Puppet Challenge: the ‘overflow’ gallery

I promised that I would post some of the puppets made by the Puppet Challengers that didn’t appear in the official posts, because we’d decided broadly to confine the exhibition to one puppet per person. I snuck two in for Scott Garrett, but as both Lynne Lamb and Philippa Robbins made many puppets, I decided to save the extra ones for showing after the main event.

Philippa Robbins: Blue

Philippa chose Frida Kahlo as her subject for the Puppet Challenge, an artist who painted many self-portraits that effectively mythologised her appearance. But in the process of making Frida, Philippa was producing a whole cast of glove-puppet characters. Here are some of them.

Below: the Diva

Below: the Prisoner

When Philippa came to stay with us at Penparc Cottage, her puppets came too, and this is the sight that greeted my trip to the loo one morning!

He has lots of tattoos. These are pictures taken during the process of making him.

Finally, Philippa produced a pair of puppets made in the likeness of her and her husband, for his birthday: Mini Philippa and Dave!

The images printed onto the hospital gowns are from drawings Philippa produced.

Below, Philippa at work in her kitchen, shortening a puppet’s neck with a saw!

Lynne Lamb: Bog Body

Lynne’s first puppet was a Frost Witch. She began with digital-renderings made on a tablet.

From the very first time I saw the renderings, I loved her vision of the character. Not pale and beautiful, the way Snow Queens are usually portrayed, but frost-blackened, leathery and pinched, like a bog-body preserved in peat. Deeply creepy, especially when arrayed in sparkles and icy lace.

Finally, the puppet as realised, and it doesn’t disappoint. I love those twiggy, scratchy fingers.

Below: Lynne’s portrait of the puppet. What started as digital renderings, and then became a creature of papier-mâché, at the conclusion was reinvented as paint on canvas. The puppet as muse and model!

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.



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

The Puppet Challenge Part 12: Peter, Ben, Lucy and Lynne

Peter Slight, Ben Javens and Lucy Kempton, with a guest-appearance by Lynne Lamb

Peter Slight initiated the idea of a Puppet Challenge at the Artlog, and thereafter researched and approached many of the artists and makers who would go on to produce puppets for it. Last year his jaunty artwork (see above) announced the Challenge, and thereafter he compiled a number of the ‘puppet posts’ that we jointly provided to encourage the contributors. I am much obliged to him for all his hard work.

Peter Slight: return to the horned man

Peter Slight set his heart on making a ‘horned Man’ puppet from the outset of the Challenge. I’m touched that he chose a folkloric character close to my own heart. It’s no secret here at the Artlog that last year Peter tracked me down and identified me as the anonymous designer of a theme-park attraction that long pre-dated my career as a painter, in which a horned man made an appearance. Peter says that seeing my work on that project when he was at an impressionable age, definitely tipped him into the love of British folklore that informed his choice of career as an artist.

Peter writes:

“If all the artists who you have inspired dedicted just one piece of work to you, it would amount to a LOT of work! I myself was inspired by your work over 20 years before I even found out who you were! (And I’m still being inspired by you.)”

“Thanks again, I can honestly say this is one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with, it’s been a real pleasure and privilege doing my little bit.”

Above: the puppet as originally conceived by Peter

Below: his Horned Man as realised.

Ben Javens: Jack-the-Green

Like Peter Slight, Ben Javens is an illustrator, and it’s interesting how both have brought the style of their more usual work to their puppets. Anyone knowing Ben’s graphic output would immediately recognise this Jack-the-Green puppet as being his.

Ben Javens illustration: All Around my Hat

Interesting too, that neither Ben’s Jack-the-Green or Peter’s Horned Man have arms, which lends them a particularly naive charm. I think they hail from the same universe.

Lucy Kempton: Fairy Melusine

I was delighted when I heard that Lucy Kempton was making a version of the French sorceress, Melusine, because it was a tale that I had discovered when studying the ravishing miniatures of the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, in which in flying serpent form, she makes an appearance. That’s her above the red-roofed tower to the right.

Lucy writes beautifully of the story, and so I shall leave her to tell it in her own words, as well as with a lovely quote from Jean d’Arras.

“I chose the mythical figure of Melusine, who is something of a favourite of mine. I was determined to make her from old felted jumpers, old t-shirts, scraps of wool and other textile and knitting-related materials which were waste or which I had already, and knowing I would leave the making of her quite late and be short of time, and that sewing to any kind of perfectionist standard often discourages and deters me from finishing things, I would deliberately make her in a rough and improvisational manner. In fact on researching the story, I learned that one of the best known versions of it from the Middle Ages was that of Jean d’Arras, and was part of a cycle of stories designed to be told by ladies at their spinning and needlework, which seemed appropriate.”

“The tale goes that Raymond of Poitou, founder of the House of Lusignan, came across a beautiful woman, Melusine, in the forest one day. Instantly smitten, he proposed marriage, and she was happy to consent, only exacting the condition that he should never seek to find her on a Saturday. She bore him many fine children and brought him much wealth. Of course in myth, as in life, if you make someone promise things like that, the one thing they want to do is break the taboo and find out. Raymond had to go looking, and found Melusine at her Saturday ablutions. (In some versions simply in the bath at home, and in others in a forest pool or spring, the kind of place associated with her.)”

“Oh dear, she was all serpentine from the waist down, and, many of the tales say, with a double tail!”


“Raymond was shocked, as was Melusine.”

“Then she was furious.”


“But also deeply saddened. Jean d’Arras has her say these words:”


Ah! Raymond, the day when I first saw you was for me a day of sadness! Alas! for my bane I saw your grace, your charm, your beautiful face. For my sadness I desired your beauty, for you have so ignobly betrayed me. Though you have failed in your promise, I had pardoned you from the bottom of my heart for having tried to see me, not even speaking of it to you, for you revealed it to no one. And God would have pardoned it you, for you would have done penance for it in this world. Alas! my beloved now our love is changed to hate, our tenderness to cruelty, our pleasures and joys to tears and weeping, our happiness to great misfortune and hard calamity. Alas, my beloved, had you not betrayed me I were saved from my pains and my torments, I would have lived life’s natural course as a normal woman, I would have died in the normal way, with all the sacraments of the Church, I would have been buried in the church of Notre-Dame de Lusignan and commemorative masses would have been observed for me, as they should. But now you have plunged me back into the dark penitence I have known so long, for my fault. And this penitence, I must bear it until Judgement Day, for you have betrayed me. I pray God to pardon you.

“Though some say she forgave him his curiosity and for seeing her, but couldn’t do so when later in a public row he called her a serpent. She resumed her serpent form and disappeared back into the forest, never to be seen again.  But she’d got to found the royal house of Luxembourg first.”



Lucy was not the only contributor to turn to Melusine as as source of inspiration. Lynne Lamb too made a puppet of the siren/sorceress. Lynne has already featured in the Puppet Challenge with her fantastic wolf puppets, but as she also made a marionette of Melusine, I’m adding it here, to keep Lucy’s version company.

Below: Lynne’s Melusine being made.

The Puppet Challenge Part 11: Andrew, Rima and Sarah

Andrew Grundon, Rima Staines and Sarah Young: the puppeteers in their puppets

Andrew Grundon: Andrew’s avatar

Andrew writes of his extraordinary marionette:

” Here he is… completed. I chose the satyr (or fawn) as he is as all pervasive in world folk history as the green-man or the elf. He is the melding of animal and man, a powerful beast who makes no apology for what he is. Neither good nor evil, in my mind he is the ultimate force of nature, noble yet base. A creature of instinct, honest and dangerously uncompromising. He symbolises the power that can be harnessed by awareness and acceptance of all aspects of ourselves. I hope you like him.”

I like him a lot! Having watched Andrew’s passion for puppets from afar, both on his blog and at Facebook, this elegant satyr seems evidence of the maker encoding personal iconographies… and even some physical similarities… into the creation, a characteristic I don’t think I’m being fanciful in detecting in all three of the puppets offered here today.

Andrew has an empathy with and a respect for the satyr, that is plain from both his description of what it represents to him, and from the lengths he’s gone to in order to produce something so beautifully designed and made. (That segmented and interlocking torso is quite a feat of construction.) I greatly admire the finish of the puppet. The dark, almost scorched appearance, leavened with distressed gold-leaf, makes the puppet almost timeless, and I’m reminded of some of the historic puppets, blackened with age, hanging in the marionette museums of Palermo.

Here are the stages of the satyr’s making.


Rima Staines: the puppet who sang himself into existence

Rima writes:

“I have been woodcarving! For the last few months a puppet has been in the making in my studio-on-the-other-side-of-a-trapdoor, as the summer rains and suns have lashed my windows. Puppetry, as you know, has been an art that has long sung to me, and niggled at me, and perched on my shoulder as I’ve done other things over the years, prodding me with wooden fingers not to forget.”


I’ve been in that magical place, and I can testify it came as no surprise to learn that it harboured the spirits of as-yet-unmade puppets whispering and singing enchantments in Rima’s ears, until the moment came for her to take up her father’s wood-carving tools and set about bringing them into the world.

I know that this wonderful, mystical ‘jester’… I have my doubts about that job description, as I think he’s far more a-shaman-in-the-guise-of-a-jester, than anything you’d find dancing attendance on a king or queen… is going to be the first of many puppets Rima is destined to make. If you have any doubts that she’s a born puppet-maker and puppeteer, watch THIS lovely little film. She doesn’t so much operate, as channel him. His wonder, his concentration, stillness and tenderness, are all reflections of Rima herself. Watching the puppet is like watching a version of her.

You can see more images and read more about the process of Rima’s puppet-making. HERE.

Sarah Young: fairy-tale chic

Sarah Young turned to the folkloric re-telling of Cinderella known as Mossycoat, producing this wonderful rod-puppet of a young woman who looks as though she’s been dressed by the smartest couture house. Her ‘swagger’ coat, with bracelet-length sleeves and crop-circle-like patterning, is as handsome a garment as we’ve seen at the Artlog Puppet Challenge. To set this off to perfection, her hair has been cunningly styled to suggest a laissez-faire disregard of formality entirely suited to her elfin face with its perfect maquillage. I’m reminded of the late, great Kay Kendall, who honed to perfection that free-spirited combination of the meticulously styled and the couldn’t-care-less.

Here’s Mossycoat, start to finish.

I love the fact that Mossycoat’s sheer skirt reveals that she’s completely forgotten to wear any knickers, and that the faint patterning of vegetation on her legs suggests the leafy stigmata of her dryad origins. It amused me that Andrew and Sarah both took their puppets out to be photographed surrounded by greenery, and I feel that were the satyr and Mossycoat to bump into each other, they would get along rather well, in the way that dryads and satyrs sometimes do.


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 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



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

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 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 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 first of two submissions for the Puppet Challenge made by couples. Of course anyone looking at her would be hard-pressed to guess that she’s the work of two pairs of hands, 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.