KEEP IT SIMPLE

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KEEP IT SIMPLE

Postby lesclarke » 01 Feb 2009, 23:56

A while back I made a papier mache Punch head, (it's still unfinished) and for that I was aiming at making something with complex shapes and quite a bit of detail. After making the plasticene model it took over 10 hours to apply the first layer of newspaper/pva.

I had another go at papier mache recently, and modelled a Punch head of similar size, but much simpler. The first layer took just an hour and a half to apply, and it was finished in a few more short sessions.

The photos will allow comparison.
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Postby Chris » 02 Feb 2009, 00:28

I think you'll find papie mache easier if you don't use pva Les - use flour and water or wallpaper paste. The layers of tissue blend much more successfully than with pva I find, and also they don't start to dry on you if your doing a big head.
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Postby lesclarke » 02 Feb 2009, 12:04

I've so far used diluted pva and the white edges of newsprint because I already had them around and I find pva pleasant to work with. It's also partly down to bad memories of wallpaper paste when young!

But I'll certainly try wallpaper paste and tissue in the future and I can appreciate that the improved 'blending' will give a smoother finish, with quicker application.
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Postby Tony James » 02 Feb 2009, 16:21

I know that papier mache is much stronger than its name might suggest - the Victorians had occasional tables and trays made of it. Whilst it is obviously good for puppet heads is it really up to the rough and tumble of day in and day out working of Punch and particularly outdoors?

I'm thinking of the last three years, constant rain and no matter how you dry things overnight the figures have still been wet through again during the first show of the next morning and they stay that way throughout the day.
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Postby James » 02 Feb 2009, 16:34

Bryan Clarke used papier mache puppets for years on Lowestoft beach and they're still very solid and quite usable 30 years on.
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Postby Tony James » 02 Feb 2009, 16:56

Proves the point. Thanks.
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Postby James » 02 Feb 2009, 17:40

Just found an older Bryan punch, probably early 1960s, in papier mache, and with a touch up to the paint it would be quite useable. Franklin Spence and Peter Bourne also made mache figures commercially, and worked the beaches. It's all down to the method used, as Chris has previously said, and of course what you do with them.

And if you're working day in/day out having a second set would surely make sense. One to use, one to dry out.
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Postby Chris » 02 Feb 2009, 18:55

Half empty bottle again Tony?
I can assure you that Papie mache will stand up to the rough and tumble of your shows plus the occasional damp conditions. I assume you are not going to deliberately leave them out in the rain, storm after storm are you?

<img src="images/papiemache.png" align="right">These three puppets were in the Achille Lauro Fire in 1981 - they were thoroughly drenched by seawater jets from the firefighter's hoses. They were quite sodden when we retrieved them.

Their heads and bodies are of hollow papie mache. Only the clown has been repainted.

My Figaro figure (not illustrated) was also there. His head is of carved wood. He has never been the same since.

All of them are still in frequent use - apart from Figaro.
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Postby Tony James » 02 Feb 2009, 21:29

Half empty glasses Chris? Whatever gave you that idea? My cups runneth over - as the actress said to the Bishop. I'm a chirpy little optimistic soul really you know. I find it annoys people first thing in the morning!!!!

Just asking a very straightforward question from about a subject of which I only know what I know. In the case of Punch I know wooden headed figures made by Fred Tickner, with a few of Joe Parsonage, Tony Green and Bryan Clarke.

It thus crosses my mind to ask another silly question. If papier mache is so strong and weather resistant why have heavy old wood heads endured for so long?

I'm not talking about general puppetry of which I know almost nothing. Just Punch, of which I know a little.
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Postby Chris » 02 Feb 2009, 22:10

I would imagine wooden heads have endured because people have kept them. But papie mache objects - the chinese work you mentioned - have lasted far far longer than any Punch heads.

But things don't last in historical terms because of their strength or durability - they last because people keep and cherish them and usually because they are beautiful. Puppets tend not to survive since most have little intrinsic worth without the performer to bring them to life. Thus the only puppets that survive are those passed to another puppeteer.

But of course wood does have advantages over papie mache. Firstly it is an easier process with a material more readily available. Imagine an old itinerant street performer who has no access to a workshop. It is quite feasible that he finds a piece of wood (driftwood - hedgerow - sawmill) which he can whittle with his pocket knife in between shows. He can do a bit as he when he has the opportunity. Contrast this with having to first find some kind of modelling clay, the correct kind of paper and glue, and having to complete a process once started. Then there's the long process of drying. Mind you, the late Arnold Crowther did manage to create wonderful papie mache figures with no tools and everything done in the dressing room between shows. He had a technique all his own.

Also for papie mache to be strong it does need to be made using correct techniques. The chinese perfected their methods over hundreds of years. Wood is a lot more forgiving in that it retains its natural strength. Also, and very important in a puppet show where part of the action is to hit the heads, wooden heads are easier to repair when broken. You can nail a separated wooden nose back in position. A papie mache nose would be less likely to snap off but if it did a repair would not be as easily achieved.

A further advantage of wood is the sound it makes - wooden heads hitting together or hitting the playboard are part of the music of the Punch show.

But you are quite wrong to think that papie mache puppets don't survive - a lot of Quisto's and Tickner's papie mache work survives - and what of the great vent figures? One wonders whether the wooden Hancock/Kent Punch would fetch as much as the papie mache Archie Andrews?

But the real reason that most people use wooden Punch figures is because they are available. Most Punchmen today are, unlike most puppeteers, not craftsmen. Most puppeteers tend to make their own puppets whereas most Punchmen buy them. So instead of experimenting and trying other materials which might, or might not, prove superior to wood, they buy what they can buy and justify it in the name of tradition.

P.S. A further disadvantage of papie mache, apparently, is that it is much enjoyed by rats. According to a correspondent on our sister message board on the Guild website a complete set of her puppets were devoured by the rats which she houses in her attic. She didn't mention other rodents. I know John likes papie mache but I don't suppose he eats it.
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Postby Chris » 03 Feb 2009, 15:54

Today, on the Guild website message board, a gentleman called Rosemary has posted a very detailed method of her very good papie mache method.
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Postby johnstoate » 04 Feb 2009, 12:46

Oddly enough, I was considering doing the same thing on here. As promised, a pictorial essay on my method, but wondered if it might be better placed elsewhere on the site Chris? - And for the umpteenth time, Weasels are NOT rodents, but rather vicious little carnivores, akin to ferrets, and we all know what THEY are famous for! :lol:
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Postby Chris » 04 Feb 2009, 18:02

Running up trouser legs and biting non-metallic spherical objects perhaps?
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Postby profbunyip » 30 Mar 2009, 06:38

My puppet set was all made from paper mache. Due to the knockabout nature of the show Punch, Joey the clown, and the Devil are in a bad way.
I decided to retire my puppets after my last performance last year with a view to carve up some new wooden ones.

The other alternative may be to go with paper mache again but strengthen the inside with car putty or something similar (plastic wood?) but I am leaning towards a more traditional approach after seeing the puppets of Cdvc, Lachlan haig and Keith Preston fellow aussie profs

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Postby lesclarke » 01 Apr 2009, 12:26

Car putty / filler is very heavy, and many have found expanding foam is better used inside the head.
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