puppet workshop

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The Froud Workshop (creating a faery bust with Wendy & Toby Froud)

Published April 6, 2017 by baileyquillincooper

Two weeks ago, I attended a weekend workshop at The Fernie Brae with Wendy Froud and Toby Froud where we made mixed-media bust sculptures of faery creatures. I was SO unbelievably excited for this event! I had already taken Toby’s amazing rod puppet workshop last year, but I had yet to meet his mother Wendy, who also happens to be a master doll-maker, writer, poet, and puppet fabricator, as well as one of my top art heroes. The multitude of art books that Wendy has created with her husband the legendary Brian Froud, as well as her instructional Gnomon Workshop DVD from many years back, Creating a Faery Figure with Wendy Froud, have been a major source of artistic inspiration for many, many years. Wendy was in town for just a short time, having flown all the way from Devon to visit with Toby and his family. I jumped at the opportunity to sign up for the workshop, and considering that I was more than just a little bit starstruck to meet the woman who was the fabricator of Yoda and the creatures of The Dark Crystal, The Labyrinth, and pretty much everything that mattered to me from my young adulthood onward, I think that I behaved myself rather well. I couldn’t resist a picture with her on the last day of the workshop, of course, but that’s to be expected.

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The weekend kicked off on Friday night with a meet n’ greet Goblin Feast party at The Fernie Brae. Wendy, Toby, Toby’s wife Sarah, and Toby’s adorable son Sebastian were all there to sign books, take photos, and accept compliments. There were enough of Wendy’s gorgeous goblins and delicate little fairies for sale to make my fingers twitch, but I remained as fiscally responsible and steadfast as any millennial who has recently purchased their first home. It didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying them up close, however. I lifted a lot of these photos of the event from The Fernie Brae’s Facebook page, by the way.

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I was especially smitten with Yiren the Whining One aka Blossom, the scruffy girl-goblin on the far right.

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She was the first character that I acquired of my full collection of the limited-edition F.A.O. Schwarz Froud goblin plushes, after all.

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Ahem–anyway, the workshop! It was about twelve hours long in its entirety. The classes ran from around 10AM-5PM on Saturday and Sunday, with an hour break each day for lunch. Wendy and Toby both had brought with them a couple of examples of busts that they had either been completed prior to the class, or were still works in progress.

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On Saturday morning we started with a special guided meditation that was written for Wendy by Jessica Macbeth, the author of Brian Froud’s The Faeries’ Oracle. The theme of the meditation was the changing of the seasons; somewhat of a visual transition or a verbal release from the icy grip of Winter into the quickening of Spring, and of course the various fantastical faery creatures and spirit guides that one might personally associate with each. The idea was to stoke the creative mind and maybe spark some creative inspiration in the process. After Wendy read aloud the mediation, we were encouraged to sketch some of the characters we met or experienced within our mind’s eye. Most of the class either chose to design a Winter spirit or a Spring spirit. I myself had decided on a Spring variant of the Pooka, a shapeshifting trickster faery of Celtic mythology with blazing golden-yellow eyes that usually chooses to appear in the guise of a wild black stallion, a black goat, or a black hare…which is just perfect for Easter! Also I just might have just seen the classic 1950 Jimmy Stewart film Harvey for the first time shortly before the workshop, which only served as an additional inspiration to make some kind of strange oversized rabbit character.

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The six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch tall rabbit Harvey is apparently meant to be a Pooka in the film, but regardless of whether he really is or isn’t, I need to add that painting to my list of movie paintings that I want badly enough to paint for myself. I guess it wouldn’t be the first.

12799043_10101244627209287_3496249651384260762_n.jpg(Yep, that is the Boring Blue Boy from “Coraline.”)

I had even sketched a few rough drawings before that weekend just based on the description of the workshop that I had read online. I knew that I wanted to make some kind of Spring character that incorporated my ideas of creepy bunny rabbits, daffodils, and other seasonal blooming flowers.

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After the guided meditation, I had an even better idea of the type of character that I wanted to create. I saw in my mind a few more specific details, like hairstyle, teeth, facial expression, and lots and lots of freckles!

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Once we all had few ideas to work with, we began our sculptures by making an armature out of bent wire, aluminum foil, and masking tape.

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After this we began to evenly cover the skull armature with polymer clay, specifically a custom blend of a light flesh tone and white/champagne color Puppen Fimo, and map out the proportions of the facial features with a series of simple shapes and blobs of clay. Unfortunately, I got so heavily involved with what I was doing after this point that I completely forgot to take any more in-progress photos until I basically had a fully sculpted head, other than this great one that my friend Laura got of me…but she’s a much more fastidious photographer than I.

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Rest assured that the sculpting process was still very much the same as all of my other Froudian creatures that I’ve ever made in the past, including Toby’s puppet workshop last year.  Definitely have a look at that old post if you’re interested in finding out exactly how we like to do these things!

By the end of the day, everyone had created a very fascinating and completely diverse array of faery creatures for Toby to bake in the craft ovens. Luckily I was able to snap a couple of photos of that.

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In case you were wondering, this one’s mine!

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On Sunday we returned to the workshop to find that all of our characters had been baked beautifully. We promptly got to work on the painting, wigging, and clothing fabrication process. I always totally love that part, but again was a bit too involved in what I was doing to take any photos. If you really wanted to know more about that process, then check out this recent post that I wrote about Mama Kringle, another personal project that I happened to finish during the same weekend as the workshop.

The last pictures I took from the workshop itself were the amazing group photos of the finished (or nearly finished) pieces at the end of the second day.

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They all turned out so very different and interesting that I kept thinking how I would love to see either a movie or children’s book that featured the entire group as characters!

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Note Toby’s Napoleonic goblin and Wendy’s ethereal forest spirit at dead center.

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Here’s a better view of them, with my Pooka (who I decided to name Padraig) in the far left.

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I really love the tongue on this last one!

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Well I suppose that’s everything as far as my workshop photos. It was such an amazing experience to quietly work on a sculpture right next to two of my artistic heroes, occasionally stopping to talk about mythology, art supplies, faeries, and pepper jack moon cheese (which is apparently a favorite Froud work-time snack…who knew!) I’m gonna cut myself off from raving any more about how awesome it was, but if you guys have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment below!

In my next post I will be featuring some more quality photos of the finished Padraig bust, so stay tuned for that!

 

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A Portrait of Lucia and the Witches Castle

Published May 5, 2016 by baileyquillincooper

Martyn and I went to the coast over the weekend to celebrate our “ten-iversary” because we have now been an official couple for ten years since May 1st/Beltane! Here’s the only picture I have from our first date on Tybee Island Beach in Savannah one decade ago:

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What a weirdo…and what was with that shirt, anyway?!

Our “ten-iversary” trip to the coast was only one night away but it was still so nice to have some real time off from everything and recharge our mental batteries. Plus we got to stay at the Sou’wester, a lodge/campground on Long Beach that has restored vintage RVs for rent…and it was sooo cool! But anyway, before we left for our trip I finished up a drawing that I had had made for an art swap event that a friend of mine had invited me to on Saturday night. The event ended up being cancelled but at least I ended up with a nice pencil study of Lucia, the albino faun character that I made at the Toby Froud rod puppet workshop (see my previous posts.) I think I might even use this as a portfolio piece when I go to the SCBWI Spring Conference at the end of this month.

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I used two shades of deep red pencil and a white pencil on rose toned paper. I was going for the look of a classic Leonardo da Vinci pencil study but something about it makes me think of a vintage beauty add instead. Either way, I ended up really liking this one and it has inspired me to perhaps make some similar work in the future.

So ever since we got back from our mini vacation on Monday night it’s been back to business. I’m supposed to meet with Jenny at Vine Gogh on Thursday night to learn a new painting so I figured I would get some of my ideas for future classes together to discuss with her while I’m at it. I’ve heard that the new studio in Tigard may even be open for business by the middle of this month so it’s about time I get crackin’ on this stuff! Last night I worked on my idea for what could be our first watercolor class, or at least that I am aware of. I flipped through all of the reference photos I took on Easter Sunday of the Witches Castle in Forest Park and landed on these three favorites:

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I combined what I liked about the first and second picture and came up with this:

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The painting is a little large–well about 11″ x 15″, which is a little big for your classic watercolor nature study but the same size as the illustrations I did for my children’s book because I just used the same paper. I’m not sure what size we’re most likely to use at Vine Gogh for the watercolor classes so I just stuck with what I had already. This painting took me around three hours from start to finish…which is WAY too long! The classes that I teach can last up to three hours, but I want to eventually come up with a painting that I know so well that I could paint it in just one hour if I had to. This first time around just took me a while because I was essentially teaching it to myself; remembering each step to the best of my ability and deciding on the best order to paint each layer when I have to someday teach it to somebody else. I also took a few progress pictures while I was working on it to help me figure out a nice sane step-by-step for next time.

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And here is the final painting once again:

Witches Castle WatercolorSo yeah, I’ve still got to work on simplifying the whole thing into a few easy and defined steps but I’ve got a feeling that it will probably just come naturally to me when I paint this a second time. In analyzing my own work and trying to expedite the process, I expect a natural abstraction/simplification is bound to occur…well here’s to hoping!

I might later try doing another painting based on my third photo of the Witches Castle, the one that was taken from this alternate angle:

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I personally love that picture, especially with the little pink flower bud in the extreme foreground, but I wonder if it might be a little too complicated for a beginning painter. If I decide that it is I guess I could still use it as reference for my own work in the future. We shall see.

In addition to all of this I’ve got a few more ideas for watercolor painting classes AND some ideas for polymer clay sculpture classes. I’m gonna be working through all of them in the nearish future, so just be sure to stay tuned as always!

 

Lucia the Puppet: Final Photos!

Published April 26, 2016 by baileyquillincooper

Here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for…the final photos of Lucia, the rod puppet that I made at the Toby Froud workshop last week!

Lucia Full Body

Upper Body with Ear Visible

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Back of Hair

Close Up Bodice and Hand

Close Up Basket

The crazy collage I made of all of those close-up shots:

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A silly one of her looking shocked and horrified in front of my bureau mirror, because she does that so well:

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If you remember, I made Lucia partially with FIMO Effect Nightglow. Here is the best picture I could get of her glowing in the dark, which was really hard to photograph and looks way more creepy cool in real life…lately I’ve been using her as a night light!

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That’s all folks!

 

 

Lucia the Puppet: Wigging and Final Details

Published April 26, 2016 by baileyquillincooper

I actually finished up Lucia the puppet very late Thursday night/early Friday morning. I basically pulled an all-nighter before my early shift and got only two hours of sleep because I was more tired of the disaster that the art room had become and was feeling really eager to get things back to normal. So anyway, this is going to be a quick post that just explains how I did the last major steps to finish her all up–her hair and a few other little details. I plan on following this post pretty much immediately with another one that will have some photos of her all finished…I took quite a few of her outside yesterday that will have to do until I can get some more professional pictures at a later date.

Before I even started on her hair I made a little accessory for her to hold on her arm. Its a little basket holding some moss, flowers, and a robin’s egg.

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I found the robin’s egg shell on the first day of the workshop when I was walking back to my car. Although it was just a cracked and empty shell it just looked so perfect; just like a robin’s egg candy. I decided right when I found it that I was going to try to find a way to incorporate the eggshell into my final puppet. It was very fragile so it took me a little while to figure out how I was going to do it. I ended up filling the shell with a two-part epoxy to bond it together and prevent it from crumbling. I placed it inside of a miniature basket that I purchased from Jo-Ann’s and attached that floral rope wire as a handle. Then I arranged some moss and flowers around the egg so that it would look like a little nest and also hide all of the visible cracks on the eggshell.

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I later added another small green twig with pink flower buds to the basket, which you will see later when I post the pictures of the finished piece.

For the wigging, or tedious attachment of her full mane of hair, I already had a cut piece of Tibetan Lamb’s Wool all picked out. I believe the color of the swatch I used was called “blushing pink” from my favorite OOAK doll supply store, The Morezmore Estate on eBay. If you’re into making OOAK polymer clay dolls, creatures, and puppets, then this is the best one-stop shop that I have ever found. The owner Natasha Red October is super nice and is a polymer clay doll maker herself so she knows her products very well. She also has a work in progress blog where she explains many of her own techniques step-by-step. I discovered her back in about 2009 when I was first teaching myself how to make really professional multi-media polymer clay dolls and was so happy when I found her blog and shop. She has taught me so much about doll making and she even sends me cool free samples of supplies whenever I order from her! Here’s a photo of the lamb’s wool I used and my other wigging supplies:

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One of the key things I learned from following Natasha’s blog was how to properly wig a polymer sculpt. The glue she recommends is the clear gel permanent adhesive manufactured by Beacon, Fabri-Tac. I know that this isn’t the only glue that doll artists use for this purpose–Wendy Froud and Toby Froud for instance both prefer another permanent glue called Barge. I’ve never tried Barge before, but I like Fabri-Tac well enough because it doesn’t give off any strong toxic fumes and I can use it in my small unventilated art room without much fear of killing my brain cells. The only main problem that I had with Fabri-Tac once I got past the initial figuring out how to work with such a gooey, stringy, sticky substance was how quickly it gets too thick and goopy to use while still inside the bottle (like an old nail polish that you have to throw away before you can use it up) and how darn expensive it always is. As a result you may think you’ve saved yourself some money by buying the biggest bottle with a coupon, but after you use it to wig a couple of dolls or even one human sized werewolf costume you’re probably still going to have to throw the last third of it away before you’re done with it because the consistency just becomes too difficult to work with anymore. There’s supposed to be a trick where you can add a little paint thinner to the glue once it gets all gloppy to get it back to normal for a little while. I’ve tried it and it kinda worked for me once, but I’ve found that most of the time the thinner and the glue stay separated so what you get is just a watery, not-sticky-enough mess…which is totally not worth the trouble!

Luckily I met a lady at the Toby Froud workshop last week who is the arts and crafts coordinator at the Craft Warehouse in Beaverton. She told me she get me a discount if I ask for her and clued me in on a little secret: Beacon’s 3-in-1 glue is basically the same exact glue as Fabri-tac but for a fraction of the price. I believe the only real difference between the two is that Fabri-Tac is archival quality for scrapbooking and 3-in-1 is not, but if you’re just using them to wig a doll that really doesn’t make any difference whatsoever! So I decided to take her up on that advice and just purchase a small bottle of 3-in-1 to glue the hair onto my puppet.

The way that I wig a doll is by cutting a few small locks of hair from the wool pelt and laying them out on my workspace. I then pick up each lock of hair at a time, spread a little bead of glue onto one end, roll it onto a toothpick, and then use the toothpick to press and hold the clump of hair onto the scalp until it catches, which is usually less than ten seconds.

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I then repeat this process again and again until I complete the first row of hair.

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I’ve used all different materials to apply hair to both dolls and costumes; lamb’s wool, synthetic hair from wigs or otherwise, faux fur, real animal fur, human hair, silk roving, you name it. I’ve got to say that of all the materials I have used Tibetan lamb is still my favorite. The extra fine strands are just perfect for a miniature scale and the variety of different colors and textures that you can choose from is really great for so many different projects.

The particular swatch of wool that I used for Lucia’s hair was a second quality piece that I got for a discount, which probably had something to do with the messy erratic texture that was not quite straight and not quite curly. Although it was a little frizzier than average which made it slightly more difficult to work with, I still managed to cover her scalp very evenly.

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After I get the first row of hair down I tug at the ends of the locks to make sure that everything is secure. Using my fingers I brush out and remove any loose flyaway hairs that didn’t hold with the rest of them.

Then I move up a couple of centimeters and start on the next row. If I want my character to have a very full and bushy head of hair (which in almost every case, I do) then I really don’t leave a whole lot of space between the two layers at all. Here she is after four or five layers of hair:

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As I near the crown of her head, I also start to apply the hair around her ears:

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While I was working on her hair I remembered that I had some really cool shimmery iridescent fibers that I wanted to try out on this puppet. I picked up a little bag of them a couple of years ago at this amazing sculpture and art supply store called Earth Guild in Asheville, North Carolina.

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They seemed like they would be just the right scale to mimic fairy hair sparkles/hair tinsel like I have in my own hair, so I started adding in a few bunches to Lucia’s hair here and there.

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The fibers ended up catching the light just like my own hair sparkles, and they were fun to hide into the locks of hair as I glued them on so you could just see little bits of sparkle poking through. I worked my way up the back of her ears and antlers. At this point she looked like she had some sort of unfortunate disease or strange medieval monk hairstyle:

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As I made it to the top of her head, I began to switch the direction of the hair to facing forward:

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When I got to her forehead I added lots more thick forward-facing hair to create face-framing layers and bangs. Unfortunately this is the last picture I remembered to take before I did that and finished her up:

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To cover up the last bit of glue on the crown of her head, the point where all her layers of hair meet and change direction, I did a trick where I attached a couple final locks of forward-facing hair, waited for the glue to catch, and then flipped them backwards before the glue was entirely dry. It’s another trick that I learned from reading Natasha’s blog and it’s also useful for creating a realistic cowlick, a little extra volume Jersey Shore bump-it style, or even a nice clean part if you use an Exacto blade to manipulate the glue while it is still wet. I wish I took a picture of this step but I guess you’ll just have to believe me again.

I also never took any pictures when I applied the final decorative touches to her hair–it involved arranging some floral craft wire and ribbon into an organic circlet and topping everything off with a big pink bow. Here are some close-ups of what it ended up looking like in the end, which can also serve as a teaser for the rest of the photos of the finished puppet in my next post!

Hairbow Close Up

Back of Hair

 

 

Lucia the Puppet: Painting and Costume Fabrication

Published April 22, 2016 by baileyquillincooper

Over the past week I’ve been working on my puppet that I made at the Toby Froud workshop mentioned in my last post…and now she’s nearly finished! I’ll probably do another post or two later because completing her takes many steps and I’ve been taking a lot more pictures of my work in progress this time.

Also I decided to name the puppet Lucia, which is a Latin name that means “light.” I just figured it was appropriate for a ghostly albino faun creature that literally glows in the dark. I’ve tested her out by turning off all the lights after she’s been under my bright desk lamp for a while and she looks amazing. The glow in the dark polymer clay was pretty thoroughly mixed into the flesh tone Fimo so she has these really interesting thin swirling line patterns all over her face that light up in a pale fluorescent green in the darkness, and since her little antlers were made with pure unmixed Nightglow Fimo they light up brilliantly. At some point I may attempt to somehow take a photo of this, but for now I guess you’ll just have to believe me.

So after the workshop was over I wanted to continue working on Lucia as soon as I got home, so the first thing I did was clean up her paint job a little. It looked pretty good before but I added a couple more freckles, lightened her eyebrows a little, smoothed out the shadow color around her eyes, and added some clear nail polish to her nose and lips for a glossy wet look.

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Painting dolls and puppets is one of my favorite parts!

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Next I had a look at her and the unfinished body stocking, that thin layer of fabric that covers the batting and the puppet mechanism underneath. You can kind of see it a little bit in the pictures above but I think those are the only photos I have of it. Anyway, something about it just didn’t sit quite right with me. I think it was a combination of her arms being too long and the batting being wrapped too loosely around the mechanism so that it would keep sliding down, which then caused her to not really have shoulders anymore. The more I tried to figure out how to fix it, the more I realized that it probably just wasn’t worth it and that I should just redo that part altogether. I ended up stripping her down to a skeleton again so I could shorten her arms and adjust where her shoulders should go…so this is kind of the “before” photo.

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I adjusted the shoulders, added an extra piece of cross-wire to acted as a brace and join the shoulders together so they wouldn’t shift around so unevenly and independently of each other, and added a couple of wires across the chest and hips as a stand-in for a basic sternum and pelvis. I of course forgot to take a picture of this but I did get one of her after I finished rewrapping the batting again. You can see here that I also reinforced where the three small dowels from the neck controller connect to the base with a two-part epoxy.

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This time I wrapped the batting a little tighter so it pretty much stayed in place on its own. Instead of making another body stocking like before, I decided to skip that and just make the undermost layer of material be her shirt. This brings us to my other most favorite part of the doll and puppet making process: costume fabrication!

I bought this great crinkly ivory colored fabric at Jo-Ann’s that was just perfect for a floofy old-timey Victorian blouse. I started with the front and back panels and sewed them together with two seams at her sides.

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The back of the shirt was made in two separate parts because she has another big wooden dowel controller coming out of her spine that controls her shoulders. The lower half of the shirt comes up right beneath the controller, and I made the top portion of the shirt extra large and flowy like a capelet so that it partially covers up the controller but doesn’t restrict any of the movement beneath.

Next I started on the sleeves. I did an image search for Victorian shirt patterns for some inspiration, cut out one sleeve and then used it to trace and cut out the mirror image for its partner. I was able to sew most of the sleeves wrong sides together before I turned them back right side out (for a more realistic and professional looking seam) and then slid them over each arm. Once the sleeves were on her arms I joined them to the shirt torso.

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After I attached the sleeves I gathered them in a few spots to create that frilly Victorian silhouette. I also added three big cherry red buttons and some pretty pink and white lace trim to the collar and cuffs.

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Something about the combination of her ghostly coloring and those big red buttons reminds me a little of a poisonous plant.

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After the shirt I started on her lower half. First I gathered some more of that crinkly fabric around her from the waist down to cover the remaining exposed batting. I forgot to take a picture of that part but it kind of resembled a little pair of bloomers.

To create her skirt I kept adding layers of fabric to her waist and building them up from the thinnest and most sheer material on the bottom (for the petticoat) to the more opaque and decorative fabrics on top. First there was a fine white crinkle tulle that was leftover veil material from the custom cake toppers that I sculpted for my best friend’s wedding.

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Then a ragged pastel pink lace leftover from my fairy wings. It was actually shredded especially for me by my sister’s Jack Russell Terrier, Bridgette. She used to love it whenever I would give her that job!

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Next I added a little metallic chartreuse crackle pattern tulle. I did my best to mimic Bridgette’s shredding artistry to give it a more organic texture. It reminds me of sparkly moss. And yes, that is “Creating a Faery Figure with Wendy Froud” on my laptop in the background.

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Getting into the top layers now, I also had purchased some of the same fabric that I made her shirt from but in pink. Then I draped some pink and white pinstriped stretch t-shirt knit over that, cinched in her waist, and tied it all up in the back with a big bow.

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The pink crinkle had kind of an looking unfinished edge so I later decided to add more of that lace trim that I’m holding in the picture to the hem.

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I also decided to use another small fabric scrap make the neck controller a little prettier. I padded the bottom of it with some thick felt to keep it from breaking and tied with a matching ribbon!

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After the skirt was all finished I made her bodice with that same thick red felt material that I picked up at SCRAP.

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I forgot to take a whole lot of in-progress pictures while I was making it except for this one I guess. This was after I had already finished the front panels, laced them together with that thin metallic gold elastic string, and added that gold and red rope trim. I’m not sure what that scrap of felt fabric was originally from but it still had some interesting white fluffy piping on one side, so I used that edge for the underside of the bodice to make it look like it has sheepskin lining at the opening. When I took the photo above I was finishing the hem of the bodice with some jagged white stitching. I do this kind of stitching to a lot of my pieces–it’s almost become like a trademark. It all started with me being bad at sewing until I decided that my anarchic stitching actually looks really cool and that I should purposefully put it on everything that I make!

Here’s a picture of Lucia after the bodice was completed. Also pictured is the tattered shawl that I made to drape behind her shoulders and cover the rest of that controller.

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Close up:

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The very last thing that I’ve done to her so far is giving her little pearly white doll eyelashes. This took the fancy gel Superglue, Krazy Glue, and A LOT of patience and finesse:

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Yes, they were quite a pain to apply but now they’re really stuck on there and I think that they look awesome. I bought them a while back on eBay as a small roll of eyelashes trim that you can cut to size. I’ve been planning on using them when I make my Mama Kringle sculpture (my next big polymer clay project is to make pose-able dolls of all three of the characters from my children’s book.) Anyway now that I’ve tried them I think that they’re really great and I can’t wait to use them on my other projects!

Here is Lucia as completed so far on my art desk just begging for me to give her some hair and finish her up.

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Come hither.

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You complete me.

Ok, that’s it for now–but more soon!

 

 

 

 

Toby Froud’s Puppet Workshop

Published April 20, 2016 by baileyquillincooper

Over the weekend I attended Toby Froud’s rod puppet workshop in the basement of The Fernie Brae (aka the Fernie Brasement…lolllzzz.) I had been looking forward to the workshop for months! Here’s that Facebook event image for the workshop that I posted before with some examples of Toby’s rod puppets:

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If you know me at all, you probably have heard how the Frouds are my favorite family artist trio of all time. I’ve been really into fairies and goblins since a very young age, but I first learnt of Brian Froud’s artwork when I was about middle school age and it forever rocked my world. I started collecting his books and would lie on the floor of my room and just study his illustrations, because his imagination, use of color, and technique completely fascinated and inspired me. I definitely learned a lot from him.

Later I found out that Wendy Froud was a doll maker who makes beautiful sculptures out of polymer clay, which has always been one of my most favorite art mediums. When I was a kid I used to spend my free time after school making little monsters and fairies out of polymer clay and household junk–Dad’s leftover tool scraps from the garage, used dryer sheets for fairy wings (because they develop and interesting crackle pattern only once they’ve been through the dyer) or pieces of Wal-Mart shopping bags back when they used to be blue and other colors if I wanted a tinted translucent material. When I first discovered Wendy Froud’s artwork it taught me a lot about polymer clay sculpture. Brian and Wendy live in England so I have not yet had the chance to meet either of them, but I do have one of Wendy’s sculpture workshops on DVD about making a faery figure.

I’ve wanted to attend a Froud workshop for quite a while, but it wasn’t until I realized that Brian and Wendy’s son Toby also lives in Portland now and also occasionally teaches workshops that I ever thought that it really could be possible. Toby’s main contribution to the family business is puppets. He’s a puppet maker and puppeteer who works at Laika as a sculptor. Through Wendy’s workshop and my all of my other self-taught knowledge I already know a thing or two about doll making, but I really didn’t know a whole lot about making puppets. In this workshop Toby taught us how to make a rod puppet, which is a fairly simple type of puppet that has more complex guts inside to make it move than you might initially think. An example of a rod puppet is Kermit the Frog and most of the Muppets, although a lot of them are hand-rod puppets because they are controlled by rods and the puppeteers hand inside of their head sock-puppet style for additional movement and facial expression. Rizzo the Rat is actually a better example of the kind of rod puppet we were making, and Toby even brought in the rod mechanism that was inside the one of the original Rizzo puppets to show us! In this workshop we were learning how to make rod puppets with polymer clay heads and hands that had controls for head, neck, shoulder, arm, and hand movements.

I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I should have because the workshop was incredibly intense. It was about seven hours long on Saturday and Sunday of almost nonstop, breakneck pace work! We had an hour break for lunch but many of us (myself included) continued to work on our puppets during lunch break just to catch up. On the first day we sculpted the head and hands. It all started with this block of polymer clay:

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I brought some extra clay with me to mix together with the one that Toby provided us because I decided before the workshop that I wanted to make a creature with a ghostly pale skin tone. It was also Fimo brand clay and a sort of translucent white color called Nightglow–glow in the dark! I had never used a glow in the dark clay before but had always wanted to try it. I also had some beautiful pale pink and red albino glass doll eyes at home that I picked up at an online clearance sale a while back. They were too big for most of the sculptures I make at home but about the perfect size for a puppet, so they were my main inspiration to make an albino creature. This is the quick idea sketch that I drew the night before the workshop and brought with me to class; sort of an albino witchy goat girl:

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First Toby walked us through sculpting a generic human face so that we would have a starting point to work from. We crumpled small sheets of aluminum foil around wire and covered it with masking tape to form the underlying skull structure. Then he explained blocking out the basic proportions of the face in clay. He had us make something that looked like this:

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We added more clay shapes in what he described as “table sausages” and “standard pea shaped balls” (tee-hee.)

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Terrifying, I know.

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Although almost all of us ended up distorting these proportions and making more fantastical creatures of our own design, I think it was a nice way to start as well as a pretty good approach to teaching figurative sculpture within a short time limit. When I start teaching polymer clay sculpture for Vine Gogh I might use a similar method. Part of reason that I really wanted to take this workshop (besides working with one of my art heroes and learning how to build a puppet) was to get ideas on how to design my own classes and how to be a polymer clay instructor. However, since I won’t have two days to teach something I will have to come up with something REALLY simple that we can do in just a couple of hours!

Even the seven hour class was barely enough time to make something this complex. Since I decided to use my nice glass eyes I wanted to at least make something that I felt was good enough for them. Toby also gave us a quick tutorial on how he likes to sculpt hands, which was pretty in line with what I had learned from Wendy’s DVD. I had to rush mine quite a bit but I still think they are among the best that I have ever made. I didn’t take any more work in progress photos while I was sculpting because I was too busy to think about it, but I did manage to take a couple of pictures before Toby put my piece into the oven to bake at the end of the day.

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I decided to add the horns on a whim at the last second. They are made of pure unmixed Nightglow Fimo.

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The next day we started with assembling the inner puppet mechanism. There were a lot of steps and by the time I finally found my pencil Toby was already halfway through the first bit, so I just gave up on trying to understand the technical name of each and every little thing. The supplies we used were all just little bits and bobs that you can get at any hardware store. Here’s some examples:

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We cut all of these different sized dowels and rubber tubing to the appropriate lengths, drilled, pinned and taped some things together, and eventually ended up with these funny pitchfork looking things.

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This was what would eventually become the spine, shoulders, and controls to our puppets. Toby showed us two options in which to position the controller and the spine so that we could either have a puppet with a lurching, hunched over stance (good for creatures and creepy old men) or standing in a more upright position (good for the more humanoid critters.) I opted for the upright configuration. When I first started to assemble my puppet she looked like this:

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Even creepier, right? And so out of focus–my phone really sucks! You can see in the background of this picture that the other people in the workshop had already moved on to next steps, which was painting their puppets and padding out their bodies with batting so that they could start on the costuming. I was meanwhile still trying to envision the proportions of my character when all I had to look at as a guide was a mess of wires and dowels.

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Toby brought a ton of beautiful scraps with him for the hair and clothing fabrication, which is always my most favorite part of the process. He had lots of exciting stuff–piles and piles of fabric with interesting textures, thread, hair, and fur in just about every color, even some leftover animal fur scraps from when he worked on the movie Where the Wild Things Are. I had brought lots of stuff with me too since I had already kind of figured out a color palette for my character when I drew that initial sketch before the workshop. I also brought my mega bag of colorful leather trimmings to share with the class, my mega bag of old-school wooden spool threads that I found at Goodwill one time, and a bag of dried moss that was leftover from some other project I did in the past. It was wonderfully nerdy and awesome discussing good craft supply stores with Toby and the rest of the class, exchanging some valuable tricks of the trade and general crafty advice from people who are all into making the same kind of things. I never even got to really get into the clothing fabrication part before the second class was over for the day; I was still sewing the body stocking that holds all of the batting together and goes under all of the fancy clothing. Most people didn’t finish their puppets completely so it wasn’t like I was the only one, but everyone at least left with an assembled piece that they could finish up at home. For some stupid reason I never even took a picture of my puppet at the end of the workshop, but overall it was all such an overwhelmingly fun experience and I am so glad that I did it!

*PS: I also showed Toby my children’s book at the end of the workshop and he really loved it, so I couldn’t think of a whole lot else at the moment besides, “Holy Hell, that is so frickin’ cool!”