A short course on making a puppet’s head with Matt Jackson via the Puppet Centre Trust

29 Jul
Workshop leader Matt Jackson is a freelance model maker for cinema, fine arts, theatre, and product design. Having studied Special Effects for Film at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Matt now has ten years’ experience in various methods of sculpting, moulding, and casting. Before immigrating to London initially for an MA in Performance in Culture, he worked for two years in New York City building puppets and props for Broadway with Randy Carfagno Productions. He is currently working in London for Art Effects, fabricating sculptures for artists such as Marc Quinn, David Mach, and Antony Gormley. When not a sculptor-for-hire, he also devises solo and collaborative performances internationally.” quote from the PCT.

It was with all kinds of trepidation bubbling beneath the surface that I set off  bright and early on the train to Waterloo from Petersfield..an hour in which to make a few sketches of the character I wanted to make. I knew what he looked like..kind of magical and a bit mysterious with aquiline features and arching eyebrows…and a sardonic, edgy smile.

Sketch of the head for a character called Toots


Sketch for Toots




After negotiating my way across town to Hoxton I entered MANIFOLD Studio in an arch under the railway that has become a really neat studio space shared by a group from the RCA and Matt Jackson.Nine of us soon assembled and under Matt’s expert tutelage we embarked on a fascinating day of sculpting in clay with the objective of making a head that could then be used to form a durable silicone rubber mould and then cast a puppet’s head using expanded foam that looks very much like skin when it dries and hardens. All very clever stuff and so useful for future reference. 

We started off  by making a simple armature from a metal bracket screwed to a piece of ply.So simple to do and no complicated attaching of timber elements. First just mark where the screws are to go then a quick whizz with a power tool and its done.

The simplest of armatures..a metal bracket

Matt had brought in expanded polystyrene globes and ovals to choose as the sub structure. So a slot was cut at the back of the polystyrene ‘head’ and then it was slid onto the upright at an angle to mimic the setting of a head onto a neck.

This is just before the head was pushed back to give a realistic pose

Then we built up layers of modelling clay to start the process of sculpting the head itself. You have to gently squidge it all into place to begin with as it might be a little loathe to stick but it soon builds up.

Gently add the clay to make the rough shape of the head.

 Once the basic head shape is in place we started to work on placing the eyes. For this we hollowed out a hole in the front of the head and pushed in two smaller polystyrene balls. These formed the eyeballs in their sockets. Clay eye lids and brows can then be moulded into place. Once this is done it helps to hold the features where they are supposed to go. Matt also showed us how to check symmetry by using a mirror. It’s amazing what is revealed by looking at the reflection.

Me at work on what looks like one of the worker ants from the movie with Woody Allen playing the Ant.I was loving the whole process by this point. A face without a nose is very odd. We kept the clay moist by dipping fingertips into the bowl of water provided.Its amazing what a difference a nose makes! The face was starting to look a bit like a face. Matt gave us lots of helpful hints about proportion and lining various elements of the features up.It is a challenge looking at the face in the round so to speak whilst all the time moulding and adding , balancing and then removing.

 Matt showed us how to draw the ear onto a square of clay and then roughly cut into it to form the intricate patterns that all ears have.We made sure that the necks were formed so that the final head would be properly finished and the liquid poured inside would work the way its supposed to.

After the rough shape had been made we worked at texturing the ‘skin’ first with oil painting stiff, straight brushes and then with soft water-colour brushes to remove the unwanted lines and wrinkles.

Ears at last

Scraping tools around the head

Linda Lewis from the course organisers Puppet Centre Trust in the background

Tomorrow we will add the clay ‘wall’ that serves to separate one half of the head from the other.

2 Responses to “A short course on making a puppet’s head with Matt Jackson via the Puppet Centre Trust”

  1. Nancy Halder July 30, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    Brilliant, Lynne! I am in awe.

    • red pear puppets July 30, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

      How kind Nancy…I have just got in from day 2..wow..much more difficult and loads of concentration needed..but still a wnderful way to spend a day.!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s