Puppet making is an art. Puppets can be made in many ways and take many forms. In a recent virtual event that I attended, sponsored by the San Francisco Bay Area Puppetry Guild (SFBAPG), the array of puppets exhibited was phenomenal. I had to embark on making a puppet.
My first attempt was ambitious. I wanted a blinking dragon. Learning how to make the mechanism of blinking eyes in a puppet head was laborious. I got to the point that I just wanted to buy already made mechanical eyes. The best eyes I could find were robotic from Spain. That would be expensive, so I attempted to make my own. If a teenager on YouTube can do it, so can I.
With countless visits to the hardware store, and ordering parts online, I finally made eyes that blink. However, it blinked for several minutes and got stuck. I made a call to a puppeteer and he explained that making any puppet was basically trial and error. I continued working on the eyes hoping for it to work well. There was some success.
The next thing I had to do was make a foam head. I went to a local upholstery shop for scrap foam. I proceeded to form the head by cutting and gluing. Rubber cement has a tremendous smell and family in the house complained. I resorted to a glue gun. Not a good choice for me. I burned the skin on my fingers very badly. Bandages later, I was able to insert the blinking eyes in the foam head. I discovered that I made too large of a head, and it was tremendously heavy. So, I bought a Dremel and hollowed out the foam inside the head. It helped to make it lighter. I wrapped the head with faux fur to sew together. Well, it looked more like a dog and my arm hurt holding it up to maneuver the eyes. I sent a picture of it to my puppetry friend and he suggested I dismantle it and try again. I decided to leave as is and call it an oversized dog puppet with lazy blinking eyes.
After brooding over not finishing my dragon puppet, I decided to start a new one. I am a papier-mâché and paper clay wiz. I decided that my next puppet dragon attempt will be made by papier-mâché. I know how to waterproof and make papier-mâché durable, so I had no fear with this project. To my delight I have finished the head, the claws, and the tail. The next step will be to paint, and then affix long fabric to it so it can wrap around my body. It will be a puppet that rests on my shoulders.
I am looking forward to finishing this project. I am also thrilled with the eyes. Gluing realistic glass eyes was a good choice.
Silvia Gonzalez Scherer is the Executive Artistic Director and co-founder of the Hanford Multicultural Theater Company. She is also a playwright and an actress.
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