The Puppet Challenge Part 2: Jill, Chris and Rachel

Jill Desborough, Chris Lettington and Rachel Larkins

Jill Desborough: Bird Watching

Jill writes:

“I’m making a bird-headed figure who I see as a ‘Guardian/Watcher of Borders’. All in black- a bit ambivalent. Whether malevolent or protective, I’m not sure. The image came into my mind when I was on the train. He is, I guess, from my personal mythology, rather than drawn from any source I could name.”

Living in a house with a rookery just to the rear of it, I find myself constantly aware of the birds watching our comings and goings, and I gain a subtle comfort from knowing they’re keeping an eye on things below. Jill’s beautifully wrought Watcher fits comfortably into my mental picture of birds as benign/portentous presences. The day of my father’s funeral in 1999, something crashed through a large first-floor sash-window of our house in Cardiff. We raced to the room to find it strewn with glass and adrift with white seagull feathers that proceeded to blow throughout the house. There wasn’t a sign of any bird, inside or out. Ever since, the incident has been referred to as ‘When-Trevor-took-his-leave-of-us!’

Since time immemorial painters and scuptors have spliced together men and beasts. In Ancient Egypt hawk-headed-Horus and ibis-headed-Thoth were at the heart of the pantheon of gods, and it’s interesting to see that for this contemporary artist a fascination persists for such hybrids in her sombre, distinctly magisterial rod-puppets.

As well as her Watcher of Borders, Jill found the time to create another magnificent puppet, based on the Greek myth of the Minotaur.


Chris Lettington: The Troll and the Dial O’Croc

Christopher writes:

“My character is the Troll from The Three Billy-Goats Gruff, which I really loved as a child but I never found the illustrations in the fairy tale books quite as I saw him.”

Christopher’s Troll had been almost completed when he made a last-minute change-of-plan and re-cut the head to facilitate a working mouth. It was the perfect decision, as with his mouth closed he’s a reasonably benign-looking Troll, but when that lower-jaw drops, he takes on a truly hair-raising appearance, with those tusk-like teeth not being anything I’d want to be at the receiving end of. I’d rather like to see the Three Billy-Goats Gruff to go with this character.

Here’s a LINK to see the Troll in action.

While he was working on the Troll, Chris was simultaneously building what he refers to as his Dial O’Croc. Though not strictly speaking anything to do with the Puppet Challenge, it’s just too delightful to leave out of this post. If you’re going to meet up with a crocodile, you’d better wish that like this one, it has no teeth!

Below: Christopher’s Dial O’Crock

Rachel Larkins: Thumbelina Dance!

Rachel writes:

“Eventually, after much procrastination, I picked Thumbelina as my chosen fairytale but then got rather side tracked with making the first image. (See above) The project has pushed my work in all sorts of new directions; I originally planned to make an automaton but subsequently decided (following one of your encouraging emails) that I was rather short of time and over-complicating things. After coming across a foam rubber octopus by Mummenschanz, I was inspired to make a wearable puppet, albeit on a much smaller scale than the costume I had looked at. Thumbelina is my homage to Fingerbob, and I have further plans to combine my drawings and puppet through animation…”

Rachel’s delicate summonings of Thumbelina in her painting and puppet, are both lovely and appropriately fragile in their realisations of the fairytale. The tiny, beautifully painted peg-figure hidden within the flower, is simple though ingenious, as compellingly presented as a conjuror’s sleight-of-hand. It’s moving to have such focus on the ‘reveal’, tenderly bringing forth life from a shower of tulip petals.

19 thoughts on “The Puppet Challenge Part 2: Jill, Chris and Rachel

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  3. Jill’s bird guardian watcher is right up my street. I love ravens in story, and although this does not look like a raven’s head, it has the same mysterious intelligence and a druid-like presence rather than the intrinsic comedy of ravens. And such an elegant hand. He is beautiful.

    Chris’s troll is a roguish delight. I really enjoyed watching the video of him in action and I would LOVE to see the goats to match with carved and textured curling horns!

    Rachel’s Thumbelina is lovely. It looks like an antique treasure to me. I love the beautiful painted face and the rich petals.

    Wonderful stuff and such completely contrasting styles.

  4. These are all wonderfully eye-catching and special, but my goodness, the Dial O’Croc… how I *adore* it! That is simply marvellous. It has made my day. It’s quite a joy to see him unpainted and the close-up of the mechanism too – that thing’s gonna come to life soon…

    The idea of it with crocodile teeth, though. Scary, and less adorable, methinks!

  5. I love the tender Thumbelina finger puppet…and especially the photo of her in the flower – seems like the right abode for a fragile little thing like her! The troll is wonderful…watching the clip was great fun, the voice seemed perfect…all that ‘aarrr urrr’ stuff. Just how a troll would speak. I particularly liked his nails….are they nail parlour type nails? Or made of something else? Jill’s Guardian figure is very striking….(as is the minotaur)…such beautifully strong and apparently simple figures of animal origin but then the surprise of the human-like hands. Gorgeous.

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  7. These are just incredible! I agree – the troll-jaw is perfect!
    I once saw an amazing puppetry performance with tiny tiny puppets and found it very moving… it’s really interesting how playing with scale changes things..

  8. Jill’s mythological creatures are definitely well crafted with great attention to details, there’s an air of grace to both of them.

    I appreciate Chris’s carving skills, and his last minute amendment was a brilliant idea. As I was watching his video my puppy was sitting right next to me, and he jumped up and started barking and growling at the screen when the troll appeared. 😀

    As for Rachel’s Thumbelina…I’m blown away by the magic, beauty, and fragility of her creation… I have been trying to reach her website but it seems out of order and I’m wondering if there is anywhere else where we can read more about her work?

    • Hussam, I’ve checked and indeed it looks as though the domain-name has expired on Rachel’s beautiful and informative website. A shame as I’m sure the Puppet Challenge would otherwise be directing people to her. I’ll write her an e-mail, just in case she doesn’t know. Thanks for pointing this out.

  9. So amazing! I’m particularly fond of the little Thumbelina…a puppet you can wear…that sparked off all sorts of ideas! Thank you x

  10. All three of these are magnificent!

    I love The Three Billy Goats Gruff, so I was thrilled to see the troll. The video really made me smile, too (where does Chris live that there are enormous tigers roaming about?). The puppet is obviously beautifully crafted, moves wonderfully, and is very convincing. Bravo!!

    Jill’s puppets were strikingly real looking, and I’m caught between wanting to see them come to life and feeling it would be far too scary! I too have been wondering how they were made… so it’s resin! A ha!

    Rachel’s work is fantastic. She had me at the drawing, but to see a thumb puppet of Thumbelina is just too good. I am amazed by the delicate, small-scale work, and love that the puppet is in fact a blooming flower.

  11. Awesome stuff indeed. Rachel’s fairy princess is pure magic, delicate and deceptively simple, magic at its best.

    I am so impressed by the whittled magic of the troll and croc, ingenious teeth and toe nails, marvelous stuff. Munching madness with that articulated jaw.

    And the Raven specter is a marvel. Like our friend Zoe, I too want to know the material used. It seems spun from flesh and bone-or feather and bone. And that minotaur, a minotaur that rivals anything from fair Crete.

    Bravo-brava to all.

  12. wow, i love that raven, and the minotaur–what is the material? they are truly fantastic!!
    the troll is an amazing creation–the toenails alone make a character!! and i agree about the lower jaw, what a set of teeth 😀 fabulous woodworking.
    and i adore the tiny thumbelina–what a lovely treasure…

  13. All brilliant, it’s wonderful to see the diversity of approaches and results. Jill’s bird, minotaur and Chris’s troll are beautifully sculpted, the bird so menacing like the Grim Reaper, the troll frightening, but amusing as well, I have a feeling I would quite like him if I met him! And Thumbelina , what an excellent play on words, story and puppet, a delightful idea .

  14. I’m amazed and fascinated by the different approaches everyone is taking.
    Another batch of absolutely wonderful puppets! well done everyone!

    I wondered what Jill uses to make her puppets heads? They are so beautifully sculpted. I’m thinking it might be some kind of modelling compound?

    Chris’s Troll video made me chuckle. That naughty Troll should be sent to bed with no supper!

    and Rachel’s unexpected approach ( and the tiny scale) is a really lovely surprise.

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