Thursday, 29 January 2015

Helen Foan, our puppet maker for Citizen Puppet, talks about her process...

What are the different elements of making the puppet?
Every puppet is unique and needs to move and look a certain way for that character, presenting new challenges and requiring different skills.

The “Citizen Puppet” puppets have carved Styrofoam heads with moving mouth mechanisms, skeleton structures, fabric bodies and foam hands.

How do you approach it?
Blind summits puppets evolve a lot during the R&D process. Puppet heads and bodies will be swapped around, passed between performers and characters will emerge.

I begin with the head.  The most important thing to think about is creating a characterful face with a mechanism that is strong and easy to use. 

I then think about what movement is needed from the puppet. The “Citizen Puppet” cast are mainly seated puppets so leg and arm joints are very simple. I make a skeleton structure of fibre glass rods and webbing. Then I fit that into a fabric body and stuff it with wadding. Finally it’s the fun bits like sewing shoes, casting hands and making costume.

What are the most challenging moments of the make?
Getting the jaw mechanism right is very important, It’s all about pivot points and tension. The lesson that I have learned is that you should always work from life. Even if the head is very exaggerated and cartoonlike, always look at where the joint would be on a real skull.

What is your favourite part to make?
Ears! Carving the ears is weirdly satisfying.

Who is your favourite Blind Summit puppet?
The other day I was looking through the boxes and found a puppet called Mildred.  It was like finding a beautiful antique; she has so much character even without a puppeteer moving her.

What is your favourite material to work with, and which one do you hate?
I like sculpting with polymer clay like Fimo or Sculpey as you can put so much detail in it. Once I was asked to make a very large carnival puppet and thought that chicken wire would be a good idea. It wasn't. Chicken wire is Satan’s own invention.


  1. This is so great! Would you mind sharing how you keep the styrofoam heads from getting dents and gouges?
    I love Sculpey too, but it adds so much weight to the puppet. Any workarounds you've found? Thanks again for this post!

  2. Hi Lacy,
    Thanks for your comment!
    Helen has sent me her response to your comment to pass on...

    "We cover the Styrofoam in a few coats of Jesmonite to keep the heads protected and gives a good surface to paint. Sculpey is too heavy for the puppets but great to make moulds from. If you make hands or delicate parts from it then make a mould and cast it in a lighter material."