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Making a Marionette – The Ice Cream Princess comes to life

Ice Cream Princess marionette puppet

Read about why on earth I decided to make a marionette puppet, and all the trial and (many many) errors that happened in the process. 

What on earth made me do this

Several months ago I thought about how all of my artworks and projects have had such small amounts of time to make them. A lot of my digital illustrations take a couple of nights after work to complete, and when I make mini sculptures they’re usually done in an afternoon on the weekend. The latest larger projects I’ve taken on would be the two murals painted in our house which were challenging and also quite fun to make, but also included a certain amount of zoning out and not actively focusing on the artwork after the initial planning phase was complete. It was time to jump out of my comfort zone and take on something that took a bit more planning, and had more areas that would need to be adjusted or thought about whilst working on the piece. Something that I could call a challenge, and end up with a super neat artwork at the end, and what better way to do this than make a marionette puppet from scratch.

Let’s look at how I made it

Although I knew there would be a lot to decide on whilst working on the piece, my control freak mind needed a decent planning stage to kick it off. I started with a blank Procreate document and jotted down character ideas, deciding to work with the ice-cream princess character I’ve previously designed to have a good starting point to work from. This way the characters’ facial features, hairstyle and clothing were all pre-determined and all I needed to do was make the 2d drawing into a 3d character. I then went into the different layers of clothing involved in making a ‘princess gown’, what fabric prints, guterman reels and inner facings I would need to make it all properly, along with what decorations I would need to sculpt and what the hair would be made of.

The planning phase in Procreate got quite detailed, right down to figuring out how to make the wooden thing that will help control her in the end

Look at these body parts, look how the paint is falling off and patchy. It’s probably ok though, it will be under the dress later.

Making a figure

To start off, I needed to plan the body shape and where the joints would be including how the joints function. I spent a lot of time discussing how elbows go from straight to forwards not side to side or back, and knees are the same, whereas shoulders and hips have a much wider range of movement. Necks often go much further forwards than backwards, so I would need to create a block of some sort to stop her head flopping too far back. And there needed to be a joint in the stomach, but based on my own range of movement I would be blocking this off slightly so she couldn’t fold in half, and considered how she would be wearing a corset.

Next was deciding the materials to use for the body. Sculpey seemed like a safe bet since it’s easy to work with, is reasonably strong and comes in skin colours. My first issue however was that Spotlight was out of the skin colour super sculpey and living doll ranges… So I settled on a slightly shimmery pale gold instead, thinking it might bake lighter for some reason. It did not. That meant I would need to look into painting the body a skin colour now, and luckily my dad had a can of light skin coloured spray paint that didn’t work well for one of his projects. As all money saving daughters do, I decided to take this paint off his hands and set myself up a spray booth made from the excess cardboard boxes we’ve received (thank you online shopping), hanging each tiny body part from a piece of wire in a way I can easily rotate them.

Unfortunately I am not good at spray painting and oversprayed majority of the body parts, especially the head and upper body which had pools in areas where the sculpey dipped, and this was proving to be a problem for drying times. Being overly impatient I read that baby powder is great for drying up paint faster, and started brushing it on in all the sticky patches of paint. This tip is super helpful and I would definitely recommend it for slightly oversprayed objects, but this does not work the best when the paint has pooled so excessively which I found out at a later stage when the moving body parts were very easily scraping off the paint in the heavily pooled areas.

Making a good joint

The puppets’ joints and blocks were sculpted into the body parts and connected with a slightly stretchy bead string, and lots of eyelets. Originally I was planning on using beads to hold the string and joints together tightly, but after some thorough house searching I have no idea where I put them and resorted to eyelets that will from here on out be called a ‘stylistic choice’ due to how much they stand out on the character.

A good photo of some nice long legs and the stylistic choice of eyelets to keep the knees in working shape.
Marnie inspecting my sewing to make sure it’s up to scratch, she approved in the end which was lucky because it took quite a while to get the waffle look going.

Time to get dressed

To create a ‘puffy princess dress’ we would need layers, and all good dresses start with an underskirt. This one would be made from what would like a waffle cone and be solid enough in it’s shape that it would support the skirts above it, the fabric chosen was a light brown homespun with a thicker calico on the inside creating a stiffer skirt. The homespun had lines sewn across it in a darker brown guterman to create a waffle cone appearance, this is something that came out exactly how I pictured it and am very happy with in the final puppet.

After that I sewed up the ruffle skirt layer that resembles a cupcake wrapper or a piece of tissue paper you might wrap around an icecream cone, and the two layers of melting ice cream from appropriately coloured and printed homespun.

The corset was made to match the cupcake wrapper layer of the skirt, with pieces of wire stitched in for structure and to help shape the corset around the figure, and has an undershirt that only covers the front of the puppet in the same waffle cone fabric as the underskirt.

And lastly I twisted together some pink and purple thread to create a cord to tie off the corset, and finished it off with a blue ribbon bow to hide the seams between the skirts and the top.

What a headpiece, so big, so fluffy

The hair was something I was super excited to work on and was one of the first things I did once the base head was ready to go. Originally it was to be made with wool for felting, then my mum mentioned she has some doll hair from when she made dolls for me when I was a kid that would work perfectly, and it did, it was exactly what I wanted. The hair had some curls and waves in it which looked perfect when braided, and when draped over a ball of felt it looked like a bun but also a scoop of ice cream, exactly the look I was going for. All it needed to finish it off was a spoon and some cinnamon sticks made from sculpey to transform this from ‘cool buns’ to ‘that looks edible’.

So very happy with how this face and hair turned out, the facial features also carry across the odd cartoon appearance of the original illustration.

What I think of the end result

Overall I think she looks pretty cute, and I’ve enjoyed looking over to where she’s hanging and thinking ‘yep, I made that, nice work Bek’. There are some details I think could be done differently to have a higher quality look, and if I was to make another dress for her I would definitely move away from the thicker homespun fabrics and work actual dress fabrics to have it draping nicer. The part I’m happiest with is the hair which was a struggle and fiddly to make but 100% worth all the effort.

I dare you to give it a go

Well here it is, the end of the project and if you read this far I’m so happy and am giving you a virtual hug right now. This is the part where I dare you to have a go at making a puppet, it doesn’t have to be from scratch or anything fancy, it doesn’t even have to resemble a human, just get out there and attach something to a string and start puppet making. I’m hoping I have the time and motivation to make a few more of these, maybe some animals or mythical creatures (a mermaid would be awesome), but until then I want to see what you come up with, so be sure to share it with me.

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