The other puppet I made for the Somnambulist Puppet Sideshow is the Fiji Mermaid!
And now… she’s back! And this time, the “ALIVE!” claim is TRUE!
1. Concept Painting
Again I start with a concept painting… this time the final puppet will develop in its own way and I’ll end up deviating from the concept somewhat, but the painting gives me a starting point. I’m not really happy with her face, but I figure the sculpting process will clarify her features.
To cast her full head, I need to create a two-part plaster mold (hard molds for soft casts, soft molds for hard casts).
Since I am making a big plaster mess, I am going to mold the tail at the same time.
My 2-part molds are sloppy and clumsy but I always get the results I want and I save on plaster by not building nice blocks. However, storage of these rolling, heavy things is always a problem. And it’s so hard to throw them out. I mean, what if I need another mummified monkey face one day?Puppetry is for hoarders!
…poured into the mold… and the magic begins! Within 3 minutes the foam rises to a perfect pillowy hill at the top of the mold.
Now it’s time to build the body. I want the Mermaid to be a carry-around roving puppet, so her body will be designed to conceal the puppeteer’s arm. The body is sculpted of foam, then foam details such as scales and janky, mummified fins are added. All of the foam construction is held together with contact cement.
Because this is Regina, I have to order in the specialty cans of the magical 3M Spray 74 Foam Fast that is needed to seal the cells in the foam rubber. Without this, the latex coating I want to cover the body with will soak into the open foam cells, not only making for a heavy puppet, but wasting my precious Douglas and Sturgess latex. Great trick I learned from Mike Wick on a Final Fantasy II commercial, way back when…
I have collected a few globby bits of latex from my various pours and seaming jobs over the course of recent projects, and I stick those on in places to look like bits of old flesh.
The Mermaid gets her latex coating and dries overnight.
6. Painting and furring
Sculpting and finishing work are always my favourite parts of any project, and I’ve been really looking forward to painting the Mermaid. Using Douglas and Sturgess Label and Foil Adhesive mixed 50-50 with acrylic paint, she gets a white base coat to unify the colour. Without this step, the acrylic paint will peel off the latex, but the label adhesive/paint mixture creates a flexible bonding layer that adheres both to the latex below and the paint above.
As usual the first coat is a light Pthalo Blue wash to give the final colour depth. Then a series of layers of colour are applied with a makeup sponge, mostly Burnt Umber, Ochre, Pthalo Blue and Titanium White. I want her to look aged, old, mummified, but I do give her rosy cheeks and nose to give her a little life. I also add a button eye and some gloss medium around the eyes to give them a sparkle. She’s finished off with a fur collar and a cool furring technique that I learned from Mike Wick (again while working on Nightmare Before Christmas). Finally, I apply patches of fur here and there on her head and body.
7. The Fiji Mermaid Puppeteer: Shelby Lyn Lowe
First she finds the perfect skirt at Value Village, and the perfect hat, and designs her makeup…
…then she paints the sign for her back and completes the costume, adding a black taffeta bustle, a red glove and striped tights. She is the spitting image of the design I sent her! This is a remarkable skill! I am so lucky and grateful for Shelby’s hard work and enthusiasm for this project! She looks great.
Shelby arrives the evening before the show, so I take the Fiji Mermaid over so the two can get acquainted. And so that Shelby feels connected to the puppet, I bring her some fur, and show her how to attach small tufts wherever they seem to be needed. Shelby is an artist and I trust her completely to finish the project, and this way the two of them can bond in preparation for their performance.
8. Performance Time!
I was in the Fortune Teller booth all night so didn’t get any pictures of my own, but here are three of the Fiji Mermaid in performance! The gist of her appearance throughout the evening was twofold: to convince the world that she is, indeed, ALIVE, and to find a companion of her own kind. Shelby did a fantastic job puppeteering and the few times I did step out of the booth, it was fun to watch Shelby, the Fiji Mermaid, and the public interacting. Thanks, Shelby, for bringing her to life!
“The Fiji Mermaid was over the top creepy.” – Gerald Saul
Now it’s time to clean up the puppet factory and turn my house back into a home.
Until next time… ADVENTURE!