Ron Graham
Puppets and other papier mache creations.
Fine art with paper as medium or support.

Fact Sheet 4
Creating the illusion

How puppets differ from dolls

A glove puppet is not "a doll with a hole". A puppet has characteristics that dolls do not...

Making the puppet seem near

Because a puppet is small yet is viewed from a distance, it must create the illusion of seeming nearer and larger than it is. The viewer’s brain must be encouraged to register the puppet as at just beyond arm’s length, when in fact it may be several rows of seats away. This is done by...

Illusions of mood and motion in a static puppet

Because a papier mache puppet face is rigid and lacks moving parts, it must create the illusion of mood and movement. The viewer’s brain must be tricked into registering facial changes which do not really happen. This is done by...

Comparing puppet and human proportions

The proportions of an adult human face put the eyes halfway between scalp and chin. Distance from eye to chin is divided into equal thirds. The upper third is center of eye to tip of nose, the middle third is tip of nose to slit of mouth, and the lower third is slit of mouth to tip of chin.

The thirds apply to a puppet face also, except that where a puppet has a very odd nose or chin you must imagine the point where the tip of a normal nose or chin would be. The halves need not be applied to a puppet head. Eyes may be set higher or lower than halfway between scalp and chin. Higher allows for bigger facial features, whilst lower creates a more friendly child-like impression. Lower also adjusts for the foreshortening of the puppet’s face when viewed from a low eye level, although most puppeteers lean the puppet forward slightly to counteract foreshortening.

Other human proportions are irrelevant since features are exaggerated. An exception is the size of hands compared to face. In humans, a hand will almost cover the face. Puppet hands are often made far too small. The puppet is thereby rendered unconvincing and inexpressive.

Endnote 1, Painting and drawing to create illusion

The principles by which artists create, in two dimensions, an illusion of depth and form, are applicable to the surface of a puppet’s face, even though it is three dimensional. Illusion is needed to make the puppet seem large and alive. I mentioned some essentials above, but I urge you to learn basic principles of fine art to help you paint and draw on a puppet face.

Endnote 2, Clothing to enhance illusion

Clothing should be simplified. Do not dress the puppet in real clothes like a doll. Use an inner "glove" with add-ons to suggest garments, attached with stiches, snap fasteners, buttons, or nylon grip patches. The so-called "glove" is a one-metre square of supple fabric. Mark a neck point 440mm down from the top and centered between the sides. Mark two arm points 320mm up from the bottom and 320mm in from the sides. At neck point push fabric well into the neck, and place sturdy rubber bands over the fabric and around the neck. At arm points push fabric into cardboard tubes (for arms) and fasten at the end. Adjust at neck until you can flip the fabric over the head, lay the puppet face down, insert middle and index fingers into the neck, thumb and other two fingers into the arms, then lift the puppet so the glove falls around your arm. The fullness and folds of the glove give an illusion of a living body within. Glue fabric to arms, insert and fasten hands. Attach add-ons to glove --bright and bouncy bows, scarves, necklaces, bibs, braces,and such like.

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Copyright © Ron Graham 2004,
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