bird by bird: robin #1

I got a call out of the blue for two bird puppets for a production of The Secret Garden (as things normally tend to go around here.) The first one was to flap its wings while perched. I'd done some flapping penguins for Luna's Sea, but those were flat cutouts with exposed mechanicals meant for background atmosphere. So the first order of business was to make sure I could get a mechanism to do the right movement. I did a fast tape and cardboard mock up to see if what was in my head would actually work. 

And it did:

The next step, get to know robins. The director wanted the British species which are quite different than our American version. I use reference through the whole process, but I like to get the feeling of something into my hands, so that when I'm in the passionate moment of manipulating materials, it's a matter of finding, not thinking the shape. 

And as usual it begins with digging through my stock of stuff to see what's telling me it's a robin. (This is why I'll never accept being called a pack rat- I actually use all the junk I stow!) First, a basic structure, hollow to house the wing mechanism, but also sturdy. I ended up with a section of thick cardboard tube and styrofoam which I started covering in several air-dry clays. A cardboard beak as a placer to help me find its expression. 

Then, join them together, and messing around for the right shape and posture. I added more cardboard to get a more graceful bird curve. Because I'm impatient I started ripping the cardboard rather than cutting it, and found that it made a beautiful feather effect. Good thing, because I hadn't even considered surface covering yet.

I went with the happy accident, added more to see if it was as good as I thought. 

And I got really into it, using ripped pieces to do the fleshing out rather than clay as I'd expected.

End of the first day- I'd added eyeballs and a clay beak so it could sit more happily 
with its full senses overnight. When I woke up the next morning it looked all too hawkish. 

While I considered how to fix that I worked on a wing. 
I went back to my comfortable cardboard, having made lots of paper-product wings before. 

Carved down the beak a bit. This is why I only use materials that have both additive and subtractive qualities. And a moment to consider and compare the source. Erm, right, about those wings...

And wing situation handled. 
Attached with canvas for a joint to allow for ease of flapping.

Still wondering if this ripped cardboard is too good to be true, I test it with some paint. 
Yup, I still love it.

Put up to roost for another night. 
Still got to get that other wing on.

Second wing added, beak widened, more clay to smooth and strengthen transition from head to body, and eye sockets carved larger-- because it was still looking like a larger species of bird. Tricky because it is actually larger, for stage effect reasons. 

Then, joy! More cardboard feathers onto the head. 
Larger eyeball. And more accurate paint.

Some wing painting, and a test of adding a bit of real feather for a hint of movement.

Highlights and details coming in. Perched again for the night. 
Morning light after a long work night is always a bit harrowing. 

But I'm still happy with him the next day. 

More to come, but robin #2 needs some coming along.