Creaturiste's Laboratory

Techniques, works in progress, and everything that doesn't fit in the portfolio. Comments and questions are encouraged, custom orders are welcome!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jazzy New Year!

More Pendants

































I made these as Christmas gifts.
Each are polymer clay reproductions of a polymer clay original by Creaturiste, using a silicone putty mold.

Copies available for sale, prices start at 25$,
modifications and custom colors are easy to make.
Contact by email...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Milo Marionette



























Carved wood body. Three different types of joints: wood, plastic, and nylon rope. Head in hollow paper mache, cast from my own silicone mold of a model I made in plastalina.
Tank top of Jersey. Pants of synthetic fabric, probably polyester (recycled shirt).


10 Strings:
head (2)
Shoulders (2)
Elbows (2)
Knees (2)
Back (1)
Hands (1)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Satyr Helmet Mask
























Meet Albert, my Halloween costume for 2009.

I've been meaning to make a detailed mask like this for myself for ages!

Albert is made of Paper Mache Bark, Monster Bone, wire, fun foam padding, acrylic paint & synthetic fur.
He is made to fit my head, there are no straps, I just put it on like a helmet, and it is very stable.


Good success with it on its first outing, at an early Halloween party.
I decided to open the mouth permanently to facilitate speaking in noisy crowds. It was an even better success at the Central Canada Comicon, judging by people's reactions and comments.

The wool coat and leather gloves I used for the costume are so comfortable, that I decided to wear them regularly.

Note: Albert is a one of a kind mask, good for performance, masquerade, or display. He was sold. Other masks of a similar type and nature can be made.

___

Pascal Laflamme Art



http://flamme27.blogspot.com/


Pascal Laflamme is a childhood friend who followed his artistic dreams and has results to show for it! Make sure to see the various portfolios, listed on the right navigation column.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Busy November

Hi all.
November has been a busy time for me, just like it's been since the summer.

Here are some results, among those I can show.
All those are part of an exhibition where they will be for sale, but all of them can be either reproduced (I made molds of the pendants) or variations can be made.

The Miniglobestaff is a magic wand for roleplaying, can also serve as a maracas, sold for 50$ each.

Roolion and Helen are pendants that can also be decorative items, such as ornaments. They can be reproduced and even modified (facial expressions, personality, and colors). For now, I price them at 25$ each. Customizations cost extra.

Fred and Carla are winter ornaments, very strong and each has a prop that is not attached.
Variations are available, prices start at 100$.

Samuel is a BIG winter ornament, constructed over a large christmas tree ball.

The Aliens are a set of four advanced sock puppets, two adult sized and two children sized. Adults with small and medium sized hands can still operate the children size.
This set is sold for 100$. Variations available for 25$ per puppet.









Saturday, November 14, 2009

Explorers


Work in progress, acrylic on canvas.

Helen&Roolion


Pendants that can be worn or displayed.
Polymer Clay.

Reproductions for sale at 25$ each. Colors can be chosen.
Price subject to change.
Enquire by email.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Alley, glove puppet

Alley is already showing signs of being a bit of tom-boy.
She is going to be a Birth gift for a little girl.
Work in progress. Paper Mache Bark, Monster Bone, acrylic paint, synthetic yarn.

Mario Of Many Faces

Finally, here are some pics of Mario, the tabletop puppet with interchangeable wigs/facial hair.

His head, hands and feet are paper mache. The Head and wigs have rare earth magnets embedded in them. The body's PVC tubing, sculpted Polyfoam, a little bit of wood, and nylon webbing. PVC Pipes are used as handles for head and lower back. He was created for a league of theatrical Improvisation with puppets, as the main character. Hence his "Everyman" looks and versatile features.



Thursday, October 8, 2009

Better-than-Heinz Ketchup!

Not about puppet or mask building, but hey, an Artist's gotta eat!
I like to share quick and tasty (and preferably healthy) recipes to make our busy lives more enjoyable.

In my quest for a healthier lifestyle, I realized that the high content of sugar (liquid sugar/glucose-fructose) in Heinz ketchup made it a condiment that should be at the top of my "cut-back or eliminate" list.

So I decided to make my own tomato ketchup. I just looked at the ingredients on Heinz ketchup, to see what were the main "real" ingredients I should start with.
Well, all you really need is: tomato paste, white vinegar, a sweetener, onion powder, salt, and spices.



Here's what I came up with as a first try:

•Tomato paste, one can.
•White vinegar, about half a cup (natural, from grains) (could have used apple cider vinegar. Maybe next time)
•Onion powder, approx one tablespoon
•Sea salt, one tablespoon
•Raw honey, about a cup (clover)

Mix tomato paste and vinegar. Add the rest gradually until a good balance of sweet-tangy-salty is achieved.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Freelancer's Blues & Thrilling News


I love my work!
It's my passion! More often than not, I get to create the exact kind of work I am craving, not long after the craving first shows its face. Life sends these specific contracts my way, as soon as I desire to explore a certain aspect of my work. And I feel blessed that most customers trust me enough to leave me tremendous freedom in the design.

Still, sometimes, the life of a full-time freelance creature designer/maker/performer isn't so glamorous. You certainly don't get to rest for very long! In fact, I've never even ever taken a true vacation. Every day off I've taken, not counting sick days, which are very rare) was spent in part for research or networking.

I would never stop doing what I love. I chose this lifestyle!
Yet, Life IS change, and if I want to keep enjoying mine, some changes must be made!
As much as I enjoy a schedule that's not too repetitive, there is such a thing as too much chaos, and too much to do. I'm never bored and I'm thrilled constantly with the results and opportunities I get. I just seek more stability. Good news is, I can feel it coming around the corner. (See Unraku, below) Even the most motivated individual gets tired sometimes. The following will show what I mean.

This summer, with multiple small contracts that were constantly overlapping and usually rushes, coupled with a month-long preparation for a month and a half solo gallery show of my work, was a non-stop race, and this speedy pace seems to be continuing into the fall.
My day so far:

This morning
Marotte of a little girl puppet, picked up by the customer.
Had to repaint and change its haircut in 35 minutes. Did it with success!
I just learned I will not have a minute to rest Monday night, after the 8 hour bus ride back from a trip, because a puppet needs to be mostly re-built and be ready for a day and a half later (see Tabletop Puppet of Terror below).

This afternoon
Will assemble my Satyr puppet, which needs to be fully articulated by the end of today, so I can bring to Toronto to show my colleagues this week-end.

Will get two puppets picked up by past customer who lent them for my gallery show this summer.

Tabletop Puppet of Terror
Will get an in-progress puppet back from a current project which should have been finished two months ago (customer paid deposit a month late, and took weeks, several times, to provide vital information). I wish I could drop this project, and I would feel entitled, considering the insulting delays and "bullshitting", but the project's instigator owes me half the payment (upon delivery), and two colleagues I highly respect are still involved in the project and need the puppet. Life sure wants me to learn to be a "though guy" when it comes to choosing my contracts and conditions. ever since I saw an inspiring sign in a bus station in Brasttleboro Vermont: "Your lack of plannification does not constitute my rush". Lesson learned!

Tonight Still working on that Satyr puppet, broadcasting some of the process live on blogTV.
Preparing luggage for Toronto trip.

Great News:
On a very positive note, there are highlights that make this all worthwhile.
The obstacles and complications just seem like small bumps when focusing on the good!
Yet, I know it will all work out and the situation will stabilize!

I'm now the Montreal branch of a Toronto puppet company named Unraku.
We moved in to our first official studio about two weeks ago. I can't wait to see what they did with the place, as it was already very promising when I last saw it.

I'm Looking forward to this week-end, I'll see my Unraku colleagues again, one of which I never met in person, as she hails from Pheonix, Arizona! We are shooting a music video, as a promotional tool for the company. We shall also attend an evening where I will meet Alexander Mergold, an Art Doll and Puppet artist whose work I've admired for years.
The evening will be hosted by Open Door Design, a lovely puppet store in Toronto.

The main project for Unraku these days is one I cannot yet reveal much about, but it's going to be big. I'll keep you posted as the information becomes available for release. Here's what I can say about it now: It's going to be a weekly puppet show, published online. Assembled in Toronto (homebase), but filmed in Toronto, Montreal, and Pheonix.
The creatures will be varied, and the fun will be palpable!

We shall be promoting the show at the Central Canada Comicon in Winnipeg (Alberta, Canada), at the end of the month, as well as other festivals and events until March, when we are going to Megacon, in Orlando(Florida).

October will be busy:
•My Halloween mask (another Satyr) needs to be ready for the Winnipeg trip
•I'm building (not designing) the official puppet for an artist/writer who has a series of music albums and books for children starring a squirrel. I'm looking forward to it.
•I was hired to create a one-of-a-kind little girl glove puppet as a birth gift.

Keeping busy!

To see me in action, I very often broadcast my creaturemaking steps live from Blogtv. I don't have a schedule, but it's usually evenings and nights.
www.blogtv.com/people/creaturiste

And as usual, my portfolio can be seen on this other blog:
www.creaturiste.blogspot.com

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ZlorgNboB Shop (my designs)

Click for the official store!


I made all the visual designs for ZlorgNboB, including what's featured on the merchandise.
Today, the Coffee Mug design for " Zlorg & boB: The Other Mug" has won a red ribbon award on the Zazzle website (Today's Best category).

Click to see all the designs, on various items.
Also, our customers can modify the products a lot (size, positionning, and sometimes change the product itself), when clicking on Customize.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dragon Brooch






















Dragon Brooch.
Wearable Art.

This faithful protector, strong embodiment of fire and flight, will soon make his home on the
garments of a friend in Europe. This young dragon-phoenix has fierce protective instincts but a powerfully kind heart.

Measures: 4" x 6" x 3/4"

Materials:
Flexible Paper Mache over wire armature, deep red glass bead eyes, Monster Bone finish, acrylic paint and metallic mica powders (copper and gold).
Equipped with an horizontal metal pin with safety latch.

Photography is difficult with metallic finishes, and with this small a scale, so this photograph does not do it justice. In reality, it is smoother in texture, and the colors are vibrant and almost shimmering. More photos coming soon.

It is ready to be shipped to the customer in Europe, as soon as she approves the painting.
More of the same model (with variations, as each is made from scratch) will be made for selling, eventually. If you need one sooner, just place an order, and I'll make it a priority.

I would be thrilled to make more wearable Art, with different creatures, at different scales, in the same or other visual styles. Let's discuss the endless possibilities!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Co-Hosting online live puppet show







I'm now co-hosting a weekly live internet show with my colleague Daryl, who lives in British Columbia. I'm the purple guy (he was my first "Advanced Sock Puppet"). We'll soon have recorded excerpts for you to see when we are not live online.

It all started as a fun improv thing on Daryl's blog, and people demanded so much, so fast, they we had to make a separate show. So here it is, next show will be this week-end, the specific day and hour still to be decided. We'll soon have a regular time-slot, once we figure out our respective schedules, in relation to time zone differences.


ALSO:
If you want to see me work and have a chat, I sometimes come online on my own channel:
http://www.blogtv.com/People/Creaturiste

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mayonnaise

What has mayonnaise to do with puppet or mask making, you may wonder?
Well, it's all connected. Since I became good enough in the studio, I became good in the kitchen! The skills are transferable! And a better-fed artist is a healthier artist.

Whether it be as a meal's accompaniment or as a dip for snacks, real mayonnaise is not a luxury, it's a necessity! I wont, buy the pre-made stuff anymore.

So last week I learned how to make real mayonnaise.
By blender at first, but now I prefer using a whisk. Beats any commercial mayo I ever tried! It's great as a base for other things, such as salad dressings, or dips. Makes a wonderful base for a thick, rich cesar salad dressing!

It's much healthier this way, because one can control all the ingredients that go into it.


My favorite variation so far: extra dijon mustard, touch of honey, lots of garlic powder, and lots of black pepper.

Great as a dip for fries or veggies!
Two best sources where I learned from:
I loosely follow the first source's method, but I learned a bit more why it works by watching the second source. I find that sunflower oil has a bit of a bitter aftertaste. I'll move on to a lighter flavored oil, such as grapeseed oil. The problem is that organic oils don't come in many choices yet. Wake up society!

http://myfrenchcuisine.blogspot.com/2005/09/easymayonnaise.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOymdsYMoqQ

Update:

This video is showing an even simpler and faster method, but the chef uses a "stick blender".
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gz0fLT_k3_U

Monday, June 15, 2009

My marionette Links

I updated and sent this to a colleague today who's also into marionettes,
so I thought I'd share it on the blog as well.
There are a few links that I found today, which I had not seen before.
The articles found on the Modern Mechanics website (various sources, such as Popular Mechanics) are among the new stuff (new to my list, some of which I had posted before)

NOTE: the links aren't clickable yet. Blogger's editing interface still forces us to manually input every link, even though they are properly formatted already.
I'll input them later, in the meantime, just copy and paste the links to your browser's address bar.



Street shows:
Grafton's puppet show. Mouvements rapides et précis.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGKH5iSINK0

Dancing skeleton
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8Al22_EQJ8

Les Sages Fous (Trois-Rivières) (not marionettes, but the visuals are fitting for me)
http://www.sagesfous.com/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xfx333i2Fhs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UamzyqfJCs0

Stage shows:
Joe Cashore
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gr6WFaPgG5Q

Ronnie Burkett (je ne trouve aucun extrait de spectacles sur internet! Donc voici son site officiel:)
http://www.johnlambert.ca/english/ronnie/ronnie_productions.htm

Basil Twist
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irpwazWXggA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFSYfBxue7U

Frank Paris
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJ0u6sfuO-Y

David Syrotiak's Natioal Marionette Theater (Vermont)
http://www.nmtshow.com/Home.html

Pendel Marionettes (Allemagne)
http://www.pendel-marionetten.de/english/index.htm

Altrego (Allemagne)
http://www.altrego.de/

Ruzicka Brothers (République tchèque)
http://www.marionetisti.cz/other/oth_en.html

Albrecht Roser
(pas beaucoup d'images, mais il offre un livre maintenant, qui a l'air superbe. Le distributeur (Ray daSilva) est fiable et très rapide en livraison, j'ai commandé deux fois chez lui.
http://www.albrecht-roser.de/00033.html

Scott Land
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDY0iHRsU4E
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJojE-jGeow
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPpLoF7zudQ

Philippe Genty
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SphHaiW7fzg

Phillip Huber
http://www.hubermarionettes.com/Home.htm


On Film
Séquences de marionnettes du film Being John Malkovich (performances par Philip Huber et équipe, article sur le processus dans le dernier lien).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bleGmiItLKs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axqYLPQIEck
http://www.hubermarionettes.com/bjm/bjmintro.html

Strings
Superbe visuellement, pour les passionnés des fils, un DVD à posséder en archive...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHa1BqcNYQc


Simple & Efficient
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEC4mJ5xLhM


Techniques:
John Roberts: cours de sculpture de marionnette à fils, au Little Angel Theater (GB).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqW0KHl3gQk

MODERN MECHANICS
The secrets of Making Marionettes (2 parts)
http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2006/07/14/mechanical-secrets-of-marionette-shows/
http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2006/06/03/the-secrets-of-making-marionettes/

The Art of Making Lifelike Marionette Bodies
http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2007/06/05/the-art-of-making-lifelike-marionette-bodies/

Boy's hobby Creates Puppet Opera
http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2007/04/26/boys-hobby-creates-puppet-opera/

Trick Marionettes
http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2007/08/21/trick-marionettes-will-enliven-your-puppet-shows/

Posable Skeleton model
http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2007/01/08/humanlike-skeletons-pose-for-artists/

Amazing skills with most famous puppets
http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2007/06/28/amazing-skill-with-unseen-strings-gives-life-to-most-famous-puppets/

Building Disney's Pinnochio!
http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2007/04/19/pinocchio-the-puppet/

Marionettes go Hollywood
http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2007/01/17/marionettes-go-hollywood/

OTHERS:
Stephen Mottram: atelier de mouvement (en 6 parties)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5YXtbGMfO0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzZw_WrLoE0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uk-syTzQOaM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWKqY4bdbkk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkUl-XQJMRI
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bW7Be6Ks6b8


naked marionette
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSbXUYI-0cE


The Puppeteer
A film by Chris Schmidt & Gary Henoch
Très touchant, inspirant aussi.
Un beau souvenir d'un collègue parti trop tôt.
Saura plaire aux performeurs de rues comme de scènes.
Environs 32 minutes.
http://igorfokin.com/video.html


Book:
Superbe, en Allemand et Anglais.
Le travail de Gmelin et Shmelz, en marionnettes à fils (Pendel Marionettes).
Contient un survol des étapes de fabrication, mais pas la méthode complète.
beau livre à avoir en consultation, pour les images et les idées transmises.
Marionetten/Marionettes
Kunst, Bau, Spiel.
Art, construction, Play.
Gmelin-Shmelz
2004 (nouvelle édition, l'ancienne est tout aussi belle, mais offre quelques différences d'oeuvres présentées)
ISBN: 3-87463-367-5
http://www.pendel-marionetten.de/english/verkauf/index.htm



Ancient articles on marionettes
Some in French, some about other types than string marionettes.

1823
Meeting of a puppeteer (in French)
http://books.google.ca/books?id=cNRgaGjvRNcC&pg=PA90&dq=marionnettes&lr=#PPA90,M1


1842
Revue de Paris (article in French)
http://books.google.ca/books?id=9MJbwX2HHPQC&pg=PA5&dq=marionnettes&lr=

1850
Histoire des Marionnettes (long Article in French)
http://books.google.ca/books?id=UzAZAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA456&dq=marionnettes&lr=#PPA434,M1

1852
French Polichinelle Play
http://books.google.ca/books?id=1SopAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA487&dq=marionnettes&lr=#PPA487,M1


1862
Histoire des marionnettes en Europe (Puppet History book in French)
http://books.google.ca/books?id=5qlZAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=marionnettes&lr=

1852
Mentions of marionette and intricate mechanics in this article.
http://books.google.ca/books?id=8UCgAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA166&dq=marionnettes&lr=

1854
Eclectic Magazine, page 299
http://books.google.ca/books?id=akISAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA317&dq=marionettes&lr=#PPA299,M1

1854
Same article as above, different publisher
http://books.google.ca/books?id=Dr4CAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA397&dq=marionettes&lr=#PPA392,M1


1871
Part of a novel by George Sand, features the description of puppets and
booths
page 161
http://books.google.ca/books?id=wrYaAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA161&dq=marionettes&lr=#PPA161,M1


1871
Book of written puppet plays in French
http://books.google.ca/books?id=UOYPAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=marionnettes&lr=#PPP1,M1


1872
All the Year Round,
article: Punch and the Puppets (page 517)
http://books.google.ca/books?id=zUcJAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA519&dq=marionettes&lr=#PPA517,M1

1877
Le Theatre des marionnettes (Goerge Sand, in French).
http://books.google.ca/books?id=Yts75QrDCC0C&pg=PA123&dq=marionnettes&lr=


1885
Historical Dictionary of Theater, definition of marionnettes (French)
http://books.google.ca/books?id=eU5XAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA500&dq=marionnettes&lr=#PPA499,M1


1886
3-page article about an excentric Puppeter in Paris and his destroyed
theater. (French)
http://books.google.ca/books?id=cT0pAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA251&dq=marionnettes&lr=#PPA251,M1

1888,
Gentleman's Magazine, page 578.
http://books.google.ca/books?id=AIEBWOYikCwC&pg=PA579&dq=marionettes&lr=#PPA578,M1



Histoire des marionnettes en Europe (full History book in French)
1852
http://books.google.ca/books?id=Y4MOAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=marionnettes&lr=#PPP9,M1

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Do-it-Yourself lumber, and bones!

There are two new instructables on their wonderful site, both related to paper mache.

First is about making your own "lumber" out of cardboard
and glue. I'm really interested in trying this. When I have more time.
I wouldn't attempt this without a table saw or band saw, so now I'm almost
all set (getting a fence for my band saw first, can't cut straight for the
moment).
http://www.instructables.com/id/Cardboard-Lumber/


Second one is about making paper logs for your wood stove, using only newspaper and water. This could be used, in various sizes, as structural materials for making bones, limbs, or armatures for sculptures.
Super fast to make too.
Could be made stronger by adding some glue to the water, but I don't think that's necessary if you intend to cover with paper mache strips, or as long as the final product is well sealed, to prevent moisture penetration and imprisonment.
Pounding a wet newspaper with rubber mallet on the pavement and then rolling it?
The simplest methods are often those we don't think about.

I'm a bit of a maniac about cleanliness in my artwork, so I'll skip the pavement, and use a clean board.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bandsaw & I

The band saw I got a few weeks ago is indeed turning out to be a wondertool!
How could I do my work without it for so many years is already getting hard to comprehend!

The band saw is becoming an essential in my workshop. I got it mostly to cut wood pieces to make better marionettes and simple wooden toys, but now I can confirm what people have been telling me all along: it's super versatile!
It also cuts polyfoam, styrofoam, cardboard, light plastics! And these don't require a new blade either! A friend of mine needed to cut the top off of a peanut butter jar's lid. No problem! Did it in 5 minutes. I tested it before with another jar, to make sure the plastics were not going to shatter. The jar plastic shattered, but not the lid. so i just left the lid screwed tight on the final jar, and carefulyl cut off the top of the lid.
The jar part was cut with scissors.


TODAY
I spent half the afternoon learning how to properly change the blade, and finally succeeded, despite the inadequate instructions in the manual. I was able to solve the problem by studying the exploded diagram of the whole machine! Feels great to get past the difficulties and figure it out! The new blade (Delta industrial) is an eight of an inch wide, making it a lot easier to cut better curves. I'm told there are even better blade types. I'll keep an eye out for them. And wear safety goggles while doing so.

The rest of the day was for designing and outline-cutting the torso and limbs for my next marionette. I've been working on it for a while, but I've been (and still am) so busy planning my solo exhibit, that it's slow going for every piece I'm working on. I also have a few pieces to finish before the show.

Back to the band saw:
The only problem with it is the lack of a fence/guide.
I shall get one next paycheck, even if it means I have to drive my bicycle for an hour to get to the supplier. That's how motivated this tool is making me! I'm starting to understand how some people become so attached to their car. I wouldn't be surprised if before long, the band saw told me its name. Even without a fence, the saw is still amazing.
I have not needed to re-saw wood at perfect angles, so with a little planning before cutting, there was no problem.

Operating this machine becomes a way to focus on the moment, it feels so mind-clearing to think of nothing but the the finger positions, and feel and control the precision of the cut.
It's almost a meditation. The fact that every use puts you in the position of possibly losing fingers or eyes, is a great motivator to self-discipline. If I don't feel focused and fully aware, I don't even turn on the machine.

I'd play some more with it, but I respect my neighbors, and I decided to not operate noisy equipment after 8pm. So tonight, I'll see if I can finish the paper mache steps on a brooch I'm making for a colleage overseas. It's still an exciting feeling to know some of my pieces are going to be appreciated by people so far away! I hope I don't ever get jaded about this!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Inspiring Film: The Puppeteer
















Very special thanks to Doll Artist Marie-Claude Dupont for making me discover this very touching piece of documentary work!

The Puppeteer
A film by Chris Schmidt & Gary Henoch, about the work of Puppeteer Igor Fokin.

It's beautiful, it's touching.
It's also inspiring to make the viewer want to do things now, before it's too late. The artist lives on people's memories, in a memorial sculpture, and in this film.

You see the artist at work on the street, his interaction with the audience and one sculpted puppet in progress. You hear his views on various topics that touch us as performers and makers and people living in countries of abundance.

You see what happened after his sudden death at 36, and how people honored him. You see how much one person doing what he loves can touch many. I highly recommend this very short but very good film. It takes you places. What an homage to someone's work!

Sites concerning Igor Fokin:
http://www.igorfokinfamily.com/

There is a second documentary film about Igor Fokin. This one's profits all
go to the puppeteer's family. Both films are described here:
http://igorfokin.com/video.html

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Easy Curtains

For at least a year, I've had a real theater black curtain (100% cotton, velour finish on one side, very thick) hanging to separate my bedroom from my studio space. It's been great as a backdrop for photographing my creations, when doing webcam meetings, and a great relief as a blocker from the street light when sleeping (I live on a busy avenue).
It also cuts a bit of sound.

As useful as it was, it was slowly driving me nuts, due to the inefficiency of the sliding "mechanism".
There's one thing about focusing on the most important stuff, but small tiny annoyances can build up! My curtains themselves were ok. The "hooks" were simply loops of nylon webbing (backpack straps) I had machine sewn on top of the curtains. For the pole, I had taped two broomsticks together, using a piece of pipe to join them. Friction on the pole, and especially at the link, was too much, forcing me to stand on a bench each night and each morning to open and close by hand.
Today, at the hardware store for puppet making supplies, I realized it was about time I fixed this.
So I did. I bought a long piece of CPVC pipe (it's blue-grey, and denser-stiffer than the yellow PVC). At less than 5$, the price was right!
Back at home, I made some wooden washers to space the pipes from the wall.
To make the washers, I just pierced a deep hole at one end of a fat dowel.
I then sliced it in three spacers.
I then pre-pierced wide holes at both extremities and center of the pole, but only piercing one side, not going through. The holes were big enough for the head of the long wood screws I would be using. Then pierced the smaller holes to fit tightly around the screw thread.
Then I slid the curtains on the pole. Then I placed my spacers between wall and pipe, and screwed everything in place. It would have been much easier with a helper, but I managed by having the screws hold the pole on the other end while I was working my way towards it.
Now, the nylon webbing curtain hooks slide easily on the smooth pole.
It's a dream, by comparison! It's not as nice as a "real" system with pulleys and rope, but it does the job for what I need it for.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Easy Marionnette Articulations

video video

EUREKA! It took all of last night, but I figured how to design wooden puppet joints on cardboard! No risk to the wood, or our sanity! No calculations! No guesswork! It's easy! It works, I tested it!

I used to spend a lot of time, for every new pair of wooden puppet leg, to figure out angles and positioning of the pin. No need for that long waste of time and materials now!

All excited, even though I had not tested it in 3D, I showed the cardboard mock-up to my best friend this morning and he barely blinked. He's a sculptor who's been raised with traditional tools of all sorts, so for him it's rather obvious. He seems to act like everyone knows that method. Well, I'm glad for them that they know, but since I'm not everyone, and I never saw anything resembling this method, (and you know I collect techniques), I guess the method should be shared!

I'm going to write a tutorial about it soon as I can (and when have a functioning photo camera again). If people are interested in the method, let me know, it would probably boost the article's priority level.

NOTE: I have figured it out on my own, but I don't claim to have invented it. I'm pretty sure some similar methods are out there. I just never saw any. The marionette pros must have this shortcut or something simlar, or better! I didn't read it any of the few marionette books I've had access to.

I just can't wait for tomorrow to make my first pair of marionette legs in this model!
Since I can't use the noisy machines tonight, I'll write a first draft of the article right now:
In short, the method involves drawing silhouettes of the leg, and because it's in cardboard and has a thickness, it can be articulated. I used cardstock of the same type as packaging for cereal or cookie boxes. Worked really well.

It involves drawing a circle with a compass, of the size that would fit with your actual size puppet schematic. The circle becomes the knee, with the center hole (used a compas) indicating precisely the position of the pin on which the two-part knee will rotate. Drawing the leg shape around that circle is easy.

The two leg parts are made separately that way, then linked together on a soft surface with a pin going through their "bull's eye". The leg can now rotate, but needs stoppers up front and in the back of the knee. These stoppers are pieces of cardboard that are glued into place. A triangular piece is positionned on the upper leg piece at an angle, to act as a stopper for the leg bend, and the tip of it, sticking out of the circle, becomes the stopper to prevent the leg to open fully when at full extension. A much smaller triangle is added in the same way to the front of the lower leg, creating the matching stopper for the full extension stopper. In other words, the wedges dictate the angle at which the leg can be when fully opened. To have a leg already bent slightly less than 90 degrees prevents the leg from snapping when a walking movement is started, as it's already on the way.
Extra fun: These two pieces can be shaped like a knee.

Then the pieces can be used as silhouette patterns to draw onto the wood pieces, which are then cut as is. The next step is to carve the grooves, and free the tongue, but the measurements for them are already all there on the cardboard. This is the only part that requires a little logical figuring out, but if I could do it, anybody can. All you need is to have a drawing or picture of the finished joint to figure how to cut the grooves. Care has to be taken, when cutting the upper leg's stopper, to not do so in the middle-front of the knee, as we want that tongue to come out seamless from the top knee. Another precaution is to avoid cutting the lower leg's groove too deep in the front of the leg, because we want to avoid having a large gap. I've seen that gap on many beautiful pro puppets, but I feel it catches the light and distracts the eyes when the puppet is performing. Of course, if you want to feature the joints as important visual features of the marionette, that precaution should be disregarded, and the gaps exagerated, as the contrast would make all the joints pop out nicely, especially with focused stage lights.

I made my first test in dense styrofoam, so as not to waste wood (and not make noise in the evening). Total success. Even though I did it quite impatiently, so excited was I, it is the smoothest-looking and functioning hard articulation I've ever made.
What a relief to have a method that works so easily!

Update: Here's a test I made the next day with scraps of wood.
Only the lower leg is really carved after the block shapes were articulated.
No need to finish this one, as I know how to do this step.
I can move on to my actual marionette as soon as I get a thinner blade and a proper adjustable fence on my band saw.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shop Vac Wood Dust Danger

Hi all.
The previous post was about making a wooden mallet, and some steps of it required the use of power tools, namely a band saw, and a Dremel with sanding disk.

By necessity, I work in my small apartment, and therefore keeping good air quality is very important for my health. I don't even use toxic solvents in the winter.
I got sick on fine dust particules from clay many years ago (I knew nothing of health hasards of Art materials), and that was enough of a lesson for me.


While workiong on the mallet project, I had my shop vac plugged into the band saw's dust expulsion tube. Once activated, it did a pretty good job of keeping dust propagation to a minimum. Well, on the machine at least...

The system failed! For one simple reason: I had not checked my shop vac's filter bag before starting. It had become dislodged inside the tank since my last use. I probably banged it too much when moving furniture around.

So in effect, all the dust that was absorbed by the shop vac just twirled into the container, and was powerfully redistributed into the air. A fine dusting of extremely fine maple wood dust was coating half of my apartment's floors and low surfaces! Not to mention my lungs, no doubt. I took an hour to clean the whole place as much as I could.
I also removed the filter bag, and washed the shop vac's container. Those should always be kept clean and dry, to prevent mold growth.

One exposure to so much fine dust is probably not that big of a deal, but I won't let it happen again. I'll make a point of checking my filter bag everytime I start working with power tools.

I never had that problem before, as I use really good filter bags, designed to filter the finest of nocive particules, including plaster dusts. They cost extra, but since I've been using them, I've had good air quality in here. One dislodged bag is enough of an example to make an impression.

Lesson learned!


Extra:

While all fine particules can be damaging to our lungs (including baby powder!),
some wood dusts are much more toxic than others. I'm told mahogany and particule boards (MDF, HDF) are particularly nasty to the lungs, which is why I refuse to carve or saw those in here.

I'll also make sure I only work with wood that seems clean and sound, without mold or traces of insect attacks.

Wooden mallet

I apologize for the bad picture quality. My expensive photo camera's USB output has died last week. I'm told it's a common problem with digital cameras. It's the evil Planned Obsolescence problem again. Having it fixed (still under warranty) would have me without a camera for a month, which I can't do because I constantly have to photograph my work before I hand it to customers. Until I get a memory card reader, it's going to have to be webcam shots... sorry.


I made myself a round wooden mallet today.
I needed one for wood sculpting when using chisels and gouges.
The one at the specialty store was too perfect-looking.
And from experience, it's much more fun for me to make my own tools.
I learn plenty about it and the materials as I'm doing it.

It must have taken me 4 times as much time it would have taken me if I had had an electrical lathe. Oh well, it gave me an excuse to use my band saw for the first real project, as all my chisels turned out to be too dull, and I didn't feel like installing the new buffing wheel on my grinder to learn how to sharpen them. I just felt like making a mallet!

Safety warning: I'm told it is common knowledge among woodworking pros that it is dangerous to cut round dowels and logs on a band saw. The following shows me taking a bit of a risk, so you have been warned, take the proper precautions, and make sure you are alert and focused whenever operating machinery. Never operate any kind of powertool when you are tired, unless you really want to hurt yourself badly.

Even though the maple table leg I used was round, the large head of it was square, and the whole object was so massive, heavy and long that I had no problem keeping it steady, without kickback, without use of any real force. I went slowly, and only cut thin strips at a time, to be safer. I'd never attempt this with anything totally round and smaller, of course. I would use a proper specialty jig and clamps.


Bad Commercial practices can cause problems:
It was extra difficult to fine-finish it by hand because I did not think to check for wood grain back at the store. I found out only last minute that the turned table leg was in fact made up of 9 small pieces of wood glued together. It would have been fine if the pieces had been laid in the same grain direction, or in a logical succession, but it turned out the manufacturer didn't care for that. So from one inch to the next in the horizontal direction, my wood grain inverted! It made knife carving and sanding very difficult. Extra difficulty, but extra education! Next time I need to make a big tool like this, I'll make sure I check the grain at the store. I finished the job with a big craft knife, files, a Dremel with sanding disk, three grades of sandpaper, and a liquid beeswax finish, which I stained a bit darker with a dab of oil paint.

I signed the head of it with a woodburner.
I love the fact that it looks hand made, and not perfectly smooth. I'd imagine a chisel like that in Gepetto's workshop. From testing it just now on a piece of pine, the mallet has good weight and balance. Even a dull chisel cuts pretty well, with this mallet. It compares well with the ones I've tried before.


Recycling:
Most of the wood chips (not the dust) produced during the process could have gone as mulch to hide a large patch of dirt on the front lawn of my apartment. Hopefully the neighborhood cats would find it uncomfortable enough to avoid relieving themselves there from now on. The smell gets really awful int the summer. It's right under my window!
Sadly, I did a test earlier tonight, and the mulch looks very bad next to the lawn, due to its light color. I'm sure the landlord would demand that I remove it pronto.
Red cedar would have been fine.

I got the wood chip into mulch tip by watching an online video of a bowl turner, who does that in his yard. I can't remember the source, I watched a lot of them, and it was months ago.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Quick Healthy Snacks

For the Artists who works too hard.

As working artists, we need to take breaks and also eat a snack, but a lot of us get abosrbed by the work, or are pressed by time, and neglect it until we get prematurely exhausted.
Having yummy snacks to look forward to helps encourage the taking of breaks...

Here are four snacks I often make for myself and the occasional guests.


Raw Apple Sauce
Just peel apples, rinse, then grate on the finest surface of the grater.
Dash or two of sea salt, pinch of cinnamon, and the optional tang of a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Eat immediately, to benefit from all the good nutrients.
If you are preparing it slightly in advance, make sure to use a bit more lemon juice, place in an air-tight container, and place in the fridge.


Baked Apple Sauce
Apples, freshly squeezed lemon juice, touch of water.
In order to retain taste and as much nutrients as possible, I recommend cooking the mixture at low temperature for long enough to soften the apples a bit, with a few lumps remaining. Finish with a potato masher. The texture and taste are ALIVE!
Sweeten and spice after the baking is done, with a touch of maple syrup, cinnamon, and a pinch of sea salt. Can be enjoyed hot or cold.


Apple-Pumpkin Puree
Pumpkin pie filling mix (preferably organic) + the equivalent of half that quantity of fresh apples, cut in small pieces. First bake the apples the same as previous recipe, then add the pumpkin, mash together! Enjoy hot or cold, your choice.


Raw Carrot-Apple Puree
Same as above, but use half carrot, half apple puree, with dash or two of sea salt.
A handful of raisins adds a bit more depth.

Frozen Grapes
Can be done with any kind of sweet grapes. I choose green grapes, for their slightly tangy taste. Detach grapes from stems, remove the bad ones, wash very well, and place in the freezer. About 8 hours later, you'll have super sweet semi-hard sweet candies!
Can be eaten by themselves, accompany kefir or cereal, or to replace ie cubes in drinks!
Very refreshing, but don't eat too fast (brain freeze!) or too much (2 litres is too much for me, had one instance of mild tummy ache).

Monday, May 4, 2009

Paper Mache experiments and leads

Or... getting back to old forgotten methods.

Here I'll be talking about Corn Starch Glue, Waterglass, and an appeal for traditional paper mache methods of the past.

Corn Starch
I'll soon be trying corn starch glue for paper mache very soon.
I was prompted by a constant inclination to move towards more natural and basic materials.
Non toxicity also has a strong appeal to me. I've met too many artists with health problems related to toxic art supplies. I was lucky to learn about proper safety practices early enough in my career to only suffer from dry hands as a long term condition. Before I knew the danger, I was instructed by my employers at a store to wash metal shelves regularly with methyl hydrate! It lasted a few months (maybe one session every two weeks) before I learned the danger. I've been dependent on hand creams ever since.
But I digress...

Corn starch again...
If corn starch is good enough for Bread & Puppet Theatre, how could I refuse to try it for so long? Well, there are the traumas of the past, when using food-based adhesives in paper mache (mold growth issues) , that caused me to stop their use altogether.
That and the risk of insects and rodents attacking my creations in storage.
And the fact that those food-based adhesives have a very limited shelf life. I like convenience of use, and hate wasting. Of course now that I actively compost everything I can, I could very well stop considering spoiled glue as a waste...

I am still wondering what the advantages would be of using corn starch over that of using methyl cellulose, which I already know from experience has an indefinite shelf life and nice handling properties. Methyl cellulose also gives a nice smoother result. I have yet to test it properly for strenght on its own. I abandonned its use years ago, from lack of proper knowledge about paper mache and how it's made. I thought the result was too weak, and the first layer was too much trouble to apply. I moved on to using diluted white glue because it was so tacky and strong. I was a total beginner, frustrated with no access to proper information, so I blamed the glue, but now I know it was my innapropriate methods. Live and learn. Nowadays, I make pretty much anything with paper mache, and it remains my favorite category of mediums.

I'll have to try corn starch glue to find out if it's what I really need. If not for all my purposes, maybe for some specifics. I was delayed in this experiment by getting another contract which required synthetic materials (a plastic) as the base, so I opted for a synthetic adhesive, to ensure proper adhesion, as there was no time for experimenting. I shall be done with this project shortly, so the corn starch experiments should come soon.


Waterglass:
In my internet searches recently, I stumbled upon an interesting chemical named Sodium Silicate, also known as "Waterglass".
It has many uses in a few industries. Some of them: crackling glaze for ceramics, fresh egg preserver, waterproofing paper and fabrics, and as an ingredient in a recipe for a home-made cement like super-glue.
This really got my attention, as I am always searching for truly waterproof finishes for my paper mache creations. If i can make a waterproof glue to paste my strips with, maybe I'll get something similar to the old industrial results, when they used to make fine lacquered furniture.
My interest doubled when I found out my pigment supplier happens to carry sodium silicate!
I'll get some soon, and keep you updated.
In the meantime, some info about Waterglass:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_silicate


"Frogotten" Traditions
What appears to be second nature to some artists living in the old European countries, still seems a mystery to us Canadians and North Americans. We seem to be limited to using flour pastes or pva glue, and fuzzy methods at best, compared to what used to be made in paper mache in the past, and is still produced by a select few in the old countries.

Artists in countries such as Russia, Czech Republic, and Italy, have mastered the art of high quality paper mache. They have come to a point of making their creations look like detailed porcelain or wood or plaster, their results are strong and lihtweight, , and some of them can create these items extremely fast. I currently know of one such method, but it's not a true traditional approach, as the artist who uses it already has converted to diluted white glue.
I don't dismiss the use of modern materials, I believe in convenience and economy, but I'd rather know the original recipes, in order to have all the information to make my own decisions.

The dream is this:
Ideally, I'd love to see videos of the entire process of some of these traditional high quality paper mache methods. Of course, text descriptions with images would still be appreciated.
Rest assured that the information I receive will keep on spreading here on this blog, and shared with my colleagues and students. Every effort counts in the goal that paper mache can come back in full strenght in the Art world's field of vision. Because right now, it's hardly ever seen as more than a cheap, disposable arts & craft method. It's only gained this bad reputation because of neglect. The plastics industry has been blamed before for the downfall of paper mache industries, but that excuse does not stand the test of reason. Many other "obsolete" methods still thrive, because artists have kept working them, and have elevated them to the status of Fine Art methods and materials. If art printmakers had stopped using copper plates, stones, presses and paste inks when the advent of industrial machines came, we wouldn't have the Art Print businesses we have today.

I think the over industrialization, and the constant application of Planned Obsolescence practices have caused a major loss of quality and originality in the world.
For a a fascinating and infuriating read about today's consumer world:
Planned Obsolescence.


Part of the population is now becoming sensitive again to hand-made, unique and durable objects. Something more tangible, in a world where most of our posessions are from a store, and we are mostly left in the dark where exactly they come from, who made them, what processes were used, what environmental impact did it have, and what it's made of.

Paper mache is one answer to all these problems.
It can be made in ways that are non toxic, economical, environmentally friendly and very durable. It is such an extremely versatile medium, it can be used as a main materials, as a finishing product, and as a link between various mediums. It can be made in very small scale, and giant sculptural applications. Houses and the occasional boats have been made with it. Combined with lacquer, paper mache was once used to make armors in Japan.



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My puppet performing in Germany!


I just learned about it. I'm thrilled! This is a puppet I built for another show (Jolis Deuils), which they chose for that event. They are offering me royalties for this too, even though it's just one puppet out of many I built for the show, years ago. This company has always been a great example of fairplay.

A multiple opera concert with about 60 musicians and a choir.
Two puppeteers (Pier Dufour and Louis Ayotte, of Kobol Marionnettes).
My puppet on stage, and projected on a giant screen.
The puppet interventions are used to link the different opera excerpts.


They might perform this concert again.

Click on the page numbers below the image group. There are 72 images, a few of which feature the puppet interventions.
http://tinyurl.com/clavz7

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hair Implants with hot glue

About "fake grafting" fur or hair:
There's a way to glue strands or bunches of hair to a surface using hot glue, without it showing. It looks almost like the hair has sprouted from the skin. I usually do this after my puppet heads are painted. Since artist quality acrylic paints are extra strong and grabby, they won't peel off if a bit of tension is applied to the hair.
The trick:
-Large bowl with water.
-Glue gun at high temp
-cut hair material off its backing
-trim the root to make it all even
-spread glue around the roots using the glue gun's nozzle.
-dip middle and index finger of other into water
-immediately place hair bunch's root where you want it, and tap once or twice with moist fingers.

The moist fingers are protected from the heat, and the texture makes the glue "matte".
The water dries super fast. Strands can be grafted at various angles too, including as a totaly vertical bunch (great for punk hair and such).
One has to experiment a bit to find out how much glue is just right. Excess will squeeze out and look bad.
I use this technique extensively, although for larger areas (entire lifesize head), I use other methods, as the hot glue adds weight. I like a similar method, but using contact cement. Once both the scalp and the hair strands are touch-dry, we just link them and there is no mess. I just don't know how to avoid the slght glossyness of the contact cement, but it's okay if we don't use too much glue (it has to remain underneath the strand)
I leave the backing on the fur for larger areas, but the eyebrows and other facial hair are usually backing-free. I add backing-free strands of hair in front of the hair line to hide the backing's edge and make it look like natural growth.

For an even more realistic look, I sometimes use Monster Bone as a glue to attach simple strands of hair. Like I described for the hot glue, I apply the Monster Bone compound to the root of the hair strand, ans squish it in place. Then I paint a bit of it to overlap the hair and the scalp. I need to be sure not to touch it at all until totally dry, but when it is, the hair won't come off, and will definitely looks like they are sprouting out, hair by hair, or at least very small strands by very small strands. The lynx demon puppet shown below has a mustache made that way.

PRECAUTION:
The bowl of water should always be there whenever we use hot glue. Any spill on our skin can be immediately dipped in water and the burning stopped.
I've proven it to a group of students once. They looked both distracted and incredulous, so I dropped some hot glue on my hand on purpose, and dipped in water.
No damage. That got their attention.

Leave the glue on the skin until totally cool, or a bit longer even. Premature removing of the glue can rip off the epidermis. It happened to me twice. It did not bleed, but the exposed inner layers of skin were hyper sensitive to heat and touch, until it healed.
I'd rather take the extra time to prepare a bowl of water than to have to go through the irritation again.

Hobey Ford tells me of an extra safety measure: we should deposit the gun on its stand before dipping our hand in water (electric shock risk if gun cord is damaged) .


For an example of the hair grafted in this manner, look at my demon puppets.




Monday, April 20, 2009

Better PHOTOS

I think a big portion of the touring theater companies/puppet makers that have a website have a major problem.

Whether or not they have a decent interface (which is also important), the pics are often too small, and/or badly taken, and/or too few in numbers. I'm sure people who book shows or order puppets really appreciate good quality material to help them make a decision about what to purchase, and whom to book. 



Example of a bad quality photo:










It was taken with a super cheap point and shoot camera, with extremely poor lighting conditions in the studio. These things were out of my control. I was working abroad and we were in a rush, so no time to get better lamps. I would not show this on a pro website.
Might as well not show anything at all. Alas, this set of photos is mostly so bad I'd have a hard time getting anywhere close to acceptable quality, even after lots of tweaking.

A poor photo that was improved a bit:








This was taken with a good camera, but in poor lighting condition, and without a proper neutral background.So the subject is badly lit, and the background is competing with it. This is what happens when we are too lazy to setup properly. I tweaked the pic to show what a big difference a little tweaking can bring.But save yourselves most of the tweaking trouble, just take the time and effort to take better pics! Of course, there are exceptions. I always try to take the best photos possible, but I do admit to neglecting it a bit when taking works in progress, especially if I know they won't be published online. Recently, that laziness came back to haunt me. A customer wants to use one of my "lazy" work in progress pics, on their event's poster. I think the photo and the work(at that stage) both look awful. I tried to dissuade them, but they held on to their concept. I hope they tweak the picture a LOT, to reveal less defects,as I suggested.

WHAT IS A GOOD PHOTO?
I'm not talking about photographing every single puppet in every single angle, using the services of a pro photographer. That would probably be overkill, and overly expensive to most. I'm talking about taking the time to make your puppets look their best in photographs, truest to what they look like in person, and/or on stage. It will inspire more people, and even bring you more bookings and more commission work. As a total fan of admiring other people's works, I truly enjoy when I see quality photographs of quality puppets. If you don't enjoy taking pics at all, you could exchange services with someone who does enjoy it, and knows how to do it. A lot of people have family members or friends who are pretty good at taking pics. I'll be sharing tips here (below) that could help beginning photographers become much better, in no time at all, with just a little effort. I know they work, I learned those tips the hard way.

My first puppet and mask portfolio dates back to 2001. It cost me over a hundred dollars just in film and processing. I really wanted it to look good,so I took many shots with my 35mm camera. It still ended up looking a bit cheap, as I didn't know much about doing good photography without the pro equipment I had been taught to use in College, but could no longer afford. Still, when I look at people's websites today, I see many photos that are just as bad as mine were when I spent so much time and energy on that first portfolio.

HOW TO DO BETTER PHOTOGRAPHY
WITH VERY LIMITED EQUIPMENT:
Maybe the large amount of poor photographs of puppets is because non-photographer people don't really know how to take better pics? Here are the bests tips I know, to help you improve your pics, if need be.Understanding and applying the following tips will turn the most unsure beginners into decent photographers, when using a good digital camera.I've seen it happen.Even if you can't afford a good camera, a "passable" point-and-shoot automatic camera will yield "pretty darn good" results, if you try some of these tips. You could even boost your possibilities when using your cellphone's camera! After all, the first personal cameras were something like a box with a pin-sized hole in the middle, to expose the film inside slowly.And people still got relatively good shots with those, with proper patience and technique. Today, we live in an abundance of powerful, affordable,easy to use photography technology, and we have all the required information online, and in books.Here's what works for me:

Camera
Get a decent digital camera of a good brand, with at least 6 megapixels of resolution. I recommend cameras by Nikon, Canon, and Pentax. Right now, I have a Pentax k100-D, and I love it. I chose it among other because it was the only full manual camera that used regular AA batteries as a power source.Proprietary batteries are a money-making scheme that makes it very inconvenient to get replacements (special orders), especially on tour or trips.So that's why I took the extra time and effort to find a camera that worked with regular batteries.

But you don't need to spend 600$ on a camera to get good shots. Maybe 200$-300$ would be an acceptable lower price range for puppet companies who want real good quality. This is the only "expensive" investment in these tips. Using your camera's Manual Mode (if it has one) and knowing how it works will save you a lot of headaches, and give you total image control. I was stubborn with my first digital camera, and waited for one year before really reading the camera's instructions manual. I realized only then that I had been missing out on a lot more picture quality! It suddenly felt like I had gotten a much better camera. Still, knowing the options on your automatic modes will help you get better pics, every time, by choosing the right mode for the right lighting situation. A good capacity removable memory card is a good investment. It is very frustrating to run out of card space when everything else is going right. An extra card can't hurt either. Usually, the card that comes with the camera is nowhere near a decent capacity, so spend the extra 30 or 60$ to get a large capacity card at the moment of purchase of the camera (some places will give you a rebate if you ask for it at that big purchase time).

If your camera is one of those pocket-sized extra lightweight, it could have a stability problem, making your shots fuzzy. A friend of mine has a much better resolution on his camera than mine. When I use his camera, even with all my tricks, I find it near impossible to get a good shot without a tripod. Adding a bit of weight underneath it (using the screw hole meant for attaching to a tripod) would help stabilize it when not using a tripod. This inspires me to build him such a weight device as a gift, or at least a rope tripod. The git is for me too, as I am his usual graphic designer, and his fuzzy pics are slowly making me lose my mind.

Camera settings:
This will vary a lot depending on your camera and lighting conditions/equipment. To make things short here,I'll give you my preference for best sharpness and finer grain. It will differ for many people, so experiment. White Balance: adjust according to your lighting types ( Incandescent, Fluorescent, Daylight, etc...) You can also play with different light types in the same pic: daylight is more blue than incandescent, for example, so in the same image, you can have sunlight from the window on one side, and a lamp on the other.
ISO: 100 or 200 (finest grains on most cameras) . You'll need more light in the studio for this ISO setting, and you'll need to close your aperture if working in bright outdoors condition. Aperture: as low a number as possible without losing depth of field (the smaller the subject, the less depth you need to have everything in focus). For my average sizes, I open the aperture to the max (lowest number, in my case 3.5)Picture quality: as much as you need. In my case, I use the maximum format as possible without it being RAW, which would be overkill, since it does not change the pic quality for my uses. A full quality JPEG from my 6 megapixel camera can probably be printed tabloid-size without any loss of sharpness, which is more than I usually need.

Tripod
You absolutely need one if you want really sharp, focused pictures with all the details. It also saves us in limited lighting conditions, because it permits stability during longer exposure times. Anything stable will do. You can even make your own, by adding proper hardware (quarter inch bold and three hex nuts) to at all piece of furniture. Still, an actual tripod with adjustable angles will be very practical, and portable. My main tripod is an old video camera tripod, from which I removed the super strong spring which was for stabilizing heavy video cameras. Now I can use it for my digital photo camera without needing superhuman strength.

Lights:

Digital photo cameras are very needy in terms of light, no matter what mode you use. Yet it is even more important if you use the automatic modes, because it will try to compensate in lack of light, and give you very grainy images as a price for versatility. Get one very strong light source, and two or three medium strength sources. That's for studio work, and to control your environment better, either work in a room where no outside light can come in, or work at night with curtains closed. When working outdoors, use what sunlight is available, and better yet, go take pics at times when you have the best type of light for the project you have. An overcast but bright day is really good for a diffused light situation, it will cast only soft shadows.

I like bright sunlight too, but for those moments, I'll take my pics slightly in the shade.

Note: Winter temperatures will make your camera's batteries temporary feel drained, very fast. They will regain some of their vanished charge when they get back to comfortable room temperatures.

My main light source is a halogen work light, with twice 300W bulbs. My secondary sources are two desk lamps. In one I put a 100 watt bulb, in the other, a 60W. Some people are very happy with using colder light sources, such as fluorescent. They cast a more even diffused light, which can be very flattering to most subjects. I don't yet go for those, because I hate their blueish cast, and the headaches that they sometimes cause. The blue temperature of these lights are not seen on the final pics, as most good cameras have a light temperature adjustment, and/or you can use a photo software to correct it.For now, I'll keep with my yellowish incandescent lights, and just be careful when handling them, as they get pretty hot.

Should I use a flash?If you can avoid using the integrated flash into your camera, please do so! An integrated ruins most shots,by flattening volumes, inventing textures, and making everything look bad.You don't need a flash if you have the light sources (or similar) mentioned above. If you have an independent flash you can position anywhere and still work with your camera (pricey!), you can use it instead of your main light, with great results. If you must use the integrated flash, diffuse it by placing a white sheet of paper in front of it. play with distance and angles to see what works best for your subject. Be careful, the flash's light often bounces off the sheet into your eyes, so better close them at the last nanosecond.

Reflectors:Any large opaque white (or other light color) panel can be used to bounce some light into the shaded areas, so as not to loose details and definition. Different surfaces will give different effects. Lots of people like to use white Foamcore, because it bounces light softly. Many white surfaces will work.For even more reflective power, some shiny metallic surfaces are very helpful. Car window reflectors(one side gold, one side silver) have been adopted by many pro photographers as cheaper alternatives to the studio product.

Backgrounds:
I use a black Theater curtain for most of my puppet and mask pics. It's always set up, I use it to splits my main room into two. It will also make a great background for videos.
I love it because it blocks all the street light, I can sleep in near total darkness. Best investment in years! Sometimes I'll use a white panel as a background. For very small objects, I'll use a home made light tent. Many tutorials are available online for free, to build your own light tent. It makes a world of difference to have those two walls and ground all white, bouncing the light all around your subject. You also need less light when using the light tent, and it can serve as a light diffuser if lit from behind. I also like to go outside and use various natural or human-made settings as background. I take those as extra shots, and as a fun artistic activity, but I still take the controlled studio shots.

Filters:
I don't use special effect filters, as I want sharpness to better represent my creations. Less is better. I would however sometimes use filters and attachments that enhance the clarity or quality of my pics,if I had any. Examples: macro filters, basic color filters to bring out or eliminate a certain color range.For artistic shots not meant to feature the puppets in precision, anything goes: nylon sock over the lens(or other material), blowing some condensation over the lens for a few seconds of blurry fog effect.

Setup:
Main light source is usually set higher than my subject (think "like the sun"), either hung from a wall,installed on a tripod, or on my sculptor's trestle, pointing at my subject. Experiments are necessary to see what is the right distance for the ideal light level without having a hot spot (which would destroy details in lighter areas) My secondary light source is set on one side, at about a 45 degree angle,pointing to my subject. If I have a third source, it's set anywhere I need it, but further away from the subject, to make it softer. It's called a "filler". A filler can also be used behind the subject, to light the hairs, and make them visible against a background that would be too close in color to it. My camera is set (usually on the tripod) at the best angle to see the puppet. Usually for me, that means I center my subject in plenty of empty space around it. I take my pics at full quality (although not RAW, which I don't need) a bit further away from my subject, to avoid lens distortion. I can crop closer(removing extra frame) in a photo software later.

Taking the shots:
Using a tripod:

when everything looks good in the viewfinder or the LCD screen, just press the button.If the tripod isn't all that stable, use the delayed shutter release, so that it will have time to settle between the button click and the shot being taken. I use the multiple shots options when I can't really use a tripod. It takes more than one shot every time I click the button. So even though I move, one of those shots is probably more focused than others. It enables me to select the best, sharpest pic of the bunch. Holding my breath before I click is also a good way to limit unwanted movements. Some people like to use a rope tripod, which is very simple to make. Here's a tutorial on making a rope tripod.

Judging each shot:
Get used to how your camera's LCD screen displays your photos, and know how to preview the pics, and zoom them to the max. This will help you judge to see if you have proper focus, light, and sharpness, letting you know if you can move on to the next subject, or take extra pics for safety.

Transferring the pics:
Use your camera's cable or a card reader if you have one on your computer.

Processing the pics:
The first step I do is to rotate the pics so that they are all upright, as they were intended, if the camera doesn't do it automatically (mine doesn't). Some free software are available for this. I use Rota, which does it without any loss to the picture quality. It doesn't say so, but it only works well if less than 100 pics are processed at a time (otherwise, some of the later pics are not processed). Then I take each pic at a time into a photo software (Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, The Gimp, etc), and adjust the levels, add a bit of saturation, a bit of sharpness, and eliminate defects, such as dust particles, distracting reflections, and even gadgets I might have used to hold the puppet in place for the shot.

I rarely resize a pic at this stage,as I want full size and resolution fro my archives. But if I do resize, I do so under another name, in another folder, to keep the good stuff good. Every time I resize, a subtle application of sharpening is required,otherwise you lose some finer details and textures. I save each pic under a clear, recognizable name, in a different well-named folder. These are ready for printing. But I also use them as originals, to make my web version and photo montages from.

Converting for web use:
Depending on the destination of the pics, you can choose what resolution you give them. Some online services such as Facebook will reduce your pic sizes automatically, so don't expect huge full screen pics. Better host your best work somewhere else, and link to it. Most website pics are still at 72 dpi of resolution,although some are at 79 or 96dpi. These are good resolutions for screen viewing, if the pic is big enough in pixels to see the pic clearly. It's safer to use this resolution, unless you want people to start printing your full resolution pics for their own "not always legit" use.

If you want to risk it, you can post full resolution pics (300 dpi and up) to your own advantage, like when you want customers to print your posters themselves for an event, or for press purposes, so they can display the best quality possible in their article or TV show.
A full resolution is also much appreciated when you supply free stuff to print out, such as patterns.My current average single pic for the web is at 72 dpi and is 700 pixels tall, and as wide as the screen allows.For a photo montage (portfolio), I try to use a size of 800 x 600, as it fits within most browser's main window without the need for scrolling.I hope this helps. It sure helped me.I get more bookings since I have better pics.With the first portfolio, some people commented online about such and such puppets, and a few months later, when seeing them in person, they had forgotten they had seen them before.People now remember my puppets from the pics, which is reassuring!

EXAMPLES:
Here are a few websites that pop from memory with awesome pic quality and ease of navigating. I never forgot about these sources of inspiration:
Ronnie Burkett
Michael Curry Design
Craig Denston
Kim Graham, sculptor


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