Mar. 7th, 2017

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At the most recent convention I went to, Farpoint, an acquaintance of mine was looking over the Doctor Strange puppet. She made the comment that she enjoyed seeing that my skills have improved over the years. That 15 years ago, I probably could not have made the puppet that I made last year. And she is right.

Bill Sienkiewicz starts each day just drawing a few things for warm up and practice. He is not the only artist I know that does that. Part of it is to get the work flowing but part of it is to continue to hone his skills as an artist. Not every drawing is perfect but it is in the imperfections that you learn. And Bill’s imperfect work out strips most people’s really good work by a mile.

Part of the process of getting better at something is to do it repeatedly. I don’t know many puppet builders who haven’t sewing something in backwards or had to scrap a puppet halfway through because the form just wasn’t working correctly. You learn from those and something that might have to be scrapped at one point can turn into a head start on another puppet. I find myself sewing fewer collars into shirts incorrectly because I have done it so many times now that I know how to make sure I have everything right way around.

It doesn’t mean I don’t have my Ah! moments. This past year I finally figured out that if I write top and bottom on the mouth plate after I sew the puppet skin to it, I don't put in the foam skull upside down which can be a major problem.

How long does it take me to make a simple hand and rod puppet? I have it down to four hours with a shirt but it can’t go much lower than that because there is just a certain amount of time that goes into sewing the puppets which is never going to reduce. Hand sewing is always going to take longer than machine and there are some parts that have to be sewed on by hand.

Doesn’t mean I don’t still learn tricks from my fellow puppeteers. One of the reasons I enjoy DragonCon so much is to be able to talk construction with my fellow puppeteers. People come up with cool solutions to various problems that I can use to make my puppets better. I have learned about glues and ways to use tools that I have in new and interesting ways. I can come with a problem I am working on and someone has an idea of how to solve it.

When I go into making a puppet, there are parts that I know so well I think I could do them in my sleep. Those skills I have cold. But each puppet presents me with new things to think about. How am I going to do their hair or clothing? Getting them to look right to my eye is probably harder than getting them to look right to others because I can see all the flaws and imperfections but others only see the finished product.

I have been building puppets for a long time and hope to do so for many years to come. I don’t think I will ever be done learning what I can do with them and how I can make them better. Each one teaches me something even though it may be the same as the one before it.

I am grateful that my skills are continuing to grow.

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