The Puppet Challenge Part 13: Judy, Jennifer, Michael & Benjamin, Penny, Charlotte and Liisa

Judy Watson, Michael Craven & Benjamin Rowling, Penny Benson, Jennifer VonStein, Charlotte Hills and Liisa Mannery

Judy Watson: Weasily Wolves

While pressure of work has meant that illustrator Judy Watson hasn’t yet completed her puppets… the design for which may be seen above… enough has been achieved for us to profit from what she’s produced so far. I’ve never yet seen puppets constructed from crumpled brown paper, but that’s what Judy is doing here. While fragility is bound to be an issue, so characterful are the figures she’s building in this extraordinary material that I think any risks are as nothing in the face of the sheer force of her creations. With these puppets very little ‘process’ gets in the way of the incredibly fresh visualisation. The drawings  are transformed into 3D renderings in no time at all. No laborious wood-carving, modelling and casting or papier mâché, but an immediate conjuring of the beasts, as fresh as new paint.

Here’s the raw material, crumpled and roughly painted. It has a fantastic texture.

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Above and below: sharp snouts and delicately pointy claws masterfully conjured out of rumpled paper.

Two wolves acting as one… the brains and the brawn… and I love their delightful silliness. Look at them hatching their plot in the fantastic drawing above, and that lolling, pink-as-raspberry-juice tongue, and grandma’s lacy night-cap behind the jauntily pricked wolf-ears. It’s all so sharply observed and astringent. This idiot thinks he’s really going to fool Red-Riding-Hood, and the idea is as charming as the wolf’s impersonation is futile! I cannot wait to see these puppets finished

Michael Craven & Benjamin Rowling: Firle the Giant

Michael Craven and Benjamin Rowling, the design team behind TheBigForest write:

“This is the first puppet we have made and the first time we have used papier mache. We learnt a lot and have enjoyed the process. We are going to experiment further with both puppet forms and using papier mache so the Puppet Challenge has been a really enjoyable experience for us.”

“The puppet is constructed with a papier mache head, safety eyes, a wooden pole that enables the head to move and card hands with wooden poles. He works well as a puppet although we would now construct his body in a different way having learnt about puppet making during the project.”

“We imagined our puppet in the final scene of his story – with a broken and heavy heart looking back at the landscape and his dead giant friend just before he begins walking.”

“We have used maps in our art practice for some time but have never thought of using them in our work at TheBigForest which tends to be more playful. We experimented with older maps of the Wilmington and Firle area but in the end settled for a pre Second World War map (around 1932) that we photocopied on to flip chart paper which is the right consistency for papier mache work and we liked the image in black and white rather than colour. The lines of the contours, tumuli and barrows make up the front of the giants face so he is truly rooted in the local landscape. The back of his head is pasted with map fragments of ‘modern’ Firle area – the railway lines and roads of the 1930’s map and on the hands the map is blurred as we had moved the map away from the copier.”

 …

Penny Benson: Goblin Market

Penny Benson asked to join the Puppet Challenge when she was already well into a project designing a puppet production of the Christina Rossetti narrative poem Goblin Market. Peter Slight and I were happy to welcome her on board, as the work was looking so promising.

The production photographs show that she took the opportunities afforded to make an ambitious, imaginative statement with her puppets, which are pleasingly angular and expressive.

Penny writes:

“I designed and built 7 goblin puppets for the show which was produced at Connecticut Repertory Theater, USA. The design/build process took approximately 2 months. The figures are all table-top style, operated by rods by puppeteers in full view of the audience.”

“A few of them have specialised movement: the head of the Parrot-like goblin extends on a long neck, Rat’s belly pops forward and his legs have a walking mechanism. The limbs and bodies were all made of wood, the bodies fleshed out in foam covered with lycra. The hands were  done with wooden dowels and putty/thermoplastic for the knuckles. Each head was sculpted in a water based clay from which a plaster mold was taken.”

The final heads were slip cast in firm neoprene rubber. Metal rods were placed horizontally through an eye bolt in the neck, and attached horizontally through the interior of the heads using epoxy and thermoplastic.  The heads were painted with acrylics and sequins were added to the eyes to reflect light. The costumes were designed by Xia Chen Zhou.”

Jennifer Von Stein: Rossetti Revisited

Jennifer VonStein also chose Christina Rossetti’s poem of Goblin Market for her Puppet Challenge subject. She writes:

“Memory informs my work.  Memories are real, but different from the reality they remember. Thoughts and images of my childhood fears and fancies, along with the current daily terrors of being a mother of children under four years of age, are a part of these pieces.

So instead of the heroines of Goblin Market, Laura and Lizzie, I created the Goblin Men.  Are they innocent like children? I think not, although they have a certain innocence to them, like the poem.

I began by sketching instead of taking notes during work meetings, a sure sign that my subconscious is at work.”

“There would defiantly need to be a one-eyed puppet. I recently read The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaimen and loved his description of the creature Ursula, all cloth and wind, something very, very other.”

“I wanted to capture this sense of otherness in my puppets, and was enchanted when I saw the puppets of Paul Klee. His simple glove puppets had the look I wanted, and for a first time puppet maker, appeared simple enough to make.”

 

Charlotte Hills: The Dandy Fox

After a false start with an idea that Charlotte eventually realised needed more time to ‘cook’, she set about creating a marionette character by ‘needle-felting’. This is another first for me, as I’ve never before seen a marionette made in this material.

 …

He started life as this drawing.

Needle-felting is a long process, and it was quite a while before the head of the puppet emerged. I love the expression Charlotte worked into him. He has such soulful eyes.

Finally he was ready to dress, and Charlotte stitched the most perfect garment for her dandy little fellow. I’d happily wear this coat myself… if it were a tad bigger!

I think there were times when Charlotte despaired of ever finishing her marionette. She pushed herself and her skills to the limit at every stage, and it’s a testament to her determination and vision that she produced this extraordinarily elegant and charming puppet.

Charlotte writes of her Mr Fox:

“The theme of the trickster runs very deeply through the mythology of most human societies. From Loki, to Brer Rabbit; from the Native American coyote spirit to the Monkey King in China. We need the trickster animus to express the outcast.
 Through the folklore of Europe run the stories of Reynard the fox, Isengrim the wolf, Tybalt the cat, Chanticleer the cockerel and Bruin the bear. Fast talking and clever, tricky and dishonest, Reynard is a reflection of our clever and unscrupulous selves. We need him to find an easy way, to take the blame, to show up our own vanities.”

Liisa Mannery: Shadowlands

Liisa is articulate, funny and scrupulously honest in her description of how she approached her Puppet Challenge. I love the way she writes about her experiments at her blog (linked below) and so I shall leave her to explain them in her own words:

“Some things I know about puppets that I didn’t know 3 months ago:

 

1. Shadow puppets need to move, a lot. Even if they are intricately detailed, or colorful, they are basically very subtle creatures and need to overact to make their presence felt.

 

2. I dislike being removed from the action — I want to see it from the front or the top, or the side. But from the back…unh. And what I’m seeing isn’t even what the audience is seeing, only the thing that is creating the shadow that the audience is seeing. I love shadow puppetry, but I’ll sit in the audience from now on, thank you..

 

3. But…remove the screen that separates the front and back of the stage, leaving paper figures on sticks or strings…that’s exciting. True, I think anything made of paper is exciting. And, personally, I believe you can make just about anything out of paper. Preferably newspaper.

 

4. Also exciting is to take the shadow puppets off their sticks, and use them for animation, a la Lotte Reiniger. But maybe that isn’t, strictly speaking, puppetry. If that’s true then I’m in trouble. (Editor’s note: nothing to worry about there, Liisa. It is puppetry.)

 

Some things I do know, but need to be reminded of:

 

1. Fancy mechanics are fun to design and build, but they aren’t usually necessary and utilizing them will probably just make your hands hurt.

 

2. Simplify, simplify, simplify. I like Done to Death, but I don’t do it very well.”

 

“I chose to make shadow-puppets; my character of choice was Väinämöinen, the aged sage and rune singer from the Finnish epic poem The Kalevala, but the project quickly branched out into other characters from the stories.

Photo 1 (above) is Joukahainen, who had the temerity to challenge Väinämöinen to a dual of magic and got himself sung into a patch of quicksand.

Photo 2 (below) is Lemminkainen, who met a messy end and whose mother fished all the pieces of him out of the River Tuoni and (with a little divine help) patched him up. Not that either of them learned his lesson.”

“In the interests of full disclosure I’ll say that the figures in the pictures were made as shadow puppets, but as such were marginally successful and impossible to photograph! So, the photos are the puppets, sans sticks, laid on a light table.

They are made of watercolor paper with joints of sewing snaps. I made no particular effort to hide or disguise the structure, it seemed to add something.

This was a really engaging project for me. (And not over yet!) ”

“Above: an early Väinämöinen with several experimental joints. There’s a small brad on his face, bits of pipe cleaner on his ankles and wrists, and “butterflies” for lack of a better word everywhere else. These butterflies were cut from cardboard (knees) and aluminum bakeware (everywhere else) and were the only part of the project that drew blood! (I’ll post an explanation of how these are made and work. It’s intriguing.)”

 …

“Above: Lemminkainen’s mother and another Väinämöinen, have sewing snaps for joints. They work beautifully, can be unsnapped and reused repeatedly and, with a little planning, can even be made to look like jewelry or hardware. Not that that would show up very well in a shadow. And I have a million of them already…how about that! Mother’s snaps are clear plastic; I thought that would be perfect but actually they have a small hole straight through them and so mother appeared to be held together by spots of light. So…constellation shadow puppets, maybe? But not in this story.”

“Above: In the upper left of the picture is the totally overworked but rather fun Väinämöinen that moves his arms and opens his mouth to sing. It only takes four hands to work him, all the while hollering to the audience “Wait a sec, I’ve almost got it!” Hated to give up on that, but sometimes you really must “kill your darlings.”

Liisa’s shadow-puppet explorations are clearly ‘in process’, and I for one can’t wait to see where she goes with all these ideas.  I love her images, the variation in tone and density of shadow, with the overlappings evident, as well as the clever use of sewing-snaps. These are very close in feel to the Chinese, Turkish and Greek traditions of shadow-puppetry. I feel that whatever problems Liisa is experiencing with operating them on a vertical screen, could be solved quite easily with time and help. Alternatively, the puppets would work wonderfully manipulated in stop-motion on her light-box. I heartily recommend you explore her blog, where all these wonderful experiments in puppetry are going on.

This is the last official post of the Puppet Challenge. There may be a few add-ons yet to come, such as the extra puppets made by enthusiastic and prolific challengers, and there could even be the odd late arrival at the party. But for the main part, it’s over.

The challenge as laid out at the Artlog last year by curator Peter Slight, has been magnificently met by most of those who signed to it. A few made a good start but then weren’t able to complete for very good reasons, among them Val Littlewood, Bev Wigney, Zoe Blue, Matt and Amanda Caines and Christina Cairns, whose finished puppet I hope yet to see, as she had made such a promising start. Paul Bommer had to drop out due to pressure of work. Some simply signed but then never showed again, and that’s just the way of these things. But the majority pursued the project to the end, working tirelessly and with a great deal of creativity. Here is a list of the forty-one who took part and stayed the course, together with links to the posts their work appears in.”

Part 1

Jodi Le Bigre, Joe McLaren and Hussam El-Sherif

Part 2

Jill Desborough Chris Lettington and Rachel Larkins

Part 3

Nicky Arscott, Nomi McLeod and Ruth Barrett-Danes

Part 4

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

Part 5

Philippa Robbins and Karen Godfrey

Part 6

Liz King

Part 7

Graham Carter, Caroline McCatty and Scott Garrett

Part 8

Lynne Lamb, Anna Marchi and Graeme Galvin

Part 9

Shellie Byatt, Leonard Greco and Claire Crystal

Part 10

Phil Cooper, Stephanie Redfern, Chloe Redfern, Anna Clucas and Janet Kershaw

Part 11

Andrew Grundon, Rima Staines and Sarah Young

Part 12

Peter Slight (curator), Ben Javens and Lucy Kempton

Part 13

Judy Watson, Michael Craven & Benjamin Rowling, Penny Benson, Jennifer Von Stein, Charlotte Hills and Liisa Mannery

It’s been a very great pleasure to host the exhibition at the Artlog, and to write about so much beautiful work. It has however been enormously time-consuming. I won’t promise another open exhibition any time soon, as I have a massive backlog of my own work to catch up with, and a big exhibition to be prepared for 2015 at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, which will include puppets! I hope that any of you who further your puppet-making endeavours will stay in contact and keep me up to speed with your adventures. But for now, thank you for all your hard work and enthusiasm.

Very Best

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

26 thoughts on “The Puppet Challenge Part 13: Judy, Jennifer, Michael & Benjamin, Penny, Charlotte and Liisa

  1. Somehow I missed this last post, I don’t know how, but anyway it is a splendid ending to the most fascinating exhibition. I am a great fan of Judy Watson’s work and those crumply puppets are (and are going to be ) superb. I love the shadow puppets, too, and indeed all the puppets are brilliant on this post. Thank you soooo much Clive for giving so much time and energy to this exhibition, I know it has been hard work for you, I’m not surprised at you batonning down the door! 41 contributors, that is a large number of people to have inspired and influenced, and editing must have been extremely time-consuming. well done and thank you for your generosity . And thanks to Peter of course. What a great finale!!!xL

  2. Thank you Clive and Peter for this wonderful puppet exhibition.

    Judy’s Brains and Brawn are really comical, and I could see a funny story emerging from those two. Michael and Benjamin’s gentle giant is rooted in a sense of place with this mapped complexion. Penny’s puppet making techniques for the Goblin Market production are a fascinating insight, and the stage effects of lines of fruit criss-crossing human actors and the puppets are quite magical.

    Jennifer’s glove puppet Rossetti-Revisited rabbit looks like it would be lots of fun in a play.

    As for Charlotte’s needle felted Mr. Fox, well the drawings and felted face are beautiful. I have been looking for a coat like that for a while now.

    The wonderful shadow puppetry world of Llisa’s figure-transparencies on a light box make me think of the possibilities of animation for this, which she talks about in her lovely blog.

  3. A huge thank you to Clive and Peter for all of their work on this truly incredible exhibition! Every single post of this, down to the very end (this last post being perhaps one of the most dizzily wonderful for sheer variety – wild eyes and lolling tongues, gorgeous geometric goblins, a felted and stitched marvel, wild button-eyed three-dimensional scrawlings, a map-faced delight, and finally the loveliest layered shadows to tell the Kalevala… so much! Such beauty!) has been absolutely delightful and far beyond anything I could have imagined. (You’ll have to forgive such a clumsy sentence as a reflection of my being positively overwhelmed!) I can completely understand that Clive will now want to be jealously guarding his time for his own work. More than a few times during the past couple of months I thought of him and how much work he must have been putting into this project. I hope that Clive and Peter both realize how much we all appreciate their efforts on this. Thank you!!!

  4. Huge thanks to Clive and Peter from us (Michael and Benjamin at TheBigForest). We have really appreciated being part of this project and it’s been so good to see others work inspired by the same theme. We also know that ‘drawbridge up’ feeling! It’s made us realise our more commercial work can take over and we need to carve a space (again) for the pure pleasure of making. And create more puppets of course! 🙂

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to put this exhibition together Clive, it has been a real treat to see what a diverse range of characters people have created. It’s all been very inspiring!

  6. My goodness this has been an epic event, dazzling really; my heartfelt thanks to Peter and to Clive. I cannot imagine taking on such an endeavor AND still producing such fine personal work as Clive and Peter have demonstrated. Clive, a rest well earned, eager to see what comes out of your magical studio.

    This final post is a dazzler: those funny wolves once again, they still bring about a chuckle; the fellows and their Giant, fantastic stuff. I visited their site and they have quite a unique vision , delightful; TWO plays upon Goblin Market, perhaps one of my favorite poems ever; thank you both, Jennifer and Penny, for offering fresh perspectives; not how I envisioned the narrative (my own would be most likely a conventional 19th c understanding using WAY too much sepia!), so thanks; Charlotte’s fox is almost too good. My little marionettes seem so creaky by comparison. I was heartened that we shared a similar method in preparing our little beings; and to close with bits and snips of scrap paper, is just so marvellous. Liisa really takes essentially nothing and spins it to life. Whether or not they function properly as shadow-puppets seems a bit beside the point – what fantastic images. How easily they would translate into paintings.

    I am so pleased to have been part of this, thank you all, but most especially Peter and dear Clive.
    Lg

  7. An amazing last group of puppets! I am so impressed by the variety, not only of subject matter by the huge array of mediums used to create these beings. Such talent, thank you all for sharing and thank you Clive and Peter for facilitating. It has been an honour and a privilege to see these.

  8. Just echoing what everybody has already said but a huge thank you to Peter and Clive for all the efforts put into hosting the online exhibition. I’ve put on quite a few myself so i know the effort involved in curating all that material, and kudos for writing so thoughtfully about each piece Clive! (I’m also still reeling from your Ray Harryhausen story!). Thanks for inviting me to take part – i certainly learned a lot from it. It’s been awesome seeing everyone’s creations come to life – congratulations you lot!
    Graham

  9. Peter – what a wonderful idea you had, and Clive. thank you for all your encouragement, countless hours on this blog and endless inspiration.

    To all my fellow Challengers, it has been an honor to participate along with you.This experience has been amazing. I bow down to all!

  10. Wow! This has been a real treat. Clive, thank you for giving so generously of your time. Peter, thank you for curating alongside Clive. I have been blown away by the sheer volume and wonderful creativity on show at The Puppet Challenge. I have smiled, laughed out loud, and been gobsmacked by the contributions. Every one without fail, has been a delight. The diversity and ingenuity has opened my eyes and inspired new directions to travel down. Thank you all.

  11. Taking part in this project (my first ever) has been an incredible experience. A huge thank you to Peter and to Clive for every idea and inspiration, as well as the sheer volume of hard work put in. Without Clive’s support – never refused, when requested – I may never have finished. You always found a spare moment of precious time. The quality of each project has been awe-inspiring. l love the company I have kept here, telling stories with those Weasly Wolves would be such fun. I loved Ursula in the book and this is much how I imagined her to be. Liisa’s Kalevala Tales process is fascinating to follow. I write this at the end of a country-spanning trek from Finland, across Europe, to mid-France. Each of the myths have followed us as we have travelled.

  12. I’m amazed by the innovative materials and the variety of puppets… .the charming silliness of Judy’s wolves and her innovative use of brown paper, the amazing face structure of Michael and Benjamin’s gentle giant, the unique designs of Penny’s goblins, Jennifer’s other worldly creations, the elegance of Charlotte’s fox and another innovative use of materials, Liisa’s puppet challenge journey and the brilliant use of sewing snaps

    Clive, thank you for your dedication and the hard work on this challenge. You’ve given us each a little window into each others worlds and a chance to share an honest piece of ourselves in the form of puppets, drawings, poems and stories.. Your encouragement and inspiration have motivated me and many others to follow through this challenge. Saying thank you seems inadequate, but I meant it.

  13. Oh wow! So much variety in the final post. It’s like visiting a Roald Dahl sweet shop. Clive, I can’t thank you enough for your efforts with this Challenge. Thank you for your generosity with time, goodwill and information, and your unfailing kindness to all. Your own work is an inspiration and this feast of puppetry and ideas for us to enjoy is an additional wonderful treat. The very best of luck with your ongoing projects. I hope you thoroughly enjoy your regained freedom. Perhaps it was a good thing that a few fell by the wayside 🙂

  14. And thank you Clive, for so much work and effort and encouragement in this, it really has been a magnificent tour de force, and I can only imagine how much of your time and energy it’s taken. I’ve not been able to comment on everything, and am enjoying catching up on posts I’ve rather skipped because of other distractions, and it has been quite an embarrassment of riches, but it’s been a thorough awe-inspiring joy of a show. Bravo to you, now try to enjoy some time to yourself for your own work!

  15. Once again I am blown away by the variety, talent , craft and humor of the entries in this challenge…. Thank you so much Clive for all your work in bringing us all together for the fun.
    It really has been great fun, and a real pleasure to be among such company.
    I appreciate how much time it all has taken and am grateful for all the work you put into presenting my pieces ( I gave you very few words to work with and you made me sound very coherent 🙂 )
    Now I look forward to seeing your posts about your progress for the 2015 exhibition . Thank you once again for all the work you put in and thanks to all the other puppet challengers for their wonderful inspirational puppets!

    • I couldn’t have put it better! Such a fantastic collection of ideas and techniques…I wish I could meet everyone who contributed and scrounge how they did what they did 🙂 Thanks to Peter for the super initial idea and bravo Clive for all the hard work in bringing it all together and writing such insightful and informative commentaries…it’s been a pure joy to see.

  16. Clive, all this stuff is pure gold, far too good to disappear!
    Surely this would make a marvellous book, a brilliant resource as well.
    Lxx

    • A book? Oh my! Well, one day perhaps, though I can’t imagine when. Right now I’m relieved to put this project to bed and get on with my own work. It’s been a long haul, and I’m glad to be done with all the loading of images, editing of material and compiling of posts. (It scares me when I start to add up the hours I’ve spent on the Puppet Challenge.) It’s crossed my mind that it would make an interesting exhibition in the real world, but such a thing would take a year or more out of my life to pull off… all the fund-seeking and admin… and I don’t want to be doing that when I could be at the easel and painting.

      My friend Mary Husted has just about given up her life to the organising of the world tour of Folding Books, the exhibition I took part in that started life at the National Library here in Aberystwyth, and while I know she’s enjoyed seeing the public enthusiasm for the project… it had a particularly successful tour in China… I know too that her own work has gone onto the back-burner for the duration. I couldn’t do that. I’d be grumpy as hell all of the time!

      Sometimes I think one life is not enough!

      • weeellll never say never Clive, one day maybe! and just know that myself and others, would be on hand to do much of the admin and organising work (under your watchful eye of course)

        But for now, as the dust settles on what has been an amazing and epic project I doff my cap to you sir, for your herculean effort in pulling all the diverse strands together and offering so much support and inspiration to us all. Hip-hip-HOORAY!!

        It’s going to seem quite strange not having puppet posts to look forward too, I feel a bit sad now.

        • P.S. i forgot to add that I had another puppet related idea…
          *gulps nervously* I did wonder about holding a small puppet event…erm…..possibly in one of your fields? *nervous laugh*
          as a way for as many people as possible involved with the challenge to meet and put on some kind of show. It would certainly feel like a grand climax to the challenge?!…maybe the ‘Chagford Puppeteers’ would be willing to put on show? maybe Andrew Grundon’s puppet wagon would be ready by then??

          I would be very willing to put on a hi-vis vest and help steward the event! *pulls hopeful/pitiful face*

          ok, ok,I know, I know, I can almost sense you rolling your eyes gnashing your teeth and your blood pressure rising…..

          ….well it was just a thought….

          • Down, boy, down. I can see those soulful eyes and that waggy tail, but my heart is hardened against such pleadings.

            If anyone else who took part in the Challenge feels motivated to hold such an event, then I would support it in any way I could. (And yes, perhaps there may be some enthusiasm for that in Chagford, which is a heaven of creative souls!) But for now, the gates to Ty Isaf are padlocked, the drawbridge is winding up and the portcullis creaking down. The shutters to the ground-floor windows have been closed and bolted. The flag that announces whether I’m in or out is at full-mast, proclaiming ‘The artist is home but busy, so go away!’, and the sign over the front-door knob has been turned to ‘Do not disturb!’ Jack sits squarely on the front terrace, Cerberus at the gates of Hades, his gimlet gaze ready to skewer any interloper unwise enough to ignore the warnings and advance up the drive. And if his gimlet gaze skewers the soul, his sharp sharp teeth will not be far behind to perforate the flesh! Corvids in the rookery stand by to descend and pick any spare meat from the bones of the uninvited.

            Work on Alice in Wonderland is underway, and after that there will be an endless stream of deadlines to see me through 2014/15.

            The artist is working. (Or sleeping!) Come again another day.

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