Category Archives: puppetry

Lost Puppet Sketches

Didn’t I say I’d find the Three Billy Goats Gruff sketches somewhere unlikely? … I was wrong. They were on the floor, under a pile of papers and sketch books.

Here’s the page of goat sketches done when I briefly considered making puppets of the 3 Billy Goats Gruff for Clive Hicks-Jenkins’s Puppet Challenge. I liked the idea of using crumpled paper to twist into the horn shapes of these fellows. But first I had to remind myself of what makes a goat look like a goat. I didn’t spend very long at it. Just long enough to get to first base. Here’s first base.

billy goats page judywatsonart lores

A page of goats drawn in the car at soccer training. The middle-bottom one looks more like a Labradoodle I think.

goats 1 judywatsonart lores

Loose squiggles. Trying to get the ‘essential’ goat.

billygoat judywatsonart lores

Thinking about how nicely the horns would twist in damp brown paper…

3 billygoats judywatsonart lores

Thinking about how I would differentiate between Big, Middle and Littlest Billy Goats Gruff. Horns, eye position, nose length, beard. No 3. should have a very long beard, but as you can see in the top picture, he has been thwarted by the edge of the page.

troll puppet sketch judywatsonart lores

And of course a troll sketch to go with them. Only one.

If you like Billy Goats and graphic novels, you might like to visit Lucinda Gifford’s blog to see her great take on these characters.






Puppet Challenge… Weaselly Wolves and other unfinished creations

Weasely Ones

Weaselly Wolves – painted in 2013 for ‘One Word One Day’

Finding myself trying to make Greyfur too anatomically kangarooish was making my puppeting challenge hard. Indeed, my son asked me if the incomplete Greyfur face was a dog or a deer.

Other subjects I’d earlier considered making for the Puppet Challenge had included the following. All have been covered by other puppet challengers as it turns out.

The Big Bad Wolf

The Big Bad Wolf is a favourite topic of mine, as I’ve been a fan of Angela Carter’s writing for many years, but he’s not a local myth like Greyfur. I also find wolves pretty easy to draw because along with their doggishness is the fact that the BBW is now such an icon, that he is recognisable in any kind of shorthand format and is way above any kind of need for anatomical realism.

young wolf young wolves 10167981_483105751790707_574541033_n

Wolfish types (above), bearing little resemblance to Canis Lupus.

Puss in Boots

Puss is also not a local tradition. Angela Carter does a fabulous rendition of this fairy tale too. And as I seem to be obsessed with Cornish Rex cats at the moment, my Puss in Boots sketches were distinctly Cornish in flavour; black, big-eyed, big-eared, narrow-framed.

This one was for the 52-week Illustration challenge, but I was thinking about Puss in Boots for the puppet challenge at the time.

This one was for the 52-week Illustration challenge, but I was thinking about Puss in Boots for the puppet challenge at the time.

first sketch, always too naturalistic, but he almost captures the devil-may-care nonchalant cat personality I was going for.

first sketch, always too naturalistic, but he almost captures the devil-may-care nonchalant cat personality I was going for.

shadow puppet perhaps? I like the idea of the sail-like ears being semi-transparent and the rest being solid black card.

shadow puppet perhaps? I liked the idea of the sail-like ears being semi-transparent and the rest being solid black card.

a further attempt to get whole figure on the page!

a further attempt to get whole figure on the page!


marionette? With Yarn body and wooden boots?

black yarn knitted or crocheted body?

black yarn knitted or crocheted body?

puss in boots 6

Back to the shadow puppet idea. I drew the shadow puppet ogre and the mouse that he turns into, foolish fellow. I also drew the king and had a couple of goes at the lad.

puss in boots 7


puss in boots 8

Troll with Billy Goats Gruff

We live by a creek with a bridge so this had some local relevance. And this was the first one that I considered using the crumpled paper for. I had it in my mind that the curling horns of the goats would look great if made out of crumpled and twisted paper. And I was intrigued about the challenge of making three goat characters and capturing the varying ages and personalities of the three (a theme I had a lot of fun with in The Middle Sheep by Frances Watts.)

Three goat siblings I drew for 'The Middle Sheep' by Frances Watts

Three goat siblings I drew for ‘The Middle Sheep’ by Frances Watts

I seem to have misplaced my puppet goat sketches. They’ll turn up somewhere unlikely one day…

Greyfur the Kangaroo

A couple more sketches I found while I was looking for the goats!

greyfur study 1lores greyfur study lores


So anyway… I went back to the wolves in the picture at the top of this post! These two rather weaselly looking wolves are plotting mischief together. Below are some photos of the fun and messy creative process the other night on my kitchen floor. The boys were having a fantastic time for much of the evening, playing with a sack full of puppets that I had tipped out onto the floor. Puppets really do inspire all sorts of creative play.

Two (Big, Bad) Wolf Brothers

starting point

starting point



one weaselly nose and some fingers with claws drying in front of the fan heater

one weaselly nose and some fingers with claws drying in front of the fan heater

three toes before strapping together to make a hand. I was careful this time to make the outside and inside fingers the right length.

three toes before strapping together to make a hand. I was careful this time to make the outside and inside fingers the right length.

strapping together to make a hand

strapping together to make a hand

adding a thumb

adding a thumb

two hands, one with a wrist

two hands, one with a wrist

two hands with wrists

two hands with wrists

positioning some eyeballs!

positioning some eyeballs!

adding eyelids

adding eyelids (with rough dots for pupils)

time for some teeth after the lower jaw added

time for some teeth after the lower jaw added

teeth side close2

I wanted the teeth to be very crooked and uneven

I wanted the teeth to be very crooked and uneven

both with eyes and with ears under way

both with eyes and with ears under way

All ears connected.

All ears connected. The Brains (left) has narrower eyes to make him look more sly. Brawn will have the lolling tongue.

Indian ink on crumpled paper. A very satisfying process

Indian ink on crumpled paper. A very satisfying process

Would you buy a used car from these two?

Black paint on. I may add more later.

This guy is just asking for a tongue now.

This guy is just asking for a tongue now.

would you buy a car from these two-2

tongue and teeth with some white added

tongue ready to attach. Teeth and eyes with some white added. Brains will have moving hands. Brawn will have a moving mouth. (This is probably rather counter-intuitive but there ya go!)

with tongue, painted mouth, bloodshot eyes and Granny's bonnet.

with tongue, painted mouth, bloodshot eyes and Granny’s bonnet.

Would you buy a used car from these two?

Would you buy a used car from these two?

This is where I had to stop. If I have time Brawn (Actually, I think his name is Willy) will get a nightdress slightly stained with blood on the front, and lacy sleeves from which will protrude his long, black claws over the bed clothes.

Brains (Hmmm… Ernest, perhaps, because he’s anything but earnest) will have working arms, but I’m not really happy with the high attachment I’ve started here. I think he’d be more impressive without such a distorted scale. I might give him long arms and move them with rods instead so that they can creep in from the side in a lurking sort of way. I think these two should look rather long and rangy like their original drawing, rather than dwarfed versions of themselves.

Weasely Ones

I’d love to add whiskers, but not sure where to get those twirly feathers from that people use on puppets. I could modify some of my chickens’ feathers I guess…  But I’ll have to leave these rascals for now.





Puppet Challenge – A Crumpled Creation

Greyfur study4

Here’s Greyfur the Kangaroo from Alan Marshall’s Australian fairytale Whispering in the Wind. I drew some sketches of her a while back as a beginning to my concept for a puppet for Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ Puppet Challenge.

Here's another, later head portrait I did for Greyfur

Here’s another, later head portrait I did for Greyfur

I always imagined my Greyfur would have a moving mouth but also needed moving front arms so that she could pull things out of her magic pouch. It would also make sense for a kangaroo to have prominent hind legs. Since a marionette is beyond my technical skill without the investment of many hours of learning, I was a bit stumped as to what kind of puppet she might be. I love shadow puppets, but they’re not right for this character. Glove puppets generally work by concealing or omitting the legs… hmmm

My stumped feeling, along with my other work demands have made postponement the only thing I’ve come up with for this challenge. So during a recent stay with my parents-in-law in Camperdown in the school holidays, I decided a now-or-never approach might be best (especially as the first instalment of the Puppet Challenge had already been published on Clive’s site!) So I threw myself into a crumpled paper concept that had been lingering in my head for months but which I had never properly thought out.

crumpled paper - ready to begin!

crumpled paper – ready to begin!

I am always attracted to working with paper, especially if it’s not pure white and pristine. Paper is forgiving and fixable and as my approach has by choice a rough-finished aesthetic, many tearings and glueings would not matter. I have also always loved the floppy, rough expressive quality of an ordinary sock puppet, that comes to life in the hand of anyone, no matter how young. My vague thought was that the puppet would be a crumpled paper sock-puppet with personality rather than anything else.

Gail kindly lent me the use of her sun-filled studio and I set to work with no kind of method at all. gf1

The first thing I found was a kangaroo nose in a corner of the paper. I coloured it black below and then folded.

gf2 eyes

I painted her eyes as per the portrait.

gf3 ear

made a couple of ears

gf5 nose in production

Nose in a very rough shape. I could see this was going to be interesting to shape without any underlying structure. I didn’t want too much shape (the sock-puppet floppy roughness was what I was after) but I didn’t want total shapelessness either. She had to have a kangarooishness. A Greyfurness.

gf6 eye glued on

I glued on the eyes. I knew this would be the clincher in the end. The eyes are everything to me. They make or break any character I am creating.

gf7 ear attached

Ears next. Greyfur has no brow. No ‘stop’ as the dog people would say, and this doesn’t work for her. I’ll need to find a way around this.

gf8 brow and ear

Attempting to add a separate brow. A new plane to change the direction of the puppet. In the meantime I noticed that she was getting too big for a  glove puppet.

gf9 strut inside nose holding eyes together

I added an internal strut from eye to eye to see if this would hold her head and eye position to keep her from flattening out.

gf10 a bit of paint detail on head

The strut did work partly. Here it is holding the width of the head roughly in shape but she still had no brow and no narrowing muzzle. I’m aware that anything can be fixed with cutting or tearing and re-gluing, but it will all be pretty random, as I don’t have pattern making skills!

gf11 where I stopped

Still not the right shape. The eye shape and position was the biggest problem. At this point, Greyfur was pretty wet in a range of areas and needed to spend some time toasting in front of the fan heater, so I turned to the paws.

paw1 underside 2 claws

Here we go! Paper, glue, bits of paper towelling, adrenalin, cup of tea.

paw2 underside 3 claws

taking shape

paw3 in process spread

Four claws. Looking ferocious.

paw4 in process curled and painted

Curl the paper and glue. stuff with a little paper wadding. Paint the nails.

paw5 drybrush

The second paw I painted beforehand so that I could paint flat. I really love this distressed dry-brush effect on the paper. It is great for suggesting the fur on marsupials. Often the fur has black roots and grey tips so where the coat parts a downy darkness shows.

paw6 complete

A finished paw from above. Although the outer claws and toes are longer than the middle ones which is not ideal, I like the overall effect.

paw7 horizontal

Finished paw from the side. One thing I like about this is that it looks so Australian. The black-dipped toes are characteristic of our mammals but also suggestive of the look of trees after a bushfire, with burned branches at the top of partially charred trunks.

Eastern Grey Kangaroo

Eastern Grey Kangaroo

Well, I can’t show you a finished puppet, because we left for Melbourne when I got to that point. I’m not sure whether to try to finish this one or start again with a smaller one. I’ve also thought about how I would operate the puppet. I had some idea that I might need two hands to work it, one for the mouth and one to operate one or two paws, but it would be a little awkward.

greyfur glove puppet

However I could do this.

One hand could operate the mouth, and the paws could be operated by rods inside the pouch. They could be drawn down into her pouch to retrieve something, and a fishing line suspended above could draw out a silk handkerchief as a distraction, or indication of magic in operation whilst a new puppet is quickly brought onto the scene apparently pulled from the pouch. With the aid of a child’s imagination, this might work.


Greyfur the fairytale kangaroo

Here are some first quick studies of Greyfur the grey kangaroo for the Puppet Challenge as requested by the maestro, Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Lovely to begin drawing this layered fairytale character (she’s feisty and brave but also soft and loyal) but it’s quite likely I may go in another direction altogether… he he. Big Bad Wolves always appeal to me for some reason. And then there’s my old favourite, Angela Carter and her wonderful fairytale renditions. The Courtship of Mr Lyon, and The Tiger’s Bride too. Fabulous. And then there’s Puss in Boots!

It does occur to me that the design of any character would be very different for a glove puppet as compared to a shadow puppet or a marionette. Aaah! Decisions. I’ll just squeeze some sketching here and there in between my desperate pre-Christmas attempts to get further with Thunderstorm Dancing, and no doubt the puppet will evolve of its own volition in the end. Things usually do.

I am so hooked on drawing in vintage book pages now. They are so warm and welcoming. It’s hard to draw on anything else! By the way, the first sketches are done with a Prismacolour pencil in ‘artstick’ form. I love Prismacolour pencils, and the other day I discovered these blocks that look like conté sticks, but are not smudgy like conté. I’m using it for Thunderstorm Dancing and really enjoying it.

Greyfur study1 Greyfur study2 Greyfur study3 Greyfur study4 Greyfur study5 ink Greyfur study6 ink

Puppet Challenged

Hooray! I’m very excited to be participating in the Puppet Challenge, an on-line puppet exhibition scheduled for June 2014. Check out Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ Artlog to see some fabulous posts about puppetry and art. The theme for the puppet challenge is Folk tales, fairy tales, myths and legends. It has been suggested by Peter Slight (curator of the on-line exhibition) that we might like to consider local folk tales or mythology.

The topic ‘local folktales’ in Australia has a very different meaning from local folktales in Europe. Most white Australians of course share the European folktales via their ancestry, but the tales can no longer be called local. Black Australians have a rich array of tales and mythology, but it’s not my culture to intrude upon. So my mind tosses around two possibilities.

The first, find my theme around the topic of river crossings (such as the Three Billy Goats Gruff) because I live in Mordialloc, named after its creek. ‘The name Mordialloc is a corruption of two aboriginal words Murdi or Moordi and Yallock, the latter meaning creek or stream.’ (From the City of Kingston’s historical website).

Or the second, go with an Australian fairy tale. One of my favourite books is Alan Marshall’s fairy tale ‘Whispering in the Wind’ which features a bunyip in place of a dragon and a magical grey kangaroo with a bottomless pouch, so I am leaning in this direction. It offers a lot of possibilities. There is also a wonderful scene fairly early on in the book, featuring the hero and his horse meeting Greyfur the kangaroo for the first time, and it occurs on the banks of a creek, so perhaps this would be a good option… although the bunyip who appears later on is very tempting… He snorts water out of his nostrils, a trick he learned while at Dragon Training School with all the fire-breathing dragons.

Decision-making is not my strong point with regard to artistic pursuits. So many wonderful options, so little time! I’m wondering how I’ll go about deciding on a medium for my puppet, once I’ve decided on the character. Perhaps it will be determined by my limitations. I’ll rule out all forms of puppetry that are beyond my technical ability and what is left after that will be my medium!

Here is Whispering in the Wind by Alan Marshall.

Cover of 1969 hardback edition illustrated by Jack Newnham

Cover of 1969 hardback edition illustrated by Jack Newnham

Puppet Challenge at the Artlog

Puppet Challenge! Hooray!

Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:


Hello Peter Slight here, curator of the Artlog Puppet exhibition with the details of the challenge!

As Clive mentioned in his introductory post, the theme is ‘Folktales, Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends’, a subject close to many of our hearts and hopefully one that will stir some interest and fire imaginations! You can choose a timeless classic, a little known gem or a half-forgotten fable. Inspiration will be the fuel that gets you through this challenge. Just choose whichever story you feel like conjuring up a character for in puppet form.

There’s no restriction on the materials or puppet type, as I would like contributors to be free to express themselves and their ideas in whichever ways they feel are best suited to the task. This challenge can be as simple or complicated as you care to make it. Hopefully we can bounce a few ideas off of each other…

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