Do It Yourself

Simple Paper Puppet:

For step one cut out three slips of paper. They should all be about 3/4 of an inch wide.  The first, the longest, should fit snuggly around the wrist with an additional inch of overlap.  The smaller two should fit around the index and middle finger of one hand with a 1/2 inch overlap.

After that, step two is to cut out the head of your puppet.  Make sure that the size and shape does not exceed the size of your palm or it will not be functional.  And don’t forget to leave a small 1 inch tab at the bottom when cutting it out.


Step three is to create clothing for the puppet.  Cut out feet with tabs on the top and an outfit that covers most of the hand’s palm.  This is the time to be creative with your paper, decoration, and colors, as the next phase is to attach these pieces to the bands from the previous step.  Attach the feet in the middle of the smaller slips and the torso to the larger slip.  Now I would advise against pants at this point.  And you’ll see why in the next step.


Step four is the fitting step.   Slide the small feet over your index and middle finger.  Hopefully they are tight enough so as not to slip off.  And now tape or attach the torso piece around your wrist, again very snug.  And at this point you have a headless puppet.  Now you’ll also notice as to why I said no pants.  Paper pants won’t do it, but that is why you can go out buy some gloves or make yourself some finger tubes out of fabric, so your puppet will have a full wardrobe.

And last but certainly not least, the most expressive part of any puppet; the head.  Simply slide the tab behind the wrist bracelet that you’ve created and your puppet is complete.


Hand Puppet Mouth:

For step one the most crucial part of making a hand puppet mouth that works is to make a ‘pattern’.  Take a regular piece of paper and fold it in half.  Once that is done place your hand, with your middle finger just on the edge of the fold, onto the paper and trace around your index and middle finger.

Make sure that you leave about a inch and a half to an inch of extra room from the finger tips and keep drawing until you reach the thumb.   Then remove your hand and draw a straight line from the thumb mark, where the arrow is pointing on the illustration, to the fold of the paper.  Make sure this line and the papers edge is a 90 degree angle.   Trust me this is crucial.  This mark will serve to create the upper jaw of your puppet mouth.

Step two is first to finish the jaw of the puppet.  At that nice jaw line draw another semicircular shape for the lower jaw.  Make sure that it is just long enough for your thumb.  If you aren’t sure how, simply place your index finger on the jaw line, extend your thumb downward, and do the same sketch as you did for the upper jaw.  And now you are ready to cut out your pattern, so go for it.

Step three might make it seem like step one and two were unnecessary, but they were well worth it.  Next you are going to select a media for the actual mouth of your puppet.  I would suggest a foam-core board.

Now simply unfold your pattern and place it on the foam-core board.  sketch the pattern, making sure that you make a small mark on either side as to where the jaw line is.  Again this is a crucial step.  After this is done save your pattern for another day.  Now take a sharp exacto or matte knife and cut around the edges of what you just drew.  This puppet mouth is coming together nicely.

Now don’t put the knife away quite yet, because we need to utilize it again for this next step.  Step four requires you first to take a straight edge and draw the jaw like if you haven’t done so already.  Now take your knife and make the straightest and most shallow incision you can.  The object of this cut is to cut one side of the board without damaging the other, so simply cut a line deep enough to make a nice line on one end without cutting through the whole foam-core board.  Once this is accomplished place one hand on either half and gently fold the board down.  There will likely be a snap and now you’ll see you have a jaw.

We’re getting close now.  Step five is all about making finger tubes so you can grasp each side of the jaw.  This step is debated, so use your own good sense.  For the lower jaw you will, of course, need only one tube for your thumb.  I suggest using a polyfoam or a thick, sturdy fabric.  Make the tube as form fitting as possible with a strong glue.  Now for the upper jaw you can either create a tube that encompasses all the fingers, your middle and ring finger, or an individual tube for each …. it’s your call.  After you’ve decided, glue the prospective tubes as close to the jaw line as possible.

Now if you’ve followed the directions to the letter, you have a fully functioning puppet mouth.  Congratulations.  Step six is now deciding how you wish to decorate this mouth joint of yours.  For this step I leave it completely up to your glorious imagination, because like I always say: you are the artist.  I am simply a guiding voice on the path to making puppets.  So keep working hard and soon enough you’ll have a fully functioning puppet head ready for the stage.


Harness for a Giant Puppet:

Well as of late, I have found that I have needed some pretty durable harnesses to provide the foundation for some pretty incredible and pretty heavy puppets.  You can go ahead and buy a backpack and attach it to a metal camping frame and that’s all well and good, but yesterday the fabric straps broke and I had to improvise a knot.  My personal favorite for a solid harness is to make it yourself, so it’s not only durable, but specific to your frame.

The first thing you need to do is buy the correct materials.  I suggest thin aluminum, about 1/2″ to 1″ in width.  Take an accurate measurement from the base of the sternum, over the shoulder, and to the middle of the back.  Cut two of the same length then bend them both to comfort.  Then measure from armpit to armpit and cut two more, straight dividing pieces out.  As shown in the diagram.  attach the small pieces to the ends of the bent aluminum sheets.   (To attach them drill guiding holes then connect with nuts and bolts or rivets.)

Now once these are attached, you’ll notice that one side is longer than the other.  The longer side is for the back.  If you need small dividing bar, add one for more stability.   However, the next step is to put a slightly wider aluminum piece on the back dividers that reaches from the mid back down to just below the waist line.  This will be vital later on since this strong support is what you will base the main control rod.


Now for the final steps.  Padding is crucial if you have numerous hours to hold up this puppet.  Make sure you put some kind of padding, like foam or cloth, underneath the shoulder pieces to ensure there is as little discomfort as possible when carrying your puppet.  And step five is an issue of counterbalance.   The additional bar we put down the back is not only a mounting base, but also a means to prevent the character from falling forward or backward.  The simple addition of a fitted belt on the very bottom will enable you to move and bend without fear of your puppet plummeting to the ground.

This is just my two cents in regards to how you can start to design and build harnesses for your creations.   And remember keep the weight to a minimum.  A strong human body can support no more than 65 lbs. of direct weight on the shoulders for more than 45 minutes, so keep your puppets as light at possible, otherwise the hard work you put into your harness will be meaningless.

Hand and Rod Puppets:

Now here is a real treat, these are some pictures I took during the process of making puppets for a recent production of Avenue Q.  If you are not familiar with the show, either you are not old enough or you just don’t follow Toni Award winning musicals.  However, all that is beside the point.  The point is the process and making a hand and rod puppet you have several stages of construction.  The first stage is the pattern and basic foam manipulation and it moves all the way to stage five, which constitutes clothing your character and details.

Stage one consists of cutting everything out to get the right shapes you need.  Puppet hands, mouth mechanisms, bodies, and deciding on how it will move.  So once you have everything laid out, it’s generally getting all the pieces of the puzzle ready to assemble.  This is the body of your puppet, in this case the name is inside the neck.  This is Lucy’s body.  A puppet body such as this is a tube for your arm to go through.  It measures from an inch above the elbow to a couple inches below the wrist.  Essentially covering your entire forearm.  Since Lucy is female, I made a few darts to give her more of a waist and the illusion of hips.  We’ll come back to Lucy later, but first we need to move on with the next stages and keep you working.


Now Stage two you will be taking all your pieces and deciding what will be moving.  This is your opportunity to glue wire into the hands so the fingers can hold a position, as shown here.  For the hands you wish to manipulate, add a control rod so you can move it with ease.  As four your mouths, these examples are cut out of foam core board.  And at the far side the part your hand will be grasping is now equipped with finger tubes while the opposite side that the audience will see has a fine covering of fabric.  In all the joints of the puppet, say shoulders and elbows, place a small strip of fabric.  Let it be about three inches in length and it will be used as a hinge in the next stage.

Stage three is putting the pieces together.  You have decided on where and what will be moving.  So it is time for them all to form a shape.  So first attach shoulders and whatever other body … shall we say enhancements on the puppet body. The puppet body is the largest part of your puppet, so the arms, head, and everything else will anchor to it.  As you can see, once again we have Lucy and she has matured since the previous picture, but from this strong base we will create a wonderful and working puppet.  Also you can use the formula for making a puppet head in the above section on hand puppet mouths for this project.  You’ll note in this picture that I have not connected the arms to the body, since the shoulders have not had the strip of fabric attached yet.   I have a bit more of work to do on this puppet.  But she’ll be great when she’s finished.

Stage four is upon us.  This is the stage where all the puzzle pieces are assembled and you have, for lack of a better term, a puppet skeleton.  Now you will be tempted to start putting on eyes and so on, but hold off.  This stage is about covering your puppet. You will provide your character with a nice layer of skin, either of paint or with a covering of fabric you have sewn together.  It is entirely up to you.  Sewing can be a real burden when you are facing a timeline, but it looks a lot better when hiding flaws and seams in the foam.  These two happy characters are Nicky (on left) and Princeton (on the right).  Their bodies are completely assembled with tubes of fabric that extend from the head down through the body and are glued to the base of the body.  The arms, wrists, and shoulders are all hinged.   And these fine fellows are ready for the final stage.

Stage five is the fun one.  This is where you go crazy with all the details.  Things such as eyes, nose, teeth, hair, and clothing.  Now my choices for such things are my own.  Your creations will look completely dissimilar than my own, so I’m not going to dictate what you should do as far as the details.  Even the puppets I’m making have had numerous incarnations with various styles of detail and dress.  So if you want to see some finished products of these characters, simply do a search on Avenue Q and you’ll find all the images you need.  But in the meantime, that’s all for now.  Come back and visit again.

Making Music:

When constructing a subject that is normally inanimate and making into a puppet is no easy feat.   In this instance my services were procured to create a cello and make it a puppet.

First of all you need to find all the normal measurements.  Since I had to make it to scale, or at least marginally close, it was easy to research the proper proportions for a full size cello.  As seen to the right, the cello can be seen in it’s wooden form.  A good sense of power tools is needed to create something like this.  However, as you can see from close inspection, I left the middle section open to reduce the weight of the puppet since it would be used by children.  That means it is fragile, yet it’s sturdy enough to last.  Here is a closer look at the patterns for the moving parts of the puppet.

You can see here that I have cut holes into the frame in order to add moving eyes.  The patterns of for the eyes and mouth are in the left corner of the picture and PATTERNS ARE CRUCIAL!  Humans may be imperfect, but attempt to make your puppets as perfect as possible.  Below the paper patterns is the mouth flap to be attached by a metal hinge so that it will open and close.  The eyes and mouth will be operated from behind by the puppeteer.

Now behold the finished product.  The remarkably intensive puppet can be seen here in it’s plain form.  For the majority of the play it will remain like this.  And the orange color is simply because it is a blacklight puppet and must glow under fluorescent lighting.  Now from a distance you cannot see the portions of the puppet that create the face.  I am particularly proud of this puppet since it has that illusion from a distance.  But when the time comes the face will be revealed.

And here is the face.  The patterned pieces for the eyes fall forward.  The mouth hinge, complete with teeth and paint provide a wonderful bit of expression to this, somewhat, anime-style face.  It might be a bit disturbing to some, but if any of you puppeteers have ever attempted this I’d love to see your rendition of this challenging prop.  Oh, and the sides of the puppet that were left open from the previous pictures were filled with polyfoam and sprayed to look like the cello.  Well that’s all for now.  I hope this puppet journal has found you well and inspires you to create wonderful and new things.  Keep stoppin’ by for more interesting stories.

2 Responses to Do It Yourself

  1. Great post, really enjoyed it!
    — Krista

  2. Hello, of course this post is genuinely fastidious and I have learned lot of things from it concerning
    blogging. thanks.

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