The Puppet Challenge Part 10: Phil, Stephanie, Anna, Charlotte and Janet

Phil Cooper, Stephanie Redfern, Chloe Redfern, Anna Clucas, Charlotte Hill and Janet Kershaw: the paper puppets

Late in the day I’ve decided to dedicate a post to the paper puppets. These are not puppets modelled in papier mache, but those that can best be described as 2D. There was another maker whose work I showed in an earlier post who fell neatly into this category, though at the time I wrote about him I hadn’t taken delivery of all the work due in, and so hadn’t realised I might make a specific post about 2D puppets.

Phil Cooper: The Animal Groom

To begin with Phil had intended to make a puppet based on the rather creepy folkloric tale of The Werewolf of Dogdyke, for which this was the concept artwork, atmospherically conjured as a collage:

Later he ditched the idea… which I think he should look at again when the time is right… and made a fresh start on the fairy tale tradition of the ‘Animal Groom’ personified in the character of the ‘Beast’ in La Belle et la Bete. But after having made a really striking maquette, he ditched that too, and went on to a third puppet, a ‘Woodwose’, made in the same way, though operated with rods.

Of the two completed ‘puppets, I think his ‘Animal Groom’, inspired by Angela Carter’s anthology The Bloody Chamber, is by far the strongest piece, and so I hope he’ll forgive me for changing his Puppet Challenge offering to the one I most wanted to write about.

Phil’s technique of painting sheets of paper in a great diversity of marks, and then cutting them up to make the components of collage, have served him well in this figure, elegant in frock-coat and yet animal in its crouched trajectory. You have to look quite hard to find the creature’s face, which I think works to the puppet’s advantage. There is an unreadable, mask-like quality to the beast that I like a lot. It suggests the fraught task of ever being able to reliably ‘read’ a wild animal. (or read a mask, for that matter.)

There is no discernible tenderness or connection in the face, which adds a layer of terror into the mix. Carter included two quite different versions of La Belle et la Bete in The Bloody Chamber: The Courtship of Mr Lyon and The Tiger’s Bride. I know that Phil was greatly drawn to these stories, and I wonder whether, as with the Dogdyke Werewolf, he’d intended to use his animal groom maquette as a puppet to be operated on a horizontal screen for the purposes of filming. In the event we have only these posed photographs. Given that Phil’s leonine beast has not yet been animated either in real-time or stop-motion, it is in effect a maquette rather than a puppet. But I do hope that at some point he will take it down and dust it off, and think again whether he might work further with it, or even use it as the basic design for a marionette, rod or table-top puppet.

Stephanie Redfern: spirit puppets

Stephanie, a print-maker and textile artist, made my job easy by providing an eloquent and funny description of how her ‘paper puppets’ came about. She writes:

“The puppets are basically my inventions. When I was searching the internet for inspiration I came across some mummers wearing animal masks, which interested me, as I rarely work with the human form, preferring animals, but here was a way to combine both the human and animal worlds. The puppets moved from being dressed up humans to become entities unrelated to us, in the vein of spirits or daemons.

Using elements from my collage scraps box, I assembled the puppets quite quickly; they seem to have been waiting in the box, ready to emerge, given a helping hand with scissors, glue and brads.”

The Spirit of the Air (above) is made from printed and dyed Khadi paper, old coins, jewellery and a fish embroidery made by a friend many years ago. Her head is a print from one of my pieces of textile work, as is one of her feet and her bullfinches. Her other foot is a photograph of a tiny bird skull in my collection.

Whilst not being the most beautiful of the spirits, she is not all bad; in fact like life she is completely contradictory, and is the Spirit of the Uncertain. She is also the Keeper of Lists, and the Observer of the Balance Sheet, dealing with payments with money, and otherwise.

She is also critical and judgmental, but on the plus side tries to protect eggs, nests, feathery beasts, pterosaurs, and is also a very good listener, dealing particularly well with fragility and loss.”

The Spirit of the Moon (above) is in control, or at least does her best to be, of balance, honesty, timeliness, good order and personal hygiene. She is the Spirit of Instinctive Survival and despairs at the poor decisions we so often make as humans.

She protects all furry things, including us and bats, and has her attendant moths with her at all times, keeping their antennae abroad to inform her of any catastrophic events. We may think she is poor at her job but then we know so little of what terrors are avoided.

She is also the Spirit of Travel, with or without your satnav, and as you can see, of Secrets. She has no keys, however, so nothing will ever be revealed.”

She is made from a laminated map, laminated and printed images of my own work, and some embroidered moths from a previous piece of work printed onto acetate, with other mixed media additions.”

The Spirit of the Waters isn’t a good listener at all, but that is because she has to deal with extremes: the shallows and the depths, detritus and debris, beauty and its destruction, let alone plate tectonics and the flowing of real and imagined currents. Her work is not always easy for humanity to recognize, as there is a certain aloofness to her, possibly due to having a fish head, so all her tasks are not yet documented. But she is the Spirit of Blame, and takes it willingly upon her sloping shoulders.

She is made from printed and dyed Khadi paper, pebbles and other mixed media.”

I need add nothing more to these descriptions, which conjure an entirely plausible spirit universe. Needless to say, I love the puppets!

Chloe Redfern: King Arthur and Llamrei

Chloe Redfern works through the medium of paint and stitching, and over the years I’ve purchased from her Etsy shop an array of beautifully made painted and stitch-embelished Christmas tree hangings: birds, horses, rabbits, hares and camels! Christmas is not Christmas in our house without a cache of tissue-wrapped treats acquired from Chloe. (In the tradition of such things, I try to get a few new decorations for the tree every year, to make up for the turn-over of dropped and shattered glass baubles!) Work commitments meant that she had to keep her puppet simple, and her delightful King Arthur is a variation on the old tradition of the card ‘Jumping-Jacks’ that were once to be found in every well-mannered Victorian nursery.

Llamrei at the gallop

After she produced the puppet, Chloe went on to use an image of King Arthur’s steed on this delightful painted and embroidered hanging-quilt. He’s such a pretty creature that it’s good to see him in more detail here, as I fear the images I had to work with of the Jumping-Jack were quite small. Re the quilt, I’m afraid I don’t know where King Arthur has gone. I hope he hasn’t fallen off!

Anna Clucas: Manannan mac Lir

Manannan mac Lir

I have just the one image Anna Clucas has sent to me as her response to the Puppet Challenge (see above) plus a link to the film that she produced. She writes:

“Manannan mac LIr has been portrayed by a lot of Manx folk as a big brooding guy with a beard and wearing a cloak. I wanted to portray him as an entity that has no physical attributes, but as a God with an overwhelming power to exist in an unknown form. A bit improvised and abstract. Just to be different.”

Anna’s film isn’t really about puppetry or puppets, but might more rightfully be placed in the the realms of animation/performance art. Today in the arts all the descriptives and boundaries of the past have become infinitely fluid, and that’s a trend I largely approve of.

You can see what Anna has made, HERE. I warn you that the music she’s chosen can be startlingly loud if your volume setting is a tad high!

Charlotte Hill: Flower Face

Charlotte Hill was working on articulated paper puppets for a planned animation of the story of Blodeuwedd, the maid conjured by magicians from flowers in the Welsh cycle of tales The Mabinogion. That project was set aside for technical reasons, and Charlotte thereafter made a beautiful marionette that will be seen here shortly. But I loved her delicately constructed maquette of the owl that Blodeuwedd is transformed into as a punishment at the end of the story, and have briefly included it here as a ‘paper puppet’.

Janet Kershaw: Puppet on a Stick

Janet Kershaw’s figures are as about as simple as a puppet can be. They have no moving parts, and are pretty much limited to being jiggled on their sticks. But I know her work of old, and her approach to her art is unfailingly thoughtful. So one should look at them closely because she is meticulous in her draughtsmanship and these are none the less interesting for being miniaturist. The first puppet made by a child might well be a paper thing on a stick, steeped in personal iconography and meaning more to the maker than it ever would to an onlooker. I once taught Janet in a weekend course on maquette-making. I know the complex worlds out of which she conjures her art, and I can sense them underlying this fragile cast of characters. Not to get too fanciful, but in a simple, cut-out sort-of-a-way, these remind me of the glove puppets of the great Paul Klee.

the man from the sea

Oriel Tegfryn has asked for a new work for their forthcoming ‘Menai Festival of the Sea’ exhibition, and today, rather late I fear, I’m starting the project. A rummage through my plan-chest has turned up a tiny sketch done years ago of a shop assistant who worked in a Spanish deli, Ultracomida, that I go to regularly here in Aberystwyth. (He works there no more, so no point in looking!)

I never made a painting from it, but I liked the composition of his arms cradling a large bowl of stuffed olives, and so I’m about to use that in conjunction with recent drawings of a rather fine-looking fisherman.

I have a pile of studies of fresh mackerel that I made when a neighbour gave me a couple some years ago, so put those all together and I hope I’ll have something worth looking at by the end of next week. I already have the title.

The Catch

The Puppet Challenge Part 9: Shellie, Leonard and the unknown Claire

Shellie Byatt, Leonardo Greco and Claire Crystal

Shellie Byatt: The Wolf, the Egg-Thief and the Surprise in the Shrubbery

Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf

Above: Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf

I wondered whether any Puppet Challenge participants would produce works in miniature, but the reality was that only two did. (And no-one elected to make their own version of a Juvenile Drama of the type produced by Benjamin Pollock, which came as a bit of a surprise.) Rachel Larkins and Shellie Byatt created small puppets of great charm and imagination. Rachel made her delightful Thumbelina-in-a-Tulip… seen in Puppet Challenge Post No 2, while Shellie let rip with an entire finger-puppet cast for Red-Riding-Hood, with extra characters thrown in for good measure. I love her Wolf beefed-up like a weight-lifter on steroids. Look at those shoulders!

The Wolf

The Wolf

In recent years Shellie, a painter, has been making ‘medallions’ that she has cast in bronze at a foundry, and so she’s regularly been working on three dimensional forms, though on a small-scale. I like the fact that with these puppets she’s continued at a scale comfortable to her, and yet has made the great leap of working in-the-round, and I long to see this fairy tale band of actors evolve into her easel work.

The Wolf in the woods

The Wolf in the Woods

The Woodcutter creeps up on The Wolf

The Woodcutter Creeps up on the Wolf

The Woodcutter

The Woodcutter

Grandma

Grandma

The Egg Thief

The Egg Thief

Surprise in the Shrubbery

Surprise in the Shrubbery!

Leonard Greco: The Hero-Twins

Leonard writes:

“As might be suspected, I am further exploring the exploits of the ‘Hero Twins’ in the underworld of Xlbalba. I made a cast of characters: the aforementioned twins, Hinahpu and Xbalanque, their unfortunate father the Maize God Hun Hunahpu, the God of Death Mictlanteluhtli and the World Tree, the Axix Mundi… more a prop than a puppet. I also painted a backdrop of the underworld, Xibalba.”

As a painter Leonard has been exploring the themes of Mesoamerican mythology with tireless curiosity. In so doing he has forged an extraordinarily vibrant and consistent visual style, that while drawing on European traditions of art, has retained a quality that is uniquely his own. (see below)

Below: the puppets

Above and below, The Hero Twins

Above and below: Mictlanteluhtli

Below: the Maize God, Hun Hunahpu

Below: creating worlds

When I was a boy I was never happier than when creating entire worlds. Toy theatres complete with full sets for various narratives crowded my bedroom shelves. There were the Norman castles and the Roman gladiatorial arenas, the haunted woods and the Carpathian ruins that fascinated me, the dinosaurs, mythic creatures and the gods and goddesses of ancient cultures all mixed up with elaborate dioramas of my favourite superheroes. I was never happier than when working with Plasticene, cardboard, Balsa wood, paint and wire. I see this same, ferocious ‘child-creator’ outpouring in Leonard, undilute and joyful, and I think it’s incredible he’s held onto it in a way that is entirely intact and untroubled by the later concerns… and influences.. of life. Most of us get all this stuff beaten out of us at some point, but Leonard has held fast to his ‘worlds’, and made them realities.

Claire Crystal: a late arrival

Claire Crystal

Rachel Larkins, who made the Thumbelina puppet in Post No 2,  wrote to me:

“I am sending you some images by one of the students of the Extended Diploma course of the university where I work part-time. Claire happened to be working on her own puppet project – an imaginary/mythical creature- during the summer term. This was her first foray into puppet-making, and she documented it brilliantly, and so I am sending an image of that too, just in case you’d like to include it.”

Claire’s puppet, with its green eyes and gentle expression, is beautiful, and I’m happy to include it here. I know nothing about Claire save what Rachel told me, and I fear Google hasn’t yielded any more information. Here’s the image Rachel included of Claire’s workbook.

Claire Crystal sketchbook

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.