The Fall 2018 issue of Puppetry Journal has an article by Ellen Rixford. Here, as promised, is an expanded version of the information, with additional photos.
Both the young face and the old face are modeled on the same basic wooden armature, an armature made of pieces of wood, cut on a band saw from a pattern, and simply glued together and carved down to a head shape, with a separate mouth part, hinged, i.e. pivoted on a metal rod. Wooden eyeball (large beads) are set into openings in the face, and also hinged/pivoted on a rod. When the face is modeled, and the final model is ready to make a silicone mold, the mouth part is gently removed from the face, and finished so that it will fit into the mouth cavity.
Then both the head and the mouth part are molded separately in silicone rubber, to be separately cast in 2-part resin. When making the mold of the head, deeper areas of the mouth cavity can be partially filled with clay or some other material, so that the rubber need not fill the cavity area. This is only to save the silicone rubber, which is expensive. Leave enough of the mouth cavity unfilled so that the mold, and subsequent cast, will offer a good support socket for the mouth part. Bear in mind that the mouth part will need to pivot and hinge stably within the face.
The rods are removed for making the silicone mold, but the little divots, or dimples, showing the holes for the rods were must be left intact, so that the silicone mold can capture them. When I put the face together, these little indentations will tell me where to drill holes to insert the pivot rods. The eyes are molded with the head, but when the head cast is complete, the eye sockets are carved out, so that rotating, separate eyeballs can be installed to fill the empty sockets.
I mold and cast the mouth-piece and the head piece separately. They have been made so they fit together, so when the cast is made, the mouth piece fits neatly into the mouth opening and, when the pivot rod is installed, the mouth piece swings smoothly open and shut.
Her head, or rather a very elaborate double mask, is a 2-part affair, a face within a face. The “young” face is held in a hinged wooden frame; the “old” face is mounted within it, on a central pivot rod. The outer, young face can be pulled, or split open by manually squeezing together the metal rods attached to the sides of the frame. The 3 pairs of hinges are my design, interlocking wooden “E/F shapes” pivoting on the central pivot rod. Because the outer young face mask is held together tightly at top and bottom with strong magnets (you can see them from the front when the face is opened) the puppeteer must squeeze strongly, at which point the face will suddenly (and frighteningly) fly open revealing the terrible old face. Thin strings (woven fishing line) at either side of the back of the head limit the amount each side of the open face will swing back. When the young face is open, one can then work the hinged mouth of the old face. The mouth springs, attached at the top to the back of the jaw piece and extending down to attachment points in the neck, hold the mouth closed. The U-shaped wire mouth control, set into the back of the jaw piece, can be pushed or flipped upward by the puppeteer’s index finger, opening and closing the mouth so that the face appears to speak.
The outer, young face is made of a kind of paper mache combination material…multiple layers of paper fiber with rigid carpenter’s glue, painted with several layers of epoxy varnish so that it is protected against humidity, and remains rigid. This style of construction was necessary to make sure the face would be fairly thin-walled, so it would fit over the inner face. The back edges of the outer face are screwed to the hinged plywood frame, which keeps them rigid. At the front of the head, the cut edges of the face, where the parting line down the face occurs, are strengthened by lines of epoxy plumber’s putty to keep them rigid and free of distortion. The eyes, set in eyeholes in the mask, are sections of ping pong balls, with oval holes cut in them; glass cabochon jewels are set within these openings. These glow and appear bright, and full of life.
Her torso, shoulders to hips, are primarily blue Styrofoam, the long-lasting kind, often used for house insulation; four sections linked together with strong fabric strips. This gives volume and some flexibility…bending forward and back and a bit to the sides. The foam also offers a way to attach her costume, as long dressmaker’s pins attaching costume parts are pushed into it and hold the costume together. Many parts of her costume including the blue satin, the transparent chiffon/organza fabrics, the silk flowers, and the leaves are attached to her body this way.
Attached to the shoulders are fabric tubes that end with the hands. The hands, like the old face-mask, are hollow 2-part resin, fairly thin and light. Wooden discs are screwed into the ends of the arms, with dowel rods connecting them to wood handles. The ends of the cloth arm tubes have Velcro patches which close snugly around these discs, so the hands hang from the arm tubes. The handles and rods slide through slits in the backs of the sleeves, so the puppeteer can grasp them.
Set and glued within the upper torso is a strong wooden handle, which protrudes a bit out the back. Around the handle is a fabric band with Velcro patches, which allows the puppeteer to wrap it around his forearm, holding up the body. The forearm holds up the body of the puppet, the hand grips the back of the head, opening and closing the young face, and working the old face’s moving mouth.
The hair and silk flowers on the head are attached to two separate formed fiberglass wig/headdress pieces, one for each side of the face, molded around the upper head, with flanges at the back screwed into the plywood face frame. Making them separate enabled me to easily “sew” on the hair and flowers, using many small holes drilled into the formed pieces. When the hair and flowers were attached to these forms they were screwed to the face frame.
The faces and hands are painted with acrylic paint, with soft “blushes” of pastel to add warmth and color variety. Any pink to peach colored pastel, lightly smudged or brushed onto the skin, will add more pink blush. Pastel can be lightened using a soft brush and/or a kneaded eraser.
The puppet is made using an armature that I designed to use as a base for many different puppet heads. It is made with a removable mouth piece and eyeballs, pivoted on rods. Different faces can be sculpted on this base.
I use Super Sculpey because it is soft when modeled, and bakes hard in the oven, allowing me to sand surfaces and perfect details. Then the face-model can either be molded in silicone rubber (mouth part cast separately) to be used for resin casting, or it can be used as a form for paper mâché. Either approach allows for multiple casts, a must for experimentation.