Today was papier mache day. Thankfully it's finally all done! Today was the first day I've been absolutely freezing in the workshop but it was probably worth it!
Now the Sentence Snatchers and Frank both have a layer of brown paper papier mache and PVA to provide a little protection. I also added papier mache to Frank's neck, neckline and wrists to provide an easy area to paint.
Next stage for Frank is acrylic paint and hair and the next stage for the Sentence Snatchers is fabric. This is my first time working with muslin but I think I've got it all worked out!
So I've been working in polystyrene a lot this week. After cutting rough silhouettes and laminating blocks together (as mentioned in my last post) I clamped them, waited for them to dry and then, using a combination of a belt sander and my dremel, carved them down to shape.
The sentence snatchers are thoroughly creepy and theyre really starting to take shape now. They need to be a little scary but not so scary they terrify the audience, who will mostly be very young.
All three of the puppets have what I refer to as kettle handles -- right angled handles built into their heads to allow for close up manipulation. I find these easiest to operate personally but some people prefer a straight rod. The kettle handles go right inside the puppet's skull.
Here are a few photos of their heads throughout the sanding process. For the bigger puppets I smoothed the skull out a little before drilling out the eyes with a 30mm forstner bit. Frank I sanded completely before drilling rough eye holes -- I'm going to add a bead in each eye socket after she's painted to add a little life to her.
Tomorrow I'm going to do some fine sanding. Pictures up when I get the chance! (It's a busy month!)
One of my most and least favourite materials to work in is polystyrene. its very versatile and incredibly light but it also creates a nightmarish amount of dust and needs a papier mache coat to avoid breaking down.
The best way I've found to work with polystyrene is to cut it roughly to shape (laminating pieces together if needs be -- I've done quite a lot of laminating for this show!) and then refine it with electric tools such as a belt sander or dremel before hand sanding to achieve a smooth, natural finish. For more unnatural puppets, such as robots, this final sand is less necessary.
The best glue to use with polystyrene is Gorilla Glue. Much like a Gremlin, the key is to make sure you don't get it wet (until you want to use it). They do a range but the one you want is the water-curing variety -- most other glues will melt right through the polystyrene! Never dip an applicator in the pot as any liquid might set off the curing process and ruin the whole pot.
The brilliant Catherine Thomas introduced me to Gorilla Glue, as well as the best technique for using it. Always, always wear gloves -- as well as being a bit of an irritant, Gorilla Glue stays around for ages -- I got a tiny bit on one of my fingers yesterday and there are still traces of it a day (and a shower and countless washes) later. Instead of dampening both surfaces, use a spray bottle on one surface, then apply the glue thinly, then spray water on top of the glue. That should be enough to cure it. Tape and/or clamp it and leave it overnight to cure. It will expand and become a light yellow solid foam so don't use it anywhere you want it to be discrete!
It's carcinogenic if I recall correctly, so use it in a ventilated area! But it's great stuff.
After it's dry, it's around the same texture as polystyrene and can be cut and sanded the same way.
The final thing you need to do is add a layer or two of papier mache -- depending on the finish I use brown paper, tissue paper or a combination of the two. This will stop the polystyrene from degrading and provide a surface for painting. You can also sand it.
I find it easiest to do this all with paintbrushes -- you can immerse the paper in glue and then smooth it on but it's a bit messy. I add water to the glue (about half and half), then using a rubbish paintbrush I paint on a patch of glue, then apply the dry paper. I then paint another layer of glue on top. Continue as long as you like but don't add too many layers at once.
I say a rubbish paintbrush because this can trash a brush very easily and it's not worth risking something fancy!
Tomorrow, more progress on the puppets for the show. And tonnes and tonnes of polystyrene dust all over everything.
As it's Mother's Day I didn't get a huge amount done today but I have cut out the hands and feet, so that's one job done! They are made from pieces of scrap plywood.
So, the weird story behind the elastic banding. A couple of years ago we ordered a tablet for my dad from Ireland. After waiting two months for it to be delivered (apparently having spent at least a month floating around various departments in Gatwick Airport), the parcel was sent back to Ireland and then back to us, finally.
And when we opened it...
No tablet. Just a whole load of whatever the hell these things are. Twisty rubber banding with a hook on one end.
They're useful -- I've used them in Frank's neck and arm and they're holding a lot of stuff in the workshop in order, but I've really got no idea what they are or what they are supposed to do.
Unfortunately, we're now starting to run low. Thing is, as I have no idea what they are, we can't order more!
Today was the start of the build for Sentence Snatchers, starting with the puppet for Frank. I started out with a front and side elevation sketch -- the puppet is required to be around 40cm tall so her head needs to be about a fifth of that (8cm).
Frank will mostly be constructed from 15mm and 34mm plastic pipe.
The head, which will have a polystyrene outside, has a ply inner with a handle on the back. There is a dowel through the neck with elastic banding holding it to the chest, allowing it to move freely.
The elastic banding has a bit of a weird story behind it -- I have no idea what it's actually called so if anyone knows, get in touch!
I've used two different joints for the knees and the elbows. The elbows have cable ties keeping them aligned and elastic banding holding the arm together but allowing it to move. The knees have metal joints allowing them to move in one plane.
The finished day's work. Frank has a skeleton (sans full head, hands and feet) and is ready for the next stage of work on Sunday.
Tomorrow I'm starting work on our newest collaboration with Flat Pack Productions -- The Sentence Snatchers: A Terribly Twisted Yarn, being performed at the Brighton Fringe at the end of May. I'll be building Frank, the protagonist, and the Sentence Snatchers, sinister, scissor-bearing creatures.
These are effectively scratch puppets -- if funding is successful we'll have the chance to develop them much further.
The main materials I'll be using are plastic piping and polystyrene. I will probably do a few materials blogs along the way.
Making and Production Blog