What makes a maker?

Anything relevant

Postby Nick Jackson » 11 Sep 2007, 17:31

johnstoate wrote:do they actually still exist somewhere?

Yes, indeed they do and I was watching them on Llandudno promenade at the weekend and at Liverpool museum last month. Both sides of the family have dolls created by the first prof and they are all still in use – after nearly 150 years.

The Llandudno family also have many dolls carved by Herbert (Richard's son). Although I'm not quite so familiar with the Liverpool cast, it's fairly easy to spot the work of the first Professor Codman and those which, by deduction, were made by his descendants.
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Postby Tony James » 14 Sep 2007, 17:27

John's initial post raised the question of people making puppets 'in the style of' someone else. It may be, of course, that such people are being copycats, unable to produce a style of their own. I'm not so sure.

Jo Parsonage had never made Punch figures until Edwin Hooper asked him to try his hand. Hitherto Jo had made vent heads. Edwin's own set were Wal Kent and the eventual output from Jo was sold by Edwin as 'in the Wal Kent style'. I was never quite sure what that meant.

Jo's style changed in the few years he made for Edwin (which was a good job as his initial output probably caused Wal to revolve in his grave) and then Tony Green took over and his 'in the style of Wal Kent' were different. Then came Bryan Clarke and yet another style change. All sold as 'in the Wal Kent style'.

Yet the original Wal Kent figures I have seen over the years also had differing styles. Some were quite sophisticated, smoothly carved whilst quite a lot were much more angular and less finished. When I learnt later that Fred Tickner had often had a hand carving for Wal I did wonder if the smoother figures reflected Fred's input.

I know what everyone means by buying figures which please you. But should you? Should that be a prime consideration?

Surely the most important consideration should be will the audience like them? Will they be comfortable with them? Will the figures convey that essential sense of timelessness, of the sort of figure they would expect to see, reflecting their own childhood and regardless of the reality of what was actually used in the good old days?

Nostalgia is powerful and attractive but it has to be supported by a style the audience will find attractive, not cold stark truth and reality. People respond to the way they imagine things were, not how they actually were. That is the underlying art of peddling nostalgia.

You're not in the nostalgia business? Ah, but you are - even if you would prefer not to be. Because Punch & Judy is nostalgia and try as you may you won't change the audience perception of the show. For them, it's back to the 'Good Old Days' and a sense of disappointment if you don't measure up.

I would have thought too, that the second consideration would be practicality. Do the figures work well and are they easy to maintain? No use if they are not balanced or have bits of ears or nose which break off.

I remember back in the 70s people throwing away Supreme Punch's because the nose had broken. Cheaper to buy another was the view. Those early Parsonage Punch figures were more fragile than they looked.

Now, if you can achieve both those considerations and like the figures too, then you're fortunate.

My original figures are Fred Tickner's to which I have added novelty figures from various sources and I've never attempted to alter them to look like the Tickner figures. I don't think you could, anyway.

But I have gone to quite a bit of trouble to tone down and reduce the more obvious differences. With some careful attention to detail it is possible to forge a family relationship across the suite of figures.

In my show, I think this aspect is important.

Of course, it may not be so important to you.
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Postby Richard Coombs » 14 Sep 2007, 19:48

Hi Tony ...Im sure im not the only one here who would love to se some photos of your figures to illustrate your points.

As I have found recently the UPLOAD PICS feature is now childsplay to use.

Cheers Richard
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Postby CvdC » 14 Sep 2007, 22:46

There are, in my opinion, three sorts of puppets: Those that are made by an individual to suit themselves, those that are manufactured to sell to a market and those that are just plain rubbish. The rubbish are usually made by people who have no idea but do it anyway. Hopefully they enjoy their work and perform them well. But when they have finished with them the puppets will end up in the rubbish. Unless someone finds them wonderful examples of art naive. Which could happen.
The manufactured puppets dominate because as Chris has said so many are made. Every second set of puppets seems to be by Bryan Clark. To make puppets for a price that people can afford means you have to develop a style that doesn't take forever to produce. The Kent, Tickner etal style is a marvelous compromise between expediance and character. It has produced a 20th century Punch that is well worth copying.
But prior to the era of manufacture puppets were, I suspect, made to order by either the puppeteer or professional furniture wood carvers as a side line. More time was put into them and there is as a consequence more individuality. So the 19th century puppets are a bit closer to the individualist puppets. The puppets of Roselia could never have been manufactured as were the Tickners. I wouldn't want to buy a puppet by Richard Coombs and have to pay him by the hour. And then bash them against the play board.
An interesting thing about the 21st century is that with the availability of electric carving tools and other machinery you can actually manufacture puppets with more detail than previously. So we may well see a return to greater variance in how Punch and Judy puppets look. But as Tony points out people presently have firm ideas on what a good Punch is based on the 20th century model and personal nostalgia.

Personally I think a good Punch is not too individualistic. I think of puppets as a folk art and usually this means a greater adherance to convention - Which includes such notions as tradition and nostalgia. I like the simpler forms both for practicality, as Tony says, and for aesthetics.

I made some puppets "in the style of" to learn something about how and why they were as they were. Having done so I feel I can appreciate them better and it has helped me simplify the forms of my carving. I have always believed that the character of a puppet should not be completely carved into it and that they should be a sort of generic vehicle for the performer to complete the characterisation. Of course this is not essential. It is just my own approach. I have strayed a bit from this in some examples but I intend to stick by it as I strive to develop my own style.
It has been my experience that I am always true from my point of view, and am often wrong from the point of view of my honest critics. I know that we are both right from our respective points of view. - Gandhi (Having a bob each way.)
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Postby Tony James » 14 Sep 2007, 23:06

Chris

With your experience tell me if I have understood this properly. That Wal Kent carved front face and then finished the profiles afterwards. Result is a more carved 'in' appearance..

Whereas Fred Tickner carved the profiles first reckoning that by that time the front face had very much formed itself and just needed finishing. The result bring a head which appeared to have been carved 'out' rather than 'in' if that makes sense.

let me put it this way. If I run my finger down the face of a Tickner figure, the forehead is curved, the eyeball rounded and ever so slightly proud of the face, the cheeks forward of the forehead and the lips forward of the face.

Whereas with a Kent style there is a tendency for the eyes to be cut back into the face, the cheeks on a level with the forehead which tends to be curved around but flattish and the cheeks cut back and the lips cut into the face.

The ones which used to fascinate me were produced in the 70s by Walter swanton of York. 1930s Art Deco style. I think of them as being a bit like Toytown = Larry the Lamb and 'Please Mr Mayor Sir@ from childhood.

I think he must have fretted out timber slices and glued them together. Quite unnatural whilst at the same time having a charm of their own. I remember toys being made in that style.
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Postby Chris » 14 Sep 2007, 23:24

Chris I think you have perhaps the wrong idea about Fred Tickner. He didn't mass produce like Wal Kent or Bryan Clarke nor did he specialise in Punch figures. He was a puppeteer and Punch man who would make puppets to order and although his style is always evident each puppet was an individual creation. I think with some of his work he did put in as much time as Roselia. Perhaps you must allow a fourth category, that of the bespoke puppet maker into which category I would put Fred along with Geoff and Mary Edwards and Mark Poulton.

You can get an idea of Fred's approach if you read the correspondence with a lady for whom he is building a glove puppet theatre which is reproduced in John Alexander's invaluable The Frame File.

Yes of course Roselia was a superb carver and his puppets are works of art - but I would bet that the bulk of the puppets of the period would be what you might call rubbish and I might find appealing - hacked out, inexpertly, from whatever wood was available. Nearly all the puppets I remember as a kid would have won no prizes in the woodcarving or design stakes.
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Postby Richard Coombs » 14 Sep 2007, 23:59

I love em ALL
Be they rough and ready or intricate and detailed.

( Actually there is just one set of figures I have seen and not liked..so I guess my taste isnt totally Catholic)

And I have nothing but respect for anyone that can produce a finished figure to sell for £150 , or less.

However you mass -produce , or work to template ...you still are not getting decent remuneration at that price.

'Price and time ratio' aside ...I adore the look of Brian Clarkes' Figures.

I think there is something special in the fact that you DO see them around so much. I agree with CvdC that this has shaped a '20th Century' style.

But we are very lucky in the Uk to have both a prevelent 'Style' AND a vast amount of individualism along side of it.

( Incidentally CvdC ..mine dont take me so long to make these days ...the last few I have done I got much faster ...just as well really I want to make a spare Punch / Judy and Joey before Christmas )

I am envious of how fast Brian Clarke works ..I hope the 'Second Journey with Mr Punch" DVD is released by the PJF soon ..as the first one showed tantilising glimpses of footage or Brain Clarke carving in his workshop ...I'd love to see the rest of that !

But I also love all the rich and varied looks that puppets have when they have been made by the performer.

Geoff Felix - Mary Edwards- John Stoate- Chris Sommerville - Brian Davey- Rod Burnett - Mark Poulton ( and my own) all have their charms.

I also like to see other people who dont 'make' as such ..adapt figures they have bought to personalise them ...Carl Durbin does this , and Billy Wand has a Brian Clarke Monkey he has adapted himself. Justin Tai does a mix of making and adapting ( I think?...someone will correct me if Im wrong I Know)

Its the wonderous variety that I adore.

Watching a Punch show , is to a large extent a 'Parade of Puppets ' for me ...as an audience member your eyes hungrilly devour each figure ...which departs . leaving you wanting more : to look at it more closely ...but its gone-----then another takes its place; it's a visual feast.

Bring 'em all on. !

Im looking forward to the PJF bash in Cov Gdn on Sunday 30th so that I can satisfy my appetite :-)


Best Wishes to all RIchard
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Postby CvdC » 15 Sep 2007, 00:25

You are right there is a fourth category. These are puppet makers who are not seeking to make individual artistic expressions but are producing high quality puppets with an eye to a sense of tradition.

Tony if you want to explore the carving techniques of puppetmakers and how their particular technique has effected the look of their puppets the best way to do it is to have a go yourself. It is hard to make a puppet to a very particular look. But it does provide good training.
The easiest way (and possibly best) to achieve a particular look is to accurately draw a profile onto a piece of wood and then cut it out carefully. The centre line is never touched during the rounding process so the profile will remain.

I notice that in Richard Coombs technique he cuts out a series of profiles that are laminated. This is a perfect example of the use of modern techniques to make a more complicated carving possible. You need to make sure the end result will be as close to your initial drawings as possible. This is something I learnt by copying the Cruikshank illustrations.

Most puppets like Tickner's start from a core piece of wood about 3" square and 6" long with the nose and chin stuck on. This core is essentially rounded leaving a flat edge on the front back and sides ( so it is never completely round). The eyes and mouth are cut into this core shape. Although sometimes the cheeks are built up (Poulton). This means the carver is giving the core shape a face by removing wood which is making the head lighter. When you look at a Punch and ignore the nose chin mouth and eyes there is very little left. It's a bit of a wood carvers soufflé.
So technically it matters very little whether or not you carve from the side or the front. Too much emphasis on the front and you may end up with a flat face (which happens a lot) and too much emphasis on the side and you may have the wrong smile and the eyes too close. One big problem I have confronted is having the face too round and you get a really bad profile and a front face that looks a bit like a South American ant eater and the eyes look like egyptian paintings from the side.
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It has been my experience that I am always true from my point of view, and am often wrong from the point of view of my honest critics. I know that we are both right from our respective points of view. - Gandhi (Having a bob each way.)
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Postby Tony James » 15 Sep 2007, 00:43

Some food for thought here. I'd always thought of Fred in his time was producing sets of figures on a regular basis. You've made me appreciate that in fact each set was an individual .

Would you therefore say that Wal Kent was the first regular volume production maker?

Did Wal drive the market?

Later it was the market in the form of Supreme which drove the production. I think both Joe Parsonage and Tony green were caught a touch breathless by Edwin. Possibly Bryan Clarke too till he geared up to meet the demand.

I know my limitations. there's no way I could make figures. It takes me all my time to cut a straight baton. Other things like making canvas covers don't present anything like the problems.

Perhaps the most important part of any business is to know which skills you have in house and which to buy in. As with performance, we are all different.
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Postby CvdC » 15 Sep 2007, 07:55

I was thinking Richard ( I know I shouldn't but I do try), what if you went to a fete and there on the white elephant stall was a collection of different Punch puppets. David Wilde hadn't yet turned up and you could only afford to buy one puppet. So you had to choose.
I know the sort of puppet I'd go for first and foremost. And I'd probably really piss David off with my choice.
But I do agree the differences are truly interesting. I'm the same with performances too. Let a hundred flowers bloom I say, more sincerely than Mao did.
It has been my experience that I am always true from my point of view, and am often wrong from the point of view of my honest critics. I know that we are both right from our respective points of view. - Gandhi (Having a bob each way.)
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Postby Chris » 15 Sep 2007, 08:35

On a technical point Chris and Tony, a good sculptor in any medium, does not work either from the front or from the profile: He is continually turning his work. A good carver can "see" the finished head within the block of wood and stone, and chips away to reveal it. This is in contrast to the way a modelling sculptor works who actually constructs the form by a process of adding tiny pieces of clay.

Anyone serious about learning to carve should try and source some large blocks of wax or hard soap which are soft to carve and give useful practice in technique.

Tony asks if Wal Kent was the first mass supplier. No, Quisto pre-dates him.
But I would say the first mass supplies were those German figures which were sold in several sizes in Britain and America as Punch figures and in France as Polichinelle figures, and presumably at home as Kasperl. These were certainly available at the turn of the century and are still being made. They are hand made - but to the same pattern - so that it is very difficult to distinguish between a modern one and one of a century ago. That is true mass production.
Image
German ass produced figures from the 1870s. Similar figures from later dates frequently appear on Ebay. The style is the same although the quality and size varies a lot.
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Postby CvdC » 15 Sep 2007, 10:23

I have never seen a Punch in a block of wood before. I draw it and cut it out with a band saw which is much more reliable.
I don't suggest Punches by Kent or whoever were mass produced as in Germany. I just think they made many.
These days if there were a mass market for Punch puppets I'd take some examples to Indonesia and could flood the market with thousands.
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Postby Chris » 15 Sep 2007, 10:54

<blockquote><img src="http://www.punchandjudy.com/dropbox/messagepictures/files/tomsnewjudy.jpg" align="right">
No I didn't suggest that you could see Punch in a block of wood Chris. I was talking seriously about the way real sculptors explain the process in order to illustrate the difference between modelling and carving.
Nor did I in any way suggest you equated Walt Kent type mass production with the German kind. I was merely answering Tony's question as to who was the first mass producer.<br>
As for Indonesia - yes indeed. They did mass produce a set of Punch figures. They were sold over here very cheaply and were very nicely done - copies of Bob Wade figures. The problem was in the materials used. The heads were well carved but in a very soft wood and the clothes, although detailed, were in very loose weave poor quality fabric. The hands were also a disappointment - a very peculiarly shaped wooden mitten filling a very wide sleeve.
The pic shows an Indonesian Judy, now redressed with added hands by Miraiker Battey for Tom Williams.<p>
Below is a picture of the original.
</blockquote>
<center>Image</center>
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Postby Nick Jackson » 15 Sep 2007, 11:07

I make all my own dolls but I wouldn't, for a second, call myself a maker as that suggests, somehow, they are better than I know them to be. However, I'm fascinated by this debate on who makes what in whose style. I grew up knowing only one style: that of Richard Codman I.

I was in my mid-20s (and that's 20 years ago) before I first went to Covent Garden and couldn't believe what I saw: particularly Punches with white hair and eye shadow. At first, they all appeared to be in the style of Quentin Crisp! Now that I've become used to them, I am in awe of all you makers, regardless of whose style you carve in.

Having seen nothing but one style for so many years, that's the style which embedded itself in my consciousness. That, to me, was Punch. Many of the Codman dolls have quite flat faces, as did those of the late Ted Green of Rhyl who I only met once, a couple of years before he died.

I've only made three Punches so far, and those several years apart. They don't stand up to scrutiny and I'd hate them to be seen next to a Clarke, a Poulton or a Felix. However, somehow they work. And I know exactly how I'd like the next one to look – might even be starting on him this afternoon.

Image

I made the one on the left in the mid-90s and I know the biggest error is that his eyes are too far apart, making him look a tad simple. The one on the right is by Richard Codman I and is still working on Llandudno prom to this day. That's the Punch I grew up with and what I would love to, in some way, emulate. He is so simple: nose, chin and simple carving around the eyes and yet he is magical.

Richard left other, more intricate, heads too: there's a Punch and a Judy with carved teeth, a judge with a fully-carved wig and several magnificently detailed devils and ghosts. But the above Punch is, for me, iconic.

The thing that makes me NOT a maker is that if I ever made anything good enough to give to someone else, I'd want to keep it for myself!!!
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Postby geoff.london » 15 Sep 2007, 18:47

Thank you for some really interesting postings - a really , nice, constructive, thread.. Geoff.
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