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Improving Your Puppets Through Materials

It is our aim at Project Puppet to provide a solid foundation of hand puppet construction techniques for the aspiring puppet builder/puppeteer. The Project Puppet patterns are not designed as a be all and end all solution to building puppets. Far from it! In fact, no puppet pattern or puppet company could truthfully make that claim.

It is our wish that you learn from the Project Puppet patterns and then build and add to your skills by experimenting with different materials and techniques. The information below will highlight some ways you can start to improve your adeptness as a puppet builder through the materials you use to build your puppets.


Introduction

One of the easiest ways to improve your building skills is to begin experimenting with different materials. The materials used in the Project Puppet patterns were chosen for two reasons.

  • They do the job. In other words, they have the necessary properties essential to the particular piece or function of a typical hand puppet.
  • They are readily available. We made it a point to choose materials that could easily be found in your local craft or hobby store and that were relatively inexpensive.

That being said, there other materials that can be substituted within the confines of the Project Puppet patterns that can add to the quality and durability of the finished puppet. We'll consider a few materials and a few suitable substitutions to start your mind rolling on the possibilities.


The Mouthplate

If you asked twenty different puppet builders how to construct a mouthplate for a hand puppet, you would more than likely get twenty different answers and quite a long list of materials. The materials used for mouthplates, as well as the many different techniques and styles of mouthplate grips, are as diverse as the people that build them. The mouthplate is certainly a great area of the puppet building process with which to experiment.

The Forma Series, available here at Project Puppet, utilizes foam core to construct the mouthplate. Foam core was chosen because of its availability and because no special tools or heavy equipment is necessary to work with the material. Other materials, however, may be used in place of the foam core, making the puppet more durable, especially under heavy use.

Here are some materials you may want to try:

  • Rigid Plastic Sheets - Plastic is a great alternative because it can be both rigid and lightweight. You can browse your local hobby shop for plastic sheets or check out the Plastruct website for information or to order a catalog.
  • Corrugated Plastic Sheets - Corrugated plastic looks just like corrugated cardboard, only it's plastic - go figure. You can find plenty of this material at your local sign shop.
  • Hobbyist Plywood - Hobbyist plywood is used in model or doll house construction and comes in various thicknesses. Your local craft or hobby store should carry a selection. Balsa wood or basswood sheets can also be a nice lightweight alternative.

Let's not forget the Simple Series! Here are a couple of alternatives to replace the stiffened felt that is used for the Simple Series mouthplates.

  • Gasket Rubber - Gasket rubber is a great material for a flexible mouthplate that can still hold its shape, ideal for the Glorified Sock Puppet Pattern. You can pick up gasket rubber at a plumbing supply or order it online.
  • Rigid Plastic Sheets - Rigid sheet plastic can also be used in place of the stiffened felt for a non-flexible mouthplate in any of the Simple Series patterns. This works especially well for the Melonhead Pattern as no foam core reinforcement is necessary.

Adhesives

Barge CementIn general, the Project Puppet patterns call for the use of hot glue for constructing your puppet characters. Again, hot glue was chosen partly because of its availability. It was also chosen due to the health risks of using other adhesives. Hot glue is non-toxic, and with a little practice, can be used to produce excellent results. (Both Rupert and Leo in the Project Puppet Gallery were constructed using no other adhesive but hot glue.)

That being said, there are faster and more durable alternatives that you may want to try. All safety guidelines should be followed, one being good ventilation, when working with the below adhesives. They are toxic and repeated or prolonged use without taking the proper safety precautions has been linked to "brain and nervous system damage". (We're not making that up, it's on the label.)

  • Barge Cement - Barge Cement is a contact adhesive and probably the favorite among professional puppet builders. Its intended use is for shoe repair, which may give you an idea of its strength. It can be used various ways in puppet building, and works very well in foam construction. You may check your local shoe repair shop for a source or order it online.
  • Contact Cement - More readily available than Barge Cement, contact cement can be found at your local hardware store in a variety of brands. It's normally used in construction, such as securing laminate sheets to countertops, etc. Although, not as strong as Barge, it is still a viable and less expensive alternative adhesive.

There are a few tricks to using the adhesives above. If you have invested in the Forma Trio, you are already aware of a few tricks. (The Forma Trio comes with a set of general instructions for working with reticulated foam, including tips on dyeing the foam, as well as two glue techniques.) The tricks and techniques are best reserved for another tutorial, but to get you started with the basics, you may want to check out Swazzle's Ratchet Tutorial, paying attention specifically to Part Four.



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