised I was being over-ambitious. Originally I wanted the Monk to have a working mouth and tongue, a multi-jointed neck as well as a movable cloak to reveal his disgusting erection. I simplified this down to just having his willy and his head move in one motion. After looking at Indonesian Wayang puppets, I realised that the broad-shoulders are not just an aesthetic; they allow the arms a much wider arc of movement away from the body, making it much more dramatic once it’s in action. With hindsight, I might have used a thinner card stock when cutting out the puppet; it would have been easier and less time-consuming. My hand definitely hurt after a day of cutting.”

“Filming the puppet in action was a bit fiddly. Much easier to operate it parallel to the ground, as opposed to being upright like all other shadow-puppets. So I placed the camera (well, an iPhone 4) on the ground pointing upwards, and made a sketchy theatre using a large frame and a piece of A1 paper stapled to it. (It’s not the best quality footage, but I’d also like to mention that I also recorded the song on the same phone. A versatile bit of machinery. For those of of you that may be interested, I used a Tanpura drone, a bass and drenched it in reverb from a Holy Grail pedal.) A puppeteer I am not, but it’s definitely got me inspired to try my hand at stop frame animation, and maybe to develop an edition of lasercut prints at some point.”

Click below to see Stuart’s film

Herman Inclusus: The Lecherous Plague Monk Shadow Puppet

With this beautifully conceived and executed puppet that is absolutely true to the character of its maker’s art, Stuart is working toward the complete creative package: writing and illustrating the comic book, and designing, making, operating and filming his shadow-puppet. As a big fan of his illustrations and artworks, I’m greatly anticipating watching this project further unfold.

Clive Hick-Jenkins: Channeling Cocteau

Above: the puppets take their lead from the swooningly romantic pairing of Jean Marais and Josette Day (below).

My puppet was inspired by Jean Cocteau’s ravishing 1939 film of La Belle et la Bête, in which Jean Marais played the Beast and Josette Day was his Beauty. It is my favourite film. No other comes even close.

My greatest worry was that I’d try too hard to reproduce the characters as they appear in the film, and in so doing reduce my puppets to being pretty dolls. I need not have worried. As is so often the way with a puppet, my Beast took matters into his own hands, and emerged entirely his own creature. All extraneous details were pared away. I made, but then didn’t use a version of the high-collar that was such a feature of Christian Bérard’s elaborate and princely costume for Jean Marais’ la Bête. I didn’t have time to make la Belle, and so for the photographs I co-opted a puppet made last year for my staging of the chamber-work The Mare’s Tale for Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra.

La Bête is a puppet made and operated in the Bunraku tradition. He requires three puppeteers, though two can suffice if they’re dexterous. He is controlled from the back, with the lead puppeteer’s left hand inserted into the chest cavity to both support the figure and operate his head. This construction allows a wide range of head/neck movement. The hands are operated by rods and the garment is manipulated from beneath to give the illusion of legs. The head and hands are made from gessoed papier mâché and the arms from wood. The mane is twisted hemp and the costume is constructed from medium-weight canvas painted with acrylic.

I played around quite a lot when making images of the puppet. For some I stretched muslin over the camera lens. When Rima Staines… who is also taking part in the Puppet Challenge… and her partner Tom Hirons recently came to stay at Ty Isaf, they posed the puppets while I clicked away with the camera. Team-work!

Steve and Pamela Harris: Merenia Makes Herself Beautiful

Pamela Harris and I are cousins. She lives in New Zealand, and is married to Steve, who is of the Maori nation.

Pamela writes:

“This is how we came to make the puppet. I was presented with a story in Maori that inspired her creation from old junk. Here it is in translation.”

“Merenia was a doll going to a dance. She had to make herself up to be beautiful. But she is not from this world. Her clothes, see-through and have been ripped by children. Her face is dirty. Her eyelids are fastened on and her fluttering eyelashes are the legs of spiders. Her hat is of green plastic, her hair unkempt like dreadlocks, all scraped back. Her lips are pouting, like the back end of a hen, and her cheeks are glowing red. From top to toe she’s different! There is no other like Merenia.”

Merenia is the only submission for the Puppet Challenge that has been made by two people. Of course anyone looking at her would be hard-pressed to guess that, as she’s completely coherent as a design and construct, with no sense of contradictory ideas pulling in different directions. I’m not sure how ‘fluid’ she is… she looks pretty arthritic to me with her rusty wire arms and iron spine… but that’s probably as she should be, given her ‘junk’ origins. Suffice to say that she’s splendid, with that expressionless, rather praying-mantis-like face, jaunty topknot and party-dress of zinc mesh. I was smitten with her from the first image sent to me.