Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day #92: Feeding the Soul of the Artist

Perhaps I have been under a rock, but I recently read (and re-read) "Art and Fear." This is an amazing read! I had read some excerpts from the book, but now I've read the whole thing. Twice. I highlighted, underlined, and scribbled in the edges. I want to take passages and blanket my studio wall for inspiration. It was like deeply nourishing food that tasted like chocolate. Make sense?

Recently, artist Patrick Dougherty visited Richmond's Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Patrick builds giant, outdoor installations of native plants -- mostly saplings. I was fortunate enough to attend his artist talk, which echoed so many of my underlined passages from "Art and Fear." I was pretty jazzed up about that! A few days later, I had the pleasure to volunteer for a few hours as he built (with the helping hands of many, many volunteers) "Diamond in the Rough." 

I really enjoy his work (end result), but I equally enjoy his process. The level of community involvement required is a work of art on an entirely different level.

As an artist, I sometimes feel like I am working in a vacuum. It's me and a roomfull of raw material that I am responsible for transforming into my work. Yes, yes, at least I have puppets to keep me company, right? (And Pandora...let's not forget Pandora!) Sometimes I even have assistants come in. Sometimes my kids join me (then I can guarantee nothing much will get done). But it's really still all up to me.

Sometimes you can be your own best friend. Other times you can be your own humongous roadblock.

I feel fortunate that there is a component of my work that involves going out into the world and physically sharing my work. That is my real end product. Yes, I can make puppets, but they need to perform or what's the point?

My point today is that getting the nourishment and support you need is part of the work of the artist. Things that feed my inner artist: time talking with other artists (thank you), walks, exercise, libraries, nature, climbing trees, yoga, Carmina Burana, reading to my children, chopping vegetables (really, it's true!)...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day #91: A Real Lemon


I was squeezing lemons. Who knew?

Yep. When life hands you lemons...make puppets!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day #90: R&D

I've been looking through books on wildflowers and native plants for the region in which my new show (in progress), Little by Little, is set. It's tricky because there are so many choices! The Appalachian region is teeming with life and full of micro-ecosystems.

While wandering in the woods, these were everywhere. I like the shape of the leaves -- great for giving something an interesting shape to give it a uniqueness that works for the new show.

 I'm look for flora with visual appeal and textural variation -- and it has to be accurate. We were camping last weekend and just happened to be near the AT. I had my books, walked around, and found an interesting specimen: the may apple.

The leaves act like umbrellas for the single flower.

These plants carpet the floors of many a forest. They come in single leaf or double leaf. The double-leafed varieties will bear fruit. First a flower, then the "apple."

Pretty neat!

You can see the "apple" forming in the center!
I've been looking for fabrics/techniques to re-create these for one of the scenes that just happens to be perfectly times with when these interesting wildflowers are flowering....fabric stores are just as dangerous as bookstores. (OK, even more so!)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day #89: Carrot-top!

I'm used to finding oddly shaped carrots at the Farmer's Market. Not this one! Straight from the Trader Joe's's Carrot Guy!

Had to add that kale "bonnet" to give it a bit of, um, decency.

Love it when they come out of the packaging just like this. Puppet-made!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day #88: On a wing and a prayer...

I worked on the owl wings some more today along with a sample for the backdrop. The wings are tricky -- I mean, they have to fly (always neat), but I want them to look featherish without using feathers. I am hoping this wool will do the trick.

Inside part of the wing in progress. I had to fold the edges of the darker side to get the clean edge.

This is what the other side looks like now with the edges folded.

One finished wing, the other still in progress.

And a sample for an idea of how to handle the background...stay tuned!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day #87: Winging It!

Our new show features a Great Horned Owl as one of the major characters. I've looked at bazillions of images -- they are pretty amazing birds. They have great expression and loads of texture and color. I feel lucky that they were the best choice for the show as an owl local to the region in which the show is set.

The wings are a key feature in this puppet, of course. They need to be expressive (like the hands of an Italian!). To begin our process, we looked at wing structure and made a mini-wing out of paper.

Rey drew this. Didn't she do a great job?

We looked at lots of youtube footage featuring birds in flight. We also watched "Guardians of Ga'Hoole." OK, so we used the project to justify our watching of the film -- but it's great for looking at owls. (And I totally loved the credits!)

I am making this puppet using wool and wet-felting it. This is the primary wool roving that will be featured in our creature:

Jacob roving dyed with natural dyes. Purchased last year with this owl in mind at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Fest!
Then I began laying out the fibers...Pandora was playing an '80's station...

See -- there Iam!
These will be big wings -- but the fibers will shrink a bit, so not quite this big.

Melanie is working on some raccoon parts in the background. Pool noodles are awesome. It's great that they are a TOOL.
We scaled up a bit to compensate for the fiber shrinkage...let's hope our guesstimates are accurate!

Ready for the next step...tomorrow!
And tomorrow...we will wet the whole thing out, flip it, lay out side two and begin ROLLING! (I have a pool noodle, and I know how to use it. Watch out!)

Day #86: Puppet Pondering

Well, we returned safely from the wilds of West Virginia and western Virginia (not to be confusing). We had performances in Charles Town, WV and then camped near Brucetown, VA.

I spent a lot of time in the woods and learned about lots of things...which I photographed. I, unfortunately, could not locate the camera with the photos. I just found out that it's because the camera was never unpacked from the truck.


I guess that would explain that.

So I have been riddled with guilt and angst about not posting on the blog. I must confess that I have had a tough time coming up with puppets that I could execute in one day that were interesting to me. It was fun and mentally challenging, but it has become draining. But I want to honor the spirit of the blog by continuing to work at it and complete my days of posting.

Today I visited with my friend and fellow puppet-builder and puppeteer, Terry Snyder. We both talked about our processes and how fun it was to see how other people worked. The process involved in the act of creation. How you take "stuff," work with it, work with it, work with it, until it becomes way more than "stuff."

Then I remembered Rule #6 for Puppet-A-Day....that I could change the rules at any time. we go!

There will still be puppets -- have no worries! My focus is going to be changing to more stuff about process. Documenting in more detail the puppets featured in the show that I am building. I've actually photographed much of this process that I have not posted on the blog (because I saw it as unrelated). Well, now I see it as very related. Now I can have a day devoted to owl wings -- a day for the face -- a day for the body -- a day for the rod -- a day for troubleshooting -- a day for the mechanism -- you get the picture. I think this will actually be potentially useful for other puppeteers. And I like the idea of documenting stuff.

Most of all, it is imminently "do-able."

I will still intersperse some wacky stuff in here (for fun), but I will mostly post up "a day in the studio life of a working puppeteer and puppeteer."

And, yes, I count this as a "day." After all, part of the process is thinking about your process!

P.S. If I double up on my posts for the rest of May, I will catch up. Wish me luck!

Friday, May 13, 2011


Out in the wilds of western Virginia, at the moment. It's raining, so we made a trip into town.

"What are you doing out there?" you might wonder. A couple of things. We had performances at a school in Charles Town, West Virginia (not to be confused with Charleston, WV!). They went very well, by the way -- great school with great kids.

But we stayed on because (1) we are attending a work weekend at the summer camp that our older daughter attends and (2) I am researching wildflowers of the area for the new show.

Yes, yes. I can do that in a book. But it's actually nicer to see them in person, and make sure I am being phenologically accurate.


Phenology is the art of timing within nature. The trees that set their buds at a specific time, the eggs that hatch at a specific time, the birds that migrate at a specific time. Timing. (The key to comedy, my husband would say.) And very important to have accurate in the show I am building. As the show is very setting-specific, I have to make sure my science is as accurate as possible. There is nothing like having a show based on science and having someone correct you post-show. (And if a kid knew something specific...they would tell you without any filtering!) I haven't had that experience and am eager to avoid it!

Hopefully, the rain will stop, and I will have a chance to study wildflowers in the wild. I have my guidebooks, my camera, and am ready to go!

I haven't had much in the way of access in the past week, so it's been tricky with the blogging. I have, however, been continuing to document "stuff," and will be able to do double-posts ALL of next week!

So...stay tuned!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day #85: Dinner and a Show (Farmer's Market inspired!)

A few days ago, my family headed out to the Byrd House Farmer's Market. It's one of two markets we frequent and always fun! We have a number of friends who farm and grow veggies (and are even trying our hands at it ourselves this year), but most of our stuff comes from Charlie and Gina Collins at Victory Farms.

My daughters love, love, love, love "Charlie's carrots," as they call them. We visited the farm last year and the girls were picking them out of the ground, rinsing them, and devouring them on the spot. (They are not so enthusiastic with other carrots, I must say.)

My sister-in-law spotted a lovely carrot at the market that is the inspiration for today's post: a "two-legged" carrot! I carved up part of a zucchini for the head.

Perhaps I should've taken a "before" picture?

Well, this is what we really did! (Thank you to my older daughter for being the videographer on this one!)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Day #84: Rebirth and Butterflies

Continuing with yesterday's theme...Well, a variation, perhaps. Yesterday was death -- today rebirth! I can't think of a better image than the butterfly.

Butterflies are amazing. I'm going to have lots of them in the new show we are building. Tiger Swallowtails and Monarchs! We will have them in both 3-D and in shadow.

Today, I made a quick mock-up of a Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. The mid-section is actually made from a "dead" pen.

When I was about nine or ten, I was really into butterflies. I thought maybe I would become an entomologist and travel the world collecting butterflies, discovering new species. Surely I would become famous and have a species named after me! I read up on butterflies. I memorized all the types listed in our home encyclopedia. (This was, you must understand, before anything like Google -- or even the internet! -- was even an idea for mere mortals.)

I collected all kinds of supplies. I was ready. Ready to begin collecting butterflies. Spring was in full swing. We were living in Virginia Beach at the time, and we had irises and zinnias in our backyard. I was ready. I had a jar.

I spotted one. A Tiger Swallowtail. I got it! Right in my Mason jar! I was prepped to do "the deed." Make it a specimen. Pin it. But I just couldn't do it. I saw it fluttering and beautiful and realized that I would never be a butterfly collector. I released the butterfly, released my dream of becoming a world-traveling scientist, released my vision for the Heidimius Danettacorus (or some other Latin sounding variation of my name)...but still embrace my love of butterflies.

Happy Spring!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Day #83: Death and Dishwashers

No, I did not fall off the face of the Earth. I kinda felt like I needed to, though. I've been under an onerous deadline that I just had to let go and re-evaluate. We've been building a new show and have had a number of setbacks. I had been trying to catch up and work crazy hours; then my creativity felt like it was dying. I overdosed on studio-time.

I killed it by working too many hours.

So today's post is Death. Well, Death as a finger puppet! Charming, huh?

I had forgotten you could overdose on creativity. That pushing too hard kills the joy. I love working in the studio. I relish the opportunity to work with my hands and create. I love bringing a story to life: from the idea to the script to the fully developed show, and then to the audience.

Well, last week I worked too many hours, too full-on, and stressed out enough that I did it. I killed the joy. Fortunately, it's a temporary situation with an easy remedy: time away from the studio. Time to recharge my batteries.

Being away from the studio, I had time to reflect. I remembered other times where my creativity had dried up: stressful times. Times when I was not getting enough sleep. After the birth of babies. Final project time in college. I remember one year really well: the year I sprained my neck by banging my head on my window sill after being woken up by the neighbors across the street. It was around noon. I had just pulled an all-nighter, turned in my project, and was falling asleep. Unfortunately, this was the exact moment that the band across the street was practicing "Enter Sandman" ad nauseum. I still can't hear Metallica without thinking about that day.

I did not intend to take off as much time as I did, though. I was planning on heading back this weekend when my husband decided that we should go ahead and get a dishwasher. Wow.

Now, we cook a lot in our house. We make things from scratch -- I love to cook! It's another creative outlet for me and one that is something that puts me in a somewhat "Zen" state of mind. I don't have to think much when I cook. I just mix up ingredients, taste, adjust...until it's right. (I need to get to the state where building a puppet show is like that again.)

Back to the dishwasher. So my husband worked hard all weekend and then all day Monday -- then we went crazy washing dishes. Pushing it to the limit. Washing the enameled coverings for the gas stove and everything! (Gosh, going crazy in your 30's and 40's is so different from your 20's!)

I have been thinking about Puppet-A-Day and going through some books of mine. I've decided to start up a new thread to include great puppets for teachers and librarians with tips on using puppets. I have lots of info on this and have done workshops. I think it only makes sense to document some of this stuff in the blog.

But today (and maybe even tomorrow) I want to recognize the Death and Rebirth of my creativity.