Thursday, February 13, 2014

bird by bird: robin #2

The role of the robin in The Secret Garden is shared by two puppets I'm building, so it can quickly appear in different places on the stage. While #1 has a wing flapping action, I wanted #2 to tilt its head along with the flute voicing its song. Wing flapping I'd done before, tilting is new to me. So again I made a quick cardboard mechanism to see if my idea would work. 

The simplest solution seemed to be a pivoting joint with 2 strings coming from paddles on either side.


This required getting more serious, so I went into the wood shop. Some experimentation 
and much reshaping resulted in this sloppy but adequate interior neck joint. 
The smaller holes are where the two strings will start from.

First mantra-- use what's on hand. Old paintbrushes are aplenty, 
and their hard coating makes a smooth twisting action as pins for the pivot.

Here it is put together: the crescent pieces will glue into the shoulder, 
while the round piece will pivot between them. Dowel inserted at angle to hold up the head. 

A wicked fight to get it into the cardboard body, which I'd already built. 
I would have done it the other way around, in hindsight. Der. Glued and stapled in.

A double strand of thick fishing line threaded through the holes, held down solid with 
epoxy and hot glue. I won't be able to get back into the body
easily for fixes, so extra back up strength is going in from the start. 

Clay-over-styrofoam head put into place. 

 And now, cardboard feather layers again, for texture and shaping. So much fun!

With robin #1 I was inventing from scratch, this time I'm recreating robin #1. 
Easier now that I know what to do, harder now that I have to match something.

Eye sockets carved, beak and wings added.

The first robin poses and watches on like a cheerleader.

"You're doing great, Robin #2!" says Robin #1.

End of a long and fruitful day 1, a moment to look at the evolution of the robins,
from maquette to finish.

Day 2: constant checking to get the second body similar to the first, 
using the cardboard feather pieces to add roundness and disguise the much different 
shapes created by the two different mechanisms.

Face and head feathers added. Carefully measured overhang to hide the gap between 
head and shoulders without obstructing the tilting action. Beak reshaped. 
It's always nice to finally get eyeballs in.

Looking like a bird now.

Remembering how the paint went on. Glad I took process photos to put on my blog.

And here they are, not quite identical, but twins nonetheless.

The tails might not be seen much from the audience, but they didn't look complete without them.

Robin #2 shows off his head tilt.

Next, a less visible rubber band for #1, and dowels for both, and then we'll be ready 
to head to rehearsal. 

a drawing a day

Week 6. Squeezed into a busy 7 days of puppet finishing, puppet teaching, heart-selling, Etsy shipping, weight-lifting, and an Olympic figure skating watching obsession. Some done waiting in check-out lines, a good place for drawing. 

Sunday, February 09, 2014


Always am I trying to catch the thing that comes and brings a great need to make something, that your hands become so distracted, they are clumsy with anything else you force them to do. And when you finally let it through, it's as if it makes itself, and you are just watching on mystified. I would like to know how to invite that to visit more often. 

Another Travis Knapp piece, this time a poem for Pete Seeger you can listen to here. 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

a drawing a day

Week 5! I've stuck with something past a month! Some bus-ride drawings which made me ill, Baba Yaga, another lady with a cat, and a little deviation this week: working on a larger ink drawing a little each day. It's nice that this drawing-a-day project has carved some space in my schedule to be able to feel I can work on my own art every day like that.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

bird by bird: robin #1

I got a call out of the blue for two bird puppets for a production of The Secret Garden (as things normally tend to go around here.) The first one was to flap its wings while perched. I'd done some flapping penguins for Luna's Sea, but those were flat cutouts with exposed mechanicals meant for background atmosphere. So the first order of business was to make sure I could get a mechanism to do the right movement. I did a fast tape and cardboard mock up to see if what was in my head would actually work. 

And it did:

The next step, get to know robins. The director wanted the British species which are quite different than our American version. I use reference through the whole process, but I like to get the feeling of something into my hands, so that when I'm in the passionate moment of manipulating materials, it's a matter of finding, not thinking the shape. 

And as usual it begins with digging through my stock of stuff to see what's telling me it's a robin. (This is why I'll never accept being called a pack rat- I actually use all the junk I stow!) First, a basic structure, hollow to house the wing mechanism, but also sturdy. I ended up with a section of thick cardboard tube and styrofoam which I started covering in several air-dry clays. A cardboard beak as a placer to help me find its expression. 

Then, join them together, and messing around for the right shape and posture. I added more cardboard to get a more graceful bird curve. Because I'm impatient I started ripping the cardboard rather than cutting it, and found that it made a beautiful feather effect. Good thing, because I hadn't even considered surface covering yet.

I went with the happy accident, added more to see if it was as good as I thought. 

And I got really into it, using ripped pieces to do the fleshing out rather than clay as I'd expected.

End of the first day- I'd added eyeballs and a clay beak so it could sit more happily 
with its full senses overnight. When I woke up the next morning it looked all too hawkish. 

While I considered how to fix that I worked on a wing. 
I went back to my comfortable cardboard, having made lots of paper-product wings before. 

Carved down the beak a bit. This is why I only use materials that have both additive and subtractive qualities. And a moment to consider and compare the source. Erm, right, about those wings...

And wing situation handled. 
Attached with canvas for a joint to allow for ease of flapping.

Still wondering if this ripped cardboard is too good to be true, I test it with some paint. 
Yup, I still love it.

Put up to roost for another night. 
Still got to get that other wing on.

Second wing added, beak widened, more clay to smooth and strengthen transition from head to body, and eye sockets carved larger-- because it was still looking like a larger species of bird. Tricky because it is actually larger, for stage effect reasons. 

Then, joy! More cardboard feathers onto the head. 
Larger eyeball. And more accurate paint.

Some wing painting, and a test of adding a bit of real feather for a hint of movement.

Highlights and details coming in. Perched again for the night. 
Morning light after a long work night is always a bit harrowing. 

But I'm still happy with him the next day. 

More to come, but robin #2 needs some coming along.