Tag Archives: Whispering in the Wind

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