Tuesday, August 19, 2014

This is just about how I feel today.  But, hey ... any deadline worth meeting is worth meeting with one minute to go, right? Sure thing.

(I snatched this picture from someone's Flickr page, and I'll take it down in a day or so. Thanks for the loan of it whoever you are. It was so perfect.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Puppet Challenge Puppets

My submission to the the Puppet Challenge at Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog has been posted , so I'll share pictures here now. This project has gone on hold for a bit, as I am finishing up another bit of work with a deadline.

I do want to carry on, in particular I want to try depicting the magic in the Kalevala as shadow puppets: words, shadows, writing on a transparent ground and projecting it onto the screen...movement, color...

And I'm wondering how these shadow puppets might intersect my interest in "crankies." If you haven't heard that term, well, that's a post for another day, but there's a very nice example here.

Lemminkainen's mother, reminiscent of my great-aunt Hilma. I thought the plastic sewing snaps would be perfect, invisible joints, but it didn't quite work. Still, I think the little points of light are interesting, and wonder if they couldn't be put to intentional use in some way.

Raking Lemminkainen's dismembered body out of the river. Yes, she did get him put back together. In a new retelling of the Kalevala Lemminkainen wakes and asks how long he's been asleep; she answers "You'd have slept a lot longer if it weren't for your mother!"

Lemminkainenen getting hot under the collar, as usual, and his mother trying to persuade him not to go off and start a war. He seems to be missing a hand again.


Joukahainen challenged Vainamoinen to a duel of magic and got himself sung into a patch of quicksand. Finnish magic is largely a magic of incantations, spells and stories. For example, knowing and relating the story of the origin of iron serves as protection against iron weapons. Odd, considering that Finns, by and large, are a such a taciturn bunch!

The set-up: a light box affair made from an old windshield, Christmas lights and layers of tissue to diffuse the light. One of the jointed Vainamoinens is visible on the tabletop, next to Buster.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Puppet Challenge: first steps, false starts and unfinished ideas.

From upper left:

An early Väinämöinen in two poses with several experimental joints. There's a small brad on his face, bits of pipe cleaner on his ankles and wrists, and "butterflies" for lack of a better word, everywhere else. These butterflies were cut from cardboard (knees) and aluminum bakeware (hips and shoulders) and were the only part of the project that drew blood! (I'll post an explanation of how these are made and work. It's intriguing.)

The next two, Lemminkainen's mother and another Väinämöinen, have sewing snaps for joints. They work beautifully, can be unsnapped and reused repeatedly and, with a little planning, can even be made to look like jewelry or hardware. Not that that would show up very well in a shadow. And I have a million of them already...how about that! Mother's snaps are clear plastic; I thought that would be perfect but actually they have a small hole straight through them and so mother appeared to be held together by spots of light. So...constellation shadow puppets, maybe? But not in this story.

The lower two pictures are the only ones that are actual shadows. In the upper left of the right-hand picture is the totally overworked but rather fun Väinämöinen that moves his arms and opens his mouth to sing. It only takes four hands to work him, all the while hollering to the audience "Wait a sec, I've almost got it!" Hated to give up on that, but sometimes you really must "kill your darlings."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

If I disappear...

...it will be because I am switching web-hosts. Interruptions, if they happen at all, should be brief.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Back to the Puppet Challenge Project: my models.

Here are a few of the pictures I've had pinned up in the studio during the creation of the  Väinämöinen puppets. 

My dearly missed friend Leo, a good Finn; the art of Finnish illustrator Erkki Tanttu.
Dancer Merce Cunningham, for his stunning body and face.
Tapio Wirkkala, Finnish glass artist; more Erkki Tanttu.

No, Tony Bennett is not a Finn. But he's 87 and he's hot. 
(We saw him last summer at the Pantages in Tacoma, so I know whereof I speak.)

Thanks, guys. Couldn't have done it without you.


Next time: First steps, false starts and unfinished ideas.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Dunsmuir, California...

...does not look like this today! Au contraire. It was, in fact, 88F at the highest.... cooler than the 100F that was predicted and quite a bit milder than yesterday's 108! But I'm having trouble uploading my own photos to this little laptop, and this was the best image I could find online. It captures the feeling of the town really well. It also makes me want to come back in January.

We discovered Dunsmuir (near Mt. Shasta) quite by accident a few years ago, just passing through looking for coffee. It made an impression on us so we've returned for a longer visit and some exploration. We are headquartered at the Cave Springs Resort, in one of their tiny cabins that are advertised as having "all the amenities of 1930...plus wifi." Our cabin overlooks the Sacramento River and the train tracks on the other side. Downtown Dunsmuir is a 4-minute drive away.

Tomorrow we head west to Arcata, then take a couple of days to drive up the coast home. It's been a great trip.

So, no puppet news for a few days.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What I'm learning from the Puppet Challenge project.

Some things I know about puppets that I didn't know 3 months ago:

1. Shadow puppets need to move, a lot. Even if they are intricately detailed, or colorful, they are basically very subtle creatures and need to overact to make their presence felt.

2. I dislike being removed from the action -- I want to see it from the front or the top, or the side. But from the back...unh. And what I'm seeing isn't even what the audience is seeing, only the thing that is creating the shadow that the audience is seeing.I love shadow puppetry, but I'll sit in the audience from now on, thank you..

3. But...remove the screen that separates the front and back of the stage, leaving paper figures on sticks or strings...that's exciting. True, I think anything made of paper is exciting. And, personally, I believe you can make just about anything out of paper. Preferably newspaper.

4. Also exciting is to take the shadow puppets off their sticks, and use them for animation, a la Lotte Reiniger. But maybe that isn't, strictly speaking, puppetry. If that's true then I'm in trouble.

Some things I do know, but need to be reminded of:

1. Fancy mechanics are fun to design and build, but they aren't usually necessary and utilizing them will probably just make your hands hurt.

2. Simplify, simplify, simplify. I like Done to Death, but I don't do it very well.

Next time, my models...

Yes the Puppet Challenge Project is alive and about to give birth...

...but first, some stops along the way in the process, because I'm hopeless at posting progress in real time.

The original challenge theme was Folktales, Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends.  I chose to make Väinämöinen, from the Finnish epic poem the Kalevala. Väinämöinen is an ancient rune singer with magical powers of words and music. He is very old, very wise and very powerful, and also very eager to find a wife, but never gets lucky.

Here are two artists' rendering of our hero, the one on the left just slays me; the one on the right I might marry myself.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Shadow puppet experiments in the studio

Last Saturday evening at the Art Walk...

Top: Two anatomical sketches in paper, handwriting on transparencies and a piece of orange cellophane that was curling up like crazy in the heat of the desk lamp.  The figure on left is made of dark blue paper, the one on the right is white paper. Center: White paper guy striking a pose and trying to pick a peacock feather. Bottom: The improvised setup in the studio.

This is my current studio in Bldg. C. I'm liking the long, narrow shape, all the wall space and the privacy. Sharing a studio had its wonderful aspects, but a messy person like me needs to be able to close the door on it all sometimes. Those of you who have visited my studios over the years will know what I mean.

The ground level of Bldg. C has been finished into a lot of new studios, and a gallery. It's scheduled to open next month in time for the second Saturday Ballard Art Walk. Come check it out. Then come upstairs and see me in #18.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A New Challenge

There is a Puppet Challenge happening at this lovely place, and I have signed up. So, I am back to an old love,  dolls that do stuff! Figures that have life and personality...good company.

Years ago I saw The Oregon Shadow Theater production of Anansi the Spider, at the Northwest Puppet Center, and was amazed, impressed and inspired. So I have challenged myself to make a shadow puppet, a new thing for me although articulated paper characters are not.

The theme of the challenge is mythical and folkloric persona, and my chosen character is Väinämöinen, the venerable old (very old) culture hero from the Finnish epic the Kalevala. Finnish magic is largely a magic of words, charms, singing and such, and the most important thing old Väinämöinen does is to open his mouth and let it all come out...not a whole lot of action for a puppet, really. But I figure the magic words can be puppets as well. Flat paper and the the shadows it casts seemed to fit with that. We'll see. I have some first experiments which I'll scan and post this weekend.  

I should mention that Oregon Shadow Theater is currently presenting a new production of Sinbad at the Northwest Puppet Center; If you are in the Seattle area you really ought to go!
Lastly, I am retiring all the old content on this blog, it was almost as old as Väinämöinen.