Puppets and other papier mache creations.
Fine art with paper as medium or support.
Fact Sheet 3
Creating a puppet head from cast paper pulp parts
Puppet parts made of paper pulp are generally hollow. They must be designed and cast so that their joints will form interior ribs and walls to provide structural support. The following examples illustrate the principle...
- The lid of an egg carton is weak, but the carton itself is rigid because of its cellular structure.
- A hollow paper ball might be easily squashed. However if several smaller hollow balls were placed inside it, all glued where they touched each other and the outer ball, the structure would be strong.
- The cellular structure of a honeycomb is another example.
The basic structure
The cellular inner structure of a puppet head (or body) does not have to be regular, just so long as the interior is sufficiently supported in a roughly cellular manner. Here is a simple structure for a puppet head, all parts being made of cast paper pulp. These are joined with a paste made of one part paper pulp to one part of white glue and used sparingly. As each part is added to the structure, let the joint set overnight.
- Core. The head is built around an inner tube extending from the top of the head to the bottom of the neck. This is cast as a U section, two of which are joined lengthwise to make a tube. Alternatively a found cardboard tube might suffice.
- Dome. The top of the head is a cast hollow hemisphere without base. Join this to one end of the tube forming a mushroom.
- Back The back of the head is cast as one piece, extending down from the edge of the dome to the neck, and across from ear to ear (or where the ears will be). Its side edges turn to form ribs, to which the jaw and brow will be joined.
- Neck A cast core incorporates the neck. However a found cardboard tube needs two short cast U sections joined over its end to strengthen the neck.
- Jaw The jaw is formed as two complementary pieces (left and right sides) that each extend from an ear position down to the chin. The edges of the jaw sections turn to form ribs. Join to back of head at ear positions, to each other at the chin, and also to the inner core and neck.
- Brow The brow is formed as two complementary pieces (left and right sides) that each extend from an ear position to where the top of the nose will be. The edges of the brow sections turn to form ribs. Join at ear position and to dome.
- Mouth. Cast lips are joined to the jaw at which time the chin line can be modified.
- Nose. A cast nose is joined to lips, core, and brow.
- Cheeks. Cast cheeks may be fitted and joined to lips and jaw.
- Eyes. Eye sockets may be cast, or just glue paper over the socket areas, and when dry gently press a thin layer of pulp over the paper. Cast eyeballs in miniature moulds, or use found objects such as round wooden beads or good quality toy eyes.
- Ears. Cast ears are joined where they nicely hide the junction of jaw and brow. Ears should be centered in line with eyes. Make distance from ear to ear across the back of the head less than across the face. Check that ears don't appear lopsided from any viewpoint.
Winking eyes, waggling ears, moving parts
Occasionally a glove puppet is enhanced if one of its features moves or lights up. You can certainly contrive this. However to avoid rust, add mechanisms only when papier mache is dry. For the same reason use copper wire, brass rods and washers, and spray painted springs. Use extra glue for strength when mixing pulp for casting parts in which mechanisms are to be inserted. Epoxy resin is helpful in fixing mechanisms to puppet parts.
How to join parts, fill gaps, modify shapes
- Puppet parts in cast paper do not fit together with precision.
- Join parts with a paste made of one part paper pulp to one part of white glue. Use paste sparingly.
- If there is too wide a gap where you wish to make a join, just add a wad of pulp coated with paste to bridge the gap.
- When the puppet head is assembled and dry, the joining process will have left some bumps, gaps, holes, and other irregularities.
- Fill voids with pulp, and remove bumps with a blade or rasp.
- When joining, filling, and cutting back, be careful not to let blobs of paste, pieces of pulp, or parings fall into the interior of the puppet where they will rattle.
Smoothing, burnishing, and coating with gesso
- Wood filler. Unwanted pin holes and roughness can be smoothed with a wood filler, lightly sanded off when dry.
- Files. Acquire a set of small engineers files for smoothing off.
- Burnishing. Papier mache made with white PVA glue will burnish with a conical stone rotated at high speed in a small electric driver such as made by Dremel. The heat of friction causes the surface of the pulp to melt and smooth.
- Gesso. Where complete smoothness is required, coat the finished surface with gesso. This dries to a hard china-like surface. True gesso is made with animal glue, but you can mix your PVA glue with whiting.
- Undercoat. Coat the entire puppet head with acrylic paint.
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Copyright © Ron Graham 2004,
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